Even if you’re like me and your flight schools location was on a Class C airport, you learned a lot about radio communications, but you still find it hard to remember all of the requirements. I make my living working on a morning radio show and do not have any fear of speaking on the air. Still, I always have to struggle and think through what I want to say when I’m talking to ATC. So, don’t beat yourself up if you’re in the same situation and you think you’re just never going to “get it.” You will and before you know it you’ll be working the mic like a pro.
If you want to accelerate your learning so you can not only understand what ATC is asking you, but actually anticipate their next round of communications with you, there are a number of things you can do. First of all, when you have some down time, I HIGHLY recommend you listen to actual LIVE traffic communications at LiveATC.com. You can find your local airport and get a live audio stream on your computer and hear what’s really happening. Most of the busiest airports will give your listening skills a real exercise as you’re going to be hearing professional pilots who won’t talk slow and rarely hesitate when they’re talking. Unfortunately, this only allows you to listen to others and doesn’t offer you an opportunity to practice what YOU should be saying.
I’ve written up sets of flash cards for myself to cover various situations such as entering a class Bravo airspace, requesting flight following or other specific needs. This is great for going over what you need to say, but you’re not having to listen to what ATC is asking you. Again, it only covers one side of the communications going on in these cases. If you have a willing participant (maybe another pilot) you could have them act the part of ATC and do a little role playing. That would be great!
The Perfect Tool?
I think I found the perfect tool that gives you a lot of experience listening to the controllers as well as answering them back. Comm1 VFR Radio Similator is a software package which walks you through all aspects of aviation radio communications. This is a great tool and I’ve already spent many hours working on this and learned a few things my CFI may have taught me, but I’d already forgotten. Here’s how the software works.
You start off by learning the very basics of aviation communications including the use of a wired microphone (you’ll find it hanging in a 172 right next to the trim wheel) and using a headset. You’ll then go onto learning about the proper aviation phraseology including the proper phonetic alphabet. It includes everything you’ll need to know even if you’ve never stepped inside of an aircraft.
There is a column that includes a complete menu of lessons so you can skip directly to the items you know you need work on the most or even go back and repeat those you want to reinforce. So, regardless of your level of experience you’ll find the right training for you.
Once you find the lesson you want to work, the software will begin with an overview of this specific part of the communications chain. Why is it important and what ATC will need to know from you. You’ll then listen to an experienced pilot go through the process the way it’s meant to be done. At that point you’ll get a briefing of where you’re located, where you’re going and what you want to communicate. It’s then up to you to locate the proper frequency (whether it’s from your sectional map, the table, the A/FD or even the AOPA airport directory). You then will bring up your radio stack and dial in the frequency and, if you have it correct move on to the actual communications. If you get the frequency wrong, your trainer will let you know what you did wrong and how to correct.
Now you’ll be ready to talk to the controllers. But WAIT! There’s other radio communications going on and you’ll be reprimanded if you don’t wait for the right time to talk and you end up stepping on another pilot. When the timing is right, you’ll have a series of possible things you can say and a microphone image next to each one. Pick the right one and click on the mic, holding it down as you speak. If you get it right, you’ll hear back from the controller and be presented with another set of options. If you get it wrong, your instructor will let you know what you left out or included that didn’t need to be in there.
Once you’ve completed the lesson successfully, you’ll go into a review section where you can listen to your recorded interaction with the controllers to hear how you did. If you want to hear a pro doing it, you can click and listen to them.
This software includes virtually ever situation you can imagine being in as a VFR pilot (if you’re an IFR pilot you’ll want to check out the IFR Radio Simulator) and more. From Clearance Delivery at a class B or C airport to taxi instructions, requests for touch and goes, entering and transiting class B and C airspace and so much more. You’ll be able to cover it all right at your computer.
The software looks like it was made a while back and doesn’t adjust for a larger monitor. It also asks you to install a version of Quicktime movie viewer which is a bit outdated, but didn’t present any problems for me. It’s also compatible with both a Mac and a PC. If you’ve bought your computer in the past 5 years, I’m certain you’ll have enough horsepower to make it work. The link below will give you the details if you want to make sure.
Areas for Improvement
Even the greatest software has a few areas where the makers could improve and this is no exception. One area some people complained is the fact that it doesn’t include a headset for the price. I actually appreciate this, since I already have a couple pairs of headphones and mics and didn’t need another one. If you do, you can buy that seperately from Comm1 at a reasonable price.
I would like to have seen this include a few more variations for each situation. If you’re departing a class C airspace, there’s one lesson only. I’d like to see it throw in a few other situations that would cause you to think twice before moving on. But, this is a far cry from any other training system available, other than a very expensive flight lesson for the sake of working on your radio calls.
Because it’s multiple choice, it kind of “leads” you to at least a good shot at getting the right answer. When you’re actually flying, ATC isn’t going to give you several choices to make. You’ve got to know it and get it right. Of course, they’ll always be nice and let you know if you forgot something or even forgot to switch to a new frequency (that’s happened to me a couple of times).
I HIGHLY recommend this software and for the cost, it’s definitely worth the investment. If you can relax and not worry about your radio communications, you can spend more time focused on the task of flying your plane. You’ll become an expert and quickly make friends with the controllers at your local airport. If you’re a student pilot, pick this software up at the very beginning of your training and you’ll alleviate yourself of one more thing to learn while in the air. Your CFI will be relieved to hear you’ve already mastered this VERY critical part of flying.
Regardless of your level of experience, this software will help you immensely. You won’t have to run up Hobbs hours working on your transitions of class C or B airspace and you’ll spend less time uttering those words “say again” because you didn’t realize you were about to get some instructions you should have written down. With communications such an important part of safe flying, you’ll quickly become a much safer pilot as well.
Most pilot shops are selling this software for $99.95, but I’ve managed to find it at a very well respected pilot shop online for a bit less and they include very affordable shipping as well. Pick up your copy today and get started as soon as possible.