Sunday, August 13, 2017

ICOM IC-R5

I have now received my little Icom IC-R5 back from Geoff at Castle Electronics in full working order who I can highly recommend for repairs.

This is going to be an ideal receiver for when I'm 'on site' at airfields and airshows, it's so compact but seems very sturdy and robust. I have to say after some initial testing, the supplied rubber duck antenna is next to useless, but as soon as you replace this with just about anything else, it really begins to shine and is a very capable and sensitive receiver on the VHF & UHF airband at least.

Many people have complained about the lack of buttons on the little Icom's making them difficult to use, but after having read the manual several times over on programming frequencies into memories and then into banks and also programming search bands (or scan edges as Icom like to call it) I am now able to do everything I want to do without referring to the manual. It's really quite quick and easy to tune frequencies I want to get to manually in VFO mode too.

I have been messing about with the Icom connected to my loft antenna usually reserved for my Uniden BCT15X and I had quite a shock this Sunday morning! While tuning around on the Icom I could clearly hear a constant broadcast from RAF Wittering coming through the squelch and showing one bar of signal on 123.925.

The broadcast was as follows: 'Wittering radar is now closed and will reopen at 0730 Zulu on the 14th August'.

I was quite surprised I could hear anything from Wittering given my location on the West side of Leicester but what was more surprising was when I reconnected my antenna to the BCT15X, the transmission wasn't coming through the squelch and even when I backed it off, the broadcast was barely audible! Could the IC-R5 really beat my BCT15X in pulling in weak signals? Well, yes it does in this case!

So, all in all, a very capable little receiver for airband at least, HOWEVER, the scan speed of memory channels is woefully inadequate in my opinion if you intend to scan a lot of frequencies, because while it will search at about 30 steps a second, it's actual scan speed of stored memories is just 10 CHANNELS A SECOND.

Now, if your going to use this radio 'on site' as I will be doing, this is not much of an issue, because I will typically be monitoring a handful of frequencies at the most, but for use as a home based scanner monitoring perhaps hundreds of frequencies as I do, it is simply not up to the job. To be fair to Icom, it does say on the front 'communications receiver' and not 'communications scanner' !

Having said that, I hear the slow scan speed has been addressed with the Icom IC-R6 so maybe getting hold of one of these will be my next goal....

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Icom IC-R5 and Scampton Air Show

Well, I decided to purchase a 'spares or repair' Icom IC-R5 recently with the hope that it could be fixed primarily for me to use 'on site' at the Scampton Air Show which is the only event I'm likely to attend this year.

Having seen a recommendation for Castle Electronics (hamradiosales.co.uk) after a short conversation with Geoff there, I despatched the IC-R5 off to him last week hoping he can get it working. As yet, I've heard nothing, so watch this space!

I have owned an IC-R2 and R5 in years past, and the Icom IC-R5 is a one bank or all banks scanner. It's scan speed is not very fast either, but usually when 'on site' at an air show, I'll be monitoring a handful of frequencies at the very most, so it's drawbacks are not much of an issue for me in that situation.

I thought the little Icom would be an ideal 'discrete' scanner to use when out and about which is not very often for me, hence why I didn't want to spend much on it. If it can indeed be fixed, I'll report back on it's performance when used 'on site' and when attached to my home antenna.

As I mentioned, Scampton is about the only air show I'll attend this year and I know there's quite a bit of skepticism of the price versus content for this show at the moment on various forums.

I would like to give the organisers of what is a brand new event the benefit of the doubt but I must admit the 'flying' content with just over a month to go looks fairly light considering it will be nearly £80 for myself and my wife to attend (better value admittedly for families as under 16's go free).

There has been much fanfare in recent emails of attendees to the show, only to learn they are joining the static display only, which is great, but at the end of the day if I want to look at aircraft sitting stationary, there is a large number of air museums I can visit at any time to admire aircraft in that way. Is it only me or do most people want to attend an air show to see aircraft in their natural environment and that means flying!

