One of our readers sent us this scenario:
Departing Albert Whited Airport in St. Petersburg, Florida I receive the clearance “Cessna 1234X cleared for take off RW 18 turn eastbound after departure”. During climb I hear tower call a Grumman and note in my mind a Grumman is up here somewhere. The Grumman pilot responds.
I take my turn to the east and about 10 seconds later I hear a call to a Grumman and start trimming and watching altitude. I don’t hear the response from the Grumman and then I hear the the tower call the Grumman again but I listen more attentively because I could tell the controller was trying to get the Grumman’s attention and he isn’t responding. While listening I hear the 1234X with the Grumman proceeding it. I immediately call back with 1234X an politely remind the controller I am a Cessna not a Grumman.
The tower responds while laughing saying “well I got the last part right." He then gives me the clearance “Cessna 1234X contact Tampa Approach on 119.65." The rest of the flight went as hoped but just learned lesson #3,520, controllers make mistakes and sometimes they laugh about them too.
This scenario illustrates two important things to remember while you are flying. First, controllers are people and make mistakes just like us. So it is important to try and listen to all of the controllers transmissions and speak up if you hear an incorrect transmission or one you don't’ understand. This might save you or someone else’s life some day.
Secondly, If you are afraid of speaking on the radio you should take the time to talk to a controller face to face or take a tour of an air traffic control facility. I remember the first time I toured a tower and had my Wizard of Oz moment. When I got behind the curtain, control tower door in this case, I realized controllers are people just like me. Having this epiphany I began speaking to Air Traffic Control more as an equal than as if I was speaking to the all powerful OZ in the control tower.
As you gain experience listening to Air Traffic Control you will be able to process what they are saying quicker and will also be able to hear what is going on around you with more accuracy. A great tool for gaining experience and not spending money running the engine of your aircraft is by listening to Air Traffic Control with a hand held radio or listening on the internet at Live ATC.
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