New Sporty’s DVD: VFR Communications

Sporty’s has released an updated version of VFR Communications, one of several titles in its “What You Should Know Series.” The one-hour program is aimed primarily at new pilots, but given what we hear every day on the radio, many flyers could benefit from a review of its contents.

Like other new DVDs from Sporty’s, VFR Communications benefits from a much-improved menu structure that makes it easy to jump to specific sections, and overall, the quality of the video, graphics, and related features is a big leap from the first releases in the series.

Interactive programs like this one can be a boon to both instructors and students, especially beginners who are anxious about talking on the radio and those who don’t speak English as their first language.

The program mostly sticks to standard practices as outlined in the AIM, and it generally offers sensible advice about real-world communications. In fact, the DVD includes a couple of sections that discuss non-standard phraseology that is often heard on the air, a nice touch that could help newcomers understand what’s going on when pilots use idioms instead of the Hochdeutsch pilots and controllers should speak (except, perhaps, in Chicago’s airspace).

The DVD includes sections on the A-B-Cs of communications and detailed discussions of typical situations, such as VFR communications while en-route; operating in Class B, Class C, and Class D airspace; and on and around non-towered airports. To its credit, the program also notes that when a situation isn’t covered by the standard phrasebook, speaking in plain language is not just acceptable, but to be encouraged.

I do have a few quibbles with some of the advice. For example, the topic on communication with Flight Service emphasizes including the frequency you’re using to help the specialist select the appropriate remote communications outlet. But as AIM 4-2-14 Communications for VFR Flights notes, on your initial call, you should also give your approximate position, preferably referenced to a nearby VOR or airport. The trivia police will note a few other venial sins of omission and commission, such as suggesting that pilots request a frequency change after they depart Class D airspace.

My major criticism relates to the introduction. The program leaps into a review of the ICAO alphabet and how to pronounce numbers. A more inviting approach would have noted that for all its strangeness to the novice, radio communication, like the essentials of a foreign language a tourist needs to get along, is, for the most part, restricted to a small set of phrases deployed in a highly structured dialog.

The DVD includes an mp3 file of all the audio from the program; you can load it onto an iPod or other device to listen to whenever and wherever you like. The disc also has a PDF with instructions and help; I wish Sporty’s had added a reference sheet with links to the AIM and other resources, such as the free online courses and training materials available from AOPA Air Safety Institute. A great bonus would be a PowerPoint presentation that an instructor could use when discussing the topic.

All-in-all, however, VFR Communications is a good example of how today’s technology can make quality interactive training available anytime, anywhere.

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