Radio and Communications FAQ

A note on this radio and frequency stuff. All of the discussion below assumes the radio user is properly licensed or authorized to use the frequencies being discussed. Typically, this means being authorized by the USHPA to use USHPA frequencies, or obtaining your own business type license and frequencies from the FCC, or obtaining your HAM RADIO license.

What type of radio should I purchase?

What type of radio should I purchase? This is a BIG question and the answer depends on several factors, the most important being the frequencies you plan to use. To narrow things down a bit, decide which "band" you will be operating on. There are many frequency bands in the radio spectrum, but only two that we probably need to consider, UHF (at or near 450 megahertz), and VHF (at or near 150 megahertz). (FYI, UHF is an abbreviation for ultra high frequency, and VHF is an abbreviation for Very high frequency).

With few exceptions, almost everyone flying with a radio is on VHF, and the USHPA frequencies that USHPA members are licensed to use are within the VHF band. You might consider using UHF if you fly a very limited number of sites with the same flying partners. Another thing to keep in mind is that UHF is not quite as good for getting around or over terrain obstructions. On the other hand, you might find the UHF band is less crowded than the VHF band. This could reduce interference issues if you are having a problem with VHF frequencies. In or near major metropolitan areas, the VHF band is extremely crowded! Since the USHPA frequencies are VHF only, you will need to license your own frequencies for UHF, or get a Ham license to use the Ham segment of the UHF spectrum.

So, except in a few rare instances, most pilots are going to opt for a VHF radio. If you are going to be using the USHPA frequencies, a VHF "business band" radio designed for use between 150 to 170 megahertz is the best choice. Many pilots are using modified radios originally designed for use on Ham radio frequencies. The first problem with this is a legal/FCC issue. It is not legal to modify or use this type of radio outside the frequency range it was made for. The second problem is that these modified radios are trying to transmit well outside the frequency range they are tuned for, and outside the frequency range of the antenna supplied with the radio. This will ALWAYS cause a moderate to severe degradation in range and performance. Many 5 watt Ham radios are actually transmitting with less than one watt when operating outside the frequencies they were designed for.

The bottom line is this. If you will be using the USHPA frequencies, get a business/public service radio. If you will be using Amateur (Ham) frequencies, get a radio designed for the Amateur service (assuming you have or will have a Ham Radio license). There is another alternative which is the family radio service (FRS) radio. These inexpensive and easy to find little UHF radios have a very limited range, but might be adequate for a small ridge site or the training hill.

What are USHPA frequencies, do I need a license?

The USHPA frequencies, licensed under the USHPA callsign WPRY420 are as follows:

  • 151.625 MHz
  • 151.925 MHz
  • 151.955 MHz
  • 158.400 MHz
  • 151.505 MHZ

You do not need an individual license, but you DO need authorization from the USHPA to transmit a signal on USHPA frequencies. To obtain this authorization you will need to become familiar with a few rules and regulations, take a simple quiz, have an observer or instructor sign you off, and send in your application plus $15.00 to the USHPA.

Here is a PDF file with the study guide and application.
What is Ham/Amateur radio, do I need a license?

Yes, you do need a license to transmit a signal on Amateur Radio frequencies.
Here is an excerpt from the American Radio Relay League about Ham Radio..."A housewife in North Carolina makes friends over the radio with another ham in Lithuania. An Ohio teenager uses his computer to upload a digital chess move to an orbiting space satellite, where it's retrieved by a fellow chess enthusiast in Japan. An aircraft engineer in Florida participating in a "DX contest" swaps his call sign and talks to hams in 100 different countries during a single weekend. In California, volunteers save lives as part of their involvement in an emergency response"

Here are answers to many questions about the Amateur Radio Service (Ham Radio).
What is a repeater?

Basically, a repeater is a radio receiver and transmitter, usually located high on a mountain peak. The repeater rebroadcasts a signal it hears on its' receiver over a much wider geographical area than the original signal could travel itself. A well located repeater can extend the range of your little portable radio to hundreds of miles. Ham radio operators have thousands of repeaters located across the USA, and if you have a Ham radio license, you are welcome to use most of them.

When you have landed after a long cross country flight, there is a very good chance that you will no longer be able to contact your driver or anyone else with your portable radio using a direct line-of-sight path. But if a local repeater is available, you could easily make the needed contact. Here is a good on-line repeater directory.

If you plan to make repeater use part of your "toolkit", you should also get a hardcopy repeater directory. There are several different ones available.

What is VOX?

The term VOX is short for voice operated switch. It refers to an electronic or electromechanical switch that operates when a sound is detected. Upon detecting a sound, the VOX circuit triggers the transmit circuits of a radio and allows the user to begin transmitting. The use of a VOX circuit replaces the need for a push-to-talk button.

Unfortunately, this handy little device is not well suited to free-flight communications. Here is a good example. Let's say you need to yell to get another pilot's attention, or you just got whacked by a nasty bit of turbulence and you exclaim "what the @!*&% was that", or you sneeze, cough etc. All these sounds that were not meant to be transmitted over your radio would be transmitted if you are using a VOX. It is much better to stick with a push-to-talk PTT system.

What is quick keying?

