Flight Communications


Flight Two introduces communications and flight by instrument reference in addition to a review of the skills featured in Flight One.

Every flight is preceded by a preflight inspection of the airplane. Prior to commencing Flight Two, complete a Preflight Inspection. The airplane used for this flight is a Cessna 152. Prior to starting the engine, turn on the master switch and one radio and tune it to the Automatic Terminal Information Service (ATIS).

On this frequency you will hear a recording describing the current weather conditions at your airport (assuming it has a control tower that provides ATIS).

"Oakland International Airport information Delta 0253 zulu, wind 260 at 10, visibility 10, ceiling 20,000 broken, temperature 20, dewpoint 12, altimeter 29.95, ILS and visual approaches runways 29 right, 27R in use, advise on initial contact you have information Delta."

The "information" is always presented in the same sequence and you will need to develop your own shorthand to write down what you hear.

Your notes can be taken in any format as long as you consistently use the same format. Something like the following works well.

OAK D 0253Z 260 10K V10 200 BKN 20/12 29.95

This information tells you that at Oakland at 0253 universal time coordinated (known by aviators as Zulu Time), the wind was blowing from 260 degrees magnetic at 10 knots (nautical miles per hour). Visibility was 10 statute miles. The clouds were 20,000 feet above ground level (AGL) and they covered 0.6 to 0.9 of the sky. The temperature was 20 degrees centigrade and the dew point was at 12 degrees centigrade. The barometric pressure at Oakland corrected to be that at sea level was 29.95 inches of mercury. Instrument Landing System and visual approaches for runways 29 and 27 right were available. This recording was called information Delta.

The ATIS recordings are usually made at 45 minutes past the hour or whenever new weather information is received. Each recording has a new code letter. These code letters are pronounced as per the ICAO phonetic alphabet and used in communications to signify that one has all the information contained in that recording.

ICAO Phonetic Alphabet

In order for this airport to be used by aircraft operating under Visual Flight Rules (VFR), a minimum ceiling of 1000 feet and minimum visibility of 3 statute miles are required. A ceiling is defined as a layer of clouds that is reported as broken (covering 0.6 to 0.9 of the sky) or overcast (covering more than 0.9 of the sky).

Hence at the time of the ATIS recording, the airport was useable under VFR. The spread between the temperature and dew point was greater than 2 degrees; therefore fog or low cloud formation was unlikely.

The wind information determines the choice of runway for takeoff and landing. One normally selects the runway most closely aligned with the wind so takeoffs and landings take place with the airplane headed into the wind. The speed of the wind is used in takeoff and landing distance calculations and is a significant factor in the go or no-go decision-making process. If the wind is strong, gusty or not aligned with the runway a no-go decision may be appropriate, depending on your level of experience/skill and the capability of your airplane.

Set the altimeter to the altimeter setting and it should display the field

Having made a note of the ATIS, turn off the radio and master switch and proceed with the Before Starting Engine Checklist followed by the Starting Engine Checklist.

Next, you need to obtain a clearance to taxi.

The following example is written with respect to Metropolitan Oakland International Airport. This airport is associated with class C airspace and the communications sequence that follows is written with class C and local operating procedures in mind. However, the basic concepts apply to all airports.

Your initial contact with ground control should state who you are calling,
who you are, where you are, what you need, and what information you have.
These principles apply most of the time on initial contact with air traffic
controllers. In some locations/situations it is preferred that the intial
call simply states who you are calling and who you are, to be followed
by the full request once you have been acknowledged.

The following will be your ground communications at Oakland. Your transmissions
will be shown in bold and ATC will be Italic.

"Oakland ground, Cessna 12345, Cessna 152/uniform, at the old tees, request taxi 33 for departure to San Pablo Bay, with Victor."

Oakland ground is who you are calling, Cessna 12345 is the make and registration number of the airplane you are flying, Cessna 152/uniform indicates the model and special equipment suffix of the airplane you are flying, uniform indicates that you have a transponder with altitude encoding. At the old tees is a description of where you are located on the airfield, request taxi 33 indicates you wish to taxi to runway 33, and for departure to San Pablo Bay means your destination is San Pablo Bay. With Victor indicates that you have listened to ATIS recording Victor.

A typical response from ATC will be.

"Cessna 12345, taxi 33, squawk
4231 maintain at or below two thousand feet."

"Cessna 12345, taxiing 33, squawk
4231, at or below two thousand."

These transmissions indicate you are cleared to taxi to runway 33 and
that you should set code 4231 in your transponder (squawk
means activate a particular mode or code on the transponder). This will
enable ATC to identify your specific aircraft using radar. You have been
instructed not to climb above two thousand feet mean sea level (MSL)
until advised otherwise.

Now taxi to runway 33 using the techniques introduced in Flight One.

Having completed the Before Takeoff Checklist, you will taxi up to and hold short of the runway. Now it is time to call the tower as follows.

"Oakland tower, Cessna 12345 holding short 33, ready for takeoff."

"Cessna 12345, cleared for takeoff runway 33, after departure follow the Nimitz freeway north east."

"Cleared for takeoff 33, follow the Nimitz, Cessna 12345"

Now taxi onto the runway, take off and follow the freeway northeast bound.

A few seconds after takeoff, you can expect the following.

"Cessna 345, radar contact, say altitude."

"Climbing through three hundred feet, Cessna 345."

This means ATC has located you on radar and they wish to verify the altitude information (Mode C) they are receiving. Also note that they have abbreviated your call sign to the last three digits or letters. Once a particular ATC specialist has initiated the abbreviation you may also abbreviate your call sign as long as you are communicating with the same specialist.

