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NORDO No More

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I'm lucky to be here, I'll tell ya that. The other day, I just about fell out of the open door of the Cub, a mile south of the airport. For months, I've been fooling around trying to get a portable radio to work suitable for pattern communications, without success. I've been through two Icom VHF portables, various antenna connectors and finally, in desperation, a Sporty's SP400.

So I was testing it with a pattern entry call and a Baron 10 miles out—10 miles!—responded, asking if I'd be remaining in the pattern. I was so shocked I practically fell out of the door. Just to be sure, I called him back for a comm check. Loud and clear. Sounds great.

Having a working radio, I'm not ashamed to admit, makes for a better flying experience in the Cub. It's just more relaxing, if not necessarily for me, for those pilots who get nervous and irritated with a NORDO airplane in the pattern. NORDOs don't bother me in the slightest, but I understand why it makes others nervous, even if I think they're pretty high on the Aunt Jane scale. Throughout this long ordeal of sorting the radio, I could always listen—and did—only to hear other pilots commenting about that &^%$#(@ Cub with no radio. Now, they're all sweetness and light. They're right, too. It's just a beat safer if everyone has and uses a radio in the pattern.

Just for the record, our Cub has a properly installed antenna, complete with a regulation size metal ground plane and the coax and connectors are in good shape. Why the Icoms didn't work with it is a mystery, but I think it has to do with them being older radios whose components are degraded. The SP400 really packs some punch and delivers good RF and audio. It did, by the way, break, due to a corroded battery compartment. Sporty's fixed it and returned it within a week.

So, with a powerful radio at my fingertips—even got a push-to-talk on the stick—the other pattern dwellers are paying the price. Over the weekend, I was flying touch and goes to the grass adjacent to runway 5, which has left traffic. For some reason that escapes me, another pilot was doing the same, but flying right traffic to the pavement. Maybe this is my Aunt Jane threshold, but I found this utterly unacceptable. So I asked him to switch to left traffic, which he did.

So there. You give a guy a radio, expect consequences.

Comments (38)

Hi Paul.

I remember doing some pattern work at a very small airfield one day using radio silence. I was stunned to hear the amount of insults from the couple of other planes - and non-essential radio chatter at that. So NORDO definitely makes other pilots uncomfortable.

Posted by: James Briggs | May 18, 2013 7:30 PM    Report this comment

Nice Safety upgrade to the Cub! See you around the pattern!

Posted by: R. Doe | May 18, 2013 9:00 PM    Report this comment

I cut my flying teeth at KGPM in the DFW area, which is a towered airport; and recently changed to class D. As such, NORDO activity is very rare. On an excursion for the $300.00 burger to a turf strip called Cedar Mills 3T0 at lake Texoma on the Texas/Oklahoma border. First time there, I kept vigilance on the UNICOM and made regular position report beginning 10 miles out. Radio silence. 5 mi9les out I began to see two or three planes in the area. Another report - nothing. Two miles out the airspace was thick with planes. But the pattern was clearly established, and I fell in line behind a Citabria at 80 knots (still making calls and getting dead air in return). I landed and pulled off the runway and parked. Grabbed my hand held (also a SP400), listened to dead air while watching the "air show" of Cubs, 120's, 140's Citabria's, et al. All as harmonious and structured as anything I have seen at any towered airport. I will admit that it was nerve wracking, though. I did depart NORDO. I mean, what good would the PTT button do anyway.

Posted by: Roger Dugan | May 19, 2013 1:38 PM    Report this comment

Bravo! It's a good example for the rest of the NORDO fleet.

Posted by: Ray Damijonaitis | May 19, 2013 5:20 PM    Report this comment

Paul, it's the push to talk, you'll find the push to agitate button on the washing machine! : ) My pet peeve is when pilots say they're taking the active runway - I've been known to ask them to put it back because I'd like to use it!

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 19, 2013 9:42 PM    Report this comment

Paul - I'll add my kudos for the SP-400. I have one. I also have a "backup Icom IC-A6. But the SP-400 is the radio that I use for ground-to-air communications when I'm announcing at air shows. I've had the same kind of performance, talking to a B-2 bomber at least 10 miles out, getting crew names before its fly-by.

