Proper Radio Phraseology and Technique

Proper Radio Phraseology and Technique

A Review and Tutorial

By Austin S. Collins adapted by Specialized Helicopters and others.


For complete, detailed and definitive information on this subject, consult the FAA Aeronautical Information Manual, all of Chapter 4, Air Traffic Control, but especially to Section 2, Radio Communications Phraseology and Technique. Read the Pilot / Controller Glossary in the Appendices.

Some of the issues will be matters of absolute right and wrong, where there is a correct and proper way to do something and also one or more incorrect or improper ways to do it. Other issues, however, will be matters of style, where one way sounds proficient and professional and another way sounds sloppy and amateurish... although both ways may be technically acceptable. And finally, there will be situations where there may be more than one right way to say it. In any case, though, what's really important is that you:

1.) Make yourself clearly understood

2.) Comply with the regulations as spelt out in the FAR/AIM and

                         3.) Do not give any other pilot or air traffic controller a legitimate reason to get annoyed.

Also, bear in mind that these concepts and principles of good radio work become more important as the airspace gets more congested. At a busy airport, you'd better get it right the first time. Otherwise, the consequences could be extreme..

You don't need to talk like an auctioneer, either. Speaking at a normal pace is fine as long as you say only exactly what needs to be said. Saying three words slowly and clearly is much better than saying twelve words very fast when the same meaning can be conveyed.

Finally, remember that courtesy is always appropriate. "Please" and "Thank You" are usually called for, as are such phrases as "good morning," good afternoon," "good evening" or "good night." However, on an extremely congested channel- such as the tower frequency during a peak arrival and departure period at a major international airport - even these should be dropped in favor of the briefest, most to-the-point calls.




Part I. Precision, Concision and Standardization

Part II. Making Requests with ATC

Part III. Making Position Reports at a Non-Towered Airport

Part IV. Handling Handoffs

Part V. Acknowledging Radio Calls from ATC

Part VI. Readbacks

Part VII. Operating at Large and Busy Airports


Part I. Precision, Concision and Standardization

Rule number one of aviation radio: Be precise and concise.

Rule number two of aviation radio: Follow the standard sequence.

Eliminate all unnecessary words; get to the point. Say what needs to be said - no more, no less - and then unkey the mike to let other people talk. Use only the essential words, eliminating extraneous verbiage. And use only the right words; remember that words have very specific legal meanings in the world of aviation radio.

Avoid hesitating, rambling and vocalized pauses such as "uh," "urn," "er" and "ah." "And" is also a very common vocalized pause, primarily when it is used to open a transmission. Many pilots do this almost unconsciously. Like all vocalized pauses, it is a sign that the pilot doesn't know exactly what words he wants to use as he begins speaking. Don't leave the mike open while you gather your thoughts! Think about what you want to say before you key the mike, and then say it clearly and confidently, without hesitation. Then un-key the mike and let other people talk.

1. If you want to say something lengthy, such as a flight plan or IFR position report, what should you do?

A)      Just key the mike and start talking, figuring out what you want to say as you go.

B)      Jot it down beforehand so you can say it clearly and confidently without hesitation.

C)      Speak loudly and fast instead of using a normal, conversational tone..

Answer: B.

This is a quotation from the Aeronautical Information Manual, Chapter 4, Section 2-2, paragraph b:

Think before keying your transmitter.  Know what you want to say and if it is lengthy; e.g., a flight plan or IFR positionreport, jotit down.


This is a quotation from the Aeronautical Information Manual, Chapter 4, Section 2-2, paragraph c: Speak in a normal,   conversational tone.


For instance, suppose you are in Helicopter N727KP, a Robinson R44, you are ten miles North West of Salinas, you have ATIS information “Mike” and you wish to enter class D airspace and land on the ramp at Jet west. When you call Salinas Tower to request landing instructions, what should you say? Here are two examples of how this call might sound one good and the other bad.

Example (a) (BAD):

"And, Tower, this is, uh, November 727KP with you at, urn, about ten or fifteen miles to the, ah, east, ah west... no, I mean northwest... and we have the ATIS. We'd like to, uh, do a full stop landing at jetwest."

This pilot made several errors. Let's consider what they were.

First, he used a lot of unnecessary words and phrases, including one that annoys many air traffic controllers - "with you." It may surprise you to learn that phrases like "with you" or "checking on" do not appear in the Pilot / Controller Glossary and have no official meaning! When used by itself a statement like "with you" or "checking on" is meaningless; when used in addition to a regular transmission it is redundant. Try to refrain from using such terminology as a substitute for the actual information you are supposed to provide.

•          He used a lot of vocalized pauses, including the one he used to open the transmission - "and."

•          He didn't have his exact position in terms of range and bearing from the airport ready. This
understandably exasperates controllers

•          He rambled and hesitated throughout the transmission.

•          He failed to provide the current ATIS code.

•          He needlessly specified that he wanted to make a full stop landing.  Controllers will always assume that an

       inbound pilot wishes to make a full-stop landing unless he requests otherwise.

•          He needlessly specified that he wanted to make a landing at the ramp.


