On your first flight, your instructor will explain all the aircraft noises and the controls, but one thing that you’ll hear that you may not have been expecting is radio communication with ATC (air traffic control).
At most airfields there is an air traffic control tower. This ensures that all the aircraft and vehicles around the airfield operate safely without causing conflict to each other. In the air the controller will be passing information to the pilots to help them with decisions on such things as where on the airfield to land.
Once your instructor has started the engine, and before he moves the aircraft, he’ll need permission to taxi. You may hear:
Pilot: ‘Elstree Information G-DEFS’ (this will be said as ‘Golf Delta Echo Foxtrot Sierra’)
Controller: ‘G-DEFS, Elstree Information pass your message’
Pilot: ‘G-DEFS is a PA-28 with 2 PoB for a local west, request airfield information and taxi’.
The pilot here is stating the aircraft callsign (G-DEFS) then the number of persons on board (2 ‘PoB’) and where he is flying to (‘local west’) this will be a local flight to the west of the airfield. Once he has passed the basic information of his intended flight, he then requests permission to move the aircraft and asks which runway is in use (airfield information).
Controller: ‘G-DEFS, runway in use is 26, QNH is 1012’
Pilot: ‘Runway 26, QNH 1012, G-DEFS’
Here the controller has told the pilot which runway is in use and then the altimeter pressure setting; all messages must be repeated to ensure they have been understood.
Every aircraft has an altimeter, which shows the pilot the height of the aircraft above a point on the surface. The ‘1012’ you heard on the radio is the local barometric pressure, which when set on the altimeter will show the height of the aircraft above sea level.
Once the aircraft has taxied to the start of the runway, you will hear the pilot saying:
Pilot: ‘G-FS holding short of runway 26, ready for departure’
Controller: ‘G-FS, surface wind 250 degrees at 10 knots, take off at your discretion’
So, here the pilot told the controller where he is and that his ready to take off, and the controller then tells the pilot the wind direction (250 degrees at 10 knots) and that he can take off when he’s happy. Notice that the aircraft callsign has been abbreviated to G-FS.
During your first flight you will hear lots of new sounds, all of which are perfectly normal. Radio communications are essential for the safe operation of aircraft, allowing important information to be passed between air and ground. It’s something that all pilots learn about and take exams in when they’re in the process of working towards their Private Pilot’s Licence.
Once in flight you will hear lots of other pilots talking to the control tower, and from this point on your pilot will only say a few things on the radio letting the controller know where you’re going (‘G-FS clear to the west’) – and when you’re returning to the airfield (‘G-FS 10 miles to the west for rejoin’).
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