© Hal Stoen, 18 April 1998
This tutorial covers communications techniques in various facets of flight operation.
In operating an aircraft there are a variety of situations that require a variety of communications techniques. In this tutorial it is broken down to:
Initial start-up & taxi
Taxi to parking & shut-down
In addition, the type of communicating done depends on if you are flying VFR (Visual Flight Rules) or IFR (Instrument Flight Rules).
Terms used in this chapter & their definitions
Unicom: Unicom is a "open air" radio frequency that is used at uncontrolled & controlled airports.
Clearance Delivery: A frequency used by a Control Tower to issue instrument & VFR clearances. In some cases Clearance Delivery may be a frequency that goes direct to a near-by ARTCC (Air Route Traffic Control Center).
Air Route Traffic Control Center (Center): The United States airspace, and that of other nations is broken up into various "Centers." More or less the fewer the airplanes that fly in that Center's airspace the larger the geographical area that Center covers. Centers are in turn broken down into Sectors whose size is also dependent on aircraft volume.
FAR's: Federal Aviation Regulations. The rules the United States Government, by way of the Federal Aviation Administration, publishes for aircraft and administrative operations.
note: Operations discussed in this chapter are based on those used in the United States. The authors of the X-Plane Manual welcome input from our friends in other countries as to specifics of operations in other nations.
Flight Service Station (FSS):
These are the people that take weather observations, give you your weather briefings etc. They used to be at the major fields, but funding cuts and down-sizing have made your chances of having a face-to-face briefing rather rare.
ATIS (Automatic Terminal Information Service):
Continuous broadcast on a discreet radio frequency of an airports weather conditions and terminal procedures. Updated hourly, or as changing weather dictates. Each change gets a new phonetic name: "Information Alpha", "Information Bravo", etc.
The parking area for aircraft at an airport. When calling for taxi clearance, or traffic advisories you may refer to your location as "the ramp." With more than one parking area you may have terms like "North ramp", "Shamrock Aviation Ramp" etc.
VFR DEPARTURE, VFR ENROUTE, VFR LANDING
Initial start-up, taxi:
O.K., you're on the ramp in your Cessna, N1557G. Your fueled, received your weather briefing, done your preflight inspection of the aircraft and are ready to go. If there is no tower at the field, you make a blind broadcast on the fields Unicom frequency along the line of "Mayfield traffic, Cessna 1557Golf is taxing out from the North ramp area for departure on runway 36."
Once youíre ready to go and the airspace is clear make
another blind call "Mayfield traffic, Cessna 1557Golf is
taking the runway, runway 36 at Mayfield". After lift off
another call is made "Mayfield traffic, Cessna 1557Golf is
off of runway 36 and departing VFR east bound".
Once enroute it gets pretty quiet on the radio. If you have filed a VFR flight plan, give the nearest FSS a call and open your flight plan with your time of departure. If you are familiar with the folks at the airport that you just left you can also call them on the Unicom and ask them to contact the FSS and open your VFR flight plan.
Traffic advisories enroute:
If you know the frequency of the Center in the area you are flying in (published on some VFR charts) you can give them a call for traffic advisories. This call up would go along the lines: "Memphis Center, Cessna 1557Golf" Center replies: "Cessna 1557Golf, Memphis Center, go ahead" You: "Memphis Center, Cessna 1557Golf, VFR enroute from Mayfield to Farview at 6,500 feet- advisories if you have the time please." Memphis may come back and say "Roger Cessna 1557Golf, squawk 12345 and ident please." You dial in the 1234 code in your transponder and hit the ident button. (Assuming you do this in a timely fashion, there is no reason to call Memphis Center back and say "Roger, squawk 1234 and ident." The controller will see your target "bloom" on his scope & know you received his call. By not reading this instruction back you help to keep the sometimes crowed airwaves a little less busy.)
So, Memphis comes back and says "Cessna 1557Golf radar contact 10 miles east of the Mayfield airport. Maintain VFR. Advise me of any altitude changes and stand by for advisories." That's it- now you have an extra pair of eyes looking out for you, and Center knows who you are & what your intentions are. However, during busy periods Center may just as well come back after your initial contact and say "Cessna 1557Golf no time for advisories at this time. Good day."
Either way, keep those eyeballs peeled for traffic. VFR advisories to you are way down on the Center's list of priorities- they are under no obligation to call all traffic for you. When you reach the edge of the Controller's airspace he will call you with something like "Cessna 1557Golf for continued VFR advisories contact Memphis Center on 124.75. Good day." Once again, unless you didn't catch the frequency, a simple reply of "Good day" will do.
You contact the next sector on 124.75 and start the whole procedure all over again.