Example (b) (GOOD):

"Salinas Tower, helicopter 727KP, ten north west, inbound Jetwest with Mike"

This pilot said nothing but what he needed to say and he said it without faltering. If the frequency was very congested and the tower controller was really busy he would be thankful for a brief, to the point, professional radio call using minimum airtime.

Hold the Mayonnaise!

One of the keys to effective radio communications is eliminating unnecessary words from your transmissions. This can be accomplished by thinking about what you want to say before you key the mike. Let's consider a transmission. Then let's replace all the unnecessary words with the word "mayonnaise." Then we'll hold the mayonnaise and see how it cleans up the call.

"And, NorCal Approach, this is, uh, helicopter 727KP with you."

"Mayonnaise, NorCal Approach, mayonnaise, mayonnaise, helicopter 727KP mayonnaise." "NorCal Approach, helicopter 727KP."

Now let's try the same thing with a situation that applies specifically to us.

"And, Monterey Tower, this is Robinson R44 helicopter N727KP, and we are at the Million Air ramp with information Tango. We're ready for departure to the north today."

"Mayonnaise, Monterey Tower, mayonnaise helicopter 727KP, mayonnaise MillionAir with information Tango. Mayonnaise ready for departure mayonnaise north mayonnaise.

"Monterey Tower, helicopter 727KP, Million Air  with information Tango, North departure."

Every initial call up should follow a specific four-part sequence - "who, who, where, what."

- who you're calling, who you are, where you are and what you want if it's a request or what you're doing if

it's a report.

In other words -

•         the full and proper name of the facility being called (on initial call up only)

•         your full aircraft identification (on initial call up only)

•         your location (if needed) and

•      the type of message to follow or your request (if it's short)

This is in accordance with the Aeronautical Information Manual, Chapter 4, Section 2-3, paragraph a., 1.

Let's consider another situation to further illustrate this concept. You are in helicopter N990UH, ready to depart the circles at Provo to practice in the traffic pattern at Provo. Here are two examples, one good and the other bad.

Example (c) (BAD):

"Uh, Salinas Tower, this is, urn, 727KP and we are, er, at the Aviation ramp, we have ATIS information Juliet and we are ready to go. We want to stay in the traffic pattern."

Again, this pilot made several errors.

•          He used a lot of unnecessary words and phrases such as “this is, “ “we are at” and “we have.”  This excess verbiage pads out the transmission, wastes time and makes the pilot sound sloppy and amateurish, like he doesn’t know what he’s doing.

•          He used a lot of vocalized pauses such as “uh,” “um,” “er” and “ah.”

•          He forgot to specify his aircraft type.


Now, let's look at how it should be done.

 Example (A) (GOOD):

'Salinas Tower, helicopter 727KP, Aviation Ramp with Juliet, request close traffic."


This pilot "held the mayonnaise" ... he was both precise and concise. He eliminated all unnecessary words, i.e. got to the point. He said what needed to be said - no more, no less. And then he un-keyed the mike to let other people talk. The controller will immediately recognize the fact that he is dealing with a pro who knows what he's doing, and will do whatever he can to be of assistance. This pilot has successfully prejudiced VTC in his favor... in the first ten seconds of his flight!


HELICOPTER 727KP: "NorCal Approach, helicopter 727KP, request."

TRACON: "Helicopter 727KP, Squawk 0434, say request"

HELICOPTER 727KP: "Helicopter 727KP is a Robinson R44, 5 miles south of Salinas, 1600 feet, request vectors for the practice VOR 31 to Salinas with Kilo."

You told NORCAL: who you are, where you are, and what you are requesting, they know you have the current ATIS. Otherwise they will either have to give you the ATIS numbers or more likely, they will tell you to go and get it and report back when you have it, not professional and a waste of their time and airtime.

If the frequency was very quiet, you could give all your information and request on the first call but keep in mind the controller may be working more than one frequency and may be listening to another aircraft that you can’t hear.


HELICOPTER 727KP: "NorCal Approach, helicopter 727KP, request"

TRACON: "helicopter 727KP, go ahead"

HELICOPTER 727KP: "helicopter 727KP is a Robinson R44, 8 miles north east of Williams Gateway, 3500 feet, request vectors (own navigation) to the ILS 30C with Papa."

TRACON: "Roger, squawk zero four eight eight and ident."

HELICOPTER 727KP: "Zero four eight eight and ident, helicopter 727KP."

TRACON: (a moment later) "helicopter 727KP, radar contact 8 miles north east of Williams Gateway. Radar Vectors, heading 120 degrees, climb and maintain 4000 feet."

HELICOPTER 727KP: 'Vectors, 120 degrees, 4000 feet, helicopter 727KP."

If the frequency is very quiet, you can go ahead and give your full request as a single transmission.


Part III. Making Position Reports at a Non-Towered Airport

When flying into or out of a heavily used airport that does not have an operating control tower, courtesy, patience, professionalism and style on the radio are extra important. If the airport has ASOS or AWOS, listen to it as soon as you are in reception range - this is often 20 miles or more. This is your source of information for runway to be used, ceiling, visibility and local altimeter setting. As soon as you have the latest "one minute" information as this is called, you can start the remainder of your WRIMTIM

If you are anything less than totally familiar with the airport, pullout the A/FD or approach plates and take a second to review the airport diagram, the navaids on or near the field and any other pertinent information.

