More Then an Interested Observer?


Here’s a question for you guys and gals. I’m not a pilot but I enjoy going to my local airports to watch the traffic and listen in on my scanner.

A few weeks back I was camped out at KTHV( an un-towered arpt) right around dusk on a windless, cloudy evening. I heard a Conquest announce a 6 or 7 mile straight-in for rnwy 17. About the same time I noticed a small dark colored plane with no lights(looked like a Cub) turn base for rnwy 35. I had heard no radio calls from the small plane. The Conquest made several more calls announcing their position on final for 17. Then the “Cub” turned final for 35! Again without a radio call! I was starting to feel very apprehensive because the "Cub was very difficult to see against the dark clouds and even though the Conquest had all lights blazing mr. “Cub” just kept on coming and my heart rate was elevating rapidly!. As the Conquest was just about to flair someone up front finally spotted the “Cub” and they poured on the coal, sucked the gear up and got the hell out. At that point mr. “Cub” finally saw the Cessna and veered off to the right and beetled off out of the pattern so my heart slowed down and all was well.

Heres’ my question… what if I had had a transceiver? Should I have jumped onto CTAF and warned the Conquest about the presence of the other plane? Obviously I wouldn’t think to make a habit out of it but in a possibly dangerous situation would it be OK to do something? I’ll be interested to read your thoughts. Thanks.



No you should not interfere with the aircraft traffic by radio or any other means. More then likely the small aircraft was monitoring the frequency which is all that is required at non-tower airports. At most non-tower airports, it is not required to even have a radio in the airplane…


I have to respectfully disagree. Generally, non-aviation people should stay the heck off of the radio. It would normally be considered interfering with aviation activity which could be a serious offense and cause great harm.

Possibly, the “Cub” was monitoring the frequency, but if he was he certainly should have announced his position and intentions. Given that he had no nav lights, we should probably assume that he had no electical system, and therefore no radio. As LGMavredes said, it is not required at most airports.

The lower airplane on final has the right of way, but a prudent pilot of a slow plane would not deliberatly cut in front of a jet like that, so we should probably also assume that he did not know the jet was coming. And the jet obviously did not know the Cub was there.

I will also assume that a jet colliding with a Cub would probably do more than scratch the paint of one or both of the airplanes. Big fireball comes to mind.

So given these assumptions, I think that anyone who can potentially prevent loss of life had a moral and civil duty to do anything they can to protect their fellow human. This would probably be to state on the radio: “Jet inbound to XXX airport, caution, there is an unlit airplane ahead of you on final” and then shut up. No chatter or anything. Make the warning and then stop. Thank goodness the jet pilot was paying attention. It think this could very easily turned into a trajedy if he had been distracted.

This said, I don’t want you to think it is good idea to go out and buy a radio and play ATC. It would not be wise and would probably be considered unlawful interference. Odds are that you will never witness a situation like this again, so if you start showing up at the airport with a transceiver, folks will probably start talking about you, and you may find yourself very unwelcome there.


Rad3 …as a pilot for around ten years…I have a dissenting opinion …given the circumstances of a dark colored aircraft running with no lights and no radio…I can tell you if it was me in that Conquest, busy as heck on the approach…I would be thanking you profusely for a quick heads up on a transceiver. I normally carry a transceiver with me around the field, and I would not hesitate to use it …especially in a potential head-on…



Isn’t it illegal? I have an amateur radio license, although I’m no longer active, I was heavy into it for a few years and we had major rules and regs about everything. Ham radio is just a hobby, but you can’t transmit out of band, and even using a ham radio out of band as a service you are legally part of is illegal.


Not as far as I know, but don’t quote me as a legal authority. From what I gather from my ham friends is that you must have an appropriate radio operator’s license for the operator and the radio. Ham has international range.

From what I know of aviation, you do not need a radio operators license for the aviation bands. In certain circumstances, you must have a license for the transmitter, but not the operator. Aviation transmitters are low power line-of-sight.

Use of an aviation frequency by anyone is limited to aviation purposes. Avoiding a collision between two aircraft and the likely associated lost of life and damage to property would certainly qualify, in my personal opinion, as a bona fide aviation purpose.

