Meaning of known fragments of pilots’ radio terminology

Few industries have as much specialized jargon as aviation. This short article will break down three common phrases you’ve probably heard from pilots.


You must have heard pilots say something to the spirit”We will keep the seat belt sign up due to reports of low light ahead.” As with many other aviation phrases and references, “chop” is an allusion to maritime transport and originates from the turbulence experienced on a seagoing vessel when the water is rough. Chap is usually used to describe turbulence less difficult. There may be a slight bump associated with the “light cut”, but you won’t feel much seat belt tension as a passenger.


Pilots, controllers, and air traffic controllers have three basic ways of classifying turbulence, which you may have also heard of: light, moderate, and severe. As mentioned, “rebound” is used to describe the smaller of each category. “Mild sharpness” is less noticeable than “mild turbulence”, as is “moderate sharpness”, the lesser of “moderate turbulence”.

Photo: Joe Kunzler | Simple flight

Despite how often the term is used by the public, you probably have never encountered (and hopefully never will) severe turbulence. When pilots describe turbulence as “severe”, they encounter atmospheric conditions that cause a momentary loss of control of the aircraft, the passengers are violently pulled and pushed. Elevation deviations of hundreds of feet also occur. Flying in such atmospheric conditions requires the airline to perform a serious turbulence technical review after the flight.

“Flight Levels”

When addressing passengers before push-off, pilots usually refer to the altitude in thousands of feet. During flight and communication with ATC, pilots usually report their altitudes as “flight levels”. You’ve probably seen a video or heard about this method of reporting heights. When I was a brand new student pilot, I radioed the common area frequency and reported that I was “at flight echelon 5000 heading north.” The other pilots on that frequency laughed playfully at me, as did my instructor, because I was using the terminology incorrectly.

Traces of two planes in the sky

Photo: Getty Images

For the altitude to be reported as “flight level”, the aircraft must be above what is known as the “transition altitude”. This is the height where pilots change the altimeter setting to the standard 29.92 inches of mercury, or 1013 millibars, depending on where they are in the world. The transition height is determined by the air traffic authority of the country.

In the United States, the transition level is 18,000 feet, while in some European regions it is as high as 4,000 feet. Only when pilots are above this transition altitude can they report that they are on flight echelons. When talking with Department of Internal Affairsit reads: “Center, callsign ___, flight level three fife zero, smooth” (“Whistle” is the correct pronunciation of the word “five”) ICAO). This would be the pilot’s way of telling the controller that their plane is level at 35,000 feet and the atmospheric conditions are good for a comfortable ride.

The primary flight display shows 6,920 feet on the altimeter with a pressure setting of 30.14 inches of mercury (right).

Photo: Getty Images

Phonetic alphabet

Pilots all over the world are required to learn Phonetic alphabet of the International Civil Aviation Organization in the first days of flight training. All 26 letters of the alphabet have corresponding words, such as “alpha” for “A”. The phonetic alphabet was originally used in North Atlantic Treaty Organization and has changed only slightly since its inception in 1920. When describing an arrival gate, you’ve probably heard pilots or flight attendants refer to it as ‘alpha’, ‘bravo’, ‘charlie’ or ‘delta’, as many airports have lounges that correspond to the first few letters of the alphabet.

The main reason for using this type of radiotelephony is to improve the clarity of communication. Aviation is a global event, and except for a few places on Earth, English is used for all radio calls. Because pilots speak hundreds of native languages ​​around the world, the letters associated with complete words help to understand when an accent might otherwise interfere with the message between sender and receiver.

https://simpleflying.com/famous-pilot-radio-terminology-guide/ Meaning of known fragments of pilots’ radio terminology

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