Communicating over Aviation Radios is an Acquired Skill

An airplane radio still sounds like someone put rocks in a blender.

Now you do the preflight inspection while your instructor finishes her coffee. You know she is watching you because the moment you finish, she walks out of the office and, with a warm smile, crawls into the right seat.

You can tell you are one of her favorites – certainly because you are progressing rapidly. You’ve done your homework. You know what to expect before you arrive. For today, you’ve studied stalls. You know how to do a stall, what causes a stall, and, more importantly, you know how to recognize an oncoming stall and how to recover from one.

That overconfidence is soon shattered.

Before you start the engine, she tells you to tune your navigation part of your radio to the ATIS (Airport Terminal Information Service) and listen to it. This is when you learn that there is sound on the navigation radios. She explains that the ATIS tells you about the wind, the altimeter setting, runway in use and anything else that the ground controller may think that all pilots need to know. In this case the ATIS is broadcast on the ILS (Instrument Landing System) localizer frequency. You resolve to find out what a ‘localizer’ is.

She asks, “Okay, what did it say.”

You answer and but miss the altimeter setting and the fact that this message was called ‘information foxtrot.’

She says, “Don’t worry. Listening to an aviation radio is an acquired skill. The secret is to know what information you’re going to hear and in which order.

A good source for that is the AIM (Aeronautical Information Manual). You also should memorize the International Phonetic Alphabet. You know, alpha, bravo, charlie… This how we keep from confusing ‘b’ from ‘p’ or ‘t’ when we’re talking on the radio. It’s standard all over the world. Next time, I would like you to recite it to me. Can do?”


“Until you’ve got your radio procedure down pat, I’ll work the radios and you talk to me like I was an air traffic controller. Okay, turn off the radios and start the engine.”

You do and turn the radios back on after the engine is running smoothly. She says on the radio, “Livermore Ground, this is Cessna one two three four golf at Acme, with foxtrot, taxi for takeoff.” You hear over your headset, “three four golf, taxi runway one eight right, hold short of one eight left…”

“Okay, let’s go.”

Whether you have soloed or not, there are some tricks that impact both P-factor and coordinated turns. This another of those little details that differentiate the mediocre from the truly superb. Look for 90% of Student Pilots Don’t Know About This Trick

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