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Radio telephony during PPL was a nightmare for me. The total fear of keying the mic and speaking instantly gave me complete memory loss! Why does the radio instantly make normally articulate people lose the ability to speak? In this blog post, I wanted to share 6 ways to improve your RT.
It did not come naturally to me at first and getting any service from anywhere would cause me unbearable panic beforehand.
Tip #1: Read CAP 413 a few times- once every 6-12 months to sharpen your Radio Telephony Procedures
The first time I read CAP 413 was when I was preparing to take my RT exam to be able to fly gliders cross country and communicate appropriately. I am a bit of a geek! and to be honest, quite enjoyed it!
Tip #2: Practice the interactions in CAP 413 “Radiotelephony tutorial/exchanges” with whoever you can find.
Within CAP 413 – you want to practice the role play with whoever you can find .e.g. you pretend to be the pilot and the other person ATC. That will help. What I used to do myself was to practice in the car, to myself whilst washing the dishes etc. That will bring confidence in what to say for a basic service.
**GEEK TIP** tune in and listen to Liveatc.net. When I was at my old job, sat at my desk, I would often tune in to one of the airports and listen in. Heathrow on a stormy afternoon is a good one – many recordings available on YouTube. By listening and trying to piece together what is going on, the ‘language’ becomes more natural.
Tip #3: It is really OK to say Standby or Say again!
I remember being unsure of my position south of the Liverpool Zone. As I was getting my bearings and figuring out where I was, the controller who we were taking a basic service from called up and asked for our position. I panicked and froze! My instructor picked up the radio and just said standby.
For whatever reason, it does not come naturally when you are new to the radio to use the word ‘standby’ or ‘say again’! I don’t know why, but when I was learning there seemed to be this unknown pressure to have to respond straight away.
Having now flown about 1500hours, I’m much more comfortable saying Standby if I am in the middle of doing something and responding when I have a chance to. AVIATE – NAVIGATE – COMMUNICATE. in that order.
Tip #4: Pretend that ATC owe you money
This works fine not just for ATC but for all public speaking. If you are not confident or worried about transmitting, pretend ATC owe you money and I assure you that you won’t have any issues transmitting your message!
Tip #5: Treat ATC as an external Co-Pilot who is there to help you conduct the flight
I learnt this during my CPL course but if you approach RT as ATC being your Co-Pilot being there to assist you with conducting the flight, that dispels a lot of the fear. They are there to help you and keep everyone safe.
Tip 6#: Preparation and organisation is key
Once you get to the stage of needing to go in and out of controlled airspace or getting zone transit, the more you prepare and rehearse what you are going to do beforehand the easier it is.
I remember when I just started hour building, but have never done a Zone transit, I asked my instructor during a check ride to include a zone transit.
In the week before the zone transit, I read up CAP 413 to get my lingo sorted. To help, I created a template for each of the main interaction I would have with ATC: Zone transit, MATZ crossing, rejoining.
For each interaction, I would use my template, and that worked really well! During my hour building, I printed the template, laminated it, and had it on my kneeboard for whenever the petrifying moment came for me to speak on the radio!
How to pass your radio telephony exam?
Aside from the tips mentioned above, here is some advice on how I passed my radiotelephony to hopefully help you with your PPL RT exam. There is no need to be nervous – my examiner made me feel at ease during the briefing. In terms of how to actually conduct the exam
- Take your time
- Don’t be afraid to say standby or say again if you missed anything
- I had to relay a mayday call. The important thing during the mayday is to remain completely silent when the incident aircraft is transmitting and write down what you hear
- Write down your clearances and make notes during your briefing
- As you would in the aircraft, pause and listen before transmitting, particularly if changing frequencies
- You may get an aircraft with a similar callsign on frequency during the exam so listen carefully to ensure it is you being addressed!
Within my exam, the sequence basically mimicked a flight and went through the following sequence:
- Expect a handoff to Approach
- MATZ crossing
- Position reports
- PAN PAN PAN or Mayday
- Zone transit
- Arrival and landing
You have absolutely nothing to worry about!
If you found this useful and want to learn more, check out my best-selling Pilot Training Guide on Amazon.
How are you finding using the radio? I would love to hear about your experiences so far. Please leave me a comment in the section below!
Kudzi Chikohora is a B737 captain with over 3,000 hours of flying in Europe. He holds a Master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering, is a chartered engineer, and is a member of the Royal Aeronautical Society.
Kudzi completed his pilot training via the self-funded modular pilot training route and created kcthepilot.com to share pilot training and aviation content.