I had a bit of a learning experience with the radio during my latest solo flight on Saturday. I wouldn’t have been aware of this learning experience if I hadn’t captured my flight with my GoPro. I’m happy I reviewed the video later in the day.

I flew into one of our practice areas for an hour just to continue building confidence and work on a few simple maneuvers (Turn About A Point, etc). Others had the same game plan and there were a couple of us in the Practice Area.

Since we have flight following available and it’s the default for flights from KRME, ATC was watching the traffic in the practice area and advising aircraft of each other, just like they’re suppose to do. They made a call to another Cherokee about my presence. I don’t remember the tail number of the other Cherokee, but I know that it ended with an “N”.

I then heard another radio call, “89N, Syracuse Approach, advising of traffic four miles to your east at 3,500.”

Radio silence. Since I was flying 89R, I did have a brief moment of “wow, that call sign is close to mine, I’ll have to check out the plane someday”, and then I went into “disregard” mode, since he presumably wasn’t talking to me.

Because I was in “disregard mode”, I heard, “Cherokee 89N, do you copy traffic?”, when in actuality, he said, “Cherokee 89R, do you copy traffic?” While on the first call he mistakenly called me “Cherokee 89N”, the second time he was correct with “Cherokee 89R”. Due to the aforementioned “disregard mode”, I didn’t reply and I remember thinking, “I wonder why he’s not replying.”

Then I heard, “N7089R, Syracuse Approach.” Since I heard the cadence was completely different and I heard my call sign, I immediately replied like I was suppose to, “Syracuse Approach, N7089R”. ATC then relayed the traffic information to me and I advised that I’d be watching out for them. I had a fleeting thought that the controller sounded irritated, but I didn’t realize why. It wasn’t until I got home and was casually reviewing my video that I realized the misidentified call, the subsequent call I had mistakenly disregarded and then the third call when he clearly got my attention. My response was just the casual business as usual that I thought it was.

So the lesson from this is that I now know how I hear radio calls and I must key in on the “R” in my tail number. I need to listen closer and not go into “disregard mode”, I need to pay attention to the calls the best I can at all times. When I made this realization during my review of the video, I felt really bad and rather dumb. Since my instructor was flying with another student in another airplane at the time, I sent him a text message about my realization from the video and asked him if I had made him nervous. I hadn’t, good thing.

But l made myself nervous when I realized the gap in my listening skills. It’s another thing that I need to work on.

I recently made the comment that learning to fly has revealed weaknesses in my skills that must extend throughout my everyday habits. I like the fact that becoming a pilot is making me a better person outside of the fact that I can now fly an airplane.

Becoming the best we can be is always a good thing.


One thought on “Listening.

  1. Boy, if I had a dime for every time I’ve missed a radio call! The controllers do get the call signs wrong sometimes, but in their defense, we only have to listen for and say one of them, whereas they’re regurgitating hundreds of disparate IDs on any given day. What I find really impressive is the way I’ll call up unannounced with an aircraft type, registration number, and request, and they’ll manage to repeat my N-number back correctly 95% of the time.

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