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Don't sound like a rube: becoming a radio pro is just as much about what you say as how you say it. Don't insert your foot into these common traps.

True story. I was at a hangar cookout meeting of the Pickens County Pilots Association in Pickens, S.C. Having grown up in Pennsylvania, and now living in Connecticut, my accent was decidedly "not from around here."

Like any pilot among his peers, I was trying to fit in. I was telling a story of how the Airport Director, Skeets Cooper, had told me that people around there didn't much like Yankees. I went on to say that Skeets then told me they pretty much considered anyone north of Route 11 to be a Yankee.

That got a good laugh, but then one of the pilots said, "Shoot, we knew you were a Yankee as soon as you said Route 11!"

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Kaboom! Obviously, I had Rubed-out, but I didn't have a clue as to how. After the meeting, I got in the car to head home with my two local buddies and pleaded with them to tell me how I'd screwed up. To them it was obvious. None of the locals would ever use the term "Route." In the upstate of South Carolina, the term is "Highway." Ah, anybody north of Highway 11 is a Yankee.

That's the thing about sounding like a Rube. The only one who doesn't know they're sounding like a Rube is the Rube himself. If you knew you were sounding that way, why would you? But we're all susceptible. Here are a few traps I've found in my travels.

This Ain't Kansas

I'm fortunate in that I get to fly heavy metal to some pretty exotic places. But, like everyone else in aviation, I had to learn the ropes along the way. For example, they don't use the term "Heavy" overseas--it's strictly a stateside thing. I still remember the not-so-gentle way the captain on my first Pacific Rim trip let me know I was sounding like a Rube. It's a dead give-away.

English is decidedly difficult for Asian controllers. They're pretty well-versed in the standard stuff, but if you get even a little bit out of the box, there's no telling what's going to happen. It's a Rube-fest when a United pilot (why does it always seem to be a United flight?) comes up on Tokyo Center's frequency with, "Ah, Center, United 867 Heavy, y'all got any ride reports ahead at FL330?"

The first response is usually silence, which should give the Rube his first hint (but never does). After a while, the offending flight will make the same call, just a bit louder and slower. It's obvious to everyone else on the frequency that the poor controller has no idea what this guy is saying, and is hoping against hope that he'll just go away. (Hey, these are long flights, and we'll take whatever entertainment we can get. Rube-slaughter is one of the delicacies.)

The controller will go through every conceivable question from altitude changes to ETAs to route changes, but never hit upon what's really going on. Finally, the new guy will just give up. And from somewhere out of the ether, a calm voice can be heard: "Yes, grasshopper, you have learned."

Rube at Home

Then there was the time I was flying my old Twin Comanche into White Plains, N.Y., (KHPN). New York controllers are among my all-time favorites. (O'Hare jocks are right up there, too). These folks aren't just the NFL of aviation, they're the Superbowl stars. The frequency was unbelievably crowded, and the controller was firing off instructions non-stop. I didn't even have a chance to check in--the controller just started giving me instructions assuming I was on frequency and read to comply. There wasn't time for me to say anything beyond a quick, "Five Seven Yankee."

This controller was bordering on clairvoyant. He knew the exact instant when the frequency would be clear so he could key his mike. Everyone on the frequency knew what was going on, everyone had their game face on, and nobody was wasting air time. Pilot responses were an abbreviated callsign, "roger" or "wilco." It was a thing of beauty.

Right up until some guy in a Mooney checked in. (Why does it always seem to be a guy in a Mooney?) This guy just didn't get it. But, like I said, that's the thing about being a Rube--you never know you are. The Mooney driver felt it necessary to slowly read back everything the controller said, making everyone else on the frequency wait. It was frustrating but, to the controller's credit, he never missed a beat. He just kept up the rapid-fire professionalism and dealt with it until the Mooney went away.

Anti-Rube Rules

Staying clear of the Rube traps is a matter of getting things in their proper context and perspective. You can say Route 11 all day in Hartford, hut not in The Upstate. L.A. Center will happily pass along ride reports. Fukuoka Control probably won't.

The most important thing in sounding pro on the air is flexibility. Nobody on the frequency? It's probably OK to ask about sports scores. Rush hour in the Northeast? Fuggedaboutit. Sure, you're going to make mistakes. We all do--and will again.

If you're willing to take a few pointers from someone who's made his share of mistakes already, there are a few things you want to avoid.

Air time is a controller's workbench. Borrow his or her professional equipment wisely. There are two words which are a complete waste, and I admit that I cringe every time I hear them: "With you," marks you as a total Rube to many controllers. It serves no purpose, isn't anywhere in any FAA or ICAO document I've ever seen, and just flat wastes time. I've heard of controllers commenting off frequency when they hear this, "You're not 'with me,' you're up there." A simple, "Atlanta Center, Navajo Three Two Five Foxtrot Alpha, 8000," says it all.

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If you're fond of saying, "Traffic in the area, please advise," don't be surprised if someone, some day, climbs through your headset and strangles you. There's even a section in the AIM that specifically says not to use this phrase. It doesn't get more obvious than that.

It's been said many times before in these pages, but it's easy to forget while sweating under a hood for practice approaches: When you're shooting an instrument approach to an uncontrolled field, a student pilot getting ready to depart has no clue what "MANDI inbound GPS Two Seven," means. Give them something they can hang their hats on: "Podunk Traffic, Navajo Three Two Five Foxtrot Alpha, seven-mile final Runway Two Seven." You might want to tag on "GPS approach," to appease any pattern zealots who want to string you up for a straight-in.

Finally, the worst offense of them all is to jump in another pilot's mess kit over the air. Nothing makes you look worse. You're not their mother or flight instructor. Just bite your tongue and chuck it up to another pilot's inexperience. Nobody's perfect, so be nice.

It's work sometimes to keep from sounding like a Rube. You have to watch what you're saying, seek out the advice of others, read the manuals, and be willing to chuck it all when the situation demands.

On the other hand, it's fun to listen to the United guy from Texas talking to the Chinese controllers.

Ross Russo does his best to steer clear of Rubedom, whether flying internationally or just around the Northeast.
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Title Annotation:POINT O' VIEW
Author:Russo, J. Ross
Publication:IFR
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2008
Words:1246
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