The next communication in this example is a handoff to departure control. This is typical of operations in class C airspace, but will not generally be the case when departing class D airspace.

"Cessna 345, contact Bay departure one two seven point zero."

"One two seven point zero, so long, Cessna 345"

This verifies that the frequency to which you are switching. The "so long" is not required, but is a good means of informally verifying with ATC that this will be your last transmission to that particular facility.

If you have two radios, select the new frequency in the other radio. This way, if you are unable to make contact with departure control, you will still have the tower frequency in the other radio and can simply switch back and request assistance in the unlikely event you are unable to make contact with departure.

Since the next call is to a totally different facility, it is necessary to introduce yourself using the complete call sign.

"Bay Departure, Cessna 12345, with you two thousand feet."

"Cessna 12345, radar contact, resume own navigation, altitude at your discretion, remain clear of class Bravo airspace."

"Own navigation, clear of class Bravo, Cessna 12345"

This means they have identified you on radar and you no longer have to follow the freeway, but you can take the route and altitude of your choice as long as you stay clear of class Bravo airspace.

Once you are clear of class C airspace, you can expect the following.

"Cessna 12345, radar service terminated, squawk
VFR, frequency change approved."

one two zero zero, good day. Cessna 12345."

This means ATC is no longer monitoring your progress on radar and wants
you to select the generic transponder code used by all VFR aircraft (1200).
They are also saying that you are no longer required to monitor their
frequency. Your response verifies that you are changing your transponder
code and the "good day" is an informal means of indicating that
this will be your last transmission to that particular facility.

Upon reaching the practice area, make some clearing turns to check for other traffic and practice turns, climbs and descents using the techniques introduced in flight one.

Flight by Instrument Reference

After you have reviewed these techniques for a few minutes, your instructor will take control of the airplane and ask you to "go under the hood." This refers to putting on a view-limiting device, usualy in the form of a plastic hood that restricts your field of vision to just the instrument panel. Thereafter, for he duration of the practice, your control inputs will be made solely on the basis of information obtained by reference to instruments.

The instructor will usually maintain control of the airplane for a few minutes while demonstrating various flight attitudes so you can see how the instruments look when the plane is straight and level, turning, climbing and descending. During this period, you should start to develop your scan. That is a systematic sequence for observing the instruments that avoids fixating on any one instrument. Having established the desired indications, spend a few minutes practicing flying each configuration.

Scan techniques are very important to pilots flying by Instrument Flight Rules (IFR), and these pilots spend a considerable amount of time developing sophisticated techniques. As a student pilot, you need to develop sufficient instrument skills to maintain control of the airplane should you inadvertently find yourself in IFR conditions, to avoid becoming disorientated during night flight, and to satisfy the requirements of the Private Pilot Practical Test Standards. Your overall aircraft control will also benefit from an enhanced understanding of the instruments.

Here are three scan techniques to get you started.

Having completed these maneuvers, it will be time to set up for returning to the airport. The first task is to copy the current ATIS recording.

Next contact approach control.

"Bay Approach, Cessna 12345."

"Cessna 12345, this is Bay Approach, go ahead"

"Cessna 12345, Cessna 152/Uniform, over Point San Pablo at 3,500.
Landing Oakland with Whiskey."

As with previous transmissions, you are following the standard format of stating who you are calling, who you are, where you are, what you want, and what information you have. Some ATC specialists like all of this information in one transmission; others prefer that you establish contact and then make your request as above.

"Cessna 345, squawk
4321 ident."

"4321, Cessna 345."

This means select cose 4321 on your transponder and press the ident button. When you press ident, your aircraft’s data is highlighted on the controller’s screen, making it easier to verify your position.

After a minute or so, ATC will advise that they have established radar contact.

"Cessna 345, radar contact 15 miles northwest of Oakland, proceed to the Mormon Temple at 2500, expect right traffic runway two seven right."

"Mormon Temple, 2500, right traffic two seven right, Cessna 345."

You then proceed to the Mormon Temple at an altitude of 2500 feet. Just before reaching the temple, you will be advised to contact the tower.

"Cessna 345, contact Oakland Tower 118.3"

"118.3, so long, Cessna 345"

Your read-back verifies the frequency you are switching to and the "so long" is an informal cue to ATC that this will be your last transmission to that particular facility. Now, switch to the tower frequency using the other radio.

"Oakland Tower, Cessna 12345 with you 2,500"

"Cessna 345, make right traffic runway two seven right."

"Right traffic, two seven right, Cessna 345"

As you were handed off by approach while in radar contact Oakland Tower should know the code you are squawking and be aware of your position on radar. Hence your call simply states who you are calling, who you are, and what your altitude is so they can verify this against the mode C information displayed on the radar. If you were not in radar contact when handed off to the tower your call would have to include your position.

On the basis of these instructions, enter a right downwind in preparation for landing on runway 27R. At some time before you turn base, you can expect to be cleared to land.

"Cessna 345, cleared to land two seven right."

"Cleared to land two seven right Cessna 345"

After landing and taxiing clear of the runway, you will be advised to contact ground.

"Cessna 345 contact ground 121.9"

"121.9 Cessna 345"

Then switch to the ground frequency using the other radio.

"Oakland ground, Cessna 12345 clear of two seven right at Echo, taxi to Kaiser"

"Cessna 345, taxi to Kaiser"

"Cessna 345"

Your call to ground follows the standard format, stating who you are calling, who you are, where you are, and what you want to do. The response clears you to taxi to the Kaiser terminal area where you will refuel.

This completes Flight Two.

Flight Three introduces you to operating the airplane in different configurations and at slow airspeeds. You also learn how to recover from stalls and how to perform steep turns.