July 12, 2009

Identifying Your Aircraft in Uncontrolled Airspace

In the most recent issue of AOPA Flight Training Rod Machado answers a reader's question about the proper way to describe your airplane when making radio calls in uncontrolled airspace. The Aeronautical Information Manual is unclear stating that pilots should state the "aircraft type, model or manufacturer's name followed by the digits, letters." As soon as I read the question I knew my preference and was interested to read Machado's response which turned out to be in agreement with my method.

Machado suggests identifying your aircraft by manufacturer name rather than model as "some folks may not know all the different models of airplanes." However he explains "most people can tell the difference between a Cessna and a Piper aircraft" based on their wing position.

While approaching an uncontrolled airport last week there were two other aircraft in the vicinity and one was departing the airport toward the direction I was arriving from and I was scanning the horizon for him. The plane in the pattern was a Piper and the departing aircraft announced himself as a Centurion, which sounded familiar but I could not picture the plane. Moments later I saw a high wing planned and assumed that was the southbound traffic. It turns out the Centurion is a Cessna 210. Had he announced that he was flying a Cessna I would have known immediately that this was the plane I was looking for based on its raised wings.

For this reason I have always used "Cessna" in my calls no matter whether I am piloting a Cessna 152, Cessna 172 Skyhawk, or a Cessna 182 Skylane. The only exception is when I am talking to controllers I will often provide both the manufacturer and model as the controllers are often interested in the model to estimate your speed, however at uncontrolled airports I believe the shorter and simpler manufacturer name will suffice.

What is your preference?

Posted by at July 12, 2009 7:19 PM

I agree that it is better to use the manufacturer name just for the reason you specified. When talking to controllers I tend to use the model name more, however, simply because they may be more well versed in types of AC

Posted by: tgrande at July 12, 2009 9:49 PM | Reply

I'll second (or third, I suppose) the use of manufacturer. Your confusion about Centurion is the exact same thing I would have gone through, whereas I'd have understood Cessna in a millisecond. While most of us know Archer, Warrior, Skyhawk, Skylane, etc. I'd venture that anything which isn't a staple in the training fleet would best be described according to who built it.

Posted by: Steve at July 12, 2009 10:31 PM | Reply

It depends largely on what I'm flying. I'll usually say "Cessna" or "Twin Cessna" to give people an idea of the shape and speed of aircraft I'm flying. On those rare occasions that I'm flying the CRJ, I simply announce myself as "Regional Jet" rather than Canadair, simply because GA types may not be familiar with the manufacturer.

Its all about keeping your fellow pilots aware of your type so they can see you and plan for your speed. Hearing that a "Regional Jet" is behind me would certainly motivate me to keep the speed up!

Posted by: Patrick Flannigan at July 12, 2009 11:16 PM | Reply

I definitely agree, and in the past I've asked other traffic in the pattern if they were high or low wing, so as to give me a clue. I've also heard a couple of pilots volunteer extra info such as "a yellow low-wing".

Posted by: paul at July 13, 2009 1:10 PM | Reply


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Posted by: J. Alcantara at July 20, 2009 1:26 PM | Reply

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