Saturday, March 07, 2009

Keep Your Ears on Good Buddy

Next morning I go out to Wal-Mart to buy hair gel, conditioner (they were out of the 'special formulation for green hair' at home), rubber cement and snacks. Strangers in Texas are friendly. You can talk to them in the supermarket and they'll carry on a conversation, not stare at you as if you're a danger to your children. Southern Canadians won't talk to strangers.

Back at the hotel, I take my headset out of the bag and the earseals fall off. Directions on the rubber cement say that for a stronger bond I should put glue on both surfaces and press them together wet. I apply the rubber cement to my headphone and to the earseals, and then put the earseals on the headset. They fall off. I ball up a sweatshirt and clamp the headset over it as if it were my head, and leave it there for an hour. When I take it off to put in the bag, the earseals don't fall off. I go out to the plane.

My co-worker mentioned that she had had problems with the comm 1 radio last flight. After engine start I pick up my headset. The ear seals do not fall off. I put on the headset and use comm 1 to listen to the ATIS. It receives fine. I call ground for a radio check. They call back as if I had just made an initial call in preparation for asking for a clearance. I repeat "radio check." I'm not sure if that's the standard term here. When a controller gets a hold of an aircraft that has missed a few calls here, the controller will usually say "how do you hear?" He doesn't really mean "how do you hear?" He means, and often adds, "I've called you three times. You have to pay better attention!" But I use the terminology I learned first.

The controller thinks for a moment and then rates my transmission as "scratchy and barely readable." I write that down to go in the report to maintenance. I can fly until the inspection using the remaining radio.

Now that I know I just have the one radio, I'm cautious about every quiet moment and misunderstanding on the radio. The controllers here have been really good, getting the Canadian callsign easily on the first call. Must be lots of Canadians around here. But tonight Center has trouble understanding my call sign. After a couple of repetitions he gets it and I ask if that was due to the radio or my accent. "A bit of both, probably," he speculates. "Our radios aren't very good."

While I'm flying, another pilot calls for a radio check and the controller answers "loud and clear." I snicker, because that's what CBers say. In Canada we use a one to five scale to indicate how loud and how clear. I get a chance to demonstrate it a while later when the controller asks me for a radio check. As I mentioned, this usually indicates that a pilot has missed a call, but if I have, it's due to a radio problem, not my vigilance. I haven't been talking on the intercom and I have been listening out. I wonder how long the radio was not receiving properly. I tell the controller he is "five by five," indicating strength and readability of the signal is excellent, and then I brace for the chewing out. But he seems happy. He understands the "five by five" and he really was checking his radio. I hear several more comments in that sector over the next few days that really do suggest someone needs to spend money upgrading ATC equipment.

A reader commented earlier that Texas airline pilots use poor radio language when they are flying recreationally, but I don't notice this. It seems that the smaller the airplane, the more formal the radio work here. Almost as if it's a badge of honour to talk informally on the radio.

There's one airline that keep calling with a callsign that sound like "Startrek" and a number. I know it's not, I think it actually begins with T, but I keep hearing "Startrek." Who has a callsign like that in East Texas? Anyone know?

At the end of the flight my earseals do not fall off. I declare the headset fixed.


Anonymous said...

US Check Airlines "Star Check"

I think I just heard one of these on the "Archie Awards" tapes/transcripts for ATC helping pilots in distress. See The flying Penguin's blog for links if you're interested.

But I like your hearing better. Who knows? November Charlie Charlie one seven zero one how do you hear?

Anonymous said...

Correction to the above... it was off the Penguin's blogroll, but the blog was "get the flick" and here is the incident

pixelante said...

The proper phraseology for a radio check in the US is "How do you hear me?" according to the Pilot/Controller Glossary. "Radio check" is not listed.

Pilot/Controller Glossary

Check the last entry under "H" for proof.

Geekinthecockpit said...

The callsign is likely Starcheck. I think they fly around cancelled checks in Barons and Navajos. If you get a chance to tour east Texas, Nacogdoches is the oldest town in Texas...lots of fun. I was there four years for college.

K1MGY said...

"Radio Check" was used by NASA for many years, but has since morphed into "comm check".

Repetitive use of "comm check" has however served as notice of catastrophe, since voice comms are carried alongside a continuously-running digital stream. If one goes, kiss the other bye bye.

As an (old) Morse operator, the R/S/T (readability-strength-tone) system is familiar as is R/S for voice (where the first digit indicates readability and the second, strength). Getting a 5/9/9 report means you're practically next door.

Some operators refer to "weak but readable" in lieu of numbers, but if things are really in the soup the evidence speaks for itself.

Weak and unreadable describes me, in the morning.

dpierce said...

The 1~5 scale should be familiar to many in the US, with military types at least. Although some would have trouble remembering which is strength and which is quality.

Anonymous said...

Flying south of the border a few weeks ago, I'm pretty sure we got "5 by 5" back from Seattle Centre at one point when Comm 1 was being entertaining.

Glad to know I wasn't hearing things, even if it's not totally standard phraseology.

The line about American ATC 'getting Canadian callsigns mostly right' is so, so true. Our alphabet soup callsigns seem to confuse them terribly!

Michael said...

we say radio check in australia and usually just say a number, such as 5 for good, and 1 for unreadable. sometimes you hear "how do you read."

why are navajos and barons flying around with callsigns. i dont think metros.. even 717's and fokker 100's use callsigns.. just the rego.

Anonymous said...

CBers may say "loud and clear", but seldom use such non-descriptive verbiage.
Strong signals are usually "bodacious"
Very strong signals are usually "wall-to-wall and tree-top tall".
Enquiring as to whether a friend is on frequency is done by saying "You gotch your ears on, Trixie?"
CBers seldom wear earphones, which are known as "cans" because they seldom work weak signals...only strong ones that are "pinning the meter"
So Trixie, (best wishes), "3's on ya and keep the shiney side up and the greasy side down and we'll catch you on the ol' flip-flop whenever you're around !"

Anonymous said...

My FO and I were having fun employing trucker slang on the radio a few months ago. We only did such while communicating with company outstations and informing them that we would require 'motion lotion' upon arrival. What can I say? We were bored...

Anonymous said...

I thought the exact same thing the first time I heard a StarCheck call. "Who would use Star Trek as their callsign?"

Unknown said...

Actually, maybe it's not because they have Canadians flying around in Texas, but because of Mexicans, who also use alphabet callsigns.