Two people speaking to each other at the same time does not communication make. It’s true in a face-to-face encounter and it’s true when trying to communicate with ATC. When 2 pilots try to transmit at the same time, the result is just a bunch of noise on the radio. In this show, we are going to discuss techniques for getting your timing right when communicating with ATC.

The times they are a-changing. The FAA published changes to the Air Traffic Controller’s Manual on April 3. What’s in there that is relevant to you? We’ll discuss it in our show.

Mayday, versus Pan. Those codewords have been getting a lot of attention lately at, probably due to the intense scrutiny of Malaysia Flight 370. We’ll review the use of Mayday and Pan; why those words are rarely used in U.S aviation; and what most pilots say instead.

Timing is everything, which means it’s time to talk about timing. This time, it’s 22 minutes and 3 seconds of audio enlightenment, also known as Radio Contact.

Show Notes:

  1. Communication is an exchange of information. An exchange of verbal communication requires a talker and a listener.
  2. Who talks and who listens depends on timing. If 2 people try to talk at the same time, a consequence of bad timing, that ain’t communication.
  3. Aircraft radio communication is very intolerant of bad timing. When 2 pilots try to talk at the same time, their transmissions will cancel each other out.
  4. When switching to a new radio frequency, listen for 3 seconds to make sure there is no ongoing conversation.
  5. If the radio is silent during those first 3 seconds, you may transmit your own radio call with the reasonable expectation you will not block or interrupt another conversation.
  6. If there is a gap between a pilot’s request and ATC’s response, some impatient pilots will transmit into the gap.
  7. Sometimes, competition for available air time on the radio becomes so intense, several pilots trying to get in a word on the radio sounds like a food fight.
  8. Don’t be drawn into a food fight on the radio. It is a battle no one wins. Find a way to wait for the fight to end before making your own radio call to ATC.
  9. You are never required to read back assigned radio frequencies to ATC.
  10. If you do read back a frequency, give ATC 2 to 3 seconds to respond before switching to the new fequency in case you misheard the assignment.
  11. The latest version of the Air Traffic Controller’s Manual became effective on April 3, 2014. Here is a link to J.O. 7110.65V. There are no specific changes to ATC procedures in this edition that affect VFR flight.
  12. Version 2.0 of the Aircraft Radio Simulator went online a little more than 1 week ago.
  13. The latest version has real-time simulated air traffic control. A tower controller gives you instructions based on your current position in an airport traffic pattern.
  14. Please send me feedback on the Aircraft Radio Simulator Ver. 2.0 by writing to me at
  15. Mayday and Panoth are codewords used to grab attention on the radio.
  16. Mayday is reserved for life-threatening situations. Pan is used for urgent but non-life-threatening situations.
  17. If you are already talking to ATC, there is no need to use Mayday or Pan. The Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) says you may simply state your situation, intentions, and request for assistance.
  18. While you are never wrong to use Mayday in a distress situation, in the U.S. most air traffic controllers and pilots use the phrase, “Declaring an emergency” to request priority handling.

Your Question of the Week:

You are flying VFR cross-country while using ATC for flight following. The enroute controller says to you, “Cessna 9130 Delta, for further flight following, contact Kansas City Center on 128.75.” You read back 128.75 and pause 3 seconds before making the frequency change. The controller does not correct your read back during those 3 seconds so you feel your read back was correct. Once you have the new frequency tuned in you hear ATC talking to another pilot. So you wait.

When it seems the current conversation is over, you start to press the push-to-talk button for your microphone so you can check in with the new controller. Before you can press the button, you hear another pilot start a conversation with the controller. This pilot is asking about flight conditions ahead. The controller tells the pilot he’ll check and to stand by.

Several seconds pass in radio silence and you assume the controller is offline to get the information the pilot asked for. While you patiently honor the radio silence, another pilot checks in on the frequency. ATC answers the new pilot.

More silence. You start to press the push-to-talk switch when ATC comes back online and gives a report of flight conditions to the pilot who asked for it. As soon as ATC finishes the report, the pilot makes a request for a change of altitudes. A back and forth conversation goes on between the pilot and ATC about the altitude change. By now you figure you have probably flown at least 15 or 20 miles into the next controller’s sector.

Here’s your question, and it is multiple choice. Should you:

  1. Press on course, hoping you will eventually get in touch with ATC; or

  3. Should you start orbiting your present location until you can talk to ATC; or

  5. Should you return to your last radio frequency and tell the previous controller you are unable to contact the next controller.

