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I am looking for some references for radio communications. I don’t know if it is normal but I worry about that as much (if not a bit more) than the other groundwork. I have been told not to worry bout it, but I would like to go ahead and get my feet wet.


I did a search but didn’t really see what I was looking for. Anyone have any links? Or point me in the right direction.

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No worries mate, I used to be the exact same way. Now I have fun with the tower and tell em jokes if the airwaves aren't busy. Remember, while you're there thinking "Oh God I'm talking to the tower... I can't mess this up" he/she is thinking "Oh God I'm talking to a pilot... I can't mess this up."


Try this book call "Say Again Please." I bought it and it did help, though it's written for American air to ground comms. It's a bit different up here, like everything else. ;)


You can find it and lots of other good books at Helicopters Only

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You're right about just jumping in and getting your feet wet. That's usally the best way to do it. Something else that might help is if you have access to a receiver, just tune into the tower frequency and listen. That's what I did. I trained at one of the busiest airports in Canada, so you had to be quick on the transmit button, and know what you wanted to say. Which brings me to a good point. THINK about what you want to do FIRST, then PLAN how you're going to say. All to often at busy airports I hear pilots make their inital call-up to the tower then take 2 minutes (an eternity on the frequency) to respond with their intentions to the tower.


A good way to remember what you need to say, and in what order is using the acronym IT PAID.


I - Ident

T - Type


P - Position

A - Altitude (if applicable. doesn't work if you're on the ground)

I - Intentions

D - last Departed (if applicable)


West Coaster is right, once you get used to the rythum and pace, you'll be fine. You'll even be able to joke around with them later on. Just remember that the tower is there to help you, not chew you out. And you can ALWAYS ask them to slow down and say it again.

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Who you are,

Where you are,

and What you want to do (or what you're doing).


Use that template everytime and you'll never have a problem. Oh, and the initial call add "Who you're calling" as the first line.


And always ask for what YOU want to do. If you don't ask exactly what you want, the controller might put you on a route, runway, altitude, etc. that you might not like. In which case you'll have to ask deviation and may or may not get it. So just ask for it in the first place.


Here's some examples with different people you're talking to: tower, center, flight service, air-to-air, unicom, etc.


Who you're calling: "Spirit Tower"

Who you are: "Lifeguard helicopter 12345"

Where you are: "6 west with information echo"

and What you want to do: "request class delta transition eastbound to St. John's at or below 1,500"


Who you're calling: "KC Center"

Who you are: "Lifeguard helicopter 12345"

Where you are: "20 south of the Vichy VOR, 180 radial"

and What you want to do: "request flight following to Columbia"


Who you're calling: "Downtown Tower"

Who you are: "Lifeguard helicopter 12345"

Where you are: "Midcoast ramp with info echo"

and What you want to do: "request northwest departure via Alpha taxiway crossing rwy 22"


Who you're calling: "St. Louis Radio"

Who you are: "Lifeguard helicopter 12345"

Where you are: "on 122.45, 10 south of Spirit"

and What you want to do: "request winds aloft forecast for STL, 3,000 to 6,000 and any thunderstorm activity"


Who you're calling: "Sullivan Traffic"

Who you are: "Lifeguard helicopter 12345"

Where you are: "3 east of the field at 2,000 crossing the extended centerline of rwy 24"

What you are doing: "Southbound transition"

And then Who you're calling again: "Sullivan Traffic"


Who you're calling: "St. Louis Helicopter Traffic"

Who you are: "Lifeguard helicopter 12345"

Where you are: "Hwy 40 eastbound at 170, 1200 ft"

What you are doing: "landing Barnes in 3 minutes"


Who you're calling: "JetCorp Unicom"

Who you are: "Lifeguard helicopter 12345"

Where you are: "10 minutes out"

What you are need: "need 50 gallons JetA hotfuel'd"


That's always the general format.......it's the same if you listen to EMS frequency when firetrucks and ambulances are calling their dispatch or the hospital to give report or request orders.


The main thing is practice though. If you can't practice at big class B's or busy towers, get a handheld aviation radio and listen. Visit the towers, meet the controllers, and find out what they like you to do in their airspace.

