Communications is one of the subjects that causes the most stress among student pilots. There’s nothing worse than pressing the push to talk button and not knowing what to say, or hearing a long Air Traffic Control (ATC) clearance and replying with “say again.” While there’s no substitute for practice, some technology can help.
One of the best ways to get extra practice when you’re not flying is to use a portable aviation radio. With one of these, you can listen to other pilots (and ATC) talk anytime. Or, use a website like LiveATC.net to listen in on the pros. It’s a great way to get a sense for the rhythm and pace of communications, and use professional pilots as your model.
Lightspeed’s FlightLink app is another great option. This app, for iPad and iPhone, is a free download in the iTunes App Store, and works with the company’s Sierra, Zulu.2, Tango and Zulu PFX headsets. The first useful feature you’ll find is the automatic audio recorder, which allows you to store all inbound and outbound transmissions – even intercom communications with your flight instructor. Then, play back those transmissions when needed. This is ideal for student pilots learning communications, since you can play back audio segments either immediately or during the debrief portion of the lesson when there is less going on.
There’s also a handy note-taking feature. This is helpful for instrument pilots, since you can write down a clearance in the app and instantly replay any audio you missed. But it’s also a nice feature for student pilots: copy the AWOS details, your taxi route or any questions you have during a lesson. Between these written notes and your audio recordings, you’ll have more confidence about what to say. Some student pilots even use this tool to script out (in basic form) what they’re going to say before pressing the PTT button.
If you’re flying with Lightspeed’s top of the line Zulu PFX headset, you can also use FlightLink to fine tune personal preferences. This includes individual bass and treble levels (invaluable for pilots with hearing loss), auto shutoff settings and aux audio input levels. It really unlocks the full potential of this high tech headset.