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Radio Calls and Writing down clearances and instructions?


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I just started my instrument training a couple of weeks ago. I have two struggles when it comes to communications.

 

First, what exactly do I need to repeat back to ATC and what should I omit. How do I distinguish between what is absolutely important, and what should be omitted? Often times when I read back instructions they are sloppy and scrambled. Any advice? Obviously, its really just a struggle with longer calls (e.g. "Cleared to land" isn't a problem).

 

My second question is how to do you write down instructions when you are right handed and trying to fly a helicopter? Those fixed wing people have it easy. When I've tried to write down instructions with my left hand while looking at the instruments, there was no way I would be able to read it. I don't have a terrible memory, but even a small detail that I miss or forget could be dangerous.

 

So what is your advice? What do you do? It seems like a problem that has no solution unless I just sit down and practice writing with my left hand without looking at the paper, which might not be a terrible idea, but regardless, it would take awhile before I would be able to do this.

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Have you first talked with your instructor about question #1? That would be the place to start.

 

What I first read, and then began to pick up on is listening to other pilots on the radio, and how they communicate with ATC. You can learn a lot just from that right there. What are other pilots reading back? How are they simplifying their comms?

 

Obviously any clearance should be read back, and overtime you'll learn what parts you can omit and what is necessarily to read back to ATC. You don't need to read back EVERY single thing that ATC tells you. Clearances, landing instructions (runway assignments), holding short instructions, and CALL SIGNS are some of the ones that pop into my head (very important as there could be another aircraft with a similar call sign to yours.) Don't abbreviate your call sign either, unless ATC does it.

 

If you are confused about a clearance or something that ATC tells you, you can always ask ATC to say again. Ask ATC to speak slowly if need to. In the back of the AIM, under the Pilot/Controller Glossary, there are plenty of handfuls of acronyms and terms to use over ATC. Get to know them WELL! It will be a lot easier while communicating. And don't make up your own terms, otherwise other pilots and/or ATC won't know what you are talking about.

 

It will take awhile before you will be able to decipher what you need to read back and what you don't. It is just one of those things that takes time.

 

As for question #2, that is another thing that will take time. Sometimes you can temporarily store it in memory if there isn't a lot of information. However, you shouldn't need to be writing down a lot of information while in flight anyways. Does you school use the ol' "Autopilot On" technique with the CFII? That can free up a bit of time to jot down some notes. The CFII will temporarily take the controls so you can do your business (unless your school doesn't run that practice.) However, you shouldn't get into a habit of doing that. You should be able to either remember the bits of information, or jot down a couple notes quickly on your own, while flying the aircraft. If you are quick about it, I've been able to take the cyclic with my left hand, and jot down a couple notes with my right a time or two.

 

Again, that's just another thing that will take time. I hardly was ever writing down information while in flight but that time or two. Everything else was in my CRAFT report I got prior to departure, or I memorized the changing information as it came to me, or I was able to write down a couple notes really quick in flight.

Edited by RagMan
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I put headings in a heading bug. I put squawks in the transponder right away if at all possible, same for frequencies. CDI's can be altitude or heading bugs. Do you have a small kneeboard ?

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I agree with all posted above. Ifr communication can be tough in the beginning, exposure to it helps a lot.

 

As far as what to repeat, the way I look at it is that a huge communication can be broke down into information and instructions. Anything that requires action on your part (altitude, heading, cleared for, xponder code, etc) needs to be repeated back. FYI information, (winds, DA advisory, what the controller had for lunch) doesn't need to be repeated.

 

I use the heading bug to save time, and if there isn't one, I sometimes use the obs as a heading bug.

 

The majority of the calls are the basic same thing. Turn (l/r) to (x) heading, climb/descend and maintain (x). Etc. Once you get to know the system, all that will be new is specific numbers. The phrase will typically be the same. I know it's a bs thing to say, but it does get easier with time.

 

As far as writing things down, if at all possible I get clearances from the ground before I pick up. If I have to do in the air, I use the fly with left hand and write with the other technique.

