In Australia hand gliding pilots generally communicate with each other in flight using UHF Citizen Band (CB) radio. All radio communications in Australia including UHF CB are administered by the ACMA (Australian Communications Management Agency). The UHF CB band is free for all to use under a Class License providing licence conditions are met. Two conditions that are particularly relevent are output power is restricted to 5Watts, and the transceiver must be of an ACMA approved type. This means that the cheap Chinese radio that you bought on Ebay is very likely illegal to use. See the ACMA info on this HERE.
UHF radio communication is very much a 'line-of-sight' proposition. If there are obstacles in the path between transmitting & receiving antenna then signal quality will be degraded making communication between ground based stations very short range ie: less than 10km. This is the preferred form of intra-farm communication used in most of the areas that we fly. Once you take a UHF radio airborne all of a sudden 'line-of-sight' can mean hundreds of km. For this reason we need to be careful and courteous whenever transmitting from the air because we are probably blasting our signal into the kitchens, tractors and utes of several farms using that particular channel within a 200km radius. These farms all have 'their own private channel' in their area that they have used for many years to manage & run their farm. It is fair to say that many farmers have been aggravated over the years by overly chatty or rude pilots 'barging-in' on their channel while they are trying to co-ordinate farm jobs over the radio.
Modern UHF radios all have a system called CTCSS (Continuous Tone Coded Squelch System). When activated on a radio all transmissions contain a mostly inaudible continuous tone. This tone frequency can be selected from preset values on the radio. All transmissions from a radio with CTCSS activated can be monitored by any radio set to that channel, so it doesn't make a channel private as some people think. The difference occurs in the receiving radio. When a receiver has CTCSS activated it will not un-mute the squelch unless it receives a transmission containing a continuous tone of the selected frequency. This means that you will only hear transmissions from your friends who are using the same CTCSS tone frequency. This may seem like a great idea initially until you consider other radio users. It means you wont know when 'your' channel is busy and are more likely to 'talk over the top' of another transmission. It also means that other channel users wont get through to you when they complain about your inconsiderate use of 'their farm channel'. This type of behaviour does not promote good land owner relations.
The best option is to have your radio programmed to use the SAFA private channel This is a private channel outside of the UHF CB range and not accessible by the general public. If your radio is not capable of this, or you are flying at a competition where many channels are in use I would recommend not using CTCSS. It's more considerate to other channel users and also easier for competition organisers to contact your team in an emergency.
When making radio transmissions there are a few common sense rules to follow:
If someone is already talking on your channel, wait until they have finished.
Before you key the transmit button think about what you need to say. Is the transmission even necessary?
When you do begin transmission wait a second or two before you start talking. At the receiving end it can take the radio a while to respond to incoming transmissions and un-mute the squelch. The initial part of your transmission may be clipped ie: not heard at the receiver.
Keep transmissions short, clear and to the point. Don't talk too fast or you may need to repeat the transmission to be understood.
Don't be that person who is having a casual conversation over an open channel blocking it's use by other people. That is better done privately by phone or in person.
If other people ie:farmers are constantly talking on 'your' channel, don't be rude or offensive. Just turn down your headset volume and keep flying. If you don't have adjustable volume or a headset then talk to Pete L. at Sensair.com for awesome hang gliding specific solutions.
When making radio transmissions to my pickup driver I like to follow a standard template so that comprehension is easier.
Pilot: "<driver> copy <pilot>" #establishing link with driver using their name.
Driver: "yes <pilot> go ahead" #Driver is ready. Uses pilots name as confirmation.
Pilot: "<pilot> has just made turnpoint 3 at 4000 feet" #keeping your driver updated makes co-ordinating pickups easier.
or "<pilot> is getting low 9km from goal heading 138" #If you don't hear from me again, this is where I am.
or "<pilot> getting back up again, i'll be in goal" #Please come and get me at goal, bring beer!
or "<pilot> is on glide for goal 12km out" #See above.
Driver:"<confirms information back to pilot> " #pilot is re-assured and can focus on flying
You may note that positions are given relevent to a turnpoint, goal or some other pre-defined fixed point (maybe take-off). This is an accurate way of describing location using only a reference point (waypoint) and 2 short numbers (heading & distance). It is far less prone to errors than trying to relay Latitude & Longitude. You should have your navigation instrument set-up to be always displaying this information (heading & distance to next TP).
Once you have landed you may not have direct line-of-sight communication with your driver so whenever you're getting low make sure they know your location. When you are on the ground if you have phone signal send your driver a text with your co-ordinates. Don't use the radio unless you have no other options. It's distracting for the rest of your team still flying and wasting radio battery that you may need later on.
Recent rule changes have meant that hang glider pilots are now required to carry and use VHF Airband radio when higher than 5000feet. VHF radio use requires appropriate training and licensing. There are rules and templates for making VHF transmissions but that is beyond the scope of this article.