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Sometimes listening to actual radio traffic is helpful, although you can learn some bad habits you'll have to un-learn. If you have broadband, there are sites that let you monitor ATC, like-




It's airplane driver stuff, and mostly heavy iron.

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Below is an extract from a 'beginners' ' guide I wrote. It might give you some ideas.


The main thing is to know that like everything else it is a skill, and so you can learn it. Don't worry too much.


The book "Say Again, Please" is a very good book for learning RT. (However, its title is an example of poor RT!!!! <_< - The "Please" is not strictly necessary, and therefore the message is not as concise as at could be - but that's being pedantic!





One of the best resources for learning the standard phraseology in aviation can be found in the Airman’s Information Manual (AIM). This is an FAA document and so what is in the AIM is official. If you follow the AIM you are doing it right…officially!


In the aim, as well as example radio exchanges, you can also find the Pilot and Controller Glossary (PCG). The PCG is a list of the common (and some uncommon) terms used in aviation radio communication. It is the same glossary of terms that the controller’s have. Read over this from time to time and keep your radio vocabulary refreshed and up to date.



(AIM 4-2-1)

• Is confident and speaks confidently

• Speaks clearly, politely and correctly

• Speaks efficiently and precisely

• Is constantly aware of the situation and environment around, and so is able to anticipate unusual calls and react appropriately to unusual commands or situations.


Some general rules for professional sounding radio technique




When you change onto a new frequency, wait a few seconds before keying the microphone. Use this time to ensure no one is already talking or is halfway through a conversation. It is annoying when you are talking and someone cuts in halfway through. This is called being ‘stepped on’ and can be avoided. You can also use this time to get an idea of what is going on in the area and on that frequency. (AIM 4-2-2a)




Know what you are going to say. By thinking first, you will sound more confident when you speak and be more efficient too. Thinking first avoids congestion on the airwaves. You will also gain more respect from the controller which may affect how the controller handles you. (AIM 4-2-2b)




When making the initial call up, the controllers must write your information down. It can help them a great deal by speaking slower than normal and extra clearly at this time.


e.g. Helicopter 2..0..3..0..2 instead of Helicopter 20302


Initial radio calls should use a standard format.


[station you are calling]

[Your own full call sign]

[Your position]

[Your request (if short)]

[Other pertinent information]


e.g. [space Coast Ground] + [Helicopter 20302] + [At HAI] + [requesting a hover taxi for a South West departure] + [with information Yankee.]




On your first few solo flights you will still be a student. You should inform the controller that you are a student in your initial call. This is desired by the FAA and is a good idea anyway. The controller will then be able to take your level of experience into consideration when handling you. A good controller will even try to make things easier for student pilots. (AIM 4-2-4c)


You: Space Coast Ground, Helicopter 20302 – STUDENT PILOT. At HAI…etc…




Sometimes pilots and controllers use shortened call signs. Here are two examples:


• Using just ‘62H’ instead of ‘Helicopter 2062H’

• Using ‘Tower’ instead of ‘Space Coast Tower’


Using shortened call signs helps to reduce congestion on the airwaves.


However, there are times when the full call sign is required or is safer.

(AIM 4-2-4a)


• Any initial call-up to a controller must use the full call sign.

• Any time the controller specifically instructs you that the full call sign must be used. This could be due to another aircraft having a similar sounding call sign.

• Use the full call sign anytime you think that not doing so could cause a misunderstanding. Think safe!




You are permitted to shorten the call sign only after the controller has done so. Strictly speaking, if the controller has not shortened your call sign, then you may not either. (AIM 4-2-4a)




Some instructions and information must be read back to the controller. This is to double check understanding. When reading back instructions or information, it should be done in such a way that the controller can be sure you have understood them.


Here is a list of what MUST be read back.


• Clearances

• Hold instructions

• Runway assignments

• Taxi directions

• Radio Frequencies


Not everything has to be read back though. Some information can merely be acknowledged and some information does not even need acknowledgement.


If you do not remember what information you should read back, simply acknowledge or are not even required to respond to, the best thing to do would be to read it back anyway. Always think safe.




