Often an ATS will warn you about other aircraft: when you're taxying and need to give way, or for land-after (and other conditional) clearances, or to warn of traffic in the area you're flying in. Usually they do this by naming the type of the traffic, and often you need to positively confirm whether you have the traffic in sight. For example:-

"G-ABCD, report departing Squirrel in sight"
"Affirm, traffic in sight, G-ABCD."
"G-ABCD, behind the Squirrel, cross runway 18 behind, report vacated."
"Behind the Squirrel, cross runway 18, wilco, G-ABCD."

What if the type of aircraft you're warned about is one you don't know? In an area with lots of vintage or experimental aircraft, you might not even know whether to look for a fixed-wing or a helo. I wouldn't want to say I have the traffic in sight if there's a risk I'm not looking at the same aircraft.

"G-ABCD, report departing Squirrel in sight"
"The what? Is there wildlife on the runway? G-ABCD"

Is there a standard way to explain the situation and disambiguate? Failing that, is there a concise way that will not be misunderstood over noisy radios?

(For the benefit of other readers who wouldn't recognise a Squirrel: it's a helicopter, and the local police operate one out of Cambridge. It was the first obscure-sounding aircraft name I could think of to use as an example.)

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    $\begingroup$ ATC must have been talking about this squirrel. $\endgroup$
    – fbynite
    May 25, 2015 at 23:08
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ I think "Unfamiliar with type Squirrel, request more details, G-ABCD" would make the point $\endgroup$
    – IanF1
    May 26, 2015 at 0:16
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    $\begingroup$ "G-ABCD do you have the...wait, what is that thing!? I don't know how to describe it...just follow it, whatever it is..." $\endgroup$ May 26, 2015 at 1:11
  • $\begingroup$ Cambridge, U.S. or Cambridge, UK? If it's the UK, the police operate EC135s... $\endgroup$
    – ArtOfCode
    May 26, 2015 at 8:53

2 Answers 2


To add to Dave's answer, if traffic is pointed out to you which you are unfamiliar with, ask for clarification. ATC or FIS will have a good understanding of aircraft types and speeds, especially in radar environments the speed will be available as groundspeed (GS).

FIS: DELFF, traffic information, 3 o'clock, 4 miles, same altitude, Mooney Bravo, passing right to left.
PIC: DELFF, unfamiliar with aircraft type.
FIS: DELFF, traffic is a low wing aircraft, 100kt groundspeed

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    $\begingroup$ It might be worth noting that the clarification might take a few seconds; if you're unfamiliar with the type, the ATC can't be expected to know the configuration off the top of his head; if he doesn't have the plane in sight, he might have to consult a spotter's manual. While there are relatively few configurations of body, wing, tail, engines etc, there are thousands of makes and models of GA craft in operation to say nothing of military and commercial designs. $\endgroup$
    – KeithS
    May 26, 2015 at 17:02

While I understand what you worry about this is a skill that comes with both time and experience. For what it's worth it's far more important that you know there is an aircraft there than you can tell its make and model. As you fly more you will learn the common ones just by seeing them around the airport and hearing other pilots talk about them. There will always be situations where they may call out an aircraft you don't know but I would not ask for clarification if you have the aircraft in sight. Another reason to call out the make and model is for speed reasons. If you are flying say a Mooney (a fast little plane) on down wind and there is a Piper Cub ahead of you turning base now you are going to want to extend your downwind to give him space (although the tower may call this for you anyway).

Now let's say you hear the controller call:

Number 2 behind Blohm & Voss BV turning base now, cleared to landing runway 24

If you can see a plane turning base you can respond:

Traffic in sight, #2 cleared to land runway 24

If you can find a plane where the controller says it should be I would think you are OK. That being said if there are 2 planes, and you only see one you need to report what you see. If you are not sure which unknown model it is, report the location, not the make and model.

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    $\begingroup$ I would simply describe the plane I see like. "I have the low-wing aircraft/jet/whatever in sight" If it's not the right one hopefully they'll catch it and elaborate. $\endgroup$ May 26, 2015 at 22:51

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