Short Final: Identity Crisis


I owned my little two-seat Grumman AA1-B for 22 years and loved it. But after getting my instrument rating, I realized it just wasn’t practical for IFR travel. So I eventually sold the Grumman to a friend (who formed a partnership with another pilot) and upgraded to a 1954 V-tail Bonanza, which I also loved. After 22 years with the same airplane, it took me a while to acclimate to a new tail number on the radio.

A few years later, I flew the Bonanza to Frederick Municipal Airport in Maryland to visit with some friends at AOPA. I was about to key the microphone to announce my planned entry into the pattern when I was taken aback hearing another aircraft on the frequency ahead of me. “Frederick traffic: Grumman [my old tail number], entering downwind Runway 23.” It wasn’t my friend’s voice, so I assume it was his partner. Tall odds that both airplanes I have owned would be in the pattern at the same time.

And when I made my call on the radio to enter the pattern, I had to consciously remember which one of “my” airplanes I was flying.

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.


  1. I sold my first airplane years ago, and it was a long time until I purchased my current one. On occasion I still find myself announcing my original N-number instead of the current one and then have to make a correction. Old habits….

  2. I occasionally flew my own planes to “work”, I was a Delta pilot, living in Indiana and flying out of Cincinnati. After a few days of being “Delta 123” checking in with ATC dozens of times and hour, I would climb in my Cessna to fly home and and start to say Delta “N number” and have to stop myself but many times got it out and had to correct myself—

    • Early V Tail Bonanzas make excellent IFR platforms.
      Economical, decent speeds, decent xcountry ships.
      If properly maintained with documented records, they are a most reasonable purchase in recent times.

    • You’ve obviously never flown in a Bonanza. Frank is correct. They are fantastic platforms for long cross country and IFR travel.

        • Early Bonanzas flew about as fast as the airliner of its day–the DC-3. Early Bonanzas had Continental “E-series” engines–good engines, but not as good as the follow-on O-470s, (1957 and later) IO-470s (fuel injected), and IO-520s series. The Debonair (straight tail, later also called a Bonanza) was originally developed to counter the perceived “tail wag” of the V-tail–not a big issue. They were originally marketed as a “lower cost” Beechcraft, so as not to contest with the V-tail Bonanza. Beech claimed a negligible speed advantage for the V-tail–(2-3 statue MPH) and eventually both tail forms were called Bonanzas–until the V tail was eventually dropped.

          It’s more about the engine choice and price point than about which is a “better airplane.” Either way, you’re still flying a BEECH!

  3. I have heard numerous GA airplanes use their “big airplane call sign” as a slip of the tongue. Several times I heard the controller respond something like “I know what you do for your day job!”
    When I’m flying and the work load gets high I sometimes will slip into my Alma Mater call sign too.

  4. Calling ground for taxi one day I started using my airline’s call sigh, caught myself, and then correctly said my correct ID. Ground transmits back “we know where you work”!

    • My home airport (with a 2,739-foot runway) had a Cessna on the field with a tail number that ended in 7-0-7. Imagine the attention he got when he announced, “707 on final for Runway 32.”

  5. Back in my Student days we had 2 C150’s for training in the flying club. One day doing SOLO pattern work in the Other 150 I was on my second down wind and called the tower as Cessna 1234S, the tower responded with ” Cessna 1234S Did you paint your plane ” ??? As a confused student I looked at the panel and the N number on it and came back with ” No I just got in the wrong plane, Tower this is Cessna 123AQ on down wind” Big laugh followed by a clear for the option 21R.

  6. For the last 15 years, about 99% of my flying has been in a Comanche. However, over those years I’ve had occasional opportunities to fly a Mooney or a Cessna or a Cherokee or an Archer–or some other aircraft. Invariably on first call, they all become “Comanch…er Mooney” or “Comanch…er Cessna” or “Comanch…er Cherokee” or “Comanch…er Archer”. I’m sure many other pilots have had to deal with similar call sign twists due to indelibly imprinted brain-mouth circuitry.

  7. And now you know why the controllers at Oshkosh during Airventure have such a hard time identifying themselves as Oshkosh tower during the one week a year we work there.

  8. AA1Bs can be credible instrument platforms.
    Try flying at least 6 different airplanes during a week == including one that is VT at the end. Not an easy call sign….

  9. Been flying the same call sign since 2005 while commuting. What’s a hoot is when you’ve just finished talking with ATC and some friend calls your name.