You are generally only permitted to change radio frequency when leaving the controller’s airspace. An exception to this rule is when the controller approves a frequency change before you have left the controlled airspace.


At anytime you are on the controller’s frequency, he may wish to talk to you. You should be listening for your call sign while on frequency. You should monitor all communications on that frequency while in the immediate vicinity of the airport.



If for some reason you are not sure about the meaning of a message you should ask for a repeat of that message. Controllers would rather you do this and be sure, then do something wrong.


You: Tower, Helicopter 20302, say again.


If you are not sure whether a message from the controller was for you, wait and think a moment. Then if you are still unsure who the instructions were for, call up the controller for verification.


You: Tower, Confirm that was for Helicopter 20302.


Lastly, remember that controllers are only human and they may make mistakes. Also some controllers are not aware of the special considerations needed for safe helicopter operations (AIM 4-3-17). If a controller asks you to do something which you believe is unsafe, inform him that you are ‘unable to comply’ with his directions. You as the pilot have the final say…just let them know what you cannot do or what you are going to do or what you want to do!


You: Tower, Helicopter 20302. Unable. (Request alternative instructions).


ATIS – Automated Terminal Information Service


The ATIS is a continuous broadcast of airport information. It provides pilots with information regarding weather conditions, runways, frequencies and anything else of importance. At airports without an ATIS, this information must be read over and over again to each pilot. The ATIS therefore reduces the controller’s workload and the congestion on the airwaves.


The ATIS is usually updated during the last quarter of each hour. However if there are important changes at other times, the ATIS will be updated when necessary. In order to be sure the pilot has the latest information, each ATIS is identified by a letter using the phonetic alphabet (See Appendix B). The pilot will inform the controller which ATIS he / she has received. The controller will then check to see if this is the latest one.


ATIS broadcasts follow a standard format all around the world. By knowing this format and what to expect to hear, you will soon find that you are able to follow and understand the ATIS broadcasts with ease.


The standard ATIS format is as follows:


1. Information Phonetic (alpha, bravo, Charlie, etc.)

2. Time of Report (Zulu Time)

3. Wind Direction and Velocity (From Magnetic Direction)

4. Visibility

5. Sky Conditions (Ceiling in feet above ground level (AGL))

6. Temperature (degrees Celsius)

7. Dew Point (not always included)

8. Altimeter (Barometric Pressure)

9. Runway in Use

10. NOTAMS ((Notice to Airmen) Information pertaining to field)

11. Closing Precautionary Statement – “Readback all hold short and runway assignments. Inform the controller you have Information ___ on initial contact.”


Pilots should listen to the entire broadcast to ensure they have all the information provided. It is good practice to write down the information as you hear it. At the back of this book there is a recording template. You can practice copying ATIS information onto the template while listening to a handheld scanner.


Emergency Communications


During the course of your training, it is unlikely that you will ever have to use the information in this section. However, it is important that in the unlikely event of an emergency, you know how to deal with it and have the knowledge you need in order to make correct decisions. During your training, your instructor will train you on how to handle emergencies and will allow you to practice in a safe and controlled manner.


At all times you should keep in your kneeboard, useful frequencies (such as Daytona Radar, Air-to-Air, International Distress Frequency). With these at hand you might not have to make a long walk through alligator infested swamps to find a telephone!


A cell phone and some useful telephone numbers (such as HAI and HAI cell phone #1) can also be of benefit just in case the problem is actually with your radio set!


Although communication comes last in the order of priority when faced with a situation, you should still know how seek the best possible assistance. This chapter will introduce you to emergency communications.




Following this simple rule has saved the lives of many pilots and it can be applied at anytime during a flight. Whether it is for a fairly controlled ‘go-around’ maneuver or a more serious situation, such as an engine failure, follow the rule…aviate, navigate, communicate.


The priority for any pilot at all times is to maintain or establish safe control the aircraft (‘aviate’). In other words, control what can be controlled.


After that, the pilot should consider which direction to fly (‘navigate’) in order to maximize the chance of a successful result. It may be a case of making a turn to a last known check point if lost. In a more serious emergency ‘navigating’ may involve choosing a landing spot and flying towards it.


