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PPL training: listening to the radio

I’m (hopefully) about half way through my PPL with ~22hrs.

Having just started cross country training, I’m supposed to be doing solo XC exercises soon. The main thing I’m nervous about is radio work, in particular I keep missing messages from ATC to me unless I’m expecting them.

For example, if I report I’m on final, I’m then expecting my landing clearance so I’m keeping an ear out. However if I’m fiddling with a map or just generally trying to keep on top of flying the aeroplane, I almost always miss incoming radio calls.

I see experienced pilots manage to somehow detect any incoming call even if they’re mid way through a conversation with a passenger.

Has anyone else had this problem, and how have you dealt with it? Perhaps I’m concentrating too hard on each given task at a time.

United Kingdom

IO390 wrote:

in particular I keep missing messages from ATC to me unless I’m expecting them.

Don’t worry – because you already got the trick!

The difference between a rookie and an experienced pilot is not so much that the experienced one has better ears, but that they know better when and what to expect from ATC. Even most experienced pilots tend to miss “cold calls” from ATC. But over time you will figure out that these are quite rare.

That btw. does not only apply to getting the call at all but perhaps even more so to understanding its content: It would be very hard (to impossible) to follow a complex IFR clearance if one wouldn’t know quite well before what to expect and the unknown content is just 20% of the message.

Most importantly: Relax! ATC is there to help you and there are only very few a…h..s working there that would not do everything they can to support when they hear you are a rookie. repeating a msg even several times is business as usual for them..

Germany

The radio is something your ear eventually tunes in to and it becomes more manageable.
You are correctly identifying that it happens more with higher workloads and that has happened to prettymuch every learning pilot.

Eventually you’ll be multi tasking and after a particularly involved radio exchange with less than perfect quality audio you will have coped perfectly and you passengers will say
‘wow I couldn’t understand a word of that and I couldn’t work out what it all means either’
You’ll smile and say ‘ah you just get used to it’

Stick in there, it will come.
It can help to ensure your headset volume is right for you, and that if the aircraft noise is a factor, try noise cancelling.

I managed for 20 years without noise cancelling but I do enjoy it now.

United Kingdom

IO390 wrote:

I see experienced pilots manage to somehow detect any incoming call even if they’re mid way through a conversation with a passenger.

Has anyone else had this problem, and how have you dealt with it? Perhaps I’m concentrating too hard on each given task at a time.

This is just a question of experience. You will get used to it.

It interesting to see how the brain is geared to background processing. As Swedish callsigns start with SE, I “trigger” on hearing “Sierra” at the beginning of a transmission. When you fly e.g. in the US you need a different trigger. When I realised that US ATC was calling me, they would already be halfway through the message, so … “Say again”. After a few hours in US airspace I got used to the different callsigns.

ESKC (Uppsala/Sundbro), Sweden

IO390 wrote:

I see experienced pilots manage to somehow detect any incoming call even if they’re mid way through a conversation with a passenger.

Has anyone else had this problem, and how have you dealt with it? Perhaps I’m concentrating too hard on each given task at a time.

I had! I’ve got my PPL only a couple of years ago, so all still very fresh. Just as the other people on this thread already pointed out – it will pass with experience.
I was missing calls, struggling with the responses etc, until at some point I was on final, pretty turbulent one, and I heard a coversation between ATC and another pilot.
ATC made a humorous remark to that pilot and I heard, understood it and chuckled! At that moment my instructor said something in the lines of “Did you see what I’ve meant a few months ago that it’s going to be OK?”

EGTR

The radio takes a bit of time getting used to. However, my experience is that many of the younger generation already are more or less fluid in this. They are playing flight sims online with ATC and everything.

ENVA ENOP ENMO, Norway

LeSving wrote:

However, my experience is that many of the younger generation already are more or less fluid in this. They are playing flight sims online with ATC and everything.

Being one of the people who were inspired by Flight Simulator X: Steam Edition to get into a real cockpit, I can say that this did help a bit (e.g. I already knew what “downwind” was before my first trial lesson) but not as much as one would hope, because the comms are subtitled in Flight Simulator: you can always read stuff you didn’t catch while hearing. Real ATC would benefit from being subtitled

And Flight Simulator usually has non-ICAO R/T bssed on US usage, which is different from what you hear when flying in Europe. Same for listening to “real ATC” or similar YouTube channels.

Due to this, initially, I had almost more problems with German R/T than with English, because I never heard German aviation radio phrases before getting into a real cockpit.

My advice as a beginner (I’m far from being an experienced pilot myself) is generous usage of “say again” and don’t be afraid to repeat what you heard ATC say even if it isn’t strictly necessary to do so.

Imho, ATC is much more annoyed by you not following instructions than by having to repeat instructions you didn’t understand at the first or even second attempt.

Last Edited by MedEwok at 11 Dec 08:14
Novice pilot
EDVM Hildesheim, Germany

I was of the impression they had “real” ATC. Real in the form of real persons taking on the “job” as ATC.

ENVA ENOP ENMO, Norway

LeSving wrote:

I was of the impression they had “real” ATC. Real in the form of real persons taking on the “job” as ATC.

There is a certain segment of simmers who do this, calldd VATsim and others, who play only multiplayer and where indeed every R/T interaction is between “real” people
But this is not universal.

Novice pilot
EDVM Hildesheim, Germany

MedEwok wrote:

Real ATC would benefit from being subtitled

Things become easier as one progresses in flying. ATC too.

EPPO, EPPK
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