Monitor the UNICOM and/or common traffic advisory frequency or frequencies to see what's going on. By "listening for a minute or two, you should be able to confirm which runway is in use, whether it's right or left traffic (the AFD will also give you this) and how many airplanes are presently inbound, outbound or in the pattern. Then you won't have to call to request an airport advisory. How often have you been flying at a non-towered airport with half a dozen planes doing touch-and-goes, all of them constantly making position and intention reports, when suddenly some idiot calls up right in the middle of it and asks for an airport advisory? If he had listened, even for a moment, to the CTAF then he would have been able to almost immediately figure out everything he needed to know without contributing to the congestion !

This is a quotation from the Aeronautical Information Manual, Chapter 4, Section 2-2, paragraph a: Listen before YOU transmit. Manytimes you can gettheinformation you want through ATISor by monitoringthe frequency.

There is a difference between UNICOM and CTAF. UNICOM is for communicating with the FBO. CTAF is for communicating with other pilots in the air or on the ground. (At some airports, it's the same frequency. At others, it's two different frequencies.) Use the CTAF to make position reports beginning 5-10 miles out. Report on every leg of the traffic pattern. Use the following format:

1.   State the full, proper name of the airport and the word "traffic." (This clarifies that you are talking to
other airplanes in the vicinity of this airport as opposed to someone on the ground or a particular

2.     State your own full, proper call sign - including aircraft type - helicopter.

3.                State your location. This can either be in the form of range and bearing to the airport or your position in
the traffic pattern. If it is the latter, then you should include which leg you are on as well as whether it is
left or right traffic and for which runway. If the pattern is especially busy, you may wish to be even more
specific. For example, you might say "midfield left downwind" or "abeam the numbers left downwind"
instead of just "left downwind."

4.                If you plan to make anything other than a normal approach to a normal full-stop landing, clarify. For
example, you might say "touch and go," "short approach," "long landing," "low approach only," "stop
and go" or "simulated engine failure."

5.                Repeat the name of the airport. (Many airports share CTA frequencies and pilots often only catch the end
of a transmission.) You do not say the word "traffic" this time, however.

Example (h) (BAD):

"Um, two delta delta is on a, uh, a downwind now. And, this will be a, a full stop."

This pilot made several errors.

•          He failed to identify the airport at the beginning and end of his call. Now pilots at all the airports within a
hundred miles or more that share the same CTAF frequency are looking around to see who's on downwind.

•          He failed to use his full call sign.

•          He failed to say his aircraft type - helicopter.

•          He failed to say whether it was a left downwind or a right downwind.. He failed to specify which runway he
was planning to land on.

•          He needlessly said that this will be a full-stop landing. (A full-stop is always assumed unless otherwise

•          He used a lot of vocalized pauses.



Example (i) (GOOD):

"Watsonville Traffic, helicopter 727KP, left downwind, runway 20 left, Watsonville"

You are operating 727KP, turning left base for runway 20 at Watsonville Airport. What call should you make?

A)             "Watsonville, helicopter 727KP, left base."

B)             "Watsonville, 727KP turning left base."

C)      "Watsonville Traffic, helicopter 727KP turning left base runway 30, Watsonville Traffic."

D)             "Helicopter 727KP landing runway 20, Watsonville Airport."

E)   "Watsonville Traffic, helicopter 727KP turning left base runway 30, Watsonville ."

F)   "Watsonville Traffic, we're turning left base runway 30, Watsonville."

Answer: E

A is incorrect because it did not begin with the phrase "Watsonville Traffic," it did not conclude with "Watsonville," it

   did not include the runway.

B is incorrect because it did not begin with the phrase "Watsonville Traffic, it did not include helicopter, it did not

   conclude with "Watsonville" it did not include aircraft type and it did not include the runway.

C is not correct because it finished with the phrase "Watsonville Traffic". There is no word traffic at the end.

D is incorrect because it did not begin with the phrase "Watsonville Traffic", it did not include the leg of the traffic pattern.

F is incorrect because it included neither the aircraft type nor call sign.



A Complete Set of Perfect Traffic Pattern Transmissions at a Non-Towered Airport:


"Watsonville traffic, helicopter 727KP, 5 miles north west, inbound to enter the traffic pattern for runway20, Watsonville."

* * *

"Watsonville traffic, helicopter 727KP, 1 mile north west, entering 45 degree midfield left downwind, runway 20, Watsonville."

* * *

"Watsonville traffic, helicopter 727KP turning left base runway 20, Watsonville."

                                                                                   * * *

"Watsonville traffic, helicopter 727KP turning final, runway 20, Watsonville."

                                                                                   * * *

"Watsonville traffic, helicopter 727KP clear of runway 20, Watsonville."

    * * *

"Watsonville traffic, helicopter 727KP hover taxi to the ramp/ taxi to runway 20, Watsonville."

    * * *

"Watsonville traffic, helicopter 727KP taking off runway 20, north west departure, Watsonville."

    * * *

"Watsonville traffic, helicopter 727KP upwind runway 20, departing north west, final call, Watsonville."


