female pilot using radio
30 Aug

Did You Know When Pilots Started To Communicate Using Radio?

There are more than 100,000 commercial flights every day worldwide. It means that millions of interactions take place between pilots and air traffic controllers. Today aviation communication seems to be a very simple thing to do, however, it was one of the most complicated things during the early stages of aviation. Do you know when radio was installed in the aircraft?

Since December 17th, 1903, when the Wright brothers made their first successful flight in history, communication with pilots in the air has been a real challenge. The industry started growing and developing rapidly. What were the first signs on the ground made for pilots? The crews on the ground initially relied on coloured paddles, signal flares, hand signs, and other visual aids to communicate with incoming and outgoing aircraft. Although these methods were effective for ground crews, there was no way allowing pilots to communicate back.

Along with the growing aviation industry, the wireless telegraphy was developing too. The most significant changes happened in the first decade of the twentieth century. The wireless telegraph systems were used to send messages in Morse code, at first they allowed to send messages from ground-to-air and later  the air-to-ground option was introduced too. This technology allowed planes to act as forwarding observers in warfare.

In April 1915, Captain J.M. Furnival was the first person to hear a voice from the ground from Major Prince who said, “If you can hear me now, it will be the first time speech has ever been communicated to an airplane in flight.” In June 1915, the world’s first air-to-ground voice transmission took place at Brooklands, England over about 20 miles. Ground-to-air was initially by Morse code, but it is believed 2-way voice communications were available and installed by July 1915. By the early 1916, the Marconi Company (England) started production of air-to-ground radio transmitters/receivers which were used in the war over France.

The first time airplanes in-flight communicated with each other directly via radio was on September 2, 1916. This marks a historic advancement in the world of aviation, truly the one that has shaped the world of military and commercial aviation.

Today every plane is equipped with the latest communication technologies, thus each aircraft in the air is tracked by Air Traffic control towers using radar and satellite technologies.

Despite the fact it took nearly a century to work on innovation in air-to-ground communications, many of the original techniques used to communicate with the ground are used by today’s aircraft. Planes landing at night are guided into the runway by a series of intricate lighting arrangements. These visual aids allow pilots to navigate in zero visibility situations.