listening to air traffic

[repost from 2005]

While I’m working on an animation or otherwise fiddling on the computer, I like to listen to live air traffic controllers talking in the background. It’s also a way for me to revisit places I’ve just been, like Dublin (the Irish accent of the controllers is so comforting!).

On the way to Dublin

You can listen to live air traffic control audio feeds from all over the world The feed from JFK Tower in New York is one that is usually busy and up. English is used worldwide for ATC communications.

I have old, fond memories of being on a flight and listening to the pilots up front with those little blue plastic headsets that plugged into the armrest. The sound came out through plastic tubes that you plugged into your ears. I guess now with in-flight internet service, you could call up the ATC feed for your destination airport, and at least listen to the last part of your flight!

You might hear jargon like this:

  • heavy – a large transport airplane that might cause wake turbulence
  • wake turbulence – rough air resulting from the passage of an aircraft, which can be very dangerous to smaller aircraft coming behind a heavy
  • squawk – a four digit code given to pilots use with their transponder (the onboard part of a radar tracking system)
  • ceiling – lowest layer of clouds or obscuring phenomena below 20,000 feet
  • clearance – tower says it’s ok to proceed as requested or instructed
  • go ahead – proceed with your message
  • go-around – order given to pilot to climb away from the runway after making an approach
  • holding pattern (HP) – aircraft is kept circling within a specified airspace while awaiting further ATC instructions
  • deadstick – landing with engine(s) and/or propellers shut down
  • flameout – combustion failure in a turbine engine resulting in power loss

(well, hopefully you won’t hear the last two)

You’ll also hear the phonetic alphabet. If you really get into it, here’s some goofyATC humor.