For practice, try reading this series out loud several times in a row. Think about how it sounds and flows.


Part IV. Handling Handoffs

When one air traffic controller directs you to call another air traffic controller you should do things differently from when you are making an initial call up.

When an approach controller hands you off to a tower controller:

This typically occurs while being vectored for an approach - visual or instrument - and therefore it is usually a fairly high-workload time for the pilot. As a result, the pilot often panics and bungles the handoff call.

First, listen on the tower frequency for at least a couple of seconds before making a transmission! Don't just switch frequencies and immediately start talking, as far too many pilots do in this potentially stressful and distracting situation. Remember, the tower controller already knows you're there!

By definition, when a radar handoff occurs, the new controller has your information in front of him. Remember you have five "T's" to perform and you will get to Talk after first flying and secondly navigating the helicopter.


If you can't break into a congested frequency to make a call, don't worry about it; don't let it frustrate you or divert your attention. If you can't call the tower, sooner or later the tower will call you. It's not a problem.

Also, bear in mind that the tower controller already knows everything he needs to know about you - when you call, there is no need to tell him anything other than who you are. It is considered a courtesy, however, to state your position in terms of an approach fix so that he knows where to glance at the radar screen.

Example (i) (BAD):

"Uh, Long Beach Tower, this is helicopter 727KP with you on the, er, ILS runway 20 approach; urn, one thousand six hundred feet, inbound from the... southeast for a ... full stop landing, please."

That was a lot of unnecessary information - the tower already knows everything the pilot just said.

Example (k) (GOOD):

"Monterey Tower, helicopter 727KP, two miles from BECCA."

Now the controller can simply glance at his radar screen to find the target outside the outer marker. Then he will respond with "cleared to land", "continue" or something similar, as appropriate.

When a tower controller hands you off to a departure controller:

Again, since the controller at TRACON already knows everything he needs to know about you from the handoff, all you

have to do is identify yourself and confirm your altitude.

Example (I):

"Monterey Departure, helicopter 727KP, two thousand five hundred for four thousand."

When an approach (or center) controller hands you off to another approach (or center) controller, either at the same facility or a different one:

Again, since the next controller already knows everything he needs to know about you from the handoff, all you have to do is identify yourself and confirm your altitude.

Example (m):

You are helicopter 727KP; you are level at 8,000 feet. When you are told by Salt Lake Center to switch to Albuquerque Center, what should you say?


A)             "Albuquerque Center, helicopter 727KP, level eight thousand."

B)      "Albuquerque Center, this is helicopter 727KP, with you level at eight thousand, heading 180 degrees."

C)      "Albuquerque Center, helicopter 727KP, with you level at eight thousand, IFR to Scottsdale"

D)      "Albuquerque Center, helicopter 727KP, eight thousand."

E)   "Albuquerque Center, helicopter 727KP, with you eight thousand."

Answer: A

Answers B and C are incorrect because the pilot provided a lot of unnecessary information, including his assigned heading and his destination. He also used extraneous verbiage such as "this is" and "with you."

D is incorrect because by deleting the word "level" the pilot makes it unclear whether it is helicopter 990UH checking in at eight and the controller would not immediately know if the pilot was climbing, descending or level. Note what the AIM has to say about this subject:

AIM 5 Section 3. En Route Procedures

5-3-1. ARTCC Communications

2. The following phraseology should be utilized by pilots for establishing contact with the designated facility;

(a) When operating in a radar environment; On initial contact, the pilot should inform the controller of the aircraft's assigned altitude preceded by the words "level." or "climbing to," or "descending to," as appropriate; and the aircraft's present vacating altitude, if applicable.

When an approach (or center) controller terminates VFR radar service and suggests a frequency where you can request further flight following:

In this case, the next controller you contact will have no idea who you are, where you are or what you want. So you should use the procedure explained in Part II of this tutorial, Making Requests with ATC.

As you are cruising along at 3,500 feet, Albuquerque Center tells you "Helicopter 727KP, radar service terminated, squawk VFR, for further flight following suggest Phoenix Approach frequency 123.7, Good day."

What should you say when you contact Phoenix?

A)             "Phoenix Approach, helicopter 727KP, level three thousand five hundred."

B)             "Phoenix Approach, helicopter 727KP, twenty miles south west of Phoenix at three thousand five hundred
feet, request VFR flight following to Scottsdale."

C)             "Helicopter 727KP, with you at three thousand five hundred."

D)             "Helicopter 727KP, with you."

Answer: B

Albuquerque Center cancelled radar service, which means that Phoenix Approach has no idea who helicopter 727KP is, where he is or what he wants. So the pilot must make an initial call. It would also be acceptable to say "Helicopter 727KP, request" and then wait for the controller to call back before providing all of the information included in choice B. A, C and D are incorrect because the nature of the pilot's transmission seems to imply that he assumes the controller is already supposed to know who he is, which will cause the controller to look around for a progress strip - which, of course, he will not find.  C and D are also incorrect because they include the nonsense phrase "with you".   A would be correct if this were a radar handoff, which it isn't.


