Flip Flopping

Instrument flying and simple radio communications.

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When I was first getting my feet wet with instrument flying one of the hardest but most crucial skills was learning how to make things simple.

Those of you who are experienced instrument pilots might chuckle at this because doing that is the essence of much of what we do in the single-pilot cockpit. As with everything in flying, what we do is inextricably mated with the equipment we're flying in.

Comm radios are a case in point. Early in my IFR days I was flying a nice, older 182 with dual KFC 170B nav/comms, I used the two radios as an improvised flip-flop comm. When I'd get a new frequency, I'd simply put the new one into the number two comm, push the button on the audio panel to swap comms and I'd be good to go. If for some reason the frequency I got wasn't working out for me — which does happen more often than nonpilots might think would be the case, I'd simply use the audio panel to swap back to my previous comm and ask for help from the previous controller.

With dual flip-flop comms, such as on the dual KX155s I'd later fly and the Garmin GNS430s in the Cirrus I now fly, I have even more tools at my disposal. Preparation is the key.

A former instructor of mine in Bridgeport, Connecticut, David Faile, taught me to use the two comms for different phases of flight. I'd do all the ground stuff — ATIS, ground, clearance and the like — on comm number two and all the air stuff in comm number one. So before flying I'd handle the ATIS, clearance and ground chores on two and then simply swap comms when it came time to go to tower before takeoff. I'd already have the frequency for departure in the standby so all I had to do was flip the switch. One less thing to do on a busy phase of flight.

The same is true for when you're in the approach phase. Use comm two for ATIS and then put one-twenty-one-something in the active on number two. By the time you get to your last approach controller — in Dallas, for instance, that can take three or four controllers — put the tower frequency in the standby. When you get sent to tower, it's there waiting for you. When you clear the runway, swap radios and you're already on ground. No hunting, no stress.