And my personal feelings: preventing a loss of life overrides ANY regulation. “Your Honor, I’m sorry that I didn’t save those people’s lives because I wasn’t sure if it was legal to use the radio…” would probably not impress the deceased’s family.

Not to get too far off topic, though. Remember that the original post was from a guy who didn’t have a radio to begin with.


I’m a ham. Although I’m not into it like I used to be. Legally you can use any and all means of communications in an emergency. Any band and any mode. In real life even in a dire emergency the FCC frowns on this and a few hams have gotten into trouble operating within the parameters of these rules.

A rule of thumb that I just came up with. If the world is ending use what you have to. Nobody will be around to fine you. If your immediate world is ending stick to the frequencies you’re licensed on because if you survive somebody will be around to fine you.


I frequently fly IFR flight plans that terminate at non-towered class G airports. It is not uncommon for people on the ground with com units to advise you of Deer on the rwy or a big flock of visiting birds, and other temporary obstructions in the area. These updates are nice to have on short final especially after you have been flying for a while and are ready to get down. (Usually) ATC or the local approach will give you a target count near the airport when you cancel your IFR, so you can be on high alert, especially if you don’t hear chatter on the local advisory freq.

I also agree that Joe Citizen should not appoint himself to part time air traffic controller. “How yall doin up there”

But if someone has information that could truly help a pilot avoid a crash with another airplane, I say scream it into your radio as loud as you can.

just my .02


Thanks to all for your thoughtful responses.


My understanding of the FCC regulations in the US is as follows.
It is legal for anyone to purchase and use an aviation handheld transceiver to monitor frequencies without transmitting. However, it is illegal to transmit without a radio operators license. Every aircraft implicitly has an operator’s license (used to be you had to have a piece of paper in the plane to prove it, but not anymore). If a pilot transmits from a handheld while sitting in a plane (or, strectching it a bit, standing next to a plane) and uses that plane’s identification (tail number), then it is legal. If the handheld is being used on some other license (such as an FBO’s base station license) then it is legal. I believe you can even apply for and receive a license specifically for a handheld. But without some sort of operator’s license behind the transmission, it is illegal to transmit.

Having said all that, if I had been in this situation, I would probably have warned the jet too, regardless of the legality of it.



Preventing a fatal accident is probably allowable illegal action that would have very little consequences, if at all. The law is to prohibit chatter that is unwattented and potentially disruptive ie: “How’s the weather up there?”. Although the dark cub possible could have been authorities ether tracking the plane or what not and if you made there presence known possible obstruction of justice and or criminal accomplice. All in all glad to see that everything turned out for the best.


The Cub may have had a radio or may not. At York, you’re outside airspace that requires an electrical system (though if it was dark the Cub should have been showing lights).

If you’d had a transceiver, a short call along the lines of “Conquest, be advised there’s a cub in the pattern, just turned final” would have been appropriate.

The FCC does NOT do proactive enforcement on this kind of stuff, they are strictly reactive, so unless someone makes a complaint (and it would probably take more than one) you’re not in much danger of fines.

That said, the subject of radio usage in the pattern is frequently a “touchy” one, bordering on the sort of religious debates we sometimes see between PC and Macintosh users. “Da rules” state that all that is required for collision avoidance at York is a working pair of Mark One Mod Zero eyeballs and appropriate lighting at night.

Best wishes, and if you ever want to catch a ride in a little airplane and see York from the sky, drop me a line. I’m up that way generally at least once a month for a proficiency flight or flight test and a visit to the restaurant.



As a professional pilot and frequent user of uncontrolled airports, please DO NOT clutter already overused unicom frequencies unless you are a licensed and qualified radio operator.

Two aircraft in an airport traffic pattern does not constitute an emergency.

The flight crews in the aircraft are responsible for their own separation.

Your transmissions in this case would undoubtedly be heard by airborne aircraft at several airports and would not be welcome interference.

Unfortunately, the event you witnessed has and will always be a part of general aviation at uncontrolled airports.


