Most of us have been a bit shy of using the radio with its arcane phraseology. We’ve traditionally thought of Air Traffic Controllers as being very busy, incomprehensible and a bit obstructive, so best avoided. Oddly, they think of themselves as being kind helpful souls who just want to help you. They can even understand plain English, which is useful as some gliding situations don’t fit well into the standard phraseology. I wanted to take the BGA radio course so that the patter on the club’s Farnborough cheat sheet wouldn’t be the sum total of my radio phraseology.


The BGA radio course consists of 6 weekly zoom sessions. They go over a presentation you should have watched beforehand, and then convene breakout sessions where you practice radio calls in small groups. After these sessions, you can have one or two practice sessions with your coach to get ready for the exam. My coach actually is an air traffic controller, so the standard of help was fantastic. They are developing a gliding radio exam, but since this was not yet ready, I took the standard GA radio test. This was interesting as it showed up some of the basic differences between GA and gliding which hadn’t really occurred to me before.


Not only do GA pilots have the power to fly at any altitude they like and so avoid inconvenient airspace with ease, they can also fly in straight lines! The standard position report includes your route and ATC expect you to be somewhere along that line, eg ‘abeam Popham’. Gliders wander off course to find good areas of lift, so need to describe their absolute position relative to a known point, eg ‘1 mile southeast of Petersfield’. Gliders also do their best to get as high as possible most of the time and so are attracted to controlled airspace like moths to the flame.


GA pilots may well fly their straight lines by following a particular heading. I don’t know about you, but compass headings have never played much of a role in my glider flights. I don’t think about headings and I rarely fly in a straight line for very long. Radio phraseology requires you to mention your heading as part of the call. I found that quite hard to remember and apparently it’s vital to include it in your MayDay call in the exam.


Not having flown in the GA world, requesting engine starts and taxi clearances was not something I had any practical experience of. I also nearly got caught out when requesting airfield information and being given some dire met conditions which meant I ought to divert. In my glider, I respond to the weather ahead that I can see, and fully expect to land in a field if I run into difficulties. I don’t call up for advice.  Maybe I should. Despite these novelties, I managed to scrape a pass and I now look forward to going forth and requesting clearance to thermal in Class D, penetrate a MATZ, or join any airfield that takes my fancy.

The Joy of Radio

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Words from our CFI Duncan Stewart

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