Fifty Ways to Screw Up an Aircraft Radio Call

If there are fifty ways to leave your lover, there must be at least that many ways to screw up a radio call. At the top of the list is bad microphone technique. Here are some examples.

Mr. Windy

In this situation, our pilot, “Mr. Windy,” positions his microphone in the jetstream coming out of his mouth. As he talks, his breath blasts the microphone’s screen adding an annoying effect to his transmission. Properly positioning the mic, or using a foam microphone protector will eliminate this problem:

[audio: http://atccommunication.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/JetEFF.mp3]

Mic-in-the-Cheek

Even the pros sometimes make the mistake of not checking the position of the microphone relative to their mouth. If your microphone starts out in a good position, it could shift during the course of a flight, so check it during the flight. More than once, I have gotten my headset cord wrapped around my microphone boom; and, though the mic started out properly positioned, it wasn’t long before the cord pulled the mic out of position. You just have to pay attention, or you’ll end up producing transmissions like the following:

[audio: http://atccommunication.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/MikePosition.mp3]
Bad Timing

Hand-eye coordination is important in flying. So is hand-mouth coordination. Make sure the microphone key is pressed before speaking. It’s called a push-to-talk switch because you have to push to talk. Otherwise, you’re going to chop off your call sign at the beginning of your transmission or cut out the end of your message, like so:

[audio: http://atccommunication.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/JetCutoff.mp3]
Call Me Mumbles

If your natural tendency is to mumble, for safety’s sake, learn to open your mouth and move your jaw when you speak on the aircraft radio. Treat it like any other flying skill, and work for proficiency, or you’ll sound like this:

[audio: http://atccommunication.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/JetMumble.mp3]
WWII Fighter Ace

The old saying is: “Who likes fighter pilots? Other fighter pilots and 5-year olds.” It impresses no one when you lower your voice and try to talk like an Ace of the Base. Trust me, that throat mic technique you’re using became obsolete after World War II. A low, rumbling voice is hard to hear on the radio. Listen, and you’ll see what I mean:

[audio: http://atccommunication.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/ThroatMike.mp3]

There are at least 50 ways to screw up an aircraft radio call and bad microphone technique leads the list. Everything we discussed here is preventable or fixable with a little attention to detail.

Take Action:

Next time you fly, pay attention to your delivery on the radio. Make your radio calls deliberate, and hold them to the same standards you apply to landing your aircraft, (and I’m not talking about “Any one you can walk away from is a good one!)

Shortly, I’ll have an aircraft radio simulator up and running which you may use to evaluate your microphone technique. Stand by for further.

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