I'm tasked with developing part of a cross country flight plan to cap off my ground school class. Among my group, I am handling the radio communications and regulations. However, I was not provided further details, and came here to gain a greater understanding of what I need to accomplish. Specifically, the trip is to fly from Aspen, fly by Capital Peak for the view, and then land in DIA (KBDU-KASE-KDEN).

As far a radio communications go, I imagine I need the frequency of each of the listed airports, but is there anything else I need to consider?

Edit: Further Information:

I'm flying N370SP, a Cessna 172S Skyhawk SP. I pick up friends (190, #320) and luggage (35, #60).

  • $\begingroup$ Hi. Welcome to SE.Aviation. Why weren't these requirements covered in the class? Are you being asked to consider regulations which you do not yet know exist? As to your question, it's doing OK until that last paragraph where it gets very broad. I can think of half a dozen questions I'd need to ask before attempting to answer your multiple questions. As it is, it's likely to get closed as "too broad". Are you able to make it more concrete? $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Apr 7, 2016 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Aviation.SE. I took the liberty of limiting the scope of your question to one topic, otherwise it would be too broad and closed. It would help if you could specify which kind of flight/aircraft you plan to (simulate to) use: IFR/VFR flight, small aircraft or commercial airliner. $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    Apr 7, 2016 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ what do 190, #320 and 35, #60 are supposed to mean? $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    Apr 7, 2016 at 16:24
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks @Federico, you're right it was too broad before. I've edited the the post to include more information as well. And regarding those numbers, I'm uncertain, and was hoping y'all would have some insight. My instinct is that they denote location from center of gravity and weight of object. $\endgroup$
    – Tunk
    Apr 7, 2016 at 16:24
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Weights and moments have nothing to do with radio communications $\endgroup$ Apr 7, 2016 at 17:25

3 Answers 3


There are three categories of radio communication to deal for each leg of a flight:

  • arrival and departure airport: tower/CTAF, ATIS/ASOS/AWOS, Ground/Clearance Delivery
  • En route ATC: arrival/departure, center
  • En route weather and information: Flight Service, Flightwatch, HIWAS, en-route ATIS

You have to decide which of these services you will interact with, and know where to find the frequencies (almost always a chart or the A/FD) and how to contact each of them.

  • $\begingroup$ Depending on what exactly is meant by "radios", the student may also be responsible for tuning, identifying and following VORs or other radio based nav-aids. $\endgroup$
    – abelenky
    Apr 7, 2016 at 17:50
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ very true. i read radio communications as voice. $\endgroup$
    – rbp
    Apr 7, 2016 at 17:55

A common way to approach this is to walk through the flight and write down each frequency you'll need in order. Your route is a bit unclear (are you departing Aspen or landing there?) but let's say it's KBDU-KASE-KDEN and it's a VFR flight. And I'm assuming you're only asking about comms, not nav.

You think through what you're doing at each point and then write down the station, frequency and what you plan to say, request or listen for, as the case may be. For example, you're departing KBDU; it's uncontrolled so you'll check the AWOS and then use the CTAF to announce your intentions as you taxi and depart.

After that the route to KASE seems to be through uncontrolled airspace but you'll probably want to get the Empire and Copper Mtn AWOS along the way. And if you want flight following then you'll have to call Denver Center to get it.

KASE is controlled, so you'll need to get their ATIS, then call the tower, and after landing you'll be handed off to Ground. Departing KASE, you'll get the ATIS, call Ground, then the Tower and after departure maybe Denver Center again for flight following.

And so on...

You'll end up with a frequency log like this:

  • KBDU - AWOS - 118.825 - Get altimeter, wind, etc.
  • KBDU - CTAF - 122.725 - Announce taxi and departure
  • Denver Ctr - 126.1 - Request flight following
  • Empire AWOS - 134.325 - Get WX and compare to forecast; change flight plan if needed
  • [...]
  • KASE - ATIS - 120.4 - Get WX and runway in use
  • KASE - Tower - 118.85 - Announce landing intentions (check two way comms before entering class D!)
  • KASE - Ground -121.9 - Request taxi to FBO
  • [Etc...]

This can be a really useful planning exercise, especially in unfamiliar areas. If you're unsure of the phraseology or procedures for any item on the list then you can talk to your instructor about it, and listen to real comms on LiveATC. KDEN in particular would (will?) be busy, it's class B.

But remember that plans change. ATC may give you an unexpected frequency, or you may copy down a frequency incorrectly and then find no one is listening. Make sure that you update your log in flight as needed; don't fixate on it being 'correct' to the point where you ignore instructions or information to the contrary; and be able to look up frequencies quickly on your charts or flight software.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Yes, DEN will be very busy. It's the 6th busiest airport in the world by movements (5th in the U.S., behind only LAX, DFW, ATL, and ORD.) $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Apr 7, 2016 at 19:25
  • $\begingroup$ A note on Class D (at KASE in your answer): no clearance is required to enter, only two way radio communication (tower doesn't even need to acknowledge your call-sign—unlike for Class C). Tower will not usually say anything like "cleared into the Delta", and it should not generally be expected. The only time you would need to be "cleared" into the delta is if tower had previously instructed to remain clear. Class B is the only non-special–use–airspace that requires an explicit clearance to enter. $\endgroup$
    – J W
    Apr 8, 2016 at 10:31
  • $\begingroup$ @JonathanWalters Good catch! I've reworded that part. By the way, the AIM 3-2-5 says that the tower must acknowledge your callsign before you can enter, that's the same for C and D: "It is important to understand that if the controller responds to the initial radio call without using the aircraft callsign, radio communications have not been established and the pilot may not enter the Class D airspace" $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Apr 8, 2016 at 13:32
  • $\begingroup$ You are correct. I was mistaken on that point. It's good to brush up on these things after all these years. $\endgroup$
    – J W
    Apr 8, 2016 at 21:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Pondlife When making contact with a class d tower, if they don't have any specific instructions for you, what would be the usual reply from atc? On the class b I will hear them say "N1234 radar contact." Would it be the same st class d? $\endgroup$
    – TomMcW
    Apr 9, 2016 at 1:45

Normally what you do is group information for each leg of the flight. Each bundle of information should have everything you need, not just frequencies. So, you should have field elevation, runway length, etc.

Airports do not have just one frequency as your question seems to imply. Normally you will always have two frequencies at a minimum, which is CTAF and ground. For larger airports you will also have clearance delivery and tower. Make sure you label each frequency, that is critical. You do not want to be trying to get landing clearance from the guy that is driving the fuel truck.

The trickiest thing in radio work is a handover wherever you take off from one airport and enter the airspace of another. Since your radio may only have two frequencies you will have them set to tower and ground of the departure airport, but will need to immediately switch to ATC as soon as you take off while you are trying to do fifteen other things. So, if you have situation like this, you want to plan ahead carefully for how you handle it.

It is good idea to find out which airports have shared CTAF. In some cases you will hear traffic on CTAF which is actually pilots at other airports, not the one you are at. They are supposed to announce the airport always, but do not always do so, also sometimes it is garbled. It can be very confusing if you hear some guy say "on final for one six" and you are looking around and wondering where the hell he is---he is at a different airport. Don't make that mistake.

Finally, practice your comm phrasing as much you can. You want to say exactly the right thing. It needs to be automatic. You don't want to be in a situation where you need to request something and can't remember how to phrase it. Practice your phraseology out loud until you have it down cold.


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