My Least Favorite Radio Mistake

Okay, maybe that’s not fair. Maybe I hate them all. But I particularly dislike making the mistake I made today.

The radio tunes to different frequencies. There’s a knob you twist to set the frequency and then a button (the flip flop button) to move the newly-dialed frequency into the active position. Then you are talking on it.

Typically, air traffic control (ATC) says, “Niner seven one romeo delta, contact SoCal approach on one three four point four.”

First you twist in the new frequency, then you click the mike button and say, “One romeo delta going to SoCal on one three four point four.” Sometimes ATC says goodbye, sometimes not. Press the flip-flop button to make 134.4 active, and check in: “SoCal approach, this is DiamondStar niner seven one romeo delta, level at four thousand on an assigned heading of one five zero.”

It is so clean and efficient when it works. When you do it properly there’s no uh or pause. Just acknowledge, flip-flop, wait (listen for other calls), and talk.

So I took off from Long Beach and was talking to the tower on 119.4. Art and I were returning from LGB to SMO via the Special Flight Rules Corridor at four thousand five hundred feet. We’d been flying for ten or fifteen minutes already, slowly climbing up out of LGB’s airspace directly over the airport. The tower controller said, “Niner seven one romeo delta, you have climbed out of our airspace, frequency change approved.” I dialed in the frequency for the common traffic advisories on the special flight rules corridor (128.55) and do my most professional call:

Los Angeles Special Flight Rules traffic, DiamondStar niner seven one romeo delta is abeam Torrance airport., four thousand five hundred feet north bound. Special Flight Rules.

You bookend the radio call like that, so that if someone tunes in during your radio call they still hear what frequency you think you are transmitting on, what your expected audience is. (That’s important because there are CTAFs which overlap. Corona airport and Catalina’s airport use the same frequency and they are only sixty miles apart. Radio calls are often heard for one airport by aircraft in the vicinity of the other.)

Of course, my call wasn’t heard at all on the Special Flight Rules frequency because I had forgotten to hit the flip-flop button. Instead I broadcast my nice, clear, beautifully-enunciated and crisply-delivered call to Long Beach Tower instead. That would be the frequency where all the JetBlue captains, bizjet jockies and helicopter pilots are listening.


Art shrugged and said, “Everyone does that now and again.” I admit I feel better about my slips when I hear an airline pilot do it.

About Colin Summers

I am an architect, programmer, private pilot, husband and father. A couple of those I am good at.
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