The founders of this great nation — I refer to the United States of America, of course — did an amazing thing when they debated and passed a Bill of Rights. These 10 amendments to a Constitution so new the ink was still wet on the page set out specific areas of freedom for individuals and, more importantly, limits for government, that continue to guide us today. First among those amendments is the freedom of speech.
What a remarkable idea. Especially when compared and contrasted with other nations of that period.
In the U.S., an individual can speak their mind. You can say what you wish, whether it’s a cogent thought or an idiotic ramble. If you feel it, you may say it. And this freedom extends beyond the citizenry of our nation. It falls to anyone who stands within our borders. Speak freely, we say. Discuss. Debate. Explore the ramblings of your mind at will.
Of course, there are limits.
As the old maxim goes, you can’t yell, ‘Fire” in a crowded theater without suffering consequences for the mayhem you create.
Similarly, pilots would do well to remember the words of Thomas Jefferson when it comes to making radio calls. Good ol’ Tom wrote, “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”
This can take practice, but it’s important stuff. Be brief. Seriously. You have the right to free speech, but you also have an equally pressing responsibilty to seek brevity.
When in the cockpit, there is a time to speak, and there is a time to let go of the button and listen.
This past weekend I went flying. I got up early, checked the weather, toddled out to the airport, preflighted the airplane, checked the weather again, climbed in, fired up, and flew. It was not yet 8 a.m. when my wheels left the runway. The sky was blue, without even a hint of cloud cover. That would change in the coming hour, I knew. Florida is humid, especially so on summer mornings. Clouds would form soon enough. But for the moment, all was excellent.
As I climbed away from Lakeland Linder Regional Airport, the tower called to let me know a frequency change was approved. I responded with the last three letters of my registration and a hearty, “Thanks.” A quick stab at the flip-flop button brought up the CTAF (common traffic advisory frequency) for my destination, and a whole lot of chatter.
Like many non-towered airports, my destination makes use of a CTAF for pilots to self-announce their positions and intentions. And like many non-towered airports, my destination shares that same CTAF with a number of other airports in the region. That’s fair. That’s reasonable. However, it means that pilots using the CTAF at any airport, anywhere, must keep in mind that other pilots many miles away are hearing their calls, and waiting for a clear frequency and the opportunity to make their own calls.
“Chatty 123 is…um….about 15 miles south…no we’re more east than south…from Tampa North. Is there any traffic in the pattern at Tampa North…if there is…which runway are you using?”
Pilots all over central Florida were awaiting a chance to key the mike to report their position in the pattern, while Chatty 123 droned on. To make matters worse, Chatty made frequent calls, often asking non-existent pilots questions the pilot should have already known the answer to based on the conditions of the moment.
“Chatty 123 is 12 miles from Tampa North…we’re probably going to do a full stop landing at Tampa North…maybe a touch-and-go, then come around for a full stop after that.”
The push-to-talk button was virtually glued down, transforming the CTAF into Chatty 123’s private radio show.
The garrulous pilot called to report they were going to be entering the downwind soon, but with no particular runway included in the message. Then they announced they were really close to the downwind but hadn’t spotted any other traffic yet. When they actually got onto the downwind they announced their achievement three separate times, once when entering the downwind, again at midfield downwind, and finally abeam the numbers on downwind.
It went on like this for a while. You can imagine the joy felt by others using the frequency, at Tampa North, as well as other destinations that share the common means of communication. The infrequent spaces in between Chatty’s calls were peppered with other pilots calling out their intentions. Or at least they were attempting to call out their intentions. In each case the frequency transformed into a buzzing, clicking, mass of noise as Chatty keyed the mike yet again to make an unnecessary — and unnecessarily long — radio call, effectively blanking out the calls of other pilots.
Thankfully Class G airspace doesn’t require radio communications, and non-towered fields don’t require a clearance to land, or I might still be up there waiting. I’d have had a lot of company, too.
As luck would have it, Chatty 123 finally landed. The frequency fell quiet, save for a few brief calls from other fields, “Experimental turning right base for 15 at Apopka.” Silence. “Bonanza 789 downwind for 5,Winter Haven.” More silence. “Piper 456 left downwind for 32, Tampa North.”
The voice making that last call sounded a bit annoyed. Understandably.
Yes, you have freedom of speech. Yes, you should exercise it often, with vigor, and conviction. But you might listen now and then, too. And at least consider putting some self-imposed constraints on what you have to say, and when you choose to say it.
On behalf of all those pilots waiting patiently to make a call that really might matter — thank you.