2 Meters, 3 Watts, 4 Thousand Feet
Having a 4000 foot high antenna would be the envy of any ham operator. Such a structure would cost millions of dollars, and would be twice as tall as North America’s current tallest tower. Fortunately, there is a much lower cost option.
I am a member of an unexpectedly large group of amateur radio operators who are also licenced pilots. In fact, it was another pilot that suggested getting my ham licence to take advantage of phone patches, back when cellphone use in the cockpit was frowned upon. This spring, I finally took the exam and earned the Basic and Advanced Amateur Radio Operator’s Certificate.
For months, I’d been curious what would happen if I tried to make contacts in the air. Based on experience with the aircraft radios, I had an idea how much distance I could cover. My Icom IC A-22, used for emergency backup, can reach ATC from up to 20 miles out. Plugging it into the wingtop antenna improves things substantially, and the King installed in the dash performs very well when I have the altitude.
The weather on June 10 was great, so I grabbed my flight bag and headed to the airport. The plane required a thorough walkaround. Several hornets decided to move in and build nests, so those had to be delicately removed. Everything else checked out okay, so I took off and headed up to 4000 feet.
Once I got to altitude, I pulled out my 2 meter Alinco ALM-203T handheld. The headphone jack was plugged into the audio panel in the plane so I could hear it in my headset. I couldn’t get the headset mic to work with it. The drive isn’t high enough, and if I used the output from the audio panel, then air traffic control could come over my 2m transmissions, which doesn’t sound too legal. I have some figuring out to do there still, but I think that adding a second PTT for the HT before the headset plugs into the audio panel might work. The PTT for the plane radio is conveniently attached to the yoke.
First I tried our local repeater. Seemed to hit it no problem. Nobody was on it though. At least I determined that the HT inside the cockpit didn’t interfere with the ATC on 132.25MHz. The antennas for the plane’s NavComs are on top of the wings and tail. Safety is important in aviation so nothing can interfere with ATC calls, position reports, or navigation equipment.
I switched to simplex on 146.52, and called “VE3NCQ mobile at 4000 feet monitoring.” I had a reply from Dave – W8RIT, my first international contact. He was located about 38 nautical miles (70km) away, and my 3 watts was hitting him at 9+ with some expected cockpit noise. We chatted for a while, then I took a call from KD8AVF. Tom was in Richmond, Michigan, a distance of 49 nautical miles (90km) reporting an even stronger signal. I was joined by Pat VE3WDD in West Lorne, 16 nautical miles (29km) the other way, who sounded local. He couldn’t hear the American stations though. We chatted back and forth for a while, then I signed off to watch the sunset and make a night landing.
The next project will be finding and installing an approved 2 meter + 70cm antenna on the airplane belly. (Many hams prefer to build their own antennas, me included, but anything going on an airplane has to be approved by Transport Canada.) This would open the possibility of taking a repeater up to 10,000 feet for remarkable coverage, something which would be useful for Field Day or in an emergency. And I’m facinated with the idea of towing a longwire antenna for the HF bands.
Ham radio in the cockpit allows me to combine two of my favourite passions. Now all I need is a seaplane with a canoe strapped to the floats!