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13 Of The Strangest ATC Phrases Ever Used

Yes, these are real terms.

1) ALERFA

It sounds like it might be some sort of bacteria, but ALERFA actually stands for 'alert phase'. It's a situation where ATC thinks the safety of an aircraft or its occupants might be in question.

NATS Press Office


2) BLIND SPEED

No, this isn't when you close your eyes and push the throttle forward. It's a scenario where the closing rate of a target (airplane) flying toward a radar antenna can actually make it disappear, because the radar thinks it's ground clutter. (Read more here.)

Thundershead


3) CATCH POINT

A 'catch point' is a fix or waypoint that is a transition from a high altitude waypoint to a STAR (Standard Terminal Arrival Route) or a low-altitude navigation aid.

Frans Zwart


4) FLAMEOUT PATTERN

Here's something you don't want to have to do. A flameout pattern is an approach flown by a single-engine military aircraft that has lost engine power. The pattern is flown over top of the runway, with continuous 180 degree turns.

HooLengSiong


5) MACH TECHNIQUE

How's your Cessna 172 mach technique? Ours is a little rusty too. Mach technique is actually a technique used by Air Traffic Controllers to assign speeds to jets that are at the same altitude. By assigning specific Mach numbers, ATC can keep equal spacing between the jets, or if they need, they can get them closer or further apart.

mikeyp2000


6) NORDO

NORDO (no radio) is a term assigned to aircraft that can't communicate, or aren't communicating when they are supposed to be.

Rob_moments


7) PITCH POINT

Isn't that where you lift off the runway? Not quite. A pitch point is a fix or waypoint that is a transition point from a low-altitude NAVAID to a high altitude waypoint.

Armando G Alonso


8) REQUEST FULL ROUTE CLEARANCE

Try not to use this one when ATC is busy. This term is used when you need to request your entire route clearance to be read to you verbatim by ATC.

Bill Word


9) SKYSPOTTER

A 'skyspotter' is a pilot who has received special training in observing and reporting inflight weather. You might hear someone end a pilot report with 'skyspotter', which means they've taken this course.

Frans Zwart


10) STOP STREAM

You probably won't hear this one over the radio, but if you do, it's an ATC request for a pilot to stop using their electronic jamming equipment.

Andrew Leatherwood


11) TETRAHEDRON

Is this a geometry quiz? Nope. It's kind of like a windsock. Except it's a tetrahedron.

uark.edu


12) VISUAL HOLDING

Instrument pilots are familiar with holding, but VFR pilots can be requested to do the same type of thing. Visual holding is flying a holding pattern over a prominent point or structure that can be seen from the air.

FlyingLotus1983


13) WORDS TWICE

Say again? Say again? 'Words twice' is used when communication between ATC and a pilot is difficult, usually due to a language barrier. Basically, it means that you want the other person to say every phrase twice. Who knew?

NATS Press Office

Colin Cutler

Colin is a Boldmethod co-founder, pilot and graphic artist. He's been a flight instructor at the University of North Dakota, an airline pilot on the CRJ-200, and has directed development of numerous commercial and military training systems. You can reach him at colin@boldmethod.com.

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