Good Radio Discipline Varies by Location

Too chatty in some places can be appropriate in others.

Rebecca Selvin

On a mission over southern Germany during World War II, undisciplined P-51 Mustang ace Ralph Hofer earned his commander's ire by blurting out over his combat frequency, "Gee! Ain't the Alps pretty!" The group wasn't under attack at the time, but the breach of strict radio discipline elicited an immediate rebuke. Unnecessary chatting on the frequency remains one of those sins we learn to avoid from primary training on. Clogging a frequency can block what could be an emergency call — especially when people are shooting at you.

But sometimes, there is room for less important radio traffic, and that can be a good thing. Here's an example from a flight I took the other day. I was overflying a local airport that sits only a few miles from a second airport. The runways are aligned within 10 degrees of each other and they share the same Unicom frequency — and not one of the usual frequencies usually used for that role. As I maneuvered nearby both airports (better than 1,000 feet above pattern altitude), I heard two pilots at one of the fields discussing back taxiing and other routine communications, obviously within sight of each other. As one of them took off, I heard him call out his intentions to stay in the pattern. It sounded as though he was an instructor with a primary student practicing landings.

A bit later, I heard the instructor calling his position and directly addressing "the aircraft to the north," meaning me. I assured him that I had him in sight. He replied that he was "just making sure."

Some would call that an unnecessary and inappropriate radio call. At a crowded airport, it would have been. But in this case, there was no other traffic on the frequency, and establishing communications with me assured the instructor that I was unlikely to stumble into his landing pattern unannounced. He could then concentrate better on working with his student. And it also alerted pilots approaching both airports that there was traffic in the area.

So consider the situation when determining what are and are not acceptable radio communications. Sometimes, a bit of extracurricular chatter can be for the best.

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