 

Being ahead of the game and having the next anticipated frequency in the standby helps a lot too. You can have it already set so that when you get your final clearance it is already there and you are just confirming it.

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So what is your advice?

 

Gomer, JD, etc are more qualified to respond to these from a real-world standpoint, but from an instructional perspective these are questions you should go over with your instructor before starting the Hobbs.

 

First, what exactly do I need to repeat back to ATC and what should I omit

 

I'm assuming this is while you're in flight. Check the AIM, maybe Chapters 4 and 5, but clearances, altitudes, and vectors are the only things you are required to read back. And of course anything that requires verification. Squawks are an interesting one: you know the code is coming...plug it in and ident if they asked for it. But why read that back? If you don't get the code correct, ATC will let you know. That's something I've picked up by watching other CFIIs and FW pilots.

 

My second question is how to do you write down instructions when you are right handed and trying to fly a helicopter? When I've tried to write down instructions with my left hand while looking at the instruments,

 

Now you're talking about receiving an IFR clearance, before departure? This is a discussion to have with your instructor and examiner. If they are acting as your SIC or autopilot, have them take the controls and you write it down. There is a mnemonic for clearances, and some shorthand in the AIM or IPH. If they are making you simulate an SPIFR operation, set down, write the clearance, read back and depart.

 

I don't have a terrible memory, but even a small detail that I miss or forget could be dangerous.

Yeah, this isn't a memory game for that reason. Good luck.

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As others have said, you only have to read back altitudes, headings and clearances (thought there was a fourth thing, but I can't remember what it was), and squawk codes and/or frequencies if they change. Listen for the key bits of information that they give you so you don't get confused by the extra information.

 

You might receive a clearance like this when receiving vectors to the Pueblo, CO ILS 8L (http://155.178.201.1...3/00334IL8L.PDF), approaching from the south: "November 123, 4 miles from Mertz, turn right to 032, descend and maintain 7,000 until established, cleared for the ILS 8 Left approach." Your response would be: "November 123 (callsign), right to 032 (heading), down to 7,000 until established (altitude), cleared ILS 8 Left approach (clearance).

 

By the time I get to the point of receiving an instrument approach clearance, I have usually already received a discrete transponder code. Also, I was taught to brief the approach and set up everything prior so I am not fumbling with radios, etc. In this instance, I would do it about 20 miles out. Use shorthand symbols to help speed writing down the clearance.

 

I would set all of my radio frequencies (ATIS (and get the current ATIS information because you will need to have it when you contact Approach), Clearance Delivery, Approach (in this case Denver Approach Control because Pueblo doesn't have their own Approach anymore), and Tower (or UNICOM if the Tower is closed). You can put in the Ground frequency if you have a place for it, or you can do it once you have cleared the active runway (assuming your are making a full stop and not doing a go-around/missed approach, etc.).

 

Your instructor should be able to give you tips that will help as well. The more you can set up when you are either on the ground or just flying along in cruise, the better. Approaches can get busy and you don't want to have to be messing around a lot once you get to that point. You can also listen to live radio calls on websites like LiveATC (www.liveatc.net) or others similar websites. The more you listen to them, the better you'll get at picking out the important information. You can pull down the instrument approaches from AirNav (www.airnav.com) under the Airport tab so you can see exactly what is being referenced in the radio calls. Hope that helps.

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It's mostly a case of familiarity and practice. With practice, you'll figure out what you need to write and what you need to read back. I fly with my left hand or my knees if I need to write, and flying with my knees was one of the first things I learned in flight school. My instructor used to take the controls besidse the lane, put the cyclic between his knees, and then hover to the lane (sort of runway on the heliport, used for autos), take off, fly the pattern and do an 180 auto, then pick the TH55 up to a hover and get off the lane to let the next ship land, without ever touching the cyclic with his hands, just to humble me if I ever thought I was getting good at flying. It takes a little practice, but not that much. I seldom write much down in flight, but I usually know what is coming next and can remember the clearance. In the real world, you don't need to worry much about this, because you'll have two pilots or a full flight director, and the PNF does the writing, radio tuning, reading, etc. If you are SPIFR, George can fly the aircraft while you do that stuff. You would never need to write anything while flying other than in instrument training. You can use your instructor for help with some of it, but if you plan to fly a helicopter in the clouds, you need to learn to do things yourself, and to remember details. It's not something that comes naturally, and you have to practice. But that's why the training is required. Don't let yourself get too pressured to do too much too soon. Just keep on practicing, and it wijll all fall into place soon.

