When Your Com Goes Silent

STUFF HAPPENS WHEN WE FLY. Whether that stuff is exciting (like an engine failure), or it’s just a distraction (like the failure of a radio), how we react to the event frequently determines whether it becomes a big deal, or an event easily corrected.

In today’s example, we’ll look at the potential failure of a com radio in your aircraft. Believe it or not, there are some “non-failure” type failures that can strike your com radio, and in doing so, make your life a little confusing in the cockpit. These “pseudo failures” typically involve the usual controls of the com radio, only one of which needs to get out of position to make things more interesting. What is more interesting is that many pilots bring their planes into an avionics shot to have the shop figure this out… for around $150!


Problem: Switches. If your Audio Panel selector gets turned off or to a neutral position, you won’t hear the com traffic.

Solution: Select the audio panel to the applicable com.

Problem: Knobs (Part 1). If the volume control gets turned down, you won’t hear the com traffic.

Solution: Turn up the volume until you can hear it.

Problem: Plugs. If your headset (assuming you are wearing one) gets unplugged, you won’t hear the com traffic.

Solution: Check the headset plugs, and make sure they are plugged in and not loose.

Problem: Stuck Mic. If your mic key is stuck, you won’t hear the com traffic, but all they’ll hear (assuming they’re on frequency) is you.

Solution: If you are flying a plane with a transmit indicator, check the status. If it indicates you are transmitting, look for the stuck switch and agitate it until it unsticks!

Problem: Knobs (Part 2). If your frequency gets changed to one selection higher or lower, you generally won’t hear the com traffic.

Solution: Set the radio to the correct frequency.

Problem: Squelch. If the squelch gets turned up too high, you won’t hear the com traffic.

Solution: Set the squelch at the proper level.

All of these little problems are easy to diagnose and correct — provided you know what to look for and don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed by the unexpected. If your com goes silent, work your way through the probable causes and solutions to see if you can remedy the problem without surgery. If you get through the lot of them and don’t find the problem, there are other solutions.

If you have a second com on board, see how that works. You may have experienced an electronic com failure, so all you need to do is go to your backup. If you have the capability, try a different mic or headset, since that may also be a contributing factor. For those pilots with headsets, the connectors of some models can corrode, causing bad contact — pull and reinsert the connectors several times to clean the connectors up. If all these tips fail, take a look at your electrical system indications — you may be experiencing an electrical system failure!

THE BOTTOM LINE: If you know what to look for and can perform some initial troubleshooting, you can assure that the occasional glitch doesn’t turn into an unnecessary and expensive trip to the shop — or an unpleasant alternate (non-towered) airport landing. In the process, you’ll demonstrate your skills as a cool, calm, collected pilot.