Friday, 9 June 2017

Algiers 8894 HF

You may remember me saying how suddenly a year or so ago I stopped hearing strong signals from Algiers on 8894 and had presumed traffic over the Sahara in Algeria was now using extended range VHF in addition to CPDLC.

Well yesterday morning I did hear a Lufthansa flight from Rio de Janeiro checking in with Algiers on their southern boundary at MOKAT with an estimate for In Salah (NSL) and for destination. So it would seem that whilst the traffic to and from the oil fields no longer regularly use HF, some longhaul flights which are in the most remote areas do.

I still regularly hear Niamey in the evenings on 8903, so there is still a little bit of activity in this part of the world.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

VHF Airband Company Operations

In the 1980's my parents gave me my first professional airband radio, a CR600 made by Swinburne Electronics at Birmingham airport. It gave me years of immense pleasure, watching the 6 L.E.Ds scanning the six crystal controlled channels, and when pocket money would permit I would buy new crystals to expand the available channels I could listen to.
My father is now seriously ill and I have spent the last few weeks trying to get it into working condition to show it to him again.

The project has reawoken my interest in the airband in a big way, but I have been surprised by the lack of up to date books on the current frequencies. I used to buy the Airwaves one from Photavia Press and I have seen publications from Seldec & PW Publishing in the past, but now that these are no longer available I was at a loss as to where to find especially the company frequencies that I find so interesting. One or two online forums have proved quite helpful but nothing comprehensive.

So I decided to scan the sections of bands I knew used to be allocated to company ops and publish the results on here, my blog, in the hope they would prove useful.

If you look under the blog archive, there is a link to the early beginnings of this project.

If anyone knows anywhere I can find up-to-date operations frequencies, please let me know via the blog comments. Thank you.

VHF Airband Airline Company Operations Frequencies

122.050 Flybe Operations, Exeter May/17
122.050 Swissport, Stansted May/17
122.350 Signature Operations, Cardiff Jun/17
129.700 Operations Guernsey May/17 (Netjets flight clg)
130.175 Exeter Handling Apr/17
130.175 Signature Operations, Luton May/17
130.600 Operations, Stansted May/17 (Martinair flight clg)
131.425 Virgin Operations, Gatwick May/17
131.425 Menzies, Bristol May/17
131.425 Menzies, Stansted Jun/17
131.425 Swissport, Birmingham May/17
131.440 Operations Jun/17 (flight clg in Dutch freq +/- 10khz)
131.450 Air India, Heathrow Jun/17
131.450 Harrods? Aviation, Stansted Jun/17b
131.470 Air France? Paris? Operations Jun/17 (huge signal in French frq .470 and not .475)
131.475 British Airways South, Gatwick May/17
131.550 Brest Operations Apr/17
131.550 Swissport, Southampton May/17
131.550 Swissport, Luton May/17
131.550 Schiphol Operations May/17 (TUI Netherlands flight clg in Dutch)
131.550 Paris Operations May/17 (flight clg "Paris Operations" in French)
131.570 Airline Services, Gatwick Jun/17 (Thomson & Kestrel flights clg)
131.610 Monarch Operation May/17
131.610 Signature Flight Support, Biggin Hill May/17
131.625 Beaufort? Operations, Brussels May/17 (Kalitta Air flight clg)
131.650 Menzies, Gatwick Apr/17
131.650 KLM Schiphol May/17
131.650 Operations, Paris CDG May/17 (American Airlines flight clg)
131.675 Menzies, Heathrow May/17 (TAP flight clg)
131.675 South African Airways Operations, Heathrow May/17
131.740 Thomson Maintrol Jun/17
131.750 Operations, Nantes May/17 (flight in French)
131.775 British Airway Centre May/17
131.800 DP? Operations, Newquay May/17 (Flybe flight clg w/ETA etc)
131.875 Jet2 Station Control May/17
131.875 Operations, France May/17 (flight in French)
131.925 American Airlines, Heathrow May/17
131.950 Menzies, Heathrow May/17 (Icelandair flight clg)
131.960 Paris CDG Operations May/17 (Delta Airlines & Air France clg)
131.975 Ryanair Engineering May/17

updated 06/Jun/17

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Size doesn't matter when it comes to loop aerials for SWLing

I just wanted to put a quick post up as I am in a new QTH and decided to make a larger SWL receive-only loop than my current 30cm diameter one in the hope it would catch a slightly better signal and help when things weren't booming in and I was struggling on the small loop.

I made a much larger 75cm diameter loop and after hours of tests right the way across the board from 4mhz right up to 21mhz I can honestly say it made no difference whatsoever. It performed identically to the loop that was barely 30cm in diameter.

In a way this was good news to me, as the larger loop is unsightly indoors. But it made me think that perhaps this was the reason AOR and PK Loops had settled for these smaller loops that sit neatly and comfortably by your side in the radio shack. Up until now I had assumed the smaller AOR loop was a compromise over the larger Wellbrook loops.

But my own tests have proved the extra size doesn't affect reception. Obviously I realise if you are transmitting then it's a whole different ball-game, but for anyone thinking of building a loop and wondering what size to go for, bigger isn't better.

