What is the hardest part of pilot training? Almost everyone will say, "Speak on the radio." However, if they apply some simple rules, even beginners sound good on the radio. I will first discuss these rules and then give some tips that pilots can use to improve their radio skills.
Four W. of radio communication
Usually, the hardest radio call a pilot has to do is the first – "initial call." However, each initial call [and many subsequent calls] only needs to remember four Ws:
- Who am I calling?
- who am I?
- Where am I?
- Where am I going, what am I doing, or what do I want to do?
Let us give two examples, one for the uncontrolled field and one for the control tower.
When you are ready to enter a traffic pattern in an uncontrolled field, the following statement is usually issued:
"Milltown Traffic [Who am I calling?], Cessna 12345 [Who am I?] Downwind into 45 [Where am I?], Runway 22 on Milltown [what am I doing?].
Using the control tower, you might say:
Ocalata [who am I calling?], Cessna 12345 [Who am I?] Going eight miles north with Charlie [where am I? – plus ATIS], landing in Ocala [what do I want to do]? ].
Once communication is established, you do not need to use four Ws for all communications. Instead, you only need to read back the key instructions to the controller so they know that you have received them. For example, if the controller asks you to enter the right side of the runway on the 24th run, you will answer: "Cessna 12345 will enter the wind 24".
Try some different scenarios with friends or flight instructors and you will soon know what to say.
Even if you know what to say, talking on the radio still requires some practice. Here are some tips to get you to speak like a professional right away.
- Listen to the ATC newsletter. If you do not receive a radio frequency radio, check to see if you can borrow from another pilot or your flight school for a week. Hear what the pilot said to the ATC on the first call and how they responded to the ATC instructions. If possible, try to listen to the ground, tower, proximity and center frequencies.
- Make a note of what you are saying before making an initial radio call. You can even write a blank script to do this. After a few weeks, most people can make calls themselves, but you may still want to write complex calls.
- If you are a student pilot, be sure to say it at the first call so that ATC is more cautious about how you handle it.
- If you forget something, don't worry. Even experienced pilots sometimes forget to tell controllers their height or they have ATIS. Don't worry – if you forget it, the controller will ask you something.
- Study the recommended wording in Chapter 4 of the Aeronautical Information Handbook and the Pilot's/Controller Glossary.
If everything fails, please use normal English! Not all situations apply to the recommended ATC phrase, or you may just forget what to say. I used to leave an unfamiliar airport. When I called, I suddenly realized that I didn't know where I was at the airport. The phone is like this, "Littletown Ground, Cessna 12345, um…" [At this point I am frantically looking around] "I am signing Chevron, preparing to taxi with Delta, westward Departure. "Wow – Chevron gas sign save! Find me on the ground and let me taxi.