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The following stories from the October 30, 2009, edition of AOPA ePilot were provided to AOPA members who expressed an interest in the particular subject areas. Any AOPA member can receive information tailored to their areas of interest by updating their preferences online.

- My ePilot -- Helicopter Interest -

Police helicopter mission now online

Citizens of Sacramento, Calif., will now know why their police helicopter is circling overhead. The Sacramento Police Department has added some features to its Web site to help citizens find out what the police are doing. When the helicopter is circling an area for a significant period of time, the police department will post details of the mission. Read more >>



Expecting a call

One common result of pilot distraction is missing a call from air traffic control. Student pilots work hard to learn the procedures, lingo, and etiquette of radio communications, as well as how to initiate contact, as explained in “ Learning the right words: A new pilot’s guide to ATC communications.”


But how do you know when ATC might initiate communications with you?


Fortunately, many situations when you should expect a call are predictable in timing and content. For example, after takeoff from a towered airport at the center of Class C airspace, you should expect a “handoff” from tower to departure control, possibly combined with an initial heading or altitude to fly. When you contact departure, the controller may issue further instructions or have you “proceed on course.” Additional calls may point out traffic nearby. Eventually you will be handed off to another ATC facility or instructed to “squawk” the VFR transponder code 1200. On your return to the Class C airport, expect approach control to hand you off to the tower. If the tower gives you arrival instructions but no landing clearance, expect landing clearance soon.


It will get easy with practice. “Flight instructors get us started with the basics, but we learn to use the radio mostly by listening and doing. Mistakes are inevitable, but educated practice is what makes us better pilot communicators,” Mark Twombly counseled in his January 2005 AOPA Flight Training column “ Continuing Ed: Something to talk about.”


A few more tips: You’ll learn to anticipate call-ups by listening carefully on the frequency. If ATC points out your aircraft as conflicting traffic to another pilot, you are probably also going to receive a traffic call. If the tower has you looking for traffic ahead of you on approach, your next instructions may be, “Follow that traffic, cleared to land.”


If you didn’t quite get a transmission, speak up! “There is no excuse for not asking for clarification if you do not understand the instructions you have been given,” Charles Wright said in “ Talking the talk” from the May 2005 AOPA Flight Training. “Never mind if the controller sounds irritated or annoyed. In the end, he would prefer that you ask and avoid an incident or an accident simply by asking a question.”


USB headset adaptor from Sporty’s

Want to take your desktop simulator sessions to that next level of realism? Sporty’s sells an adaptor that lets you plug in your general aviation headset to your computer and use it with your sim. There’s no software to install, but it does require a USB port. The unit sells for $59.95 and may be ordered online or by calling 800/SPORTYS.


Note: Products listed have not been evaluated by ePilot editors unless otherwise noted. AOPA assumes no responsibility for products or services listed or for claims or actions by manufacturers or vendors.


Question: There is an older airplane at my home airport with very small, barely visible N numbers. I thought all airplanes had to have this identification larger and easily seen.


Answer: All aircraft registered in the United States are required to have a registration number displayed on the aircraft. Most airplanes sport 12-inch N numbers, which are easily seen. The FAA permits antique aircraft (more than 30 years old) to have smaller two- or three-inch numbers that may not be as readily visible.


Got a question for our technical services staff? E-mail [email protected] or call the Pilot Information Center, 800/872-2672. Don’t forget the online archive of "Final Exam" questions and answers, searchable by keyword or topic.

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