Part V. Acknowledging Radio Calls from ATC

When given instructions:

Respond by repeating the instructions - using essential words only! - and then conclude with your abbreviated call sign (or your full call sign if there is a similar-sounding call sign on the same frequency).


TRACON: "Helicopter 7KP, turn left heading two seven zero." HELICOPTER 727KP: "Left two seven zero, helicopter 7KP."

When given information:

Respond by saying "Roger" if you received and understood the entire transmission. It is neither necessary nor preferred that you read back the information you were given. Do not say "Roger" unless you received and understood the entire transmission. If you need something repeated or clarified, use the words "say again," "confirm" or "verify." You may conclude with your abbreviated call sign, but this is optional.


TRACON: "Helicopter 727KP, Riverside Airport is now VFR, winds calm, scattered at

one thousand five hundred, overcast at three thousand, ATIS information Delta is current, runway two seven in use,

expect vectors for the visual approach."

HELICOPTER 727KP: "Roger, helicopter 727KP."


HELICOPTER 727KP: "Helicopter 727KP."


HELICOPTER 727KP: "Roger."

or, if the pilot missed all or part of the transmission — HELICOPTER 727KP: "Say Again, helicopter 727KP."

or, if the pilot is unsure about some specific component of the transmission

HELICOPTER 727KP: "Confirm vectors for the visual runway two seven for helicopter 727KP?"

When given instructions mixed with information:

Respond by reading back only the instructions, not the information.

NorCal Approach says "Helicopter 727KP, turn left heading three three zero to intercept the localizer ILS 31, practice approach approved, no separation services provided, maintain one thousand six hundred feet until established, wind 240 degrees twenty five knots."

What would be the best response?

A) "Roger, understand intercept the localizer, wind 240 degrees twenty five knots, helicopter 727KP."


B)   "Left turn to heading three three zero, intercept the localizer, vectors for the ILS seven, wind zero niner zero at one one
      gusting to one five, Flight Express Trainer Three."

C)   "Three three zero, cleared for the approach, maintain one thousand six hundred until established, helicopter 727KP."

D)   "Roger, helicopter 727KP."

Answer: C What response is expected when ATC issues an IFR clearance to pilots of airborne aircraft?

A)     Read back the entire clearance as required by regulation.

B)     Read back those parts containing altitude assignments or vectors and any part requiring verification.

C)     The read-back should be unsolicited and spontaneous to confirm that the pilot understands everything that the
     controller said.

D)     Acknowledge with "Roger" unless you have a specific question.

E) Read back only altitude assignments unless something has been amended.

Answer: B

You may recognize this one - it is the FAA's own test question, #4395. According to the Aeronautical Information Manual, Paragraph 4-4-6, pilots of airborne aircraft should read back those parts of ATC clearances and instructions containing altitude assignments or vectors and any part requiring verification. Pilots, not realizing this, often try to read back every single thing ATC told them. This contributes to frequency congestion and often annoys the controller. All he wants or needs to hear is that the pilot received and understood the actual instructions he was given. If the pilot has a question about something else in the transmission, he should use the words "say again," "confirm" or "verify."

When asked a yes-or-no question:

Respond with either "affirmative" or "negative." Do not say "Roger" instead of "affirmative." "Roger" does not mean "yes!" It means "I received and understood all of your last transmission." Likewise, do not use potentially ambiguous or silly-sounding slang such as "ten-four" or "you bet." Some controllers just groan and roll their eyes when they hear things like that, but others get deeply irritated.

As it says in the AIM, 4-2-1 (c), "Jargon, chatter and 'CB' slang have no place in ATC communications."

(Saying your call sign at the end is typically not necessary, since in this case it is usually quite obvious who responded. If there may be any doubt, however, go ahead and use your call sign.)

Salinas Tower asks, "Helicopter 727KP, will this be a full-stop landing?"

What should your response be?

A)   "Roger."

B)   "Affirmative."

C)   "Wilco."

D)   "Yes, it will."

Answer: B

"Roger" means "I received and understood all of your last transmission," but it is not an answer. "Wilco" means "I will comply with your instructions." "Yes" should not be used because single-syllable responses can be difficult to understand over the radio, especially when transmission or reception quality is poor.

When provided with traffic reports or alerts:

Respond with either "traffic in sight" or "looking for traffic." Do not use military slang such as "tally ho" or "no joy" unless you are a military pilot in a military airplane on a military mission. Do not use indefinite phrases like "okay" ... which does not make it clear whether you see the traffic or not!


TRACON: "Helicopter 727KP, traffic at your ten o'clock and two miles, eastbound at two thousand, a Piper Navajo.”


Part VI. Read backs

There are only three things that you are actually required by federal law to read back. The first is a Land And Hold Short Operation (LAHSO) clearance, which you must read back in its entirety. The second is a runway hold short clearance, which you must also read back in its entirety. The third is a taxi clearance with a runway assignment and/or a runway hold short assignment. At some airports, you are required to read back all taxi clearances.

Although not mandated by federal law. ATC will expect you to read back the following:

•          Clearances

•          Holding of any type

•          Heights, headings, altimeter settings

•          Instructions

The final responsibility for getting a clearance right always rests with the pilot, so read things back... and also request verification if you are at all in doubt about what a controller said.

