i read you broken

Coming back into the traffic pattern today on a multi engine stage check, I noticed we were unable to clearly hear the towers transmission. After the student made the initial radio call to establish two-way radio communication and receive traffic pattern entry instructions, the towers reply came back broken. Missing key words including our call sign, and detailed entry instructions. Instead we heard bits and pieces of what should have been a complete response.

My student understanding that it was extremely likely to be the radio call intended for us, and correctly assuming what the instructions were, read back a response that would have been considered normal. This made me think. I didn’t like that we had just accepted pattern entry instructions for who we can only ASSUME was intended for us.

Being the check airman I am, I began thinking. Have we actually established two-way radio communication? I never heard tower read back my callsign. My student could have easily just read back a clearance intended for someone else and were about to enter the airspace without established communication. Or worse, I could create a traffic conflict with the aircraft that the radio call was actually for. This thought process was not making me feel comfortable. I thought about it a little longer.

I thought about how upset the tower would be if I asked for clarification on a radio call I wasn’t sure about. I thought about the different ways he would yell at me, or how he would condescendingly re-read the clearance. I thought maybe the problem would just go away. Maybe there is no problem. I thought if we could just get our landing clearance nobody would notice.

It’s funny how the human brain works. I would and will always teach any student that if you are ever unsure about a clearance, an instruction, or suggestion; Never ever hesitate to request clarification, a repeat, or a new clearance. Here I am saying how I’m totally unsure to myself and I’m debating myself on if I should or shouldn’t query ATC about it!

“Tower radio check, how do you hear?”
“I hear you loud and clear”
“Tower, I read you broken”

This would prove to be a very frustrating conversation. In my mind the word “broken” must mean something completely different.

“Well apparently you’re experience problems, so better just land and check out the problem”
“How about I check out our second radio”

Second radio had the same issue. The towers transmissions were coming through “broken”. Now if you’re unfamiliar with how radios work, I’ll make it really really easy. Having the same problem with both radios at the same time is like winning the lottery twice in a row on a Wednesday in July. Unpossibile(sic). Unlikely.

“Still experiencing the same issue tower, I’ll keep you advised”

Of course he doesn’t respond to me.

After landing we heard the next few transmissions perfectly clear. I again stated that our problem was resolved, and he didn’t care. I had to terminate my stage check because the tower believed I had an issue, that really didn’t exist. It frustrated me to no end to have the tower make a decision for me when I didn’t need them to.

The moral of this story is this: Don’t ever hesitate to ask for clarification, or a repeat of a clearance. Even if the controller is a complete psychopathic jerk.