Quick keying is really better referred to as quick talking. It is the BAD HABIT of speaking into your radio at the precise moment that you have depressed the push to talk button (PTT). The problem with this stems from the fact that, (in simple terms), modern radios take a small amount of time to "switch on" after you have depressed the PTT button. The same is true for the radio on the receiving end. The receiving radio takes a small amount of time to "switch on" when a signal is detected.

So when you start talking at the same time you have pushed your PTT button, it is likely that the first word or more of your transmission will be truncated. This may cause any number of errors or misunderstandings, and is obviously undesirable.

In addition the delay inherent in the radios themselves, additional delays are introduced by devices such as a bluetooth headset or wireless PTT button. If you have set your radio in battery saver mode, a fairly long delay may be introduced. In all cases, the best practice is to press your PTT button, wait a second or two, and then start talking!

What is CTCSS and DCS?

Motorola was first to come up with a way to get more than one Land Mobile customer on the same frequency at almost the same time. Motorola knew that different users could coexist on the same frequency if they did not have to listen to each other routinely. They invented Continuous Tone Coded Squelch System or CTCSS for short and patented it as "PL" (private line).

When CTCSS is enabled for transmit, a "sub audible" tone is injected after the audio stages into the transmitter. When CTCSS is enabled for receive, the tone is detected before the audio circuits in the receiver. The decoder switch is then used to perform some function, usually to unmute the receiver when the tone is decoded.

Let's say there are a bunch of people all talking on the same frequency, but you only want to hear and speak to other pilots. If all the pilots enable the CTCSS features on their radios (USING THE SAME TONES), you will only hear one another. Most radios manufactured for the Amateur (Ham) service, call the CTCSS feature "Tone" for the transmit side, and "tone squelch" for the receive side.

Another time you might use this feature is if you want to talk through a repeater. Almost all repeaters need to "hear" this tone on your signal before they switch on. This prevents them from repeating stray signals or other interference.

Digital coded squelch (DCS) performs the same function as CTCSS using a burst of sub audible data instead of a continuous tone.

What is "line of sight" communications?

Just as the term implies, line of sight communications refers to communications between two or more points that are within each others line of sight. VHF and UHF radio signals are primarily limited to line of sight paths. So, when the pilot you want to communicate with soars behind a big mountain, chances are good that you will loose communications with that pilot.

Sometimes the line of sight "rule" can be cheated by terrain reflection and refraction of the radio signal, certain atmospheric phenomenon, reflection from a man made object like a jet aircraft. Some Ham Radio operators even bounce VHF and UHF radio signals off the moon and are able to use these line of sight frequencies to talk to other Hams in distant countries. The International Space Station has a VHF station on-board, and routinely uses it to casually contact earth-bound Ham operators and to make educational radio contacts with school kids. All of these are examples of a line of sight path.

What is APRS?

APRS stands for Automatic Position Reporting System. It is an Amateur (Ham) radio system originally developed to maintain an ongoing record of the location of a mobile radio-transmitter using a connected GPS device. It has been expanded to allow reporting of weather information within a position report. Originally restricted to reporting via amateur radio, it is now possible to send (and receive) these reports via the Internet. The Internet APRS system feeds data into the USA Hurricane warning center and other NOAA systems.

Usually, a computer is needed to display received APRS data. However, there are some higher end radios like the Kenwood TH-D7AG that decode and shows APRS data right on the radio display.
For complete information on this system, just follow this link.

Here is a link to an article by Rich Parry about APRS and the 2004 hang Gliding nationals BACK TO TOP  
What about those cool looking throat mics?

Yes, they do seem like a pretty neat idea. And we have tested a handful of them in different price ranges. Honestly, they all sounded pretty bad. The transmit audio was VERY low on all of them. They also all sounded quite nasally and muffled, and did not convey the different sounds made parts of your mouth. So our advice at this point is to recommend against them. But, if you must have one, we can get one for you. They run from $50.00 to $150.00

What is FRS and GMRS?

FRS (Family Radio Service) utilizes 14 UHF (Ultra High frequency) channels on FM. FRS Channel 1 is unofficially used as a "call" channel. FRS (Family Radio Service) shares channels 1 through 7 with GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service).The maximum allowable power for a FRS radio is .5 watts. GMRS radios are allowed to transmit on the channels they share with FRS at 5 watts, ten times the power of FRS radios.No FCC license is requires to use an FRS radio, but if you want to go with the higher power levels offered by a GMRS radio, then a license IS required.
The frequencies utilized by FRS (Family Radio Service) are:

Channel Frequency
  • 462.5625
  • 462.5875
  • 462.6125
  • 462.6375
  • 462.6625
  • 462.6875
  • 462.7125
  • 467.5625
  • 467.5875
  • 467.6125
  • 467.6375
  • 467.6625
  • 467.6875
  • 467.7125
FRS (Family Radio Service) is mainly utilized for very short-range two-way radio service for recreational activities. These radios are fine for paragliding and hang gliding when longer range is not an issue. For example, they would be perfect for local ridge soaring.
For lots more information visit the FCC's webpage HERE
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If we have missed something you need information or an explanation on, please feel free to call or e-mail with your question. We will do the best we can to help out. All our info is on the contact ~ about us page.