As you near your destination airport of Fairview Center may, or may not, hand you off to the appropriate controller. Getting traffic advisories from Center is a freebie, just a little edge to make your flight that much safer, but it can be dropped at any time by ARTC. Also, keep in mind that you are obligated to advise them of any altitude changes you make. So, when you decide it's time to start down make a call like "Center, Cessna 1557Golf is out of 6,500 VFR for 3,500."
Approaching you destination airport:
If you have been "handed off" by Center you will reach a point where you will descend below their minimum controlling altitude. At this point they will call and state "Cessna 1557G Radar services terminated, 15 miles west of Fairview. Good day." On the other hand, Center may hand you off to Approach Control if your destination airport lies in the area of a controlling facility or if you have to cross through their airspace to get to your destination. In some cases Approach will keep you until you're near your airport and turn you loose with a "Cessna 1557G radar services terminated, Fairview airport is your 12 oíclock and 8 miles. I see two aircraft in their traffic pattern. Good day." (Now that's good service. Once again, it all depends on the controllers work load and his radar coverage.)
As you near Fairview tune in the appropriate Unicom frequency. Find out what the winds are by listening to traffic from Fairview or near-by airports. Tune in the ATIS from a near-by airport, check your weather briefing- do everything possible to get an idea of what the surface wind, and therefore the active runway will be at your destination.
About 5 miles out make a call to the Fairview Unicom "Fairview Unicom, Cessna 1557Golf". They may or may not be maning the Unicom radio at Fairview. If they reply "Cessna 1557Golf, Fairview Unicom- go ahead" Or, if they are really heads-up (and busy) "Cessna 1557Golf Fairview Unicom. Fairview landing and departing on runway 27. Numerous aircraft in the pattern." You reply "Fairview Unicom, Cessna 1557Golf is 5 miles west landing. We'll make pattern calls."
If Fairview Unicom doesn't answer, make a blind call from your 5 mile out position "Fairview traffic (You're trying to reach the people flying around Fairview now, not the person who did or didn't answer you on the Unicom radio. That's why you say "traffic" instead of "unicom".) Cessna 1557Golf is 5 miles west of the Fairview airport, landing Fairview."
As you enter the pattern (usually on an upwind leg) make a blind call "Fairview traffic, Cessna 57Golf entering upwind for runway 27, Fairview." Now that repeat of Fairview, saying it at the beginning and the end of your transmission can be important. Here's why. Someone else may just hear a part of your transmission, and by saying "Fairview" at both ends of your transmission you just might catch their ear- it's just one extra word, and it can't hurt. O.K., now you turn downwind: "Fairview traffic, Cessna 57Golf is on a left downwind, runway 27, Fairview." Turning final: "Fairview traffic, Cessna 57Golf is on a one mile final, runway 27, Fairview."
Taxi to parking & shut-down:
You land, turn off of the runway and make one last call "Fairview
traffic, 57Golf is on the ground and clear of the runway."
Taxi your aircraft in, turn your transponder to "stand-by", and your job is done. Well, one last thing- don't forget to call Flight Service and cancel your VFR flight plan.
IFR DEPARTURE, IFR ENROUTE, IFR LANDING
Initial start-up, taxi:
O.K., you're on the ramp in your Cessna, N1557Golf. Your fueled, done your weather briefing, filed your IFR flight plan, done your preflight inspection of the aircraft and are ready to go.
If you are at a larger airport it may have Clearance Delivery, a convenient service devoted to handing out IFR clearances to departing aircraft. If this is the case, listen to the ATIS and contact Clearance Delivery before leaving the ramp. "Clearance, Cessna 1557Golf, instruments to Fairview, Bravo (the current ATIS)". Clearance comes back with something like "Cessna 1557Golf you are cleared to the Fairview airport as filed, climb and maintain 5,000 expect filed altitude 10 minutes after departure. After departure fly runway heading, departure frequency will be 124.75."
You can read this back any way you want to, from a direct quote to an abbreviated one that covers all the important stuff: "Roger, 1557Golf cleared as filed, maintain 5,000, expect higher 10 minutes after, runway heading, 124.75." If Clearance is satisfied that you have the information correct they will generally come back with "Roger, contact Ground on 121.9." And usually, if you don't tell Clearance Delivery that you have the current ATIS they will invariably ask- might as well tell them that you do on initial contact. Lastly, at some busy terminals Clearance will also issue your initial taxi instructions.
Other ways to get your clearance:
There are a multitude of ways to get your IFR clearance. You can get it by phone from Center or a near-by FSS with a "clearance void if not off by (time)", at some airports line-of-sight radio communications permit contacting Center directly, or from a FSS etc. If the weather permits VFR flight from your departure field you can depart and pick up your clearance when airborne.