Finally, after the more urgent matters have been attended to, if it is possible, no time should be spared in seeking assistance (‘communicate’).




The best frequency to get assistance on is the last ‘controlled’ frequency you used. If you are out in the practice areas southwest of Space Coast, this would be Space Coast Tower (118.9). If you are too far and unable to transmit or receive Space Coast Tower, the next best option may be an Air-To-Air frequency or Daytona Radar. If all else fails, you should try the international distress frequency of 121.5


Many pilots ensure that at all times they have, at least on standby, a frequency set on the radio which is continuously monitored by a controller.




Remember, if your problem is minor the nearest tower controller or other pilots might be able to help you. Simply calling them up as normal and asking for assistance could be all that is needed.


However, a more serious problem might be one of urgency or distress (see Glossary). If this is the case, you should transmit an urgency or distress message in the format outlined in the AIM (AIM 6-3-2). This is also shown below:


Include as many of the following:


a. If distress, MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAY-DAY; if urgency, PAN-PAN, PAN-PAN, PAN-PAN.

b. Name of station addressed.

c. Aircraft identification and type.

d. Nature of distress or urgency.

e. Weather.

f. Pilot’s intentions and request.

g. Present position, and heading; or if lost, last known position, time, and heading since that position.

h. Altitude or flight level.

i. Fuel remaining in minutes.

j. Number of people on board.

k. Any other useful information.




As pilot-in-command, you must make the determination as to how serious the problem is and what action to take and who to call. Your instructor will discuss the different options with you during your training.


It may be necessary to follow all the steps listed in the AIM 6-3-2. These include climbing for improved communications and / or using an emergency code of 7700 or 7600 on your transponder. Or it may be a case of landing in a field and using your cell phone to call HAI and get advice from an instructor or a mechanic.


What ever you do, always remember the rule…Aviate, Navigate, Communicate.




A controller will often advise a pilot of other aircraft in the vicinity. Most of the time, this is simply a routine advisory. Occasionally, there is more urgency to avoid a potentially hazardous situation.


Many people are unfamiliar with the consequences of reporting ‘Traffic in sight’. It is important to understand how this term should be used and ‘what it legally’ means.


Until the pilot reports that he has the ‘traffic in sight’, the controller will assume that the pilot cannot see the traffic, and continue to maintain the separation by giving advisories to the pilots.


In VFR, if the pilot reports “Traffic in sight”, that pilot takes some responsibility which slightly eases the controller’s job of separating the two aircraft. The pilot should endeavor to maintain ‘visual separation’ with the traffic.


In short, if you report ‘Traffic in sight’, YOU have to be prepared to take some responsibility! This may mean making slight course or airspeed adjustments.


Here are two examples of traffic advice:


Tower: Helicopter 20302, Tower. You have traffic at your ten o’clock.


Tower: Helicopter 20302, Tower. You have traffic downwind for the South Pad. Report them in sight.


Upon receiving this advice, the pilot should reply in one of two ways.


1. If the pilot cannot see the traffic he should still acknowledge the controller’s advisory.


You: Negative contact, 20302.


You: (Still) Looking for traffic, 20302.


2. If or when the pilot has the traffic in sight, he should inform the controller.


You: Tower, 20302. I have the traffic in sight.




Occasionally you will have to react to non-routine communications or situations. You can improve your own reaction to these by keeping a situational awareness of the airport environment that you are in, by noting unusual situations and by anticipating the calls from the tower and other aircraft.


Below are some examples of some non-routine calls you might hear.


Tower to You: Helicopter 20302, cross runway 36 without delay, I have traffic on the ILS.


Tower to You: Helicopter 20302, make an immediate right 360 turn. Report when back on course.


Tower to You: Helicopter 20302, be advised there is a flock of birds at the departure end of the runway.


Tower to You: Helicopter 20302, what do you see the cloud base at?


Tower to You: Helicopter 20302, expect to hold over the interstate.