I have now hacked a large piece of my loop and reduced it to a more manageable and attractive 1 foot diameter as a back for my other small loop.


Monday, 30 January 2017

Sony SW35 Review

I said last year that I would write a review of my new Sony SW35. Well I have been using the radio on and off for 12 months now and want to write a few comments. Not really a review but to help anyone thinking about buying one to make a decision.

At first I was disappointed with the SW35. Compared to the Tecsun PL660 it picked up lots of local noise and is less sensitive on HF. I didn't use it very much, except for a bit of morning Medium Wave DXing as it is really good on that band. But right from the word go I really liked the memory pages. They were such a pleasure to scroll through, store, and over-write. So much so that I found myself coming back to it again and again just to check for activity on my favourite frequencies.
On page one, for example, I stored BBC Radio 4, Radio 3 and a couple of other local FM stations. On page two, several of my favourite MW stations. In page three my best morning stations on HF, and page four for my favourite daytime ones. Each page stores 10 channels which suited me perfectly. Then, all you have to do to check through the morning HF stations is switch on and repeatedly press the "Page 3" button to scroll through. It is intuitive and a real pleasure to use after the Tecsun's complicated memory system. It reminds me of my old Sony SW7600GR as far as memories were concerned.

As I said, it is not the most sensitive radio on HF and a bit noisy if there are lots of local noise sources around. MW was very sensitive and less prone to noise.

Sound quality is quite pleasant and easy to listen to: a nice balance between lows and highs. It is not as punchy and bassy as the Tecsun PL660,  but that being said, the AGC circuit is better, so it can end up being a little more comfortable to listen to. The Tecsun's poor AGC results in the sound "whooshing" up and down if there are very large fluctuations in the signal level, even causing the sync detector to come out of lock. So although the sound reproduction is richer and bassier on the PL660, you need a nice steady signal to benefit from it. Otherwise it can be a bit head-doing. Personally, as a main portable, I prefer the bass and loud, rich tones of the PL660. But as a secondary radio for listening before I am properly awake, the Sony fits the bill best.

Another thing I should mention is the lack of a keypad. If this were your only radio, you may find it inconvenient. I would. But as I only do 15 to 20 mins listening on the Sony each morning, I am not jumping around the bands very much. Each season as the frequency schedules change, I put my favourites (China Radio, BBC World Service, Vatican Radio, VOA, Radio Romania, Voice of Turkey, Radio Farda, Voice of Greece, ORF Austria for the classical music..... I put the new frequencies in the memories and tend to just scroll through them. Latrely, it must be said, I have done a bit more searching around. But for this I use the search facility, where I let it tune up through the band and it stops on the first active frequency. If I want to listen to it or store it, I stop the scan. And if I don't I just let it carry on up to the next active frequency. So I can honestly say I don't miss the keypad at all, and even like the difference. It every radio were the same it might get a bit boring. I think actually that is a valid point. Part of the radio hobby itself is testing and buying new equipment. It's nice to have a variety of brands and types of radio. Then the very fact you are using a different radio can enrich the hobby.

It is NOT the radio to buy if you want a sensitive radio to pick up distant DX stations. But as a back up radio by your bedside table (this is what I wanted it for) it is perfect.

At first I really missed an external aerial socket. I wanted to connect my homemade loop to null out noise on HF and thought long and hard about making a socket by drilling into the cabinet. I am so glad I didn't  do that now! It is best kept as a portable radio and if you accept it limitations as a DX set you will enjoy it a whole lot more.

These past few days I have had it on my bedside table to tune into Voice of Greece and Voice of Turkey, BBC WS via Ascension, Vatican Radio etc in the local mornings with my cup of tea. They are not weak signals and though my Tecsun may've made a better job at receiving them, I find I enjoy using the Sony a little more. It's nice to have one or two different makes of radio about the house and to enjoy each one differently.

By the way, in closing, I used to use a Tecsun PL310 as my morning bedside table set. I went off using that little radio as I didn't like the DSP processed audio and the buttons were awkward to press firmly. The SW35 was to replace that radio and I'm glad I got it now.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

USAF Sigonella and other logs

I have never heard very much interesting traffic on the USAF HF-GCS frequencies. But this week I was doing a scan on my Tecsun when I heard OCTANE 54 working Sigonella AFB. Signals were good and strong and although I can't find much info on the net relating to the callsign OCTANE, I think it must be a USAF tanker. I've been ages trying to post the audio, and think I have finally succeeded by creating a video from it, so here goes:


30NOV16 1508UTC 11175 KHZ USB: OCTANE 54 wkg Sigonella requesting authentication codes in order to join the NET for training.

Other LOGS:

01DEC16 1128UTC 8992 KHZ USB: Portuguese Air Force activity in Portuguese so it is good to know this interesting military channel is still active, as I haven't heard anything on it for quite a while. No tape recorder to hand to record the unfamiliar language so no more details available.