Well, I'm holding off buying tickets for now as I want to see if anything else develops in the last month or so. I may well attend my local show down the road - The Victory Show at Cosby on the same weekend - not a full scale air show by any means, but they always puts on a good flying display and for £15 advance ticket cost is excellent value!  

As with all air shows, it's good to include the air show 'common' frequencies in your scan: 121.175 - 130.675 - 132.9 - 130.5 - 130.625 - 134.55.

Cosby Victory Show have always tended to be allocated 121.175




Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Uniden BCT15X

I've had my Uniden BCT15X for over a month now and I am thoroughly pleased and impressed with its features!

As it was supplied with a serial cable which is next to useless for most modern computers, I have programmed it manually which was actually quicker and easier than I thought it would be. Although it was probably two to three hours work in all to create a total of three systems (CIVIL AIR, MILITARY AIR & TACTICAL AIR) each containing various groups and then programming individual channels with alpha tags under all the group's, I now have everything set out just as I want it and it's very easy to instantly enable or disable groups and/or systems as I'm scanning (which incidentally it does very fast).

I've had a mess around with some of the features such as the bandscope function which allows you to set a centre frequency, then set the band width and step for the frequency search and will then display a signal bar for any transmissions found in the search range you have set. In fact, messing around with this feature enabled me to find an E3 AWACS frequency that was in use at the time!

Putting it alongside my UBC125XLT I think it is a little more sensitive but of course, any radio is only as good as the antenna used and it's position.




Above you can see my BCT15X in bandscope mode with 126.000MHz as the centre frequency with a total bandwidth of 1 MHz (from 125.5 to 126.5). The largest signal bar to the right of centre is East Midlands approach transmissions being intercepted on 126.175.

If you have a BCT15X and are struggling to get to grips with using it please check out the easier to read online manual on the Marksscanners website. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Airband Scanners and the Need For Speed!

This is something I've touched on with a recent post when comparing the Uniden UBC125XLT with the Yupiteru VT225 and that is the speed with which a scanner will scan its memory channels (search speed is also important when looking for new frequencies too).

Many scanners available today offer scan speeds in the region of 20-40 channels a second which may sound quite reasonable. I think some of the AOR, Icom and Alinco radios scan at these sort of speeds and I believe the older Yupiteru scanners are in the region of 30 cps (channels per second) and many of the radio Shack/Realistic radios such as the PRO 2042 are in the region of 40 cps.

As I say that may sound reasonable, but when you have perhaps say 500 memory channels stored (quite reasonable even for airband especially if your interest is military and civil) it would take a scanner doing 20 cps 25 SECONDS to get round to checking each channel again! and when you consider that transmissions are often very short particularly on military airband you can begin to see that it would be possible to completely miss a transmission without ever being aware of it and then you're left scratching your head trying to lock on to that aircraft and the frequency it's using, so SPEED REALLY IS IMPORTANT in what determines a good radio scanner for locking on to those signals!

This is one area the Uniden radios in particular seem to excel, the 125XLT I have at the moment for instance has a published scan speed of 80 cps and I can honestly say, I've never picked up as many transmissions as I now do on this radio.If it's within reception range, I'll hear it.

My next intended purchase is a dedicated home based scanner and I'll probably be looking at the Uniden BCT15X as this has a stated search and scan speed of 100cps! I appreciate this scanner is not for the faint hearted as it has 'dynamic memory allocation' which I'm not going to explain here but it's quite a steep learning curve compared with most scanners today but I'm pretty familiar with the Uniden radios now having previously owned a 3500XLT with dynamic memory allocation so I think I know what I'll be doing with it so watch this space. Once I manage to get hold of one, I'll post my opinions and experience with it on here!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Air Traffic Control and Bandboxing

Many of you are perhaps familiar with 'bandboxing' in air traffic control circles, for those that are not familiar with the term it basically means a controller is working more than one sector and/or frequency at a time.