Also, I also have it on during IMC approaches because, before I got my SP-400, I had glide slope failure, radio failure, and master alternator failure after a nearly 4-hour solid IMC flight from Manassas to Cincinnati. If I'd had the SP-400 on as a backup I'd had made the ILS on the first try. I'm biased, but I DO like the SP-400!

Rob

Posted by: Rob Reider | May 20, 2013 6:47 AM    Report this comment

Paul when I was learning to fly we were NORDO (no not because they were not invented) so I am somewhat used to it but now having a radio and communicating does make a difference in congested airspace. I remember one day at our field that had two intersecting grass strips a NORDO 150 was taking off on the intersecting at the same time a 206 with a sailplane (who had right of way) in tow was departing on the active north south. The sail plane pilot saw the 150 and disconnected so we had a 206 go through a 150 at 90 degrees go through then the sailplane following the 206. About as close as I ever want to see a formation flying at 90 degrees to each other. When we caught up with the 150 pilot his response was "Sorry my radio doesn't work". I like radio communications but hate it when people flight plan and sight see with each other on a busy frequency.

Posted by: James Greig | May 20, 2013 7:13 AM    Report this comment

When I started flying very few aircraft had radios and when someone installed one he would be ribbed about "wanting to hear the tobacco prices while flying do you?" When I got used to the radio I found I cannot do without it.

Keep it up.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | May 20, 2013 7:30 AM    Report this comment

At a recent FAASTeam seminar a young CFII and professional (i.e. employed as a corporate pilot) ranted about a NORDO vintage operating at an uncontrolled field as she was giving primary instruction. She said it was illegal, dangerous, stupid and annoying. When I pointed out the it was likely that the "offending" aircraft was probably operating legally under the FARs related to vintage aircraft without electrical systems, she couldn't believe it. And neither did several other attendees. The message here is that a large proportion of the active pilot population is firmly set in the modern era. A functioning hand-held is a small price to pay for we Luddites still flying 1940's and earlier machines.

Posted by: Dan Vandermeer | May 20, 2013 7:33 AM    Report this comment

Try to get an old Narco coffee grinder ... output power is far more than the SP400 and it'd look 'cool' in yo' Cub, too. Then, if someone badmouths you for flying a 65 MPH airplane from their turbonormalized Aspen Avionicized Baron with four GPS' and six-mini iPads with XM weather and stereo noise canceling headsets aboard, you could fly over the top of 'em and drop the thing on 'em ... OH ... I forgot ... you're not supposed to drop things from airplanes ... MY bad. Just mount some small Estes rockets on your lift struts and get 'em that-a-way. I don't think FAR 91.15 precludes scaring folks with something launched from a lift strut ... maybe the ORL FSDO could give you guidance?

Geezola, Paul, you're writing about six-figure avionics installations and LSA's with panels airline pilots woulda loved and you're flying a museum piece without a radio??

I DO hope you're practicing talking like Chuck Yeager on your SP400 before you aviate?? We wouldn't want any of unhappy pilots sharing the ether with you to think less of you!

OK OK ... I'm kidding. Can't we all just get along?

Posted by: Larry Stencel | May 20, 2013 7:38 AM    Report this comment

Have a fella at my local field flying B-29 patterns in a 172. All the while, and almost constantly, berating and critiquing others over the radio. Sometimes, with a student pilot sitting next to him.

He'll be landing with a tailwind and chastising others for attempting to change runways. It got so bad one evening, that when I caught wind of him 10 miles out, I lolly gaged for another .5 so I wouldn't have to deal with him. If I'd have been at my personal fuel limits, it would have been interesting trying to time the pattern with him landing downwind.

---Wish THAT GUY was NORDO. Then again- maybe not....

