Radio Gaga by Michael Marotta

Livingston County Airport (OZW) in Howell, Michigan, gets a lot of business from high time pilots who prefer to avoid controlled airspace because they hate talking on the radio. Some of the regulars on the field, including one guy with a Pitts, do not even have radios.In college I worked as a radio disk jockey. I am a certified Toastmaster. Running for Congress I was interviewed for radio and TV. When I KN0W what I am going to say in an aircraft, I do the “right stuff” southern drawl. “Cessna 2-8-6 Lima on downwind for Two-Two.” It is a piece of cake.

Then, practicing landings while solo I saw an airplane on the numbers. “Uuhh, Bell Fountain Traffic Low wing on the field, what is your intention?” I know he identified himself, but it went in one ear and out the other and did not sink in. I did hear him say that he was going to take a while with his run-up and would not move until I cleared the active. I could not repeat his Make and Number. “Roger that, Low wing, you’re going to stay there until I am out of your way. Bell Fountain.”

As student pilots, we spend more time flying to and from the practice area than we do on the Radio.

I have taken many classes in foreign languages, German (9 years), but also Japanese, Arabic, and Italian. There is no progress until everyone starts mumbling together. In order to learn a foreign language — and that’s what aviation communication is — you have to practice speaking and listening. “Hai, watashi wa Houston Oil Company ni hatarai ite imasu.” This includes the cultural context. You can ask a man about his wife in any language, but it can never be good-sounding Arabic. Aviation has its own cultural contexts, but no instructor I have had seems to understand the question, let alone provide answers.

As an instructor of performance based learning for adults, I know the importance of hands-on practice. We learn by doing.

The other side of communication is LISTENING. In fact, it is probably the more important half. One of the many reasons I like flying solo, is that I can LISTEN to all the radio traffic. I hear people talking aviation and it starts to make sense. A few hours of that and you get used to what to listen for and what to listen to.

If you are a CFI, you need to provide repeated opportunities for your students to listen and talk on the radio.

Fortunately, the controlled field I fly is a state-licensed private strip that serves training, corporate, and whatever. So, the tower is VERY forgiving. Apparently, I never had to speak a “B” before I called in “Cessna 2-1 Baker Charlie would like to taxi for departure on One-Niner.” and the controller rogered with “Cessna BRAVO Charlie 2-1…”. Oh, yeah, I remember now…

Michael E. Marotta
Technical Writer