Remember these? An early digital airband radio from Swinburne
For instance, the Daventry high sector for mainly northbound traffic over the east midlands uses 127.1 and the Daventry high sector for mainly southbound traffic over the west midlands uses 129.2. Now this morning (Sunday morning) traffic levels are lower and therefore one controller is working both sides of this sector and hence both aircraft and controller can be heard on both frequencies (transmissions re-transmitted on both frequencies). You may hear the controller on one frequency and the aircraft on another frequency.

This situation frequently occurs for me with Swanwick military central because I can always hear the controller on 252.875 UHF but if an aircraft is talking to him on his VHF frequency (128.7) I usually only hear the aircraft side of the conversation (probably different transmitter sites in use). 

Again, it can be down to a lot of factors such as your location and the location of any actual transmitter sites that 'repeat' the transmission from Swanwick etc.

But hopefully, that gives you an idea, I'm no radio 'tecchy' so would not even try to explain the more technical aspects of this!

Friday, January 13, 2017

USAF Reach flights

On a clear day I often see 'reach' flights crossing the UK, usually on a well used route either travelling east or west through southern Wales (sometimes further south using reporting point 'gitus' approx 15 miles north of Lands End) across to RAF Marham in Norfolk (and then on to 'navpi' in the north sea east of Great Yarmouth).

Aircraft using these callsigns typically include C130 Hercules, C5 Galaxy, C17 Globemaster and KC10 and KC135 Tanker aircraft and occasionally other types.

These flights usually cross 10-15 miles south of my location but are clearly visible from here in Leicester on a clear day. Occasionally their routing is slightly different such as 'reach 707' (C130J) early this morning that went straight across eastbound from central Wales (usually but not always heading to Ramstein) and passed almost overhead my location.

These flights are almost always working Swanwick military on 252.875 and usually a few miles east of here get transferred to Swanwick Military 'East' on either 259.6 UHF or 133.325 VHF.

Another common route for 'reach' flights is from the Northwest (Lake District or further North) across Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and then across the North Sea off the North Norfolk coast and from the Yorkshire area these usually work Swanwick civil control on 126.780 until passed to Maastricht when Eastbound.

I'd be interested in knowing the frequencies they usually work further North if anyone can help?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Uniden UBC125XLT and the battery save feature

I've mentioned before that the only slight annoyance with my Uniden UBC125XLT is the battery save feature which automatically kicks in after a couple of minutes when I am monitoring a single frequency and frequently means I miss the first second or so of a transmission which can be vital if the pilot is reading back a frequency change for example.

This feature is only apparent when connected to my small extension speaker as it generates a 'thump thump' noise as the circuitry is continually switching on and off!

The only 'workaround' I have found so far is to have one of the priority modes activated while monitoring a single frequency. My preferred option is the Priority DND option which checks any priority channels that are activated every 2 seconds as long as there is no transmission on the main frequency being monitored. With priority activated the battery save function does not 'kick in' at all.

Of course, you might say you don't want to be monitoring anything else, well if that's the case, if the frequency is in a memory channel, say for arguments sake, in bank 1 then make that channel the one and only priority channel allowed in that bank and only activate bank 1 for scanning, then put the scanner in hold mode on the frequency you want to monitor along with the priority mode and the scanner will be only listening to that channel and the battery save feature will not activate at any time!

The other option is the same as above ie. activate only the bank your channel is stored in during scan mode, hold on your desired channel, make that the priority channel and then activate 'Priority Plus' which will only scan priority channels in activated banks, so in this case, it will only monitor the one frequency in the one and only active memory bank.