Posted by: Robert Ore | May 20, 2013 8:13 AM    Report this comment

Paul, again, thank you for these articles. Remember flying, (student days, back in 2002,) up at MAL, northern NYS, and trying to get a break in the comm, while listening to the Quebec pilots, chatting in Quebecois, just across the border. Finally broke in, as they were totally disregarding common communications courtesy, and rules, just for passing jokes back and forth. Seems the U.S. FCC and Canadian version have a fondness for assigning 122.8 to every non-towered field along our, (their,) border. As far as using handhelds for backup, I used to use an Icom A-4 "Sporty." It was a good little radio I borrowed from work, and worked well wherever I used it. Talked to lots of pilots, at all levels, and size aircraft, with never a problem, as long as I remembered to charge it at the end of the day. Granted, t'weren't fancy, but it did the job. And it was smaller, lighter, and better than a lot of the bigger ones out there. Just wish they still made it.

Posted by: Doyle Frost | May 20, 2013 8:55 AM    Report this comment

I guess because I was taught to keep radio communications to a minimum, I don't have much to say at non-towered airports, just the minimum position reports. But it seems as if many are taught that every turn, whether in the air or on the ground, must be reported. It's as if none have eyeballs, and assume everyone else is blind, too. My airplane is hangared at GXY. One day I heard a pilot (student?) give 5 separate radio calls, to get from where he was parked to the run-up pad. Maybe it was caused by his inability to text his intentions? :)

Posted by: Cary Alburn | May 20, 2013 9:13 AM    Report this comment

As idyllic and legal as NORDO may be, the fact is that it is best that everyone be able to to communicate their intentions. When you turn final in the Cub, it is nice for the F-86 behind you to know if you are going do a full stop or touch and go. It is also nice if the DC-3 behind the F-86 has a double engine failure he can let you know he's declaring an emergency and is claiming first dibs on the runway.

Posted by: Richard Montague | May 20, 2013 9:16 AM    Report this comment

Ah, the end of an era! All in all though, ‘ya did right, Paul.

Except at a handful of specialized “antique havens” NORDO has become so uncommon the average pilot may fly for years between encounters with it. As a result the habit of painstaking visual scan of the entire traffic pattern for no-radio aircraft has been “bred out” of the pilot population. Yes, plenty of pilots will rail against this, but reality is what it is.

Posted by: John Wilson | May 20, 2013 9:39 AM    Report this comment

Radios are a nice addition to safety, but some people put too much trust in them at the expense of basic airmanship. A radio doesn't give you a protective force field. YOU are responsible to "see and be seen"; not the radio. People that get upset about NORDOs are the very ones living in this imaginary bubble of safety. Even if you think you're not NORDO, you might just be.

Example: I was flying the pattern one day, reporting as usual every leg without realizing my radio had died. When I finally realized something was amiss, I switched to Com2 only to hear the cussing I was getting. Back when NORDOs were more common, no one seemed to get this upset (it was straight-ins that ruffled more feathers). But there is no excuse for not looking out your windows and relying too much on the radio to keep you informed. Safe skies, and please keep your head on a swivel.

Posted by: A Richie | May 20, 2013 10:13 AM    Report this comment

I'm a firm believer in the use of technology in the cockpit but the use of two-way radio, electronic navigation, iPads, and the like needs to be prioritized AFTER "Fly the airplane" and "See and avoid." Basic airmanship could have saved the lives of many people. Besides, I don't know a B1RD out there that has a radio. Rob PS - I have an iPad, Stratus, and Foreflight and I still have learned to look outside the plane. :)

Posted by: Rob Reider | May 20, 2013 10:18 AM    Report this comment

I'm so tired of listening to people equate radios with safety. I'd feel much more comfortable in the pattern without any radios if I could feel confident that all pilots were flying standard patterns and looking outside the cockpit. I feel no additional safety listening to 122.8 jammed with CTAF transmissions from five or six regional airports, including two guys discussing plans for next weekend and some bozo doing a straight in approach at an airport fifty miles away announcing ten miles out, nine miles out, eight miles out, ... The second-worst landing of my life followed distraction in the pattern chasing a handheld radio around a glider cockpit that was bumped loose by turbulence in the pattern. I would have been much better off without that radio in the cockpit.

