As we take to the skies, one thing is certain: we will eventually hear some interesting stuff over the electronic airwaves.
Regular readers of this column know one of my pet peeves is the irresponsible use of our ever-crowded frequencies, especially unicom. Tune in to 122.8 or one of the other high-use unicom frequencies and it won’t be long before you’ll hear full length liturgies on aircraft type, position and intention where a short sentence would have sufficed. At other times, you’ll hear pilots treating the unicom like it’s their own personal CB channel. Of course, the resultant squeals of the culprit, either stepping on another transmission or being stepped on, is to be expected.
Certainly there are those who know what unicom is really for, and they show it. “Cessna on downwind for two-zero at Rowan County.” Short, simple, to the point and no confusion. “N” numbers are not needed, nobody cares and it takes too much time. What you are, where you are, and what you’re going to do is all that’s needed. You don’t have to mention the airport five different times or load the sentence up with a bunch of filler words. You’re not writing a high-school term paper. You can get many more simple reports in, for the amount of time it takes for most of the transmissions I hear every time I fly.
While I was giving some recurrent training to a Cardinal RG owner this past July, we were forced to hear an exchange on unicom that was a bit scary, revealing, and totally preventing the use of the frequency. A pilot was using unicom to call for help from what sounded like his instructor. We could tell by the sound of this pilot’s voice that he was concerned to the point of near panic. He was passing through 5,000 feet on a climb, in a plane that had a variable pitch propeller. His “problem” was that he was noticing a continuous drop in manifold pressure as he climbed. He thought he had an engine problem and didn’t know what to do.
“When I took-off, I had 29 inches of manifold pressure with full throttle and now at 5,000 feet I only have 24 inches and I still have the throttle full in” he proclaimed.
Obviously he was not aware of the fact that this is normal. Piston engines lose power at the rate of about an inch of manifold pressure for each 1,000 feet of climb.
My student and I had no choice but to listen because the frequency was totally blocked. The situation was rattling the pilot so much that I was concerned that he’d hurt himself, being so consumed with his perceived problem. His instructor finally was able to explain to him that it was normal and nothing to worry about. The pilot quickly calmed down and all was OK.
If it had stopped there, it would have been tolerable. However, the instructor then decided to give the pilot a complete, step-by-step lesson on the operation of constant speed props and the effects of altitude and manifold pressure, without a break in the transmission and the frequency squealing like a stuck pig.
Finally the instructor, although obviously not finished, needed to take a breath and he stopped just long enough for me to say, “How about taking this flying lesson off the unicom!”
Mr. Instructor quickly replied, “Shut-up, D—-Head!” (That’s a high-caliber example of aviation manners for you.) Now, I am a strong advocate of NOT getting into confrontations on unicom, but in this case I felt it appropriate to reply, “At least I’m not the idiot who cut a student loose in a plane he knows nothing about.” It was spooky, but the frequency went totally quiet. No position reports from anyone, no response from the hapless student or his gutter vocabulary instructor; no one. Finally, someone at another airport called in a downwind leg report. Everything went back to normal.
Sometimes transmissions on unicom can really make you wonder what they were thinking as the words rolled effortlessly out of their mouths.
A week before the incident described above, I was flying into Statesville with a good friend and 172 owner riding shotgun. We gave regular position reports as we progressed to final approach. While on final, a Cessna 180 taxied up to the hold line. I decided to give another announcement of “Cardinal on short final to two-eight at Statesville.”
The 180 pilot responded with his “N” number and “traffic on short final in sight.”
Then, just as I was saying to my friend, “That’s good. He knows we’re here,” the 180 came out onto the runway and proceeded to take-off. His timing was perfect; right on that border line where I was deciding if a go-around was the thing to do; but I waited while I brought in some power, just in case. I shifted over slightly and elected to alter my touch-down aiming point so as not to be upset by his potentially-lingering prop-wash, but I still kept the last-minute abort in my plan. I was glad I handled it this way, because as soon as he left the ground, he rolled into an immediate hard left turn to a low, mid-field crosswind pattern exit, which was below and in front of a local 152 trainer who had just reported entering the downwind leg on a 45 degree angle.
After we taxied in, I asked about the Cessna 180 and was told who it was and that he had just come back from flying the plane on a three-week trip to Alaska. Apparently this bush-cowboy thought he was still up there. I guess the fact that he said he saw me on final made his inconsiderate maneuvers acceptable.
Finally, I was flying from Lumberton, N.C., to Winston-Salem, recently. I had let down to 2,500 feet as I passed north of the Asheboro area, to get below some 3,500 foot broken clouds that were popping up with rain showers, and decided to give Greensboro Approach a call just to let them know I was there. I recognized the friendly voice of the controller who said, “Thanks for the heads-up, you’re in radar contact … anything I can do for you?” My reply was an equally friendly, “Keeping me from hitting anyone would be cool.” His response was, “I am all over that!”
See what I mean? The best radio conversations are definitely the shortest.
Guy R. Maher is an aircraft appraiser and FAA Aviation Safety Counselor with more than 12,000 hours in general aviation airplanes and helicopters. He is an independent buyer’s agent, and flight instructor for type-specific initial and recurrent training. He can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 704-287-3475.