Anyway it's not ideal, but it does work if you find the battery save feature an annoyance like me.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Yupiteru VT225 vs Uniden UBC125XLT

So, I've had an interesting few days with my Yupiteru VT225!
As soon as I got the VT225 'out of the box' I had forgotten how relatively small the LCD display is. I guess I've become very used to the nice big, bright display on my 125XLT!
After a relatively short period of time putting these radios side by side connected to my attic DIY dipole antenna (which incidentally, still performs better than any commercial product I've tried) what has become evident is that the VT225 was not pulling in any signals any better or stronger than my 125XLT! this was bit of a surprise, I really expected it to do better somehow.
With the radio connected to the attic antenna, it was pulling in all sorts of 'hash' and in fact, when trying to monitor Lakenheath approach which I regularly listen to on 309.200MHz, there was 3 signal bars of 'white noise' making it impractical to monitor. I also noticed on other frequencies where the background noise could easily be 'squelched out' I was getting the muffled breakthrough of strong local airways transmissions in places, something that I simply do not experience with the 125XLT. Don't get me wrong, the 125 is not perfect, there are a few odd frequencies that are susceptible to strong data transmission breakthrough in my location, but they are VERY FEW AND FAR BETWEEN. 
It's not all bad, I think the Yupiteru VT225 is a sensitive radio, but it is probably best used with a telescopic antenna attached directly to the radio itself and in the right position, is a very good receiver. Worth noting is that the audio quality on the VT225 is excellent and it has a very 'bass' quality sound to it. To get a similar quality of audio I have to attach a small usb charged speaker to the 125XLT. 
Interestingly, the scan rate quoted for the VT225 is 30 channels a second as opposed to 80 channels a second quoted for the 125XLT. When it comes to scanning airband and not wanting to miss the often, very short transmissions (particularly military) in my experience, SPEED IS EVERYTHING especially if you have several hundred frequencies stored in memory. 
All in all, I'm glad I took a trip down 'nostalgia lane' and it's made me appreciate what I have in the 125XLT - it is an excellent scanner for airband (and for the money) and the host of features and it's ability to reject unwanted signals have come along way since the Yupiteru scanner era of the 1990's. Do I sound like I'm on Unidens payroll? wish I was!
So what now for the Yupi? well it's already moved on to a new home! And my Uniden UBC125XLT is staying right here with me! 
What can I try next? fancy one of this little Icoms....


Monday, November 07, 2016

Yupiteru VT225 Civil and Military Airband Radio

I'm feeling a bit nostalgic and have decided to buy a Yupiteru VT225 airband receiver I found on Ebay at a reasonable price. I remember buying one of these brand new probably 20+ years ago now!

I remember being impressed with it's performance and ease of use so I thought it would be good to obtain one again and put it against my Uniden UBC125XLT just to see if it is a better performer. It will be a rather 'unscientific' test and I will simply see if the signal strength of ground stations I can currently receive is any better than the 125. In particular, I'll be interested in it's UHF performance which on any radio never seems quite as good as VHF primarily because the 'line of sight' physics become more critical as you increase frequency from VHF through to UHF.

If i decide to stick with it I will have to reduce my current frequency list down to those that I listen to most of all compared with those I have stored on my 125XLT as the VT225 has just 100 memory channels in 10 banks whereas the 125XLT has 500 memory channels in 10 banks. Also, I have come to love the 16 character 'alpha tagging' on the 125 so I can instantly see what I'm listening too! AND, for the first time in my many decades of listening, I'm able to easily program the 125XLT on my computer! 

I guess the performance of the VT225 will need to be measurably better for me to stick with it. The VT225 has been regarded as equal in performance to the venerable Signal R535 and are still quite sought after amongst 'us airbanders' so it will be interesting to see the results of my 'testing' once the radio arrives, watch this space for my findings....

Thursday, November 03, 2016

There be Dragons!

Just thought I'd mention an excellent blog for monitoring movements in and out of Fairford: ffdmovements.blogspot.com. As of today's date, there are two U2's on the ground that arrived yesterday (Wednesday 2nd November) and I also picked up 'Dragon 86' on its way into Fairford this morning on the London Military frequency of 133.900Mhz (Thursday 3rd November). Their callsigns always tend to be 'dragon' and quite frequently stop over at Fairford as they rotate their overseas deployments.

Incidentally, the author of the above blog also has a movements blog dedicated to Brize Norton activity here: bzzspotters.blogspot.co.uk