In general, when reading anything back, use only the essential words. As always, try to eliminate excess verbiage. EXAMPLE (q):

TRACON: "Helicopter 727KP, turn left heading three three zero, you are five miles from SNOWL,

maintain three thousand one hundred until established, cleared ILS runway three zero approach at Williams Gateway."

HELICOPTER 727KP: "Left, three three zero, three thousand one hundred until established, cleared for the approach, helicopter 727KP."

Note the use of the words "left" or "right". These should be read back since A TC will occasionally get you to turn the long way round to a heading for aircraft spacing/separation purposes.


HELICOPTER 727KP: "Scottsdale Clearance Delivery, Helicopter 727KP at Universal with Tango, IFR Tucson, request clearance."

CLEARANCE DELIVERY: "Helicopter 727KP, you are cleared to the Tucson Airport, after takeoff fly heading 260 degrees, intercept the Phoenix 336 degree radial, climb northwest bound, maintain four thousand, expect five thousand one zero minutes after departure. Departure frequency 120.7, squawk will be assigned by the tower."

HELICOPTER 727KP: "Cleared to Tucson, 260degrees, intercept Phoenix 336, climb north west, four thousand, expect five thousand after 10, 120.7, squawk with tower, helicopter 727KP."


HELICOPTER 727KP: "Scottsdale Clearance Delivery, Helicopter 727KP at Universal with Tango, IFR Blythe, request clearance."

CLEARANCE DELIVERY: "Helicopter 727KP, you are cleared to the Blythe Airport via the Scottsdale Five Buckeye transition, then V16, Blythe, maintain four thousand, expect six thousand one zero minutes after departure. Departure frequency will be 120.7, squawk zero three two four."

HELICOPTER 727KP: "Cleared Blythe, Scottsdale 5 Buckeye, VI6, Blythe, four thousand, expect six thousand after ten, zero three two four, helicopter 727KP."


Part VII. Operating at Large and Busy Airports

Some helicopter pilots- such as those who have trained at Long Beach - have had extensive operational experience at large and busy airports. Others may have had relatively little.

It is important to be able to function in this environment. The four major hazards for helicopter pilots to consider are:

•         Loss of separation in the air with fixed wing traffic

•         Runway and taxiway incursions

•         Wake turbulence

•         Radio misunderstandings or confusion

Remember that you will be flying a helicopter in an environment oriented primarily towards heavy airplanes. Although everyone is, at least in theory, equally important, ATC tends to be prejudiced (by necessity) towards serving the needs of a 300-passenger turbojet rather than the needs of a single-pilot training helicopter.

Logically, a controller would rather make the helicopter pilot wait five minutes while the Boeing takes off or lands than make the Boeing wait five minutes while the helicopter takes off, lands or crosses the runway. If you want to cope and make friends, be READY and be FLEXIBLE.

Whether they want you to fly 360's over a shopping mall while you wait to cross the runway, or shoot your final approach at 60 knots, cheerfully comply and you will be able to operate with a minimum of stress. If you complain or say "unable" on a regular or frequent basis you will quickly acquire a bad reputation and your service will suffer. This is reality.

If it is a safe and legal clearance - accept it and comply with it. If it is not - advise ATC immediately.

While flying into or out of a major international airport, put yourself in a "high alert" mode. Scan aggressively for traffic, listen attentively on the frequency and obey all directions promptly. Don't be shy about making special requests if they are necessary to stay safe and legal. The controller might make incorrect assumptions about your helicopters capabilities. For example, he may offer you a direct departure without any open areas in the event of an engine failure, or a departure which forces you into the AVOID area of the Height - Velocity diagram. Or he may offer you a descent through developing icing conditions, requiring vectors around and away from the clouds. Or he may give you an altitude change and airspeed change combination which your helicopter cannot achieve.

Remember that even when you are flying under VFR if you are in Class B airspace you are under the direct and continuous control of ATC and you must immediately comply with any and all safe and legal clearances issued to you, including all airspeed, altitude and heading assignments. If you can't comply for some reason, you must advise A TC right away. You are expected and required to promptly and clearly refuse clearances that you cannot accept.

Carelessness in this area can lead to a loss of separation... or worse, a mid-air collision!

Moreover, do whatever is necessary to avoid wake turbulence. Follow the tips and guidelines published in the AIM even if it means making a special request with ATC. Avoid rotor downwash, AIM 7-3-7, vortices are a hazard to other aircraft up to three rotor diameters.

Flight crews of scheduled airlines have an excellent procedure - the captain maneuvers the aircraft and the first officer handles such things as clearances and checklists. As crew of a single pilot helicopter, you don't have that luxury. So you'll have to be extra vigilant if you want to keep yourself (and your career) alive. Do the following:

1.                Review the airport diagram carefully and in detail prior to arrival and departure if you are not
thoroughly familiar with the field.

2.                Even if you are familiar with the field, keep the airport diagram available as you taxi.

3.                Read back all instructions completely and carefully.

4.                Write everything down, especially when the instructions are complex.

5.                Listen for amended instructions - especially for sudden commands.

6.                Be absolutely fluent with all standard airport markings and signs. Pay special attention to the subtle
distinctions between similar symbology.

