In this episode, we’ll talk about why you make mistakes on the radio and what it says about your performance as a pilot. I think my analysis will surprise you (in a good way).


Also, some pilots have asked interesting questions about the details of reporting your position in an uncontrolled airport pattern. Just when I think we’ve covered it all, someone brings up a question we haven’t covered before.

Show Notes:

Controller Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC) A text-message based system for communicating with enroute air traffic controller centers. During ocean crossings, CPDLC messages are handled by specialized communication agencies. These agencies coordinate communication between pilots and ATC.

High-Frequency Radio (HF) A long-range radio, generally used for communication during ocean crossings.

Selective Calling (SELCAL) A system that allows a ground-based operator to remotely ring a chime in a cockpit. The chime signals the operator’s need to communicate via radio with the pilot. The process is similar to dialing a phone number, causing the phone to ring. Each SELCAL unit has a unique four-letter code that the operator dials to ring that aircraft’s chime.

Standard Position Report Format (when out of radar contact):

1. Current reporting point. (Expressed as a named navaid, intersection, GPS waypoint, or latitude/longitude, as applicable.)

2. Time over reporting point.

3. Altitude over reporting point.

4. Next mandatory reporting point and ETA at that point.

5. Succeeding reporting point.

6. Remarks. These generally include current fuel state, outside air temperature, wind direction and speed, turbulence and/or icing, as applicable.

AIM 4−2−4. Aircraft Call Signs
a. Precautions in the Use of Call Signs.

1. Improper use of call signs can result in pilots executing a clearance intended for another aircraft. Call signs should never be abbreviated on an initial contact or at any time when other aircraft call signs have similar numbers/sounds or identical letters/ number; e.g., Cessna 6132F, Cessna 1622F, Baron 123F, Cherokee 7732F, etc.

Your Question of the Week:

You are receiving VFR traffic advisories from Oakland Center. You are proceeding towards your destination of Stockton Metro Airport in California’s Central Valley. Stockton Metro is a tower-controlled airport inside Class D airspace. Here’s your first question: When would you expect your controller in Oakland Center to direct you to contact Stockton Tower? Here’s your second question. What should you do if you are nearing the boundary of Class D, the controller hasn’t switched you to Stockton Tower, and a continuous stream of radio traffic prevents you from querying the controller?

When you think you know the answers to those questions, go to There you’ll find complete answers along with full explanations of how those answers were derived.

Note: Mahalo for your patience during the long break between Radar Contact Shows. I was in the middle of a move to the Big Island of Hawaii. I’m settled in now. That means I can resume bringing you a new show about once per month. Aloha, Jeff


Next Radar Contact Show, “Mistakes Happen”. We all make mistakes when transmitting on the radio, even pilots like me with decades of experience.


Last night, flying from Nagoya, Japan to Honolulu, I got mentally out of synch with the person at the other end of the radio. I made several transmissions that had no connection to what the operator was asking for. We eventually sorted it out, but not before my co-conspirator in the cockpit had a good laugh at my clown show.

At first I was embarrassed by my apparent incompetence. Then, after I examined all of the extenuating circumstances, I cut myself some slack. Mistakes happen on the radio. As long as you recognize them and correct immediately, there’s no need to beat yourself up for an error. I’ll get deeper into the how’s and why’s of this in the next Radar Contact Show.

We’ll also cover the transition from VFR flight following with an enroute center to talking to an airport control tower.


What happens when ATC directs you to change to a non-working frequency? Not much. I’ll explain. See you soon.



*I’ve moved to the Big Island of Hawaii.


Aircraft Color in Place of Call Sign is a Bad Idea

April 24, 2016

“Town and Country Traffic, red and white Skyhawk, 4-mile final, Runway One Seven, Town and Country.” “Town and Country Traffic, blue and white Warrior, turning base, Runway One Seven, Town and Country.” “Town and Country Traffic, red and white Skyhawk, final, Runway One Seven, Town and Country.” Do you think saying your aircraft’s color scheme […]

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Next Radar Contact Show: Call Sign by Color, and Picking Up VFR Flight Following

April 21, 2016

If you’re using your aircraft model and color scheme to identify yourself in an uncontrolled airport pattern, I have a good reason to quit immediately. Let’s talk about that reason in the next edition of the Radar Contact Show. It’s been awhile since we talked about how to make initial contact with ATC when requesting […]

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Common Traffic Advisory Frequencies and ATC as Customer Service

April 10, 2016

This edition of the Radar Contact Show consolidates the previous 3 articles about using a Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) and about ATC as customer service organization. If you would rather read about CTAF, you can find the full articles using these links. How to Select and Use the Correct Common Traffic Advisory Frequency It’s […]

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It’s What You Don’t Hear on the Radio that Can Get You

April 7, 2016

In the past I’ve talked about the importance of listening to the aircraft radio to build situational awareness. Nowhere is this more important than in an uncontrolled airport traffic pattern. Here’s an example radio call you might hear in an uncontrolled pattern. “Town and Country Traffic, Piper 525 Yankee Golf, four mile straight-in, Runway 17, […]

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How to Select and Use the Correct Common Traffic Advisory Frequency

April 5, 2016

A pilot named Michael recently wrote to me with this question about the use of a Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF). “I have a question regarding Unicom’s vs CTAF’s.  I’m an Alaska pilot and I also have some time in Eastern Washington, Oregon and Western Idaho. When I was getting my lessons in that region […]

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ATC is a Customer Service Organization.

April 3, 2016

Confession: Selling a house this month + flying a full schedule = not enough time to produce a Radar Contact Show. Over the next couple of days, I’m going to release a series of articles that will eventually be combined into a single Radar Contact Show. Today’s article will change how you view and work with ATC. […]

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What ATC’s ‘Make Closed Traffic’ Clearance Means

February 27, 2016

“Cessna 9130 Delta, Pensasoda Tower, make right closed traffic. Runway 11, cleared for takeoff.” What has ATC just authorized you to do? More importantly, what has ATC not authorized you to do? The answers are not as straight-forward as you would think. You have declared an emergency with ATC. Then, it occurs to you. You […]

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Radar Contact Preview: Cleared to Land

February 3, 2016

Here’s your challenge. Where does the Aeronautical Information Manual, or the J.O. 7110.65 (Air Traffic Control) specifically say you must receive a “cleared to land” from Tower before landing? I’ll have a complete discussion of the topic, including words from air traffic controllers in the next edition of the Radar Contact Show. On a related […]

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