Posted by: Unknown | May 20, 2013 10:34 AM    Report this comment

I experienced something similar just after getting my PPL years ago. I was in the pattern for a few T&Gs and got cut off twice by the same airplane. After landing I walked over to discuss (cordially) what had happened, the other guy's response was "I never heard you". (I suspected his radio was on the fritz, as I had done a radio check before taxiing out) I think too many folks rely on the radio for traffic separation at non-towered fields when the Mk1 Mod1 eyeball tends to be more effective.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | May 20, 2013 11:18 AM    Report this comment

Towards the end of my PPL training my instructor and I flew from A to B, did a couple T & G's, and returned to A. When we got close to B, we could hear a couple of planes in the pattern. We made a couple of position reports, not expecting anyone to acknowledge our presence, and they didn't. We did our 2 T & G's and returned to A.

We made some more announcements as we got close to A, again not expecting to hear anyone respond, and they didn't. But then we noticed a plane in the pattern acting like they didn't see us. As some of you have already figured, for some reason we weren't transmitting.

When we initially left A, my instructor was showing me some different configurations with the Comm knobs, and they didn't quite get back into the correct positions.

After we realized we weren't sending, he asked me "Well, what did we learn from this?" I knew the answer he wanted, but I replied "that we can go from A to B to A without talking to, nor hitting anyone?" In other words, NORDO.

Posted by: David Homan | May 20, 2013 2:42 PM    Report this comment

Too many pilots believe that NORDO only applies to aircraft not equipped with a radio. As alluded to above by A. Richie, ANY aircraft can be NORDO, and every pilot will be at some time. Radio equipment malfunction, loss of aircraft electrical power, incorrect frequency selection, incorrect audio selection, audio volume too low, and even blocked transmissions all lead to loss of 2 way communication. (Remember the Northwest Airlines flight that overflew its destination by 100 miles.) Oh, and UAVs occasionally lose their control links, as well.

No matter how required or desired communication is, it's still and will remain in 3rd place behind aviating and navigating, and every pilot who forgets or doesn't understand that rule operates at greater risk than the rest of us.

Posted by: Don Eck | May 20, 2013 4:47 PM    Report this comment

I regularly fly a pattern with ag airplanes that are NORDO. Before I knew why, I was talking to a couple of pilots at the airport when I piped up and said the ag pilot never announces his position over CTAF. The aq pilot (I did not know him at the time) turned to me and said, "That's because I don't have a radio and will never install one". When I asked him why he said, "I'm flying 20 feet off the ground. A split second loss of concentration could mean disaster. I don't want the distraction". Certainly a different perspective...

Posted by: Dana Nickerson | May 20, 2013 5:11 PM    Report this comment

Don, I would ammend your rule to say that any pilot who forgets or doesn't understand that rule "puts all of us at a greater risk."

Posted by: Richard Montague | May 21, 2013 7:46 AM    Report this comment

Don't suppose you're eyeing any of those GPS thingies are you? Once you've tasted the tech then it's just a matter of time before the glass you're talking about isn't the plexiglass windshield.

Posted by: Stephen Phoenix | May 21, 2013 6:32 PM    Report this comment

This is a bit off subject, but I was taught that in Delta you had to have two-way com to enter. But I've read somewhere that a NORDO can enter if they loiter outside and visually establish the pattern and then can enter and land. Can anyone give me the chapter and verse? I can just imagine the controllers at my airport falling over themselves trying to figure out how to use the signal gun.

Posted by: Roger Dugan | May 21, 2013 8:07 PM    Report this comment

Now we have to get ADS-B out in that Cub so we can see, as well as hear him.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | May 21, 2013 8:50 PM    Report this comment

Excessive comm can be just as dangerous and a whole lot more annoying than no comm. independence airport in Or recently changed their CTAF from 22.8 for that reason. They will now have frequent nordos for 10 years from transient pilots wo don't know! The most important aspect of proper radio technique is brevity which seems to be a rare talent, most evident on the sunny weekeds!

