I will be the first one to admit that when I was a new pilot, talking over the radio terrified me. No matter how well I thought I could handle the controls of my aircraft, I just couldn’t get over the terror that was talking over the radio. It took me awhile to get comfortable enough to talk freely in certain airspace. For sake of total transparency, it took me two years before I built up enough courage to traverse and land in a class C airport!
It does not have to be this way. Flying is supposed to be a lovely thing and not being able to enjoy it fully due to fear of talking over the radio is something that you can conquer with practice.
Our fear of talking over the radio and saying the wrong thing can be greatly squashed by using a few techniques. Below are some that I have picked up throughout my time as a pilot. I hope that these will help others get over the push to talk phobia that some experience.
Listen to ATC live - The easiest way to get a good sense of what should be said over the radio is to listen to what is being said – in real time! Stop by https://www.liveatc.net/ to get live audio of air traffic control. The website accepts transmissions uploaded from live ground stations to be shared amongst aviation lovers world wide. It’s a great way to listen how pilots communicate through various airspace.
Fly with a buddy/flight instructor – One of the easiest and least stressful ways of practicing and getting comfortable with talking over the radio is to work with a competent friend or flight instructor. This way you can concentrate on working the radio, while the other is piloting the aircraft. Additionally, if you are unsure about the correct phraseology, you can discuss it with your friend or instructor before you push the little red button.
The power of the mighty Post-it note – I am not kidding here. If you are a new pilot, or an old salt having a reminder or two…or three…can make a huge difference in the cockpit when you are flying through various airspace. The basics will never change, so you can be prepared by writing what you will need to say beforehand. When I was in training, I carried a pack of post-it notes with me. I would write down the various transition phrases down that I would need to say during my trip so I could be prepared if I got caught off guard. We cannot prepare for everything, but having a little reminder can be very helpful – not to mention, I think just having them in the cockpit gave me a feeling of comfort.
The “Say it Right” kneeboard card – If you are ready to take to the skies and travers through controlled airspace you can be armed with the Say it Right knee board cards to offer a bit of assistance with your travels. I personally printed these cards out on heavy card stock paper and laminated them. I then punched a hole through the cards and put a ring clip through them. Now all I have to do is pull them out and flip to the correct page to see if I am missing anything in my radio calls. These cards can be found in a convenient PDF in the document section of the Thrifty Pilot here: https://www.thethriftypilot.com/materials
Facebook groups – there are a few Facebook groups out there that focus on helping pilots in their radio communication. These groups comment on other’s proposed trips and help with understanding what could be said/experienced during the flight. Groups are great to have casual conversations on radio communications and experience other’s views.
PilotEdge- Another great service that provides an opportunity for real pilots to interface with real ATC. PilotEdge supports both VFR and IFR traffic. Additionally, operations on the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) at non-towered airports are also supported and provide the opportunity to practice real world skills while sitting comfortably at your desk. They are currently offering a totally FREE 2-week trial. Once I tried out this service I was hooked. To listen in, check out the link: https://www.pilotedge.net/pages/pilotedge-receiver
On-line flight simulation – The first flight sim that comes to mind to have this functionality is Microsoft Flight Simulator. With this simulator, along with others, you can brush up on your radio communication skills with other pilots. Granted not all are FAA rated, but most times people take the radio communication seriously. I was surprised to hear a very realistic ATC conversation the last time I “flew” through my local airspace on-line. Having this functionality is both fun and great to practice with. More info can be found in this great FAA publication regarding practicing with SIMS https://spark.adobe.com/page/Ngobf7sR37Yu6/
VATSIM.net - as an extension of the virtual ATC experience, VATSIM is something of a godsend to those pilots who find radio communication a challenge. VATSIM is the Virtual Air Traffic Simulation network, connecting people from around the world flying online or acting as virtual Air Traffic Controllers. This completely free network allows aviation enthusiasts the ultimate as-real-as-it-gets experience. Air Traffic Control (ATC) is available in our communities throughout the world, operating as close as possible to the real-life procedures and utilising real-life weather, airport and route data. On VATSIM you can join people on the other side of the planet to fly and control, with nothing more than a home computer.Many flight simulators are supported by our pilot software including Microsoft FSX, FS9/2004, FS2002, XPlane and P3D. Their Air Traffic Control software is provided free, as is training wherever you wish to become a controller. For those that would like to start flying or would like to improve their skills, training is available as well as plenty of resources and guides to help you get started.
Whichever method you use to practice and hone your skills there are two important things that each pilot must keep in mind.
The first is to actually PRACTICE! With keeping in areas that you feel safe in does not expand your piloting skills. Practice makes you a better pilot and puts you in the place where if you need to traverse various controlled spaces, you will be confident to do so.
Second, and probably most important is that if you get to the point where you become confused or disoriented you must continue to maintain communication. Even if you don’t get all of the phraseology correct, a pilot that reports in allows others to know what they are doing and where they might currently be at. This is extremely important and eliciting the assistance of a tower/atc/ect is paramount to the safety to yourself and others.
As always, this blog is always open to fresh ideas and comments to help others get to where they would want to be in aviation. Let me know your thoughts!
Have fun, stay safe and keep being thrifty 😊