Learning to Fly: Radio Communications

When I first started to fly one of the most daunting aspects for me was the radio communications. On the first few flights I had a really tough time following along and understanding what was being communicated. I was nervous that I would never become proficient and that I would make a fool out of myself. I did not like that fact that not only ATC could hear me screw up, but a lot of other pilots as well. I was able to overcome this nervousness very quickly and I am now very proficient at the radio and completely comfortable using the radio. There are several factors that I attribute to this.

My flight school is located at Reno International Airport, KRNO. This is a class charlie airspace. This makes the radio communications more complicated and intense. This makes for a pretty steep learning curve to overcome. Looking back I am very glad I chose a large airport to due my flight training at. It becomes the norm to call up several different frequencies before you can depart. It makes flying into another class charlie or a larger class bravo airport an easy and pleasant experience. My CFI used to teach at a smaller airport and said his students were often very nervous when having to do the three touch and goes at a towered airport. 

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KRNO. Midfield on the Left Downwind for 16L.

Another factor I attribute to my good radio skills is one of my former CFI’s. He was a former F-18 pilot and a Top Gun instructor. The Navy’s Top Gun School is actually located in Fallon, Nevada, a short flight from Reno. He believed in very professional radio communications and expected the same of me. He taught me many things about the radio and communications I still use every time I fly now. 

Live ATC, is a service that provides live ATC streams of nearly any airport in the world. I used this a lot when I first started flying. I would be studying and simply have the one for KRNO playing in the background. I would try to comprehend and visualize all that was being said. This helped me understand ATC better. It is also an extremely fun service to use. Sometimes the bad weather in Reno leads to some interesting flying, which in turn is fun to listen to on the radio. It is also available as an app so it is portable too.

Radio communications is a vital aspect of flying and is something every pilot needs to be proficient at. Many pilots judge other pilots by their radio work. Even the small things count. A Horizon (Alaska) airlines pilot called the runway “sixteen right” instead of the correct “one-six right.” Although not a big deal, still makes me cringe a little.

Any radio stories of your own? Please comment below

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