Edited by Gomer Pylot
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Here ya go

 

4−4−7. Pilot Responsibility upon Clearance Issuance

 

a. Record ATC clearance. When conducting an

IFR operation, make a written record of your

clearance. The specified conditions which are a part

of your air traffic clearance may be somewhat

different from those included in your flight plan.

Additionally, ATC may find it necessary to ADD

conditions, such as particular departure route.

The very fact that ATC specifies different or additional

conditions means that other aircraft are involved in the traffic situation.

 

b. ATC Clearance/Instruction Readback.

Pilots of airborne aircraft should read back

those parts of ATC clearances and instructions

containing altitude assignments, vectors, or runway

assignments as a means of mutual verification. The

read back of the “numbers” serves as a double check

between pilots and controllers and reduces the kinds

of communications errors that occur when a number

is either ”misheard” or is incorrect.

 

1. Include the aircraft identification in all

readbacks and acknowledgments. This aids controllers

in determining that the correct aircraft received

the clearance or instruction. The requirement to

include aircraft identification in all readbacks and

acknowledgements becomes more important as

frequency congestion increases and when aircraft

with similar call signs are on the same frequency.

 

EXAMPLE−

”Climbing to Flight Level three three zero, United Twelve”

or ”November Five Charlie Tango, roger, cleared to land

runway nine left.”

 

2. Read back altitudes, altitude restrictions, and

vectors in the same sequence as they are given in the

clearance or instruction.

 

3. Altitudes contained in charted procedures,

such as DPs, instrument approaches, etc., should not

be read back unless they are specifically stated by the

controller.

 

4. Initial read back of a taxi, departure or landing

clearance should include the runway assignment,

including left, right, center, etc. if applicable.

 

c. It is the responsibility of the pilot to accept or

refuse the clearance issued.

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Hey mrkik et al,

 

My two ultra-helpful comments have already been made by others:

 

If they [your instructor or examiner] are acting as your SIC or autopilot, have them take the controls and you write it down.

 

Yes and amen. You are allowed the latitude of an "autopilot" in the PTS, but you must set the ground rules with your instructor/examiner before shouting "Autopilot, ON!" Seriously, in the real world, you will never go single-pilot-IFR in a helicopter without at least a stability augmentation system that allows you to set heading and altitude and then let go of the controls. At least not as a planned thing. At least, I've never heard of it, and I personally wouldn't wanna try it.

 

You can also listen to live radio calls on websites like LiveATC (www.liveatc.net) or others similar websites. The more you listen to them, the better you'll get at picking out the important information. You can pull down the instrument approaches from AirNav (www.airnav.com) under the Airport tab so you can see exactly what is being referenced in the radio calls. Hope that helps.

 

This was the most helpful thing to me as a student. Learn by imitation. Try listening (www.liveatc.net) to a big airport's clearance delivery or approach/departure frequencies...that's where you'll hear the command/response patterns you need to get comfortable with. If you're real adventurous, visit a radar facility, ask nicely to sit in, and listen on headset while watching the radar. Everything becomes much simpler and less intimidating (and more repetitive and boring) when you sit in the room where it all happens.

 

These are the two most important tips I found, in both my own instrument training and in getting my instrument students to relax and get into the groove. Thank you, kodoz and Parafiddle. You (and all others above) were smart before me.

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Almost all ATC comms are in a standardized format you will hear over and over again. So it becomes melodic after awhile. Example for approach clearance,

 

555IS

Atlanta Approach

Turn left heading 330 to intercept the localizer

Maintain 4,000 until established

Cleared for the ILS runway 7 approach

Circle to land runway 1

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Almost all ATC comms are in a standardized format you will hear over and over again. So it becomes melodic after awhile. Example for approach clearance,

 

555IS

Atlanta Approach

Turn left heading 330 to intercept the localizer

Maintain 4,000 until established

Cleared for the ILS runway 7 approach

Circle to land runway 1

 

The above quote implies the aircraft has been cleared to land during the issue of approach clearance, which won't happen, the correct phraseology is:

 

"Turn left heading 330 maintain 4,000 until established on the localizer cleared ILS runway 7 approach, circle to runway 1"

 

you'll never hear "Cleared Approach" and "Land runway number" in the same transmission. in fact the approach controller is required to request permission for you to land from the local tower controller prior to you reaching FAF, once he has received "cleared to land" from the tower, the approach controller will then issue "cleared to land" to you and then issue the frequency change to tower.

 

if your uncertain about something you heard, ask the controller to "say again" and he'll repeat it. many times we can tell an inexperience pilot from someone who's experienced and know whats happening simply by their radio voice and also if your practicing in a local area we'll know the tail number in which case many of us will slow down a little when talking to you. You'll learn a lot listening to liveatc. Just remember the controller is there to help, so if your uncertain about something or have a special request, just ask. I would much rather have you asking questions, than having you doing something I didn't expect.

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Approach does assign circling approaches. A circling approach clearance is not a clearance to land any more than a straight in approach or sidestep is.

Edited by aeroscout
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Approach does assign circling approaches. A circling approach clearance is not a clearance to land any more than a straight in approach or sidestep is.

 

Huge difference between assigning an approach as you've stated above and your original phraseology. Your original posted phraseology was wrong.

 

Go back and re-read what I said. I said your never going to hear "Cleared" & "Land" issued at the sametime during an approach clearance. I also corrected your example of an approach clearance using improper verbage/phraseology so the flight student isn't confused. There's a reason both "cleared" & "land" aren't used in the initial approach clearance, to avoid confusion as to whether you've actually been "cleared to land"

 

The correct circle phraseology is:

 

"CIRCLE TO RUNWAY (number)"

or

"CIRCLE (direction using eight cardinal compass points) OF THE AIRPORT/RUNWAY FOR A LEFT/RIGHT BASE/DOWNWIND TO RUNWAY (number)."

 

Your incorrect clearance phraseology was corrected to be issued as

 

"Turn left heading 330 maintain 4,000 until established on the localizer cleared ILS runway 7 approach, circle to runway 1"

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Recently, I requested and was approved for a class C transition. Once upon reaching the other side of the airspace, I anticipated the usual “helicopter 1234PD squawk VFR frequency change is approved” call from the controller but no such luck. Once clear of the airspace, I initiated the changeover request with no reply. Just because, I made multiple requests which went unanswered. This was extremely annoying because the controller wasn’t really that busy. About 10 miles out, the change was made on my own…

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Spike that could of been as a result of various reasons, all of which atc should of advised. It's not uncommon for us to leave Le squawking and simply transfer the vfr LE's, which allows us to know who's buzzin around on the edge of our airspace. But we always advise when doing so.

 

Back to the original post.

 

Example:

"Turn left heading 330 maintain 4,000 until established on the localizer cleared ILS runway 7 approach, circle to runway 1"

 

Your read back for the provided example should include: direction of turn, heading, altitude approach name, and any special instructions

 

so atc can confirm you copied correct clearance information your read back would be:

"left 330" "4,000 until established" "cleared ILS runway 7", "circle to rwy 1"

 

some people might tell you the direction of turn isn't important, however it's very important because using the provided example, I could issue "turn right heading 330 for spacing maintain 4,000 until established on the localizer cleared ILS runway 7 approach, circle to runway 1"

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Spike that could of been as a result of various reasons, all of which atc should of advised. It's not uncommon for us to leave Le squawking and simply transfer the vfr LE's, which allows us to know who's buzzin around on the edge of our airspace. But we always advise when doing so.

 

This happened during a ferry flight while transitioning through SNA and the controller didn’t know me from Adam. That is, the controller couldn't have known I was LE...

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