7.                When in doubt - ASK

On a final note: (Never fly VFR into a cloud or into IFR conditions in a helicopter)


Consider that the helicopter is not stable under any condition; hence, adequate reference to the ground must always be maintained in order to keep you from losing control.

Helicopters that are allowed to fly under actual IFR conditions must have auto pilots. It has been proven over and over again that even current and rated IFR helicopter pilots that operate in a cloud without an auto pilot lose control of the helicopter within seconds. That’s why the FAA requires 3 axis autopilots in order to fly single pilot helicopters under IFR in controlled airspace (less than 1000 cig. and 3 miles vis).

Do not attempt flight for any reason into a cloud without a 3 axis auto pilot, you will not be able to handle it ever. Training for IFR in a helicopter is just that, training, you are not going to be able to control the helicopter under IFR conditions after this course or when you obtain an IFR rating. Please visit the NTSB accident page for more support to this issue and pay special attention to the significant amount of helicopter accidents that occur from pilots flying into limited visibility situations.

SWP-Settling with Power/ vortex ring state

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Flying Through the Vortex

A new technique allows pilots to fly out of vortex ring state in a powered climb.

By Tim Tucker


The number of rotor blades, rotor rpm and rotor diameter have little effect on formation of the vortex ring state, but aircraft with higher disk loading and increased blade twist are more susceptible to it.
Photos courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps, Airbus Helicopters (below, top) and Robinson Helicopter (below, bottom).

On Aug. 23, 2013, a Eurocopter AS332 with 18 persons on board was on the final stage of an instrument approach to Sumburgh Airport in the Shetland Islands.

As the aircraft neared the minimum descent altitude of 300 ft agl, nose-up pitch was 12 deg and airspeed was 43 kt. At about 240 ft, pitch had reached 20 deg nose-up, airspeed was 32 kt and the descent rate was 1,000 fpm and increasing.

As the Super Puma descended through 100 ft, the airspeed had dropped below the flight data recorder’s lower limit of 30 kt, the engine torque had been increased to 115 percent and the rate of descent was about 1,800 fpm.

The aircraft hit the water 1.5 nm short of Runway 09, killing four passengers and seriously injuring three others and a pilot.

More than 10 years earlier, on March 4, 2003, a Robinson Helicopter R44 was the subject of a TV commercial being filmed in Jakarta, Indonesia. While the aircraft was making a steep approach with a 12- to 15-kt tailwind to a hotel’s rooftop helipad, it developed a very high descent rate, which the pilot appeared never to arrest. The helicopter struck the helipad, bounced into the air, then rolled off the edge of the building and fell 15 stories into a third-story swimming pool. The two passengers on board were killed, as was the pilot.

Although the U.K. Air Accident Investigation Branch is still investigating the 2013 crash, both accidents appear to be classic examples of a pilot’s failure to recover from the vortex ring state, sometimes called “settling with power.” (See the sidebar.)

Traditionally pilots have been taught to lower the nose (forward cyclic), reduce power and, essentially, “fly out” of the condition. But there is a much better way, which I have dubbed the “Vuichard Recovery” after Claude Vuichard, a senior flight inspector/examiner for the Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation.

The vortex ring state is only one of three distinct working conditions for a helicopter’s rotor.


In the propeller working state, air moves down through the rotor. At a descent rate greater than 300 fpm, the vortex ring state begins; some downflow moves radially out under the rotor disc and is drawn up and into the rotor. In the windmill brake state, all air moves up through the rotor.
Illustrations by Tim Tucker

In the common condition, airflow is directed downward through the rotor and the rotor disc moves in the direction of rotor thrust, as in a vertical climb. This is called the propeller working state, or sometimes the normal working state. Hovering is the static thrust condition in this state.

If the hovering helicopter descends at greater than 300 fpm, it enters the vortex ring state. Here, the rotor still directs the air downward, but some air below it is forced out radially and up outside the rotor disc. Some of this upward-flowing air is drawn in and back down through the rotor. This forms the large circulating pattern called the vortex ring state. (Smaller vortices are formed inboard on each blade near the rotor hub but are of little consequence.).

The vortex ring state also can be recognized when airspeed is less than effective translational lift and random yawing and pitching produces a wallowing effect and buffeting or shuddering of the aircraft. Classic examples include out-of-ground-effect hovering and steep approaches downwind.

The vortex acts perpendicular to the main rotor. If the pilot applies forward cyclic to recover, the tailwind blows the vortex in the same direction the aircraft is moving and delays recovery.

The third distinct rotor working condition—the windmill brake state—is encountered if the descent is allowed to continue to greater than 2,000 fpm. In this state, the flow of air is pushed entirely upward through the rotor. Rotor thrust is achieved by actually slowing this upward flow. The force generated by the rotor is equivalent to that produced by a parachute of the same diameter.

Interestingly, the boundary between the vortex ring state and the windmill brake state is the ideal autorotation condition.