When you think you know the answer to this question, go to There you will find the correct answer along with a complete explanation of how that answer was derived.


The Aircraft Radio Simulator Ver. 2.0 Demo

It has been years in the making. Today, at long last, I am pleased to announce the release of the Aircraft Radio Simulator Version 2.0 demonstration.

Before we go any further, some words of caution.

  • This is only a demonstration. It is not the full Aircraft Radio Simulator training program.
  • Many, many features of the simulator are still in development. This is a limited demonstration to show what is coming in the future.
  • This demonstration works reliably in the non-mobile Chrome web browser only with Javascript enabled. I’ll say that again: the non-mobile Chrome web browser only with Javascript enabled.
  • Future iterations of the Aircraft Radio Simulator will work in other web browsers.
  • This demonstration is limited in scope and free to use. The finished Aircraft Radio Simulator will be offered through an access fee.

Okay, enough cautionary messages. Here’s the good part. This demo allows you to get hands on with Version 2.0. You may make circuits around a fictitious airport called Atlanta Town and Country Airport. The tower’s callsign is Town and Country Tower. You will fly, make radio calls to tower and get a reply. There is programming to monitor your flight path. ATC will intervene if you make an error. You will also see a 3-D view through the front windscreen of the cockpit. The smoothness of the 3-D display will depend on the computing power of your computer’s chipset.

The Aircraft Radio Simulator Version 2.0 is waiting for you at If you are not already an Insider, you will need to create a sign-in. Once you are an Insider, if you choose to receive updates from me, (which is entirely optional,) I’ll send you very short emails periodically to let you know when a new version of the simulator has been posted at Here is the link to the ATCinsider log-in page.

Have fun, and be sure to write to me at about the simulator, or make a comment below this article.

Control Tower Options

“Dice right, ice cream, alert, 654 Jose. . . Brown Richmond 96 double . . . hut hut!” What?! I’ll give you a hint: Football and air traffic control. Here’s another hint: trying to understand Tower’s instructions does not have be painful if you know what is coming next. If that still doesn’t make any […]

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What Was That Tower Controller Thinking?

My article, “Walk the Talk” is in the March issue of Flight Training magazine. Pilot (calling Tower): “Cessna 9130 Delta, request left closed traffic.” Tower: “Cessna 9130 Delta, make right closed traffic. Report a midfield right downwind.” Pilot: “Cessna 9130 Delta, right closed traffic. We’ll report a midfield right downwind.” Then, talking to himself, “What’s […]

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How to Land at the Wrong Airport with ATC Help

Proximity of Clark Downtown (Taney County) Airport to Branson Airport, Missouri. Last week a listener wrote to tell me about an incident in which a general aviation aircraft landed at the wrong airport. He said this reminded him of other incidents in which airplanes ended up landing at the wrong airport. He asked me what […]

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Voice Activated Flying

Cessna 9130, move rook to King 1. I’m afraid I can’t do that Dave. Air traffic control is voice-activated flying. Don’t believe me? Consider this. You’re about to enter a tower-controlled airport pattern. Tower says, “Cessna 9130 Delta enter a right base, Runway 36.” In response, you fly towards the entry point for a right […]

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Sterile Cockpit Means Quiet!

“Shhh! I’m trying to use the phone radio” Borrowed from “Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure.” In this week’s show, we are going to talk about something called sterile cockpit and how it helps you communicate with ATC. No, Paul Reubens, aka Pee Wee, will not be making an appearance, but we can learn something from […]

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The Best Radar Contact Audio Show . . .So Far

What is the single best edition of the Radar Contact Audio Show? It depends on what you are looking for. Over the last year and half, I have produced 33 shows covering a wide range of topics on radio communication with ATC. If you are new to this website, you may have listened to the […]

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Air Traffic Controllers Working Without Pay

Working without pay.  Update: The U.S. government shutdown ended as of 10/16/13 . The tips for working with ATC described in this article still apply. Read on. Jeff Till now, I’ve been silent on the issue of air traffic controllers working without pay for two reasons. First, I know you come to this website for […]

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Radar Contact: Airport Traffic Pattern Position Reports

This photo has nothing to do with this article. A photo of an A-10 just increases the overall quality of the website. You are approaching an uncontrolled airport traffic pattern and you need to know where other pilots are in the traffic pattern. How do you get that information? Two ways. You call on the […]

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