Aircraft Radio Call Anatomy 102: Part 2

Today, we continue Aircraft Radio Anatomy 102 with this (fictional*) radio exchange between a controller at an enroute air traffic control center (ARTCC) and two pilots:

Converging traffic safely separated by altitude.

ARTCC: “Comanche 38 Kilo, traffic twelve o’clock, ten miles, a westbound Beech Baron one thousand feet below you.”

Comanche 38K: “Comanche 38 Kilo, looking for the traffic.”

ARTCC: “Baron 5 Foxtrot Lima, traffic twelve o’clock, niner miles, opposite direction PA-24 at niner thousand.”

Baron 5FL: “Baron 5 Foxtrot Lima, looking.”

ARTCC: “And Comanche 38 Kilo, you were requesting direct to where?”

?: “Uh, direct to Ketle.”

ARTCC: “Comanche 38 Kilo, I have your request.”

ARTCC: “Comanche 38 Kilo, climb and maintain one zero thousand.”

?: “Climbing to one zero thousand.”

You Talking to Me?

My question to you is this: After this radio exchange, who is climbing to 10,000 feet? If it’s Comanche 38K, everything is okay, because that pilot is climbing away from the converging traffic below him. If Baron 5FL took the call, the Baron is now climbing towards a potential collision with the Comanche above.

Blabbing on the Telephone

What is in play here? The pilot of Comanche 38K dropped his call sign and turned his communication into a telephone conversation. When we talk on the telephone, we don’t say:

“Mary, this is Bill. How are you?”
“Bill, this is Mary. I’m fine. How are you?”
“Mary, this is Bill. I’m good. Listen, I was calling to ask you . . .”

In a telephone conversation, we know who is at the other end of the line so there’s no need to use our “call signs.” Even in a conference call of 3 or 4 people, we can generally determine who is talking by voice recognition alone.

Voice Recognition is Not an Option

Not so on the aircraft radio. There may be 10, or 20, or 30 or more people on the same frequency. Most general aviation radios are not high fidelity. For these reasons, voice recognition, and telephone-style conversation has no place on an aircraft radio. The AIM and the FARs are unequivocal about what you are required to include with each radio transmission: always, always, include your call sign, period. It’s not only the law, it may save your life.

In our next class, we’ll examine the next part of a radio call: naming your location. That’s coming right up, so stay tuned.

*This radio conversation is entirely fictional and was created for training purposes. Any resemblance to actual people or aircraft is entirely coincidental.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Charles Ma October 31, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Dear Jeff,

I have just started my helicopter course, beside the slow progress of controlling a rotorcraft, I found the ATC communication might be a major issue for me. Thank god I found your website, I am very grateful that you share your knowledge with us. You have a great heart. I haven’t finished reading your article. Forgive me to ask one silly question, if I don’t have a GPS in my cabin, how do I know where I am, and the distance to the tower?

Best regards,

P.S. I was born in China, although I speak English, I don’t respond well about numbers plus characters.


JeffKanarish November 1, 2011 at 7:03 pm

Hello Charles,

There are many ways to report your position to the control tower. One important part of flying helicopters is knowing how to navigate by referencing landmarks. As your training progresses, you will learn to read a navigation map and know your position over the ground at all times. You will also learn to find your position by using conventional navigation equipment, such as VOR and DME. So, a position report to Tower can be a known landmark, a VOR/DME reading, or simply your best estimate, based on what you see outside: “Twelve miles northwest of the airport,” for example.

Good luck with your training, and stay in touch. Feel free to write to me directly at



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