A lesson shared from one hobby to another

While Flight Simulation is the only hobby I discuss on this blog, it is not the only hobby I enjoy.  As discussed in the blog posting titled “The Cost of a Hobby”, I do enjoy photography, golf (although my game is suffering right now) and amateur radio (also known as ham radio).  It is a lesson from amateur radio that I plan to share with you today.

I returned to the world of VATSIM last November and estimate over 90% of my current flight simulation time is spent flying online.  I also had a “full-circle” moment and re-joined with my old virtual airline, American virtual Airlines. In another “full-circle” moment,  I’m now managing the Dallas/Ft. Worth Hub for AvA (which I did back in the 2001-2004 timeframe) and am truly having a ball. 

For those who have never experienced the fun of flying on VATSIM, you should check it out.  Yea I know all the reasons some people have.  Let’s see.  ONE The software is too complicated to install.  TWO The procedures are too difficult to master.  THREE  There is never any ATC online at the time I want to fly. 

OK…So number three is a valid point.  There are times (OK…a lot of times) where ATC coverage is not available.  But there are also times when there is and when there is….it truly is As Real As It Gets.  But this blog post is not about that and unless you regularly fly on VATSIM then it probably won’t apply.  But I hope you’ll keep reading.

When I previously flew on the VATSIM network (back in 2001 – 2004 or so) I didn’t have my ham radio license.  In 2007 I did earn my license and upgraded to the second level (general class) in early 2008.  I’ve been off and on studying for the top tier, (extra class) for several years.  One very key element that all beginning ham radio operators learn about is the art of listening. 

Now we’ve all been (regardless if you are a fellow ham) taught this lost art.  More than likely it was taught to us at a very young age by our parents and certainly was taught during Kindergarten.  After all, everything we need to know in life was taught to us during our year of Kindergarten  The problem is we tend to forget and most of us have simply forgotten the art of listening.

Back to the hobby of amateur radio.  We are taught again about the importance of listening.  Part of the material we read and study to earn our entry level license (called technician class) tells us we will do more listening than actually speaking when operating our radios.  The guidance when tuning into a frequency is to listen………..listen some more…………listen yet some more……….no we’re not done listening just yet……..after some time we don’t hear anything….then we listen a little more and finally will politely ask if the frequency is in use and yes……LISTEN. 

We do this because it is possible I may not hear another ham operator using that particular frequency and my transmission could interfere with his or another operators ability to hear and use that frequency.  After I listen for a minute or two and politely ask if the frequency is in use, if I then do not hear anyone…I’m free to go ahead and begin using that frequency.

Of course in VATSIM we do not need to ask if the frequency is in use.  This was merely an example of how the art of listening is applied in the hobby of amateur radio.  But the key take away that I’m trying to make with this blog post is even in the world of simulated ATC on VATSIM, we all need to LISTEN more than we speak.

Many, Many, Many times fellow pilots will “step over” another pilot or ATC simply because they are not listening.  Other times pilots need to ask again for ATC to repeat what they said again because they are not listening.  I know some will argue that what is happening is not because of the lack of listening…but I think many and actually most cases it is.

My first piece of advice for virtual pilots is to invest in a good set of headphones.  Preferably USB so you can set Squawkbox or FSInn to only send the ATC audio into the headset and keep the sound of the flight sim (the airplane) out of the headset.  I know I also flew for many years with the sound of my aircraft mixed in with the ATC audio.  It’s not like this on a real airplane….so make the change.  You’ll thank me later.

Second, (and this ties in with the above) route your aircraft sounds into some external speakers and keep the audio turned down low enough so when you speak into your headset only your voice is transmitted and not the sounds of your engines etc. This will help everyone hear and understand you better.

Third, if you use an external microphone….read my first piece of advice and invest in a USB headset with boom microphone.  Spend some time setting up the audio.  The new USB headset you buy might be plug and play, but getting the audio levels just right isn’t. 

Fourth, after taking all the above advice….when you tune into an active ATC frequency please LISTEN and LISTEN just a little bit more to see if there is an active conversation taking place.  Even when being handed off from one ATC to another, you have plenty of time to LISTEN first.  The reason why I’m suggesting you listen is to assist in the overall flow of communication. 

What are you talking about Jerry?  I’m glad you asked.  Just like in normal conversation you have with a friend either face to face or on the phone or what ever, there is a period of time where you speak and then you stop talking and you listen while your friend speaks.  This is the flow of normal conversation and is exactly what we learned when we were young. 

In the virtual ATC world on VATSIM, the normal flow of communication works something like this.  ATC issues instruction to pilot.  Pilot reads back instruction to ATC.  In some cases (as in reading back clearance) ATC might confirm the instructions the pilot read back.  The point I’m making is there is a normal flow and an expected flow of communication. 

In the above example, this is a communication between ATC and a pilot A.  Let’s say pilot B is on frequency and is not carefully listening or just ignoring the normal flow of conversation.  When ATC issues an instruction to pilot A, Pilot B should not speak on frequency until he is aware the conversation between Pilot A and ATC is finished. 

Some may argue and ask the question…well how do you know when the conversation between ATC and Pilot A is completed?  Again, depending on the situation you will know or you will learn over time.  Let’s use another example.  ATC is issuing vectors to Pilot A and providing runway assignment.  Pilot A needs to read back or confirm this instruction to ATC.  Typically once that read back is completed…then the conversation is finished. 

Finally, when it is time to speak…speak clearly.  So many fellow pilots sound like their mouth is stuffed with cotton balls and ATC have a difficult time understanding them.  Remember….we all learned these very important lessons when we were small.  Many of us just simply forgot over time.  Have fun and LISTEN!

By the way, if any of you reading this are fellow ham radio operators.  I operate mostly HF SSB, PSK and a few months ago tried JT-65 and truly love the mode.  I also podcast about amateur radio.  You can visit MyAmateurRadio.com to download/listen or find me on iTunes.  The podcast is titled “The Practical Amateur Radio Podcast”  73 de KD0BIK.

Until next time,

Jerry


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