02DEC16 1027UTC 11178 KHZ USB: Polish Air Force activity (PRES) but again, no tape recorder to hand so I couldn't get more details. I say Polish Air Force activity as I know this is a Polish Air Force freq. but in my logbook I wrote "Israeli" as it sounded a bit like that to me. But not much on the internet to help any further identification. In the UDXF group, Graham Turner monitors this freq each time the Polish Air Force visit the UK and hears voice activity on it. I guess it's used fairly infrequently like many of the military aero frequencies on HF.

Thinking of getting a second PL660 to increase the number of frequencies I can scan in one session of listening. I figured if I put, say, ten frequencies in one radio, then at 5 secs per channel I might well miss stuff. But if I put 5 in each radio and had them next to each other it would increase the chances of rare catches.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

How to build a homemade loop for SWL

I have decided to post up some simple instructions for a really easy SWL loop that I use everyday as my main SWL aerial with my Tecsun PL660. It is especially useful if you live in a noisy area or house (RF noise, that is ha ha). I have suffered from RFi noise for years living in an urban environment and didn't have the money to consider a commercial loop. I also wanted to try and build something for myself. I get a lot of pleasure out of using something I've built myself. For myself, I really wanted to try a homemade loop but had very little confidence in my own abilities and didn't really know where to start. Even a lot of the websites I looked at presumed a level of competence and experience way beyond where I actually was. So hope this helps and if you have any questions, please feel free to ask via the comments.

You need a capacitor. Either the little square ones that come out of AM portable radios or a vintage type one with vanes that open and close. Either are available on ebay. For my loop I use an AM one I removed from a broken portable radio, but I've also used the type with vanes.

Once you have chosen your capacitor you need to connect a loop of wire across the terminals. I use a loop 35cm in diameter of insulated wire, but for listening it doesn't really matter what type of wire you use. Connect it to the capacitor like this:

If you decide on the AM radio-type capacitor like me, you may have to experiment a little to determine which terminals to connect the loop of wire to. I used a big metal tag on the left and a similar big tag on the right. Use crocodile clips to test the aerial once you've built the pick up loop and then solder once you have determined which ones tune the aerial across your desired range of frequencies.

So you now have something like this (though for now only connected using croc clips):

Next you need to build the pick up loop. There is no physical connection between the pick up loop and the main loop. I didn't understand this when I first tried to build mine. The pick up loop just sits inside the main loop and picks up the received and tuned signal via INDUCTANCE (ie its physical proximity to the main loop). Again you can use any type of wire. I use the braid only of a piece of coax. I read that the pick up loop should be 20% of the main loop, but this looked ridiculously small when my main loop was only 35cm so I settled on 14cm diameter and it worked just as well. Connect one end of this smaller loop to the center conductor of a piece of RG58 coax and the other end of this smaller loop to the braid. I actually don't use coax at all and bought a small 1.5m length of wire on ebay with bare wire on one end and a 3.5mm plug on the other (search for "3.5mm plug to bare wires"on ebay). I've also used speaker wire with a 3.5mm plug soldered on the end.

That, basically, is it. Find a nice project box, put a few stickers on it, and you're away. I kept the shapde of a loop by putting my 35cm diameter loop inside a section of grey insulation tube, the type used to keep pipes warm. It's dead cheap and looks cool, but is tricky to glue to the side of the box. I used a hot glue gun. I've also used plastic water pipe as the main loop. Use anything that keeps your loop in a more or less loop-like shape. A small hoop. A small wooden square-shaped frame.

Depending on the type of capacitor you've used, you probably won't get a huge tuning range from a single capacitor, unless you use a 750 to 1000pF variable capacitor. I used a 1000pF variable capacitor with reduction drive that I got off ebay and it covered around 3mhz fright up to 30mhz! But my AM radio cap only tunes 7mhz upwards, so to get down to 5mhz I've added a small 220pF ceramic capacitor and put a switch in the wiring to cover both the lower end and the upper ends of the band. DON'T PANIC!!! This sounds complicated but it is not. These ceramic capacitors are cheap on ebay and if you only need to drop a couple of MHz down in frequency a 200-300pF one will be fine. The more capacitance you add, the lower it will go. I'm guessing that 500pF might take you down from 7mhz to 4mhz. Maybe 3mhz if you're lucky.

So, you need to buy a 200 to 500pF capacitor and a little switch from either ebay or Maplins. I removed mine from a broken radio. You wire it up as follows:

The two rows of three squares are the little terminals on the back of the switch. In this set-up, when you slide the switch to the LEFT my loop tunes approx 5MHZ to 7MHZ as the little 220pF capacitor is inline. When you slide it to the RIGHT, the capacitor is out of line and I get the normal loop tuning range from 7MHZ to 22MHZ.

So I hope this helps a little, and as I said at the beginning, if you want any help or assistance, please feel free to email me via my email on QRZ,COM or via the comments on the blog. It is an easy project. The hardest thing is finding the confidence in yourself to have a bash. I had school teachers that inspired precious little of this in me and I left school thinking I was useless. It's taken 30 years to realise I was wrong!!!!!

My finished loop after dozens of attempts and several years to get it more neat and tidy|: