What Do I Call It?


According to all of the Facebook reminders popping up on my feed, its been almost exactly two years since I did the first flight in my little jet. It’s been a fun 135 hours of flying since then, with lots of interesting places visited, and people met. But I am still struggling a bit with what to call the little thing on the radio. Let me explain.

The only reason I key a microphone on a CTAF frequency is to convey useful information to other pilots. If the receiver of the transmission doesn’t learn something, then it is just a waste of electromagnetic energy. Useful information includes what is out there, where it is, and what it is going to do next. Its not a problem coming up with the “where is it, and what is it going to do next…” part.  “Turning left base, touch and go” covers it (along with the ID and field identification of course). But what we use for a call sign or identification can tell folks a lot about what to expect.

Calling myself “Experimental 958PD” doesn’t tell folks much useful. The rules say I should use the N-Number as a call sign, but I could be a gyrocopter or I could be near supersonic. I might need a large pattern, or a small one, lots of space to get stopped, or none. You can guess that I am not big on simply using the word “Experimental” alone as a type ID. For much of the past two years, I have called myself “Experimental Jet 958PD”, with the hopes that it at least gives the folks the idea that it is faster than a Breezy, and might need a little more spacing between other airplanes. But it sounds a little… arrogant to me, a little bit inflated. After all, it stalls at 56 knots, approaches at about 90, and tops out in level flight about 210—it’s not that much different than a Lancair or a Rocket.

Calling it a “Subsonex” is entirely accurate but not of much use, because most of the time when I stop for fuel, someone asks “is that one of them BD5-J’s?!” Very few pilots know what a Subsonex is, and if they have heard at least of the Sonex, they are going to think “not excessively fast”… “Sonex Jet” is an option—descriptive, accurate  but does the average Cessna driver – or Phenom pilot – have a clue about Sonex’s? Color? Yeah….the truth is, “Red Jet” doesn’t give a clue how small (and hard to find) it is, and “Little Red Jet” sounds like a fifties song.

No one actually cares what brand it is – except that it tells you something about what to expect. Calling something an RV, or a Cessna, or a Cherokee clues others into what to look for, but “Sonex” will usually draw a blank, just as “Dream” would if we called our Tundra that (the kit was made by Dream Aircraft – at least “Tundra” makes folks suspect that it is a high-wing bush plane).

So I am thinking that I might try  “Microjet 958PD”—it’s small, and it has a jet engine, so folks know it will be hard to see, and might need a little more space. Yeah, they are all going to crowd around at the fuel island asking “is that one of them BD-5J’s?!” but once I am on the ground, it really doesn’t make much difference—you can sort it out face to face if it matters…

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Paul Dye
Paul Dye, KITPLANES® Editor at Large, retired as a Lead Flight Director for NASA’s Human Space Flight program, with 40 years of aerospace experience on everything from Cubs to the Space Shuttle. An avid homebuilder, he began flying and working on airplanes as a teen and has experience with a wide range of construction techniques and materials. He flies an RV-8 and SubSonex jet that he built, an RV-3 that he built with his pilot wife, as well as a Dream Tundra and an electric Xenos motorglider they completed. Currently, they are building an F1 Rocket. A commercially licensed pilot, he has logged over 6000 hours in many different types of aircraft and is an A&P, FAA DAR, EAA Tech Counselor and Flight Advisor; he was formerly a member of the Homebuilder’s Council. He consults and collaborates in aerospace operations and flight-testing projects across the country.


  1. You’re right – it works – I’ve been calling mine “Microjet 19WJ” since day one about a year ago. Lets people know it isn’t something they’ve likely encountered in the pattern before…

  2. Having shared the pattern with a L-29,the first thing that gets my attention is the distortion of an oxygen mask, then the word Jet.
    Micro jet, says it best.

  3. Paul, I like microjet. As a 33 year Air Traffic Controller (retired) it would be accurate and informative to ATC and to other pilots as toyour size and performance.
    Best of Luck

  4. I would refer to it as a VLJ (Very Light Jet), which can be stated quickly and is easily understood. There are plenty of other aircraft in that class, so they should know what it is. So, just ID as “Sonex ###” and then state you are a “VLJ”.


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