I am also a “professional pilot” flying a Beechjet and own a Piper Cub (with no radio). I would welcome the heads up about the conflict no matter what the source is or if the person giving it is a “licensed radio operator”. I can’t believe these people who say “don’t say anything” “your not licensed” give me a break!


busdriver: I respect your opinion even though it differs with mine, but there are a couple of points that I’m wondering if you considered:

  1. As a professional pilot, are YOU “a licensed and qualified radio operator”? I’m not and I don’t know of any US domestic pilot who is, with regard to aviation freqs.

  2. Two aircraft in the pattern is not an emergency. Two aircraft landing at once, on the same runway, with the second one traveling much faster than the first, each unaware of the other’s presence probably is an emergency, or will be one within a matter of seconds.

  3. What is the range from ground-to-air for a handheld radio? Not very far. Higher power aircraft radios on the ground can be heard no more than a couple of miles, tops. I’m not sure that anyone would hear a low power handheld at another airport.

  4. You are right that the event he witnessed always will be a part of uncontrolled airports. So will crashes and collisions. So should we not try to prevent having one because they have happened in the past and will in the future?

Your opinion on this is not “wrong”; we all have our own opinions. Just wanted to give you some things to think about. I try to be very careful at uncontrolled airports, but I’ve still been “surprised” by another plane that I wasn’t aware of. Even so, my nearest miss was coming within 20 feet of another airplane on short final at a TOWERED airport, and the tower was even at the same end of my runway about 150 yards away with a clear view. The tower screwed up that day. Even though it would have been even more taboo with a tower involved, I would have loved it if someone with a handheld had spoken up to let me know about the pending disaster.


Another thanks to all for your responses. I 'm enjoying the interesting dicussion :slight_smile:


I agree with busdriver that we must not clutter UNICOM frequencies. But the reason we shouldn’t clutter UNICOM frequencies is the same reason we should advise the Conquest of a potential collision: it’s in the interest of safety.

BTW, FAA Order 7110.65 suggests a phraseology for ATC that limits the liability of the transmitter. Using the word “appears” when relaying an “observed abnormality” makes it clear the decision remains with the receiver/PIC. For example: “Conquest on final for 17, it appears there is an unlit Cub landing on 35.”

BTaylor, any licensed pilot is licensed to operate a radio in an airplane. The radio doesn’t have to be installed; it may be a hand-held radio. However, leave the aircraft and you must have a license from the FCC: “You may only use your hand-held aircraft VHF radio from your aircraft, or under the authority of an FCC ground station authorization. Ground station authorizations are usually only issued to aviation service organizations located on airports, businesses engaged in pilot training, aircraft manufacturers, or persons engaged in chase-car activities related to soaring and ballooning.” So, the transmission appears to be illegal. As with most difficult situations, I guess it comes down to one simple question, “How good is your lawyer?”

Excellent question and great discussion; I’m glad I found this site!


Firstly, My comment referred to the original post which clearly indicated, the "potential user’ of the handheld radio is not a licenced pilot. There fore, assuming he is in an area governed by the FAA and FCC, without a US Airmans certificate or separate FCC certificate, he is NOT qualified to transmit on the device. For the Beechjet pilot, the “qualified” aspect of my post is far more important than a licensing requirement. I am sure you would agree with that.

As to questions pertaining to my licencing, YES, I do hold a Restricted Radio Telephone Operators Certificate which is required by law in many countries outside of the US.

As for radio range, a standard air to ground radio is capable of transmissions to a radius of 100-120 nautical miles. Any of you who have flown to an uncontrolled airport in northern Florida or Minnesota can certainly attest to the excessive chatter caused by multiple use of common facilities. Much of this chatter comes from FBO’s but often comes from handhelds. Quite a few handhelds have been used by Jet aircraft in emergency situations and work well to establish communications with ground based stations. If they are really so poor that transmissions are less than 2 miles gents, then dont buy them! They wont serve their intended purpose!

After 30 years and endless hours of inflight contemplation, i have had the opportunity to think this out. My opinion is just that, but it is based on years of daily experience.

Keep up the good posts. I respect your opinions!


I’m having fun. Hope you are, too! :smiley:

I once thought I knew EVERYTHING, but I’m finally starting to wonder… :smiley:


The one thing i do know is that i don’t know!

Always willing to learn though…

Cheers :smiley: