December 2003 Issue

Unicom 12/03: Use the Radio

Forget the legalities, if you’re smart you will use the radio at uncontrolled airports

You told a reader responding to an article by Ron Levy on the use of radios at non-towered airports [Unicom, October] that folks who had but didn’t use radios had done nothing illegal or inherently dangerous, in your opinion.

Granted, it’s not illegal to be a “nordo” at a non-towered airport, but stupid and potentially dangerous? I wholeheartedly agree with your reader. Maybe at a sleepy little airport you can get away with no radio, but some of our local non-towered airports are very, very busy, and not being in communication with the rest of the traffic has enormous potential for danger.

Even if you’re doing your best to see and avoid, some aircraft are very hard to see, and in the chaos of a busy cockpit in a packed traffic pattern, the possibility of creating a mid-air with someone who is mute, is very high, in my opinion – especially with the opposite direction traffic referred to in the letter. Most of the local ultralights in our area carry handheld radios; very wise, I believe.

There’s a huge gap between what’s legal and what’s smart. Anyone who doesn’t talk “because he doesn’t have to” is a moron.

So there.

-Gail Frasier
Via e-mail

We use our radio at uncontrolled fields, but we don’t count on it making a difference and are pleasantly surprised when it does. However, to address your criticism specifically, the letter writer does not give enough information to place the blame exclusively on the Nordo traffic. Perhaps the letter writer was landing in the wrong direction, given the circumstances. We simply don’t know enough to go throwing stones.


Legal Vs. Smart, Reprise
The point you make about legal vs. smart [Unicom, October] is the point I was making about pattern work at an uncontrolled field with the radio turned off or non-existent. Yes, it’s legal. No, it’s not smart. Worse, it’s dangerous.

Who do you tune out when you shut off CTAF to do pattern work? You tune out pilots who are landing and departing from the field where you are flying — exactly the people you want to know about and communicate with.

Radios are safety devices. They allow you to learn the whereabouts and intentions of other aircraft and communicate your whereabouts and intentions to them so you don’t have a collision.

If you have a radio, use it. No matter that it’s legal not to use it, you and others are safer when everyone uses their radios as intended. If you can’t afford a panel mount, buy a handheld. If you can’t afford a new handheld, there are plenty of cheap used ones around.

Insisting on your “right” to an unsafe practice because it is legal is a good way to end up “dead right.”

-Lauren Ward
Via e-mail

We have non-pertinent conversations on the CTAF. We have the same frequency in use at several nearby airports, with pilots stepping all over each other. We have pilots who seem to have no clue how to give – or interpret – a position report.

Yes, radios can be safety devices. They can also be needless distractions. It depends.


What’s Wrong With ‘No’?
I would think the prudent thing to do when the controller cleared Ken Ibold for Rwy 2R, after Ken was set up for 2C [Risk Management, October], would be to decline and stick with 2C. Having a longer distance to taxi when on the ground seems to me to be a lot better than preparing for a different approach, dropping charts, etc.

I do enjoy the magazine, get a lot of good scoop from it.

-Jim Beauchamp
Via e-mail


Say ‘Yes’ to ‘No’
Dunno about you, but if a controller offered me an approach I was not set up for [Risk Management, October], I would say “No, thanks just the same. I really do appreciate your thoughtfulness.”

Maybe I’d cut out a word or two.

-Bob Gardner
Via e-mail

And so should we have. We make no bones about the fact that this was a bad call. Live and learn.


Vx Then Vy for Minimum Noise
About Mr. Vaeroe’s October response to “Shut the Prop Up” [Unicom, October], back when I was flying out of Norwood, Mass., the technique they taught was to use Vx to the fence, then Vy over the homeowners who had encroached on the airport.

This gets you to maximum altitude before reaching the neighbors, then achieves maximum altitude for the minimum time spent over their sensitive ears. It certainly made sense at the time.

-Lenny Munari
Skokie, Ill.

The big problem with routinely climbing at Vx is that you have very little margin against a stall should the engine falter. In addition, engine cooling is poor at such high-power, low airspeed configurations. While it can be a good tool in some circumstances, we can’t endorse it as a routine technique.


Know Where You’re Pointing
The article “Which Way is Up?” [Instrument Flight, October] contains very serious misinformation about interpretation of most general aviation attitude indicators. You state that the bank angle pointer always points up and rolling toward it will correct the attitude. This has not been true for most general aviation attitude indicators since the supply of WWII surplus indicators ran out and new instruments were manufactured.

On the typical general aviation “new” indicator the little wings and the pointer are perpendicular to each other and attached to the aircraft. The bank angle scale is attached to the gyro with the zero bank doughnut perpendicular to the gyro’s horizon bar. These are stable in space and the little airplane and pointer move with the aircraft.

On the “sky pointer’ style instrument the little wings and the bank angle scale are rigid to the airplane structure while the bank angle pointer is attached to the gyro perpendicular to the horizon bar.

In practice the difference is subtle and a pilot may go from one to the other without being aware of the difference. That could be a fatal lack of awareness if during a real unusual attitude the pilot only recalls your statement that the “pointer always points up.”

-Jaime Alexander
Council Bluffs, Iowa

Our enthusiasm for the Air Force’s Instrument Flight Procedures manual got the better of us. Substitute “doughnut” for “sky pointer” and, well, you get the point.


Beep for Heat
You mention pager-controlled heaters in the February issue of Aviation Safety. Please advise of more information on this product.

-Dennis Rinne
Via e-mail

The product we referred to is called the RS Beeper Box. Contact the Judith Mountain Technologies at 920-734-6232 (1504 W. Franklink Street, Appleton, Wisconsin 54914) or on the Web at The Beeper Box is also sold retail through both Tanis and Reiff. The suggested retail price is $369, which does not include the pager.


Clean It Up, Already
Unlike our parents’ generation, our current cultural majority takes no umbrage at phrases like “screw the pooch.” I’ve become mostly numb to such indiscretions, but Bill Kight’s reply to Mike Holshouser [Unicom, October] was too flippant to ignore.

Much has been written about fellow Hoosier Gus Grissom’s lack of the “right stuff.” Some say he was even responsible for the fire on the launch pad. Apocryphal or not, no other astronaut has ever engendered such aspersions.

So goes my respect for Mr. Kight and my support for Mr. Holshouser.

-Jeff Smirz
Indianapolis, Ind.

Sorry, but just having made it as far as Mr. Grissom did shows he had a heck of a lot more of the right stuff than most mere mortals.


What Size Nick?
I really enjoyed Roger Long’s article on propeller flaws [Systems Check, October]. It came, if you will, just in the nick of time; I’ve always wondered why small nicks are so dangerous. Now I know.

One area remains cloudy for me. What size nick is significant? Long concludes by saying “it’s a judgment call.” Could you provide additional info that would help my judgment?

-Scott E. Shipper
Armonk, N.Y.

Roger Long replies: The deeper and sharper a ding, the higher the stress concentration will be. This means that a small invisible crack that you could easily overlook could be more of a hazard than a big ding.

Every ding you can feel should be reported. The bigger question is to fly or not to fly until it can be dressed. There is no clear answer. Generally, the more “V” shaped as opposed to “U” shaped, the higher the stress concentration will be. If a chunk of metal appears to have been knocked out, it’s apt to be more dangerous than if the metal is simply dented in.

The farther out on the blade the ding is, the less likely it is that loss of the blade tip will tear the engine off the mounts. The farther in the ding is, the greater the leverage and centrifugal forces and the more likely the prop is to fail.

If you can feel it, it should be attended to, the less flying beforehand the better. No flying is best, but this is the real world. There are no easy answers to this question.


Traffic Please Advise
In response to “More on Idiotic Phrases” by Anthony Esteves [Unicom, October], I felt compelled to shed light on to perhaps another angle to his opinions. He mentions in no uncertain terms his distaste with the phrase “any traffic please advise.”

I would like to point out that in certain situations this harmless request might actually be a smart thing to do.

In my area we have a lot of military restricted airspace that overlies small civil uncontrolled fields. Normally the controllers keep hold of any traffic to within three miles of the intended airport, then say either, “No other reported traffic between you and the airport, squawk VFR frequency change approved” or else, “remain present squawk change to advisory approved.” In the latter case, I argue that a position report notifying ones intention to land including a request for any other traffic to advise their position is a good thing to do. Let us not forget that what we are trying to do here is avoid hitting things in the air.

-Mal Woodcock
Ocean Springs, Miss.


TCAD by Any Other Name
I would like to bring to your attention an incorrect statement in the Hardware Solutions sidebar [Risk Management, August].

You state: “Even cheaper is a series of TCADs made by Ryan and others. TCAD does not transmit a signal, but only listens for the replies generated by transponders when they are interrogated by ground-based radar or nearby TCAS equipped airplanes.”

Ryan International is the only manufacturer of “TCAD” products. TCAD is the Ryan International acronym for “Traffic Collision Alert Device,” which can be either passive or active.

-Bruce D. Bunevich
Vice President
Ryan International

Like so many before us, we fell victim to using a company’s product description as a generic term.