Radio Practical Exam
Another key part of the path to a PPL is the FRTOL practical exam. FRTOL or Flight Radiotelephony Operator’s Licence authorises you to operate an Aircraft Radio Station in a UK registered aircraft, or to put it simply, its the license needed to use the radio in an UK registered aeroplane (though students and some other circumstances mean some radio users dont need one).
This is the route I took to passing this stage of my PPL journey.
First was some prep. The most obvious thing is direct experience from flying. As you fly your instructor will get you using the radio. This is invaluable!
Next is the Communications written exam. This is a prerequisite of the test but as part of the learning material for the written you learn the theory and rules.
CAP 413 is the CAA radio telephony manual. A read of this is important. It may take some time to digest as its not a thrilling read and contains a huge amount of information. But it is very important to put the work in and absorb the information.
Last the Safety Sense Leaflet 22 is a fantastic read. Its full of information in an easy to read and accept format, but also a full example of how a practical exam may go!
Having got to a place where Im reasonably comfortable on the radio, knowing what to say and have a rough idea of what to expect back along with being towards the end of my PPL training it was time to look to get my FRTOL exam done. The school im flying with recommended a school to do the test with however upon calling them they couldnt fit me in before the end of October! This was a bit of a shocker as Im wanting to be further on by then!
Back home I found the CAA list of examiners. I emailed a local one who happened to be in Spain at that time but was happy to have a call and chat. He offered to do some coaching and see how proficient I was and then do a test if I was ready. This was booked for early September.
The day before my booking I got a call. The instructor could no longer do my test as he had a broken aeroplane which needed to be fixed. Most frustrating as I had booked time off work but in aviation there is always a lot of waiting…
Thankfully the night after this I got another call saying if I could arrange it the test could be done tomorrow so some juggling at work got me another day off. Its on again!
I arrived with plenty of time at the centre and was shown into the training room. The instructor arrived and we chatted through what I knew and what I maybe didnt know.
We spent a little time going through the syllabus and it turns out I knew a reasonable amount.
So after a couple of hours I was given the test sheet. This is a flight we are going to simulate. The instructor will be sat in another room playing all the radio parts and I will be ‘flying’ the aircraft on a very simple simulator and doing the radio work. You are allowed to make a few notes. The ‘few notes’ wasn’t really defined outside of it cant be planning the whole flight, so I first made a small place to note a mayday call. I knew either I would have one or have to relay one and it was crucial to the test. I also wrote some of the more unusual calls I could see coming up like obtaining a VDF, a pan-pan, obtaining weather. The last thing I noted was a couple of key features during the flight such as an airspace to avoid.
Test time! I got set up. A few basic instructions on how to use the simulator. Its pretty basic and simple to use so no big deal. Im pretty nervous but think im getting things right. Im not entirely sure when to make the calls as its hard to see distance in the simulator but overall its going fine. First leg is done and the next is quite long with not a lot happening until a VDF is needed. I suspect this may be one of the areas for a surprise like a pan-pan or mayday. Would you believe it I intercept a mayday from another aircraft. Despite being prepared for it I struggle to get all the details down. I fumble a little relaying the call sign to the station im talking to but get it over. Then a couple of seconds later I hear the plane with an issue is sorted so I relay that. This is where things go a little awry. I relayed the information but didn’t receive any confirmation back from the station I was calling. I then request a radio check to ensure my radio was still working. It was and I could hear confusion in the instructors voice. So I make a non standard call to confirm the cancelation of the mayday and alert them to the fact i hadn’t heard a response earlier. All sorted. Phew!
The VDF went fine and onwards with a few more standard calls all going well. Reports were all fine and by the book. One thing the instructor said was that if there was anything he was unsure of my ability for he may extend the test or swing it so some calls would be redone, however towards the last stages of the ‘flight’ he broke character and said he had heard all the calls he needed and said I was more than competent and we can finish the test!
I was very relieved to have this done and passed. I took a big breath to relax and take in that I had all my exams done. Just the flight test to do for examinations!