The Phonetic Alphabet and Morse Code


The Phonetic alphabet is used in aviation to avoid misunderstandings. Each letter is assigned a word. Instead of saying just the letter sound, the pilot and controllers say the phonetic words. All pilots should be confident with using the Phonetic alphabet. For example, the tail number N60YR would be spoken as November Six Zero Yankee Romeo. (AIM 4-2-7)


Morse code is used in aviation to identify a navigational aid. It is not necessary to learn all the Morse code letters however, as this is always printed on the charts.





A .- Alfa (AL-FAH)

B -... Bravo (BRAH-VOH)

C -.-. Charlie (CHAR-LEE) or (SHAR-LEE)

D -.. Delta (DELL-TA)

E . Echo (ECK-OH)

F ..-. Foxtrot (FOKS-TROT)

G --. Golf (GOLF)

H …. Hotel (HOH-TEL)

I .. India (IN-DEE-AH)

J .--- Juliett (JEW-LEE-ETT)

K -.- Kilo (KEY-LOH)

L .-.. Lima (LEE-MAH)

M -- Mike (MIKE)

N -. November (NO-VEM-BER)

O --- Oscar (OSS-CAH)

P .--. Papa (PAH-PAH)

Q --.- Quebec (KEH-BECK)

R .-. Romeo (ROW-ME-OH)

S … Sierra (SEE-AIR-RAH)

T - Tango (TANG-GO)

U ..- Uniform (YOU-NEE-FORM) or (OO-NEE-FORM)

V ...- Victor (VIK-TAH)

W .-- Whiskey (WIS-KEY)

X -..- X-ray (ECKS-RAY)

Y -.-- Yankee (YANG-KEY)

Z --.. Zulu (ZOO-LOO)





.---- One (WUN)

2 ..--- Two (TOO)

3 …-- Three (TREE)

4 ….- Four (FOW-ER)

5 ….. Five (FIFE)

6 -…. Six (SIX)

7 --… Seven (SEV-EN)

8 ---.. Eight (AIT)

9 ----. Nine (NIN-ER)

0 ----- Zero (ZEE-RO)



Glossary of Common Terms and Phrases


Where possible the following definitions have been extracted directly from the Pilot and Controllers Glossary. (PGC)


Affirm Yes; short for affirmative

ATIS Automatic Terminal Information Service – This is a recorded message informing pilots of the current weather conditions, runway being used and other important information about the airport.

Company Used to refer to other aircraft belonging to the same company as your own (HAI). E.g. Give way to company traffic on the runway. Sometimes the word ‘traffic’ is omitted.

Distress A condition of being threatened by serious and / or imminent danger and of requiring immediate assistance.

Negative No

Negative Contact Used by pilots to inform ATC that:

a. Previously issued traffic is not in sight. It may be followed by the pilot's request for the controller to provide assistance in avoiding the traffic.

b. They were unable to contact ATC on a particular frequency.

Over My transmission is ended; I expect a response.

Roger I have received your last transmission. It should not be used to answer a question requiring a yes or now answer.

Standby Means the controller or pilot must pause for a few seconds, usually to attend to other duties of higher priority. There is no need to acknowledge a ‘standby’ command.


Also means to wait as in “stand by for clearance.” The caller should reestablish contact if a delay is lengthy. “Stand by” is not an approval or denial.

Urgency A condition concerning the safety of an aircraft or other vehicle, or of some person on board or within sight, but does not require immediate assistance.


Wilco Is short for ‘Will comply’. I have received your message, understand it and will comply with it.



Recommended Reading List




Airman’s Information Manual - Chapter 4 and PGC

AC90-42F - Traffic Advisory at Non Towered Airports

VFR Helicopters at Controlled Airports (AIM 4-3-17)

Say Again, Please: Guide to Radio Communications by Bob Gardner




General Aviation Safety Sense – Radiotelephony

CAP 413 – Radio Telephony Manual 2002

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Instructor takes over and makes radio call.


"I was going to say that!"






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rookie101 - there is an "official" online source for the P/CG (linked from your AIM reference):


P/CG - http://www.faa.gov/ATpubs/PCG/index.htm


There are also links there to the FAA Orders 7110.10 & 7110.65 - the "rule books" for Flight Services & Air Traffic Controllers

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