What was that voice in my million-dollar headset?

by Michael J. “Mick” Kaufman
© Copyright 2023. All rights reserved!
Published in Midwest Flyer Magazine August/September 2023 Digital Issue

In my column in the June/July 2023 issue of Midwest Flyer Magazine, I gave readers some tips on ATC communications, which I hope will give pilots a better understanding on disseminating verbal information to ATC. About 10 months ago, one of the leading manufacturers of aviation headsets, Lightspeed Aviation, introduced a new headset and I bought one. I had two noise canceling aviation headsets in my Bonanza and had planned on purchasing another one in the near future. The new headset I purchased is the “Delta-Zulu,” and it did not have a purchase price of a million dollars, but it saved my life on a recent flight.

So, what is its value – what am I worth – or what are you and your family members worth?

Besides having a built-in hearing aid, it has a carbon monoxide detector built in it.

On a recent flight training assignment, I was to get an airplane and train the new owners how to fly it. Immediately after gear retraction, the computer voice in the headset came online with a voice saying, “Carbon Monoxide Critical Level.” My first thought in this situation was to open the window, but because of the air pressure, I could not get it open. I remained in the traffic pattern and landed immediately. The short trip around the traffic pattern gave me a headache for about three hours. It ended up that I had a bad exhaust system. A mechanic at the airport inspected the exhaust system and corrected the problem, and a few days later, we were back in the air.

We have had a previous experience with carbon monoxide with one of our Bonanza Baron Pilot Training Program (BPT) pilot customers, and the instructor ended up in the hospital from carbon monoxide poisoning. So, our program purchased the black spot CO detectors and provided them to our pilot customers and instructors at future clinics.

The black spot detectors work, but you do need to remember to look at them often. Complacency sets in, and they may go unnoticed. They also need to be replaced often.

Both carbon monoxide and hypoxia have been issues, which surfaced in the news recently. As many of you are aware, a business jet recently overflew our nation’s capitol and crashed with the pilot apparently incapacitated from hypoxia. I urge our readers to address a possible carbon monoxide issue before it happens to them. There are numerous CO detectors available for aircraft that can be permanently installed or consider the “Delta-Zulu” headset, which was my choice as I fly in many different airplanes on a regular basis.

In my previous column on ATC communications, I noted that pilots have a special language. There are words and phrases that non-pilots might not understand, for example, ATC says: “38 Yankee, say altitude.” By eliminating the word “your” in that communication, it could be construed that the pilot should key the mic and say “altitude.” If he should do that, ATC would see little humor in that reply. Many pilots feel intimidated talking on the radio, thinking they are talking to a God or a superhuman and so avoid airports and facilities requiring communications with ATC. I also find pilots who have done their flight training at a tower facility avoiding non-tower airports as they are intimidated by flying a traffic pattern without guidance from ATC.

During training for an instrument rating, the goal is to pass the flight test and not much training time is given to communications with ATC. There is the requirement of a 250 nm cross-country flight on an instrument flight plan, which requires communications, but that just scratches the surface.

I recently flew a long IFR cross-county flight with a former instrument student, who received his rating a year or so ago. This was a great learning experience in the communications training area. The pilot had experience picking a route, filing the IFR flight plan, picking up the clearance on the ground and in flight. While enroute, there was the analysis of weather, requesting weather deviations, and making real-world communications with ATC. In my many years of flying in the IFR environment, I have seen many changes as we have more sophistication and tools to help us in flight planning while enroute (no more paper charts) and a program called ForeFlight on an iPad. Many of us have forgotten about making position reports as radar coverage and ADS-B now give ATC those positions without reports. It is also important to note that in many cases, there are situations that ATC does not know about, and it is the pilot’s responsibility to report them. It has been more than a decade since I flew in Central America and the Caribbean, and at that time, there was very little radar coverage. I was continuously making position reports and amending ETAs for reporting points and fixes.

Below is a review of pilot reporting points and requirements, as many of us have not reviewed them in a while:
• Mandatory IFR Reporting Points (RADAR Environment).
• Reporting points specifically requested by ATC.
• Any un-forecast weather conditions encountered.
• Any other information relating to the safety of flight.
• When vacating any previously assigned altitude or flight level.
• When an altitude change will be made if operating on a clearance specifying “VFR On Top.”
• When unable to climb/descend at a rate of a least 500 feet per minute.
• When approach has been missed and the pilot’s intentions.
• Change in the average true airspeed (at cruising altitude) when it varies by 5 percent or 10 knots (whichever is greater) from that filed in the flight plan.
• The time and altitude or flight level upon reaching a holding fix or point to which cleared.
• When leaving any assigned holding fix or point.
• Any loss, in controlled airspace, of VOR, TACAN, ADF, low frequency navigation receiver capability, GPS anomalies while using installed IFR-certified GPS/GNSS receivers, complete or partial loss of ILS receiver and any assistance needed from ATC.
• Mandatory IFR Reporting Points (Non-Radar Environment).

All of the required reports when in RADAR contact, PLUS these below:
• The time and altitude of passing each designated reporting point, or the reporting points specified by ATC.
• When leaving the final approach fix inbound on final approach (non-precision approach) or outer maker on a precision approach or intercepting the final approach course if there is no final approach fix (FAF).
• A corrected time estimate at any time it becomes apparent that is an error more than 2 minutes.
• Pilots encountering weather conditions which have not been forecast, or any hazardous conditions are expected to forward a report to ATC.

It might be noted that once ATC has asked a pilot to switch to the airport advisory frequency in Class E or G airspace, the pilot should make position reports on the advisory frequency as they are no longer in a radar environment with ATC.

It is good for pilots to review these ATC reports and requirements and make them when the situation warrants.

Protect yourself and passengers from carbon monoxide and keep your communications’ vocabulary and reports to ATC precise and accurate. Fly safe. Till the next issue!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Michael J. “Mick” Kaufman is a Certified Instrument Flight Instructor (CFII) and the program manager of flight operations with the “Bonanza/Baron Pilot Training” organization. He conducts pilot clinics and specialized instruction throughout the U.S. in many makes and models of aircraft, which are equipped with a variety of avionics. Mick is based in Richland Center (93C) and Eagle River, Wisconsin (KEGV). He was named “FAA’s Safety Team Representative of the Year” for Wisconsin in 2008. Readers are encouraged to email questions to captmick@me.com, or call 817-988-0174.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this column is the expressed opinion of the author only, and readers are advised to seek the advice of their personal flight instructor and others, and refer to the Federal Aviation Regulations, FAA Aeronautical Information Manual, and instructional materials before attempting any procedures discussed herein.

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