Posted by: Chuck Lemasters | May 22, 2013 3:03 AM    Report this comment

Paul I am sorry to hear that your cub flying has been ruined by people who just don't understand what flying is all about. The pilots complaining are more than likely from one of thevwo following groups. The first group is the pilots who over report everything on the Unicom. This includes 4 or 5 calls on final and reporting a left final, whatever that is. This same group often times is so confused by where they are, there reports are just useless chatter over an already crowded frequency. The other group is the group that constantly asks for an active runway. Just for the sake of argument, I ask who is the pilot in command? This group of pilots often times will hear the other group using a runway and just ask to hear their voice. If they had properly checked the weather before departing they should already have an idea which runway they are going to use before ever departing. Or better yet, use a local awos frequency and do what pilots are supposed to do, make decisions. Paul, do yourself the favor, get rid of the handheld and go do what a cub is meant to do. Go slow, go low and open the door and just enjoy the sweet sound of your a65 or a85.

Posted by: Craig Woodberry | May 22, 2013 3:52 AM    Report this comment

At our gliderport, many of the aircraft don't have electrical systems and while we have handheld radios for visiting other fields, it's hard for the instructor and student to hear the radio at the same time. So, we use see and avoid localy and they 'add' the radio later at other airports.

This is neither less safe or more safe. What it does is train you to look out the window and search for traffic in the pattern. That's not a bad thing.

While I can certainly see the advantage of radios for powered traffic, particularly when it's a bit congested, as many have noted, it's an *added* piece of situational awareness, not a substitute for the eyeballs.

Posted by: Tom Berry | May 22, 2013 9:16 AM    Report this comment

Hurray for craig woodbury! I want to share the "friendly" skies with more guys like him! Instructors today place way too much emphasis on the fancy radios & glass panels in their diamods etc and forget about stick & rudder. They take their new student on the first lesson and start teaching the radio when they dont even know how to fly the plane yet! My students dont even know there is a radio until the last hour before solo, now they can learn the radio much easier and faster and they also do not think it is more important than flying the plane! Many instructors and pilots should take up ham radio because obviously that is their first love!

Posted by: Chuck Lemasters | May 22, 2013 9:24 AM    Report this comment

I have no strong feelings either way about NORDO aircraft (we all need to share the skies), but I'm dying to know...what is the Aunt Jane scale?? Sounds interesting. What are the consequences of crossing the Aunt Jane threshold? (Sounds like a tongue-lashing is one possible outcome.)

Posted by: Gene Olson | May 22, 2013 9:28 AM    Report this comment

You remember Aunt Jane. She's the one who chided you for not brushing your teeth, not wearing clean underwear and who scolded you for that jump ramp you made in the backyard out of an old cooler and some 2 X12s.

As for intentionally flying in the pattern with no radio--in effect just telling the others to stuff it for the hell of it and because I can--that's not my style. If I want people to be courteous to me, and I do, I expect I'll be returning the favor.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 22, 2013 10:14 AM    Report this comment

Paul, you would get more respect on the radio if you wore your foot-wide epaulets with 10 or more stripes on them.

Posted by: Rob Norris | May 22, 2013 10:47 AM    Report this comment

I would, but my shirt needs pressing.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 22, 2013 12:52 PM    Report this comment

I have to ask this astute group why the usd of radio comms and tcas info are considered mutually exclusive.

Do you think if I'm listening on CTAF and glancing at a traffic display, that I can't be looking for traffic where they reported themselves or a TCAS has warned a possible conflict, I'm not going to look in that direction?

I'll gladly accept all the help I can get to see and avoid.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | May 23, 2013 4:04 AM    Report this comment

"Do you think if I'm listening on CTAF and glancing at a traffic display, that I can't be looking for traffic where they reported themselves or a TCAS has warned a possible conflict,"

Short answer, yes. For you, maybe no. Having flown in the right seat with pilots who have a lot of gadgets, there's a strong tendency among some of them to be head down everywhere, including the pattern.

Traffic systems have a place, no question. But they don't see all the traffic all the time, so in the pattern, I think the bias has to be toward the eyeballs, as it always has been.

It takes a particular kind of discipline to split attention from screens

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 23, 2013 4:35 AM    Report this comment

Airplanes fly because of Bernoulli, not Marconi. Sorry you gave in Paul

Posted by: John Hyle | May 23, 2013 4:04 PM    Report this comment

Your curmudgeon development continues. Blue skies!

Posted by: Bradley Spatz | May 24, 2013 9:31 AM    Report this comment

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