Aircraft Position Reports

Or, you could use an airplane.
Or, you could use an airplane.

Reporting your position on the radio, while in an uncontrolled airport pattern, is a little bit like playing a game of Marco Polo. Other pilots in the pattern rely on your timely and accurate reports to help maintain awareness of your position.

Miss a required report or state your position incorrectly and you’ve instantly become part of a game of blind tag. In this week’s show we’ll talk about how to recover from a missed or screwed up position report on the aircraft radio.

Ay-yi-yi-yi-yi. I just flew with a pilot who was a living example of what not to do on the radio. My head is still hurting from the experience. We’ll discuss what he did, what I did, and what it all means for you when you pick up the microphone to speak.

Bonus! I’ve thrown a quicky video into this week’s show that demystifies the problem of “To” plus “Two.” No, that isn’t a typo, and it isn’t a problem either. Watch the video to see what I mean.

As always, we’ll wrap up with your Question of the Week. Ready to play? Tag, you’re it!

Show Notes:

  1. You may be familiar with the swimming pool game of Marco Polo. One child closes her eyes and attempts to find another kid in the pool by sound alone.
  2. Flying in an uncontrolled airport pattern is similar to a game of Marco Polo. When other pilots give position reports on the radio it helps us get our eyes on their aircraft.
  3. Screw up a position report and you misdirect the eyes of other pilots in the pattern.
  4. There are solutions if you miss or misstate your position: 1. Return to the last required reporting point and make an accurate position report, or 2. Continue as planned but clear like crazy. Yield to other aircraft if necessary. Report your position accurately at the next opportunity.
  5. For more information on position reporting and other radio procedures, check out my books, Radio Mastery for VFR Pilots, and Radio Mastery for VFR Pilots Workbook.
  6. I recently flew with another pilot who made nearly every mistake one can make on the radio. The mechanics of his flying matched his radio work. As the radios go, so goes the flight.
  7. ATC can usually interpret a non-standard phrase made by a pilot, but there have been instances of misunderstanding.
  8. Check out NASA’s Aviation Safety and Reporting System at Do a text search using the term: “phraseology”. Note the more than 1000 incidents caused by non-standard phraseology used on the radio.
  9. Some pilots are still giving me grief for adhering to the Aeronautical Information Manual’s phrasing, “Climbing to,” or, “Descending to.”
  10. I’ve prepared a 3-minute video describing why it’s okay to say “Climbing to 2,000.”

Your Question of the Week

You are flying in an uncontrolled airport traffic pattern.

You have just turned onto the downwind leg when you hear another pilot transmit on the UNICOM frequency, “Inopportune Traffic, Phantom 396 Oscar Papa, downwind, Runway 15, Inopportune.” You scan the downwind entry area and see nothing. You make a short clearing turn to the right and check your 6 o’clock position for an aircraft directly behind you. There is nothing there either. Then you notice an airplane rolling wings level onto the base leg for Runway 15. Here’s your question.

Given your awareness of the current situation, it is safe to continue flying on the downwind leg, or, should you break out of the traffic pattern and re-enter at the downwind entry point? When you think you know the answer to that question, go to There you will find a complete answer to this week’s question along with a full explanation of how that answer was derived.


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2 thoughts on “Aircraft Position Reports”

  1. One small question about the use of “to” in climbing or descending communications with ATC.
    I really appreciated Jeff clear and passionate explanation why in the U.S. “to” could never be confused with “two”. His point is that above 18,000 you must switch from altitude to FL, so you will never say “2-x-thousand” but always “flight level 2-x-zero”.

    My question: are there countries where the transition altitude is above 21,000 feet? If so, you might get in a bad habit by using “to”, for those time you flight abroad…

    1. Giovanni,

      I have not done a complete survey of flight rules in every country of the world but so far, I have not come across another country where the transition altitude is above 21,000 feet. If anything, most countries outside of the U.S. have transition altitudes that are below 18,000. Aruba, St. Maarten and other islands with Dutch influence, for example, have a transition altitude of 4,000 feet. Many European countries have transition altitudes in the 5,000 to 7,000 range. Russia expresses altitudes in meters with their lowest transition altitude at 600 meters. I agree with you that if you were flying in a country with a transition altitude above 21,000, it is a good idea to avoid saying “to” in your altitude reporting.

      Best wishes,


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