Students who learn to fly at controlled airports never know any different, but students who learn at an uncontrolled airport can develop a fear of the radio. All pilots must eventually get past the stage fright associated with the radio and get to the point where communications become conversational. I don’t mean that you should chat with the controller during heavy workload times. But you should not feel inhibited or afraid that you might say something wrong.
Scenario: A student pilot is flying into a busy Class C airport. The pilot makes the initial call up, is assigned a transponder code, and is radar identified. The student is told to fly a heading for “sequencing.” The pilot flies the heading and listens, as rapid-fire radio communications are abundant. The pilot looks ahead and sees two very tall antennae. The antennae look as if they are on the assigned heading and at about the same altitude as the airplane. The radio communications taking place on the frequency are without break. It would seem very hard to get a word in, but those towers are getting closer and the controller has not called the airplane’s number in a long time. Has the controller forgotten about the pilot? What should the pilot do? Should the pilot wait it out and hope the controller calls with a turn? Maybe the towers are not as tall as they look.
Scenario 2: What if the pilot was given a heading that took the plane near the towers, but instead of rapid radio conversation, the pilot heard nothing at all on the approach frequency? Has the correct frequency been selected? Are all the switches on the audio panel in the correct position? Do you remember the light gun signals? These events would certainly put the pilot into a decision situation. What should the pilot do? …What would you do?
In the Past: The instructor would say, “I made you a copy of some things to say to the controller. Just read from this script and you will do fine.” Of course, the first thing the controller says is not on the script and the student says “ah…”
The Private Pilot PTS includes the use of Light Gun signals with Radio Communications evaluation. On the test the examiner’s objective is to determine that the applicant:
III. AREA OF OPERATION:
A. TASK: RADIO COMMUNICATIONS AND ATC LIGHT SIGNALS
REFERENCES: AC 61-21, AC 61-23; AIM.
Objective. To determine that the applicant:
- Exhibits knowledge of the elements related to radio communications and ATC light signals. This shall include radio failure procedures.
- Selects appropriate frequencies.
- Transmits using recommended phraseology.
- Acknowledges radio communications and complies with instructions.
- Uses prescribed procedures following radio communications failure.
- Interprets and complies with ATC light signals.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Becoming familiar with the radio is one of piloting’s greatest hurtles. The best way to clear this hurdle is to listen and then make your communications conversational – not scripted. . Spend some time thinking about why controllers say what they say and what they need to know from you. When you understand what needs to be said, you will be able to tell controllers what they need to know and faster to understand what they have say to you.