Paragliding Equipment Considerations: Comms Part 1 – Radios

“Aggress or regress, never sit still.”

Never settle, experiment even if the end result is a regression. In other words, strive for continuous improvement.

Those that follow this blog with any degree of regularity know that continuous improvement is a corner stone mantra of mine when it comes to paragliding.

Improvement of skills, improvement of knowledge, improvement of judgement, and … improvement of equipment/kit.

Improvement via investigation. Investigation via experimentation.

Comms

Communications are critical in our sport. Aside from flying tandem, we operate effectively alone. Even when flying with a partner, a stroke of luck or a subtle change in conditions can cause significant separation. Being able to quickly and easily ‘re-sync’  with a flying buddy can have a big impact on a paragliding cross country flight (‘going XC’), especially in ‘sticky’ conditions where climbs are few and far between and route changes may be needed.

Even more important is the ability for us to communicate with fellow paraglider pilots and rescuers in the event of a mishap.

Simply put: Some form of comms should be considered on par with the reserve – don’t leave the hill without it.

Radio Options

FRS/GMRS

Family Radio Service (FRS) / General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) radios are often the mainstay of paragliding schools due to the lack of a license requirement for the operator and low cost. But beyond the school environment, especially in Canada, they see little use in the paraglider population.

Limitations on frequency (limited to 14 channels of FM UHF for FRS and 22 for GMRS) and power (0.5 watts for FRS and 2 watts for GMRS*) will find these units quickly replaced by the newly minted Novice.

* GMRS radios in the US can operate at up to 5 watts of power but have a licensing requirement. US GMRS radios that do operate at 5 watts are technically illegal in Canada.

Channel Use Frequency (MHz) Channel Use Frequency (MHz)
1 FRS/GMRS 462.5625 12 FRS 467.6625
2 FRS/GMRS 462.5875 13 FRS 467.6875
3 FRS/GMRS 462.6125 14 FRS 467.7125
4 FRS/GMRS 462.6375 15 GMRS 462.5500
5 FRS/GMRS 462.6625 16 GMRS 462.5750
6 FRS/GMRS 462.6875 17 GMRS 462.6000
7 FRS/GMRS 462.7125 18 GMRS 462.6250
8 FRS 467.5625 19 GMRS 462.6500
9 FRS 467.5875 20 GMRS 462.6750
10 FRS 467.6125 21 GMRS 462.7000
11 FRS 467.6375 22 GMRS 462.7250

* CTCSS (Continuous Tone Coded Squelch System) – often referred to as ‘privacy’ codes. Privacy is a misnomer – this sub audible tone system actually acts more as a filter. If you have a CTCSS code selected, you will only hear transmissions from other radio operators who have activated the same code. Anyone who has the code unselected (‘open’) will hear everything on the channel, including transmissions by those employing a CTCSS code.  Using a CTCSS code is a good way to help filter traffic on a commonly used channel if ‘chatter’ is a problem.

Tone Frequency (Hz) Tone Frequency (Hz)
1 67.0 20 131.8
2 71.9 21 136.5
3 74.4 22 141.3
4 77.0 23 146.2
5 79.7 24 151.4
6 82.5 25 156.7
7 85.4 26 162.2
8 88.5 27 167.9
9 91.5 28 173.8
10 94.8 29 179.9
11 97.4 30 186.2
12 100.0 31 192.8
13 103.5 32 203.5
14 107.2 33 210.7
15 110.9 34 218.1
16 114.8 35 225.7
17 118.8 36 233.6
18 123.0 37 241.8
19 127.3 38 250.3

Aviation/Airband Radio

The greater the frequency of contact with other aviation stakeholders, the greater the need for an airband radio.

Airband is limited to 108 to 137 MHz, with the upper 19 MHz typically reserved for AM voice.

2 way comms between dedicated AM and FM radios is not possible, though some higher end FM units can receive AM. This is important to remember for the pilot who may wish to use a non airband radio to communicate with other free fliers yet still be able to maintain contact with a control tower and/or powered aircraft – 2 different radios will be required. Attempts to bring to market a dual purpose radio have thus far demonstrated less than stellar results.

A government issued license is typically required to be able to operate an airband radio.

Citizens Band (CB)

An anachronism employing AM in the 27MHz frequency range, you may ask why Citizens Band is even mentioned here.

Australia.

Australia implemented their own take on an unlicensed radio service for the general public which continues to see widespread use in rural parts of the country. Australian CB operates using FM around 477 MHz. It is commonly used by the paragliding population in that country. Something to keep in mind if travelling down under.

Channel Frequency (MHz) Channel Frequency (MHz)
1 476.4250 41 476.4375
2 476.4500 42 476.4625
3 476.4750 43 476.4875
4 476.5000 44 476.5125
5 476.5250 45 476.5375
6 476.5500 46 476.5625
7 476.5750 47 476.5875
8 476.6000 48 476.6125
9 476.6250 49 476.6375
10 476.6500 50 476.6625
11 476.6750 51 476.6875
12 476.7000 52 476.7125
13 476.7250 53 476.7375
14 476.7500 54 476.7625
15 476.7750 55 476.7875
16 476.8000 56 476.8125
17 476.8250 57 476.8375
18 476.8500 58 476.8625
19 476.8750 59 476.8875
20 476.9000 60 476.9125
21 476.9250 61 Unused
22 476.9500 62 Unused
23 476.9750 63 Unused
24 477.0000 64 477.0125
25 477.0250 65 477.0375
26 477.0500 66 477.0625
27 477.0750 67 477.0875
28 477.1000 68 477.1125
29 477.1250 69 477.1375
30 477.1500 70 477.1625
31 477.1750 71 477.1875
32 477.2000 72 477.2125
33 477.2250 73 477.2375
34 477.2500 74 477.2625
35 477.2750 75 477.2875
36 477.3000 76 477.3125
37 477.3250 77 477.3375
38 477.3500 78 477.3625
39 477.3750 79 477.3875
40 477.4000 80 477.4125

Amateur

Go on any course, attend any comp and you will find amongst the equipment prerequisites – handheld 2m Amateur Radio. Primarily operating between 144 and 148 MHz using FM, Amateur Radio has gained widespread adoption by the paragliding community due the portability/light weight of the current generation handhelds, reasonable power output (typically 5 watts) and a healthy parts aftermarket. In addition, a plethora of makes and models exist for the pilot to choose from to fit any budget –  everything from high end Japanese built units down to mass produced Chinese variants.

One model in particular stands out:

The Baofeng UV-5R.

The -5Rs low cost, reasonable quality, and compatibility with the Kenwood headset connector has made it the go to radio for pilots around the world. Gone are the days where a ‘cheap’ radio would run in the hundreds of dollars, now options like the Baofeng can be found for less than $50 Canadian.  A radio lost, stolen, soaked, or seized can now be met with no more than a resigned sigh given that it is effectively disposable at the aforementioned price point. One could simply buy two -5Rs and have a spare waiting to be put in service for less than the price we would previously pay for a single radio.

One need only look at the frequency ranges supported by the Baofeng UV-5R to get a sense of why I specifically mention it.

136-174 MHz and 400-480 MHz.

Look at the above tables. I’ll let you deduce what is possible (though very likely illegal in certain locales – you the reader are responsible for making sure that this radio will not break any laws where you are flying) .

The majority of countries that allow use of Amateur Radio have licensing requirements.

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