George de Bothezat first recognized the vortex ring state in 1922 with his “flying octopus,” a machine with four massive, six-bladed rotors (very similar to many drone designs we see today). Since then, numerous flight tests, wind tunnel experiments and mathematical modeling efforts have refined our understanding of the vortex ring state. It is understood that the number of rotor blades, rotor rpm and rotor diameter have little effect on the vortex ring formation, but helicopters with higher disk loading and increased blade twist are more susceptible to it.

In the Vuichard recovery, the pilot increases collective to takeoff power, adds appropriate pedal and applies right cyclic for a 10- to 20-deg bank. The recovery is complete when the rotor reaches the upward flow
of the vortex.
Illustrations by Tim Tucker


Now as for the “Vuichard Recovery,” I was introduced to the technique while teaching a Robinson Pilot Safety Course in Neuchatel, Switzerland in June 2011. The previously mentioned Vuichard was one of the attendees. During the flight portion of the course, in a Robinson Helicopter R44, I went over the standard vortex ring state recovery technique that had been taught to pilots here in the U.S. for more than 60 years. Vuichard is a helicopter pilot of more than 35 years with more than 16,000 flight hours. This supposed student then asked me if he could demonstrate a recovery technique that he had developed over the years as a pilot conducting long-line operations in the Swiss Alps.

I’m normally fairly reluctant to heed such requests from a trainee who wants to “show me” one of his or her own techniques. This is especially true outside the U.S., where I’m not familiar with local standards and practices. But in this case, I hesitantly agreed.

Rather than forward cyclic and reduce collective (as I have been teaching and evaluating for years), he actually increased the collective to climb power, added the appropriate left pedal to keep the nose straight and applied right cyclic. The combination of tail rotor thrust and right bank moved the aircraft to the right and almost immediately out of the vortex ring. I was amazed. After a little practice, I was making recoveries from a fully developed vortex ring state with only 20 to 30 ft of altitude loss.

For the past two years, we have been teaching the Vuichard Recovery with great success in the safety courses at Robinson’s Torrance, Calif. plant and abroad. Additionally, I have included it in the maneuver guides for R22, R44 and R66. Pilots quickly see the recovery is accomplished more efficiently with much less altitude loss than the traditional method.

One common student error in the Vuichard technique is not coordinating enough left pedal with the increase in collective, allowing the nose to yaw to the right. Remember, it is the tail rotor thrust that helps move the helicopter to the right to enable the recovery, so the left pedal is essential. When teaching the recovery, I find it a little easier for pilots to break the procedure down into two steps. First, apply the right cyclic to establish a 10- to 20-deg bank angle, then increase the collective to climb power coordinated with the left pedal. Once the two-step process is mastered, it is quite easy to then progress to smooth, simultaneous control inputs.

As with the traditional method, I recommend practicing the Vuichard Recovery so that it can be completed above 1,000 feet agl. For demonstration purposes, I frequently allow a high descent rate to build prior to initiating the recovery to clearly show how efficient this new technique really is. However, in the real world, early recognition and initiation of the recovery is key to minimal altitude loss. Once proficiency with the technique is achieved, pilots should practice recovering from the vortex ring state as soon as the condition is recognized.

It is interesting to compare the two techniques at the point of exit from the vortex ring. Traditionally, when the aircraft is clear of the vortex, the helicopter is in a dive caused by the nose low attitude, power is reduced and the descent rate is high. For the entire time the pilot is correcting to a climb attitude and climb power, the aircraft is losing altitude. With the Vuichard Recovery, at the point the aircraft is clear of the vortex, climb power and attitude are already present so altitude loss is minimized.

I’m convinced the Vuichard Recovery is a tremendous improvement and can greatly improve the safety of operations close to the vortex ring boundaries. Instruction should begin at the student pilot level to build an instinctive, intuitive reaction and continue throughout one’s training.

It is important for the FAA to include a specific discussion of the method in the Rotorcraft Flying Handbook and the Helicopter’s Instructor’s Handbook so that pilots and instructors could quickly exit from this potentially fatal condition.

Need To Know: Vortex ring state is one of three distinct working conditions for a helicopter’s rotor.The Vuichard Recovery uses tail rotor and bank to move the aircraft laterally out of the vortex ring.

“Settling With Power”

In the U.S., there seems to be a great deal of confusion on whether the vortex ring state should be properly or improperly referred to as “settling with power.” The controversy stems from a condition completely different from the vortex ring state, in which engine power required exceeds engine power available.

Over the years, various aviation organizations have used conflicting terminology in discussing these very different conditions.

In the 1950s, the U.S. Navy referred to the vortex ring state as “power settling” and used the term “settling with power” for the power-available-vs.-power-required situation. Not wanting to let the Navy set the standard, the U.S. Army reversed the terminology in the 1960s. Army pilots in Vietnam used the term “settling with power” to refer to the vortex ring state and “power settling” when they were trying to get out of a tight landing zone with too many troops onboard.

The FAA uses “settling with power” in its discussion of vortex ring state in both the Rotorcraft Flying Handbook and the Practical Test Standards (probably because there are more former Army pilots in the FAA than former Navy pilots).

Outside the U.S., the picture is much clearer; for the most part, the term used is “vortex ring state.”

I say, let’s call it what it is—the “vortex ring state,” not some vague term that has different meanings to different pilots.—Tim Tucker