“Nordo” is the aviation abbreviation for “No radio,” which is important to know because it follows the conservation of syllable principle to which all pilots solemnly swear to follow.   The challenge when dealing with potentially crowded radio frequencies in which everyone is trying to get a word in edgewise is to say as much as possible in as few syllables as possible.   As someone who tends to be verbose, I appreciate this principle.   I try to practice it when I can, but it’s difficult for me, especially when speaking to members of the opposite gender from whom I have been accused of “man-‘splaining” (a good example of conservation of syllables if there ever was one).

I confess that the use of additional, unnecessary syllables really bothers me.   The most common of these occurs when people say oftentimes. I hear it all around me, and it irritates me almost as much as when Dodger relief pitchers blow a perfectly good lead. If someone can ‘splain the difference to me between often and oftentimes I would greatly appreciate being set straight.   Irregardless is another one that scratches my chalkboard.   Please just say regardless.

Oh, and while on the topic of often, I often hear people pronounce the “t” right smack in the center of the word, when it is arguably improper and definitely unnecessary. Some consonants, like children, are just better off keeping quiet.

While flying, I have only gone NORDO once.   I was a student pilot at the time, which I suppose is as good a time as any to have something go wrong, and I was on one of the required “cross-country” flights.   For heuristic (i.e., man-‘splaining) purposes, the term “cross-country” in aviation parlance is any flight in which you take off and land at different airports, so I can technically take a cross-country flight in the 5 minutes it takes me to get from Santa Paula to Oxnard, or even the minute or two it takes to get from Oxnard to Camarillo.   But to fulfill the student pilot requirements, cross-country flights only count if each leg is more than 50 miles apart.   At least one of those flights require landing at a total of 3 airports sequentially, so my triangle consisted of flying from Santa Paula to Bakersfield and then to Santa Maria before flying home to Santa Paula.   Each of those airports are just over 50 miles apart as the Cessna flies, although I am rather certain my poor navigational skills at the time made them quite a bit farther.

I had flown to Bakersfield quite nicely, thank you, and was just about to cross the mountains surrounding Santa Maria when my radio went at least partially dead.   I could hear others but they couldn’t hear me.   I checked my frequency at least three times, and even plugged in a spare microphone I had in the plane.   Nothing worked.   At one point, I appeared over the mountains and saw the airport right in front of me.   Just then, the tower controller asked me to identify myself.   I tried, but couldn’t.   I rocked my wings to signal that something was wrong, and may have set the transponder code to signal “lost communications”.   (I actually may have forgotten to do this; this was 15 years ago now and my exact memory is fading.)   The controller asked me to key my microphone if I could hear him.   I did, and he replied that he had heard my click, and that I had “carrier frequency.” I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but didn’t waste time looking it up afterward.   He then told me to click the mic once for yes and twice for no, and began asking me questions.   I believe he asked if I was who he thought I was, because he must have gotten notice of my pending arrival from a previous controller.   I clicked yes.   He asked me if I intended to land, and I clicked yes again.   He then told me I was clear to land and on which runway, which I acknowledged with an affirmative click.   It was kind of fun. I felt well taken care of.

When I reached the ground, I called the tower from my cell phone and thanked them for their help.   All in a day’s work.   I then called the mechanic—who also happened to be the owner of the flight school, and tried to fix the radio on the ground.   Nothing I did worked.   It would have been perfectly legal for me to fly home without a radio, but it was late in the afternoon and the weather report showed a marine layer hovering over the coast and I didn’t want to risk a possible encounter with clouds and diversions without a working radio.   So I bit the bullet and called my wife to drive the 65 miles to come pick me up.

The saddest part of the story was that the flight school had to fly up to Santa Maria the next day with a second pilot on board to fly the airplane home, and when they arrived the radio worked just fine.   They checked it over and couldn’t find anything amiss.   The owner of the school was fine with it, but the chief pilot, charged I suppose with keeping expenses down, was angry that he had to pay for a pilot’s time and the extra fuel.   I had a fairly nasty confrontation with the chief pilot, who thought I should have made the trip home NORDO.   My claims that I made the right decision based on safety, especially given my greenhorn status, didn’t fly.   I asked him directly if it was the added expense that bothered him, and he acknowledged that it was. Ironically, that chief pilot went on to become an FAA examiner, and although I saw him a few times around the airport, I never spoke with him again.   I can still feel my blood boiling as I recall the conflict.


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