If there is no Clearance Delivery then Ground Control will issue your clearance for you.
After departure you just fly your clearance. For those interested in lost communications procedures it is best to read the Federal Aviation Regulations- this subject can get quite complex.
Once enroute follow your flight plan and the requests from Center. Try to keep in mind good radio operating procedures and to not burden the airwaves with unnecessary "chatter." For example, if Center asks for an ident just press the "ident" button on your transponder- they'll see your target bloom and you just saved saying "Roger, 1557Golf ident." Also, when you check in on a new frequency tell them what altitude you are at, they'll want to verify it anyway "Center, Cessna 1557Golf with you, 9,000."
As you near your destination of Fairview, Center may start you down to a lower altitude. At some point, depending on the airspace your destination of Fairview is located in, you will be handed off to:
A sector frequency if your destination is not under the control of a Approach Control or Tower. In this case you will receive a "Cessna 1557Golf contact Center on 125.75." You call them and receive "Roger 1557G you are cleared to the Namit Intersection, descend and maintain 4,000." "1557Golf cleared to Namit, we are out of 5,000 for 4,000." And a little down the line "Cessna 1557Golf is cleared for the approach to Fairview, maintain at or above 4,000, report Namit outbound." "Cleared the approach, at or above 4,000, we'll call Namit outbound."
If you are really out in the boonies Center may call with: "Cessna 1557Golf, how do you intend to cancel your IFR?" This is a really good clue that there probably is no radar coverage all the way to the ground, and that communications with Center via radio once near or on the ground is not possible. Your options are to call the nearest FSS by land line (telephone), call Center by land line (ask now for a telephone number) or if the weather is decent, and you have good VFR conditions, cancel your IFR at this point.
Approach Control if Fairview is near a major airport, or you have to traverse a major airportís airspace to get there. "Cessna 1557Golf contact Big City Approach Control on 123.55." You reply "123.55, good day." (It's a good idea to tune in Big City ATIS if they have one as far out as possible so that you can have the appropriate approach in mind for Fairview if there is more than one.) "Good morning Big City Approach, Cessna 1557Golf, out of four point seven for four, we have Big City Information Whiskey, landing Fairview." (The controller's strip shows you landing at Fairview, but it eliminates the possibility of your being vectored to the Big City airport by accident- it happens. "Roger 57Golf, turn left heading 080, descend and maintain 3,500. The Fairview airport is your 12 oíclock and 15 miles."
You may be asked to state which approach you intend to shoot into Fairview if there is more than one- be prepared to answer. "Cessna 1557Golf is 5 miles West of the Fairview VOR, turn right heading 085, descend and maintain 3,000, you're cleared the VOR 18 approach at Fairview, maintain at or above 3,000 until on a published segment of the approach, report the VOR inbound." "Cleared the VOR 18 approach, right to 085 and out of three point five for 3,000, at or above 3,000 until established- 57Golf" Assuming that Approach will vector you in for a straight-in approach (they usually will) you maintain at or above 3,500 until you are on a published segment of the approach- sector, radial, DME arc etc. At the VOR inbound you call Approach with: "Approach, 57Golf is Fairview VOR inbound, out of (whatever the Final Approach Fix altitude is)."
You commence your descent at the VOR, or whatever the Final Approach Fix is & follow the published procedure to Fairview- which, due to you expertise, looms right in front of you, just where it should be. A note of caution here. If Fairview is an uncontrolled airport, there may be traffic flying around in the pattern even though ceilings and visibilities are low.
Just because you are on an instrument approach does not mean that you have the right of way to the landing runway. If you have two radios it is a good idea to "guard" the Unicom frequency for Fairview. If you have a chance, make a call on the Unicom "Fairview traffic, Cessna 1557Golf is IFR inbound from the Fairview VOR." It can't hurt. If Fairview has a tower your clearance from Approach will be to ".....contact the Fairview Tower at the VOR inbound." or something along that line. And, if there is a Tower they will keep traffic clear for your landing.
Landing, Taxi to parking & shut-down:
After landing, be certain to turn you transponder to "standby" so that you don't needlessly clutter up Approach Control's scope. Taxi to parking, shut-down and sit there for a moment evaluating how you handled your flight. Did you make any errors? (Pretty tough not to in today's complex airspace and procedures.) What should you have done, what will you change next time, etc.
It is impossible of course to cover all of the possible scenarios for instrument flight. This example is meant as an over-all guide to flight operations so that you can enjoy your "X-Plane experience" that much more.
If the reader feels that any of the above is confusing, in error, or should be elaborated on, please contact me.
This narrative, along with aditional content, is available as a CD or an eBook.
For CD information click here. For eBook information click here.
© Hal Stoen, 18 April 1998
click to return to the index