Air transport pilots operate flights with a variety of flight numbers, often with multiple flights in the same day. This means, as a result, the callsign that they are using changes as well. Also, according to this answer, sometimes the callsign is completely different from the flight number.

Given that, how do pilots maintain keep track of what callsign that they are listening for at a given point in time? Are there conventions for posting the callsign somewhere in the cockpit?

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    $\begingroup$ From listening to LiveATC, sometimes you'll hear pilots mess up their callsign, sometimes even saying the wrong callsign (saying their other aircraft callsign for instance) and then correcting themselves. Usually pilots write it down somewhere from what I've seen, and usually only have to remember a few digits/numbers or your company ("Speedbird", etc) for your ears to perk up, then you can listen while reviewing your notated callsign. $\endgroup$
    – SnakeDoc
    Nov 16 '17 at 19:24
  • $\begingroup$ @snakedoc quite often I hear them say the callsign of their previous flight $\endgroup$
    – PlasmaHH
    Nov 17 '17 at 17:50
  • $\begingroup$ In cases where the flight number differs from the callsign, would the pilots even have much reason to care what the flight number is (or at least to care enough to maintain continued awareness of it)? That's for ground personnel and cabin crew. $\endgroup$ Nov 19 '17 at 10:18

Some modern airliners have a place where the flight number can be displayed on the cockpit displays. This information can be entered off the dispatch paperwork when setting up the flight plan, and is displayed throughout the flight for easy reference.

For example, you can make out "DLH463" on the screen at the bottom right of this Lufthansa A380 cockpit photo, corresponding to Lufthansa flight 463.

The Boeing 787 has a similar feature:

The two outboard displays are a fixed format that provides primary flight display information combined with an “auxiliary” display that consolidates frequently referenced information for the crew, such as flight number, each pilot’s microphone-selected radio and its frequency, and transponder code.

You can see this on this 787 cockpit photo at the top of the leftmost monitor: "FLT -> BAW787"

(Photos not embedded due to licensing restrictions.)

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    $\begingroup$ Besides crew reference, the callsign is downlinked in Mode S transponder data, so all airliners have some place to enter the callsign. $\endgroup$
    – user71659
    Nov 17 '17 at 22:11

Changing call signs (or tail numbers) is fairly common from even early training. Its something that many pilots are accustomed to even before they get to the big operations.

As a student pilot its quite possible your flight school will have a few airframes usually of a given make. You may not always fly the same airframe and will get accustomed to rotating tail numbers. I did all my training in one of 3 Piper Warriors all outfitted the same.

From there many who plan to go to the airlines get their commercial ticket and instruct first to build their hours. While students will only fly a given type of airframe instructors may fly all the various makes the flight school owns. The last instructor I was flying with in any given day usually flys one of two Archers, An Arrow, one of 3 172's and a 150 all with different tail numbers.

Some pros may go on to fly 135 charts if they are lucky. Often times smaller chart outfits will have a variety of small aircraft that are constantly flying short hops and rotating crews allowing plenty of practice at hopping call signs/tail numbers

Once at the ATP level you already have a lot of hours flying a variety of planes, often all in one day.

Many smaller aircraft have a placard with the tail number affixed to the panel somewhere (like in this citation cockpit).

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  • $\begingroup$ If the flight number written somewhere in the docs an airline pilot has immediately to hand? $\endgroup$ Nov 16 '17 at 21:38
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    $\begingroup$ @DJClayworth I don't know about now, but in the 1990s at the rwo 747 carriers I flew for, the flight number was at the top of the paper flight plans we used at the time. Each crew member had a copy. The pilots typically kept theirs on a clipboard close at hand. The flight engineers usually kept them laying on their desk. $\endgroup$
    – Terry
    Nov 16 '17 at 23:34
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    $\begingroup$ There's a space below the compass. It seems to be reserved for a Post-it note :) $\endgroup$ Nov 17 '17 at 3:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Harper the space bellow the compass is for the compass correction card $\endgroup$
    – Dave
    Nov 17 '17 at 3:50
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    $\begingroup$ I might be particularly dense but I'm having a hard time finding the answer to the question here. Is the implication that pilots are so used to frequently changing call signs that they quickly become good at remembering the call sign they are currently flying under, and don't need any method beyond their own mind to keep track? $\endgroup$ Nov 17 '17 at 18:54

The 737 has it on the yoke where the right hand would rest. It doesn't affect any systems but you can turn the numbers to represent a 3 digit integer. https://www.google.se/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=0ahUKEwichcmBzsXXAhXKh7QKHfpmCYoQjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.airliners.net%2Fphoto%2FAustralia-Air-Force%2FBoeing-737-7DT-BBJ%2F836827&psig=AOvVaw1VTTSs9z3Xpmk-9nF5NGKW&ust=1511008101360648

You can also see the callsign you entered when filling out the flightplan page in the fmc when pressing the "PROG" button on the fmc

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    $\begingroup$ This worked well back in the day, but it isn't terribly useful anymore, since airlines have gone to 4 digit flight numbers. It's now a plastic plug in the 737MAX, replaced by a 787-style display. $\endgroup$
    – user71659
    Nov 17 '17 at 22:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Notts90 It is a bit too late to do that now, isn't it :) The 737 max is out which has the display config of a 787, so full callsign is displayed on the pfd. $\endgroup$
    – RAZERZ
    Nov 18 '17 at 21:00

The first time I saw a post-it was in the cockpit of a Flying Tigers 747 in the early 80s, stuck next to the standby altimeter with the flight number on it (ie FT66 or similar).


I fly several different types of aircraft, in varied missions. So I can keep track of it, without making a radio fool of myself, I carry pink Post-its, and throw the callsign I am to use on my kneeboard or on the yoke.

Experience has taught me to avoid posting it on the panel, as the vertical position, plus sometimes high airflow can cause "callsign loss" which is on par with the embarrassment of "callsign error." Also, I used to use any color of Post-it, but experienced "callsign obscurity", and found that uniquely using a deep and bold pink reduced my radio stress.

As for others? I preach conversion, but there are few adopters and multitudes of critics. Look and see how many pilots carry a short stack of small pink Post-its on their kneeboard.


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