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Thread: Spotting With A Radio Scanner

  1. #1
    Senior Member Chris102's Avatar
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    Spotting With A Radio Scanner

    Can someone give me some advice on using a radio scanner when spotting?

    I just got a Radio Shack PRO-404 handheld scanner and I'm having some trouble using it. My original intention was to use it to get the ATIS report for my local airport to see which runway was the active, but I can't seem to get a clear transmission on my scanner. The freq is 111.6, however when I dial it in I get static. I even tried it out at the airport, but I still had static which a few short, faint blips of the recording coming through the static.

    Do I need a special scanner to be able to get this frequency clearly? Shouldn't I be able to get this freq to come through miles away from the airport?

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    Senior Member gonzalu's Avatar
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    Chris, no magic... you do need to get a clear electrical signal to the antenna

    So, start by making sure the scanner is properly working. Tune it to your local Fire Department or Police Department frequencies... if they use a trunked system, you may be able to dial in one or two of the system's freqs and listen. Those are powerful FM transmitters so they should cut through anything.

    Next, while you're INSIDE your car, the metal shell can act as a sort of Faraday Cage so try it outside the car. Also, make sure your car is OFF when listening from the car. My car for example has a horribly unshielded alternator that completely blows the front end on my handheld, especially with an on board rubber ducky antenna.

    Finally, get a better antenna. The Radio Shack Mobile Mag Mount scanner antenna is superb. It comes with a BNC connector so if your scanner has an SMA connector, get an adapter as well.

    Oh, you know this but it is worth repeating. Am and FM transmissions at these frequencies are line of sight so make sure you are near the airport
    Manny Gonzalez
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    Buying a scanner to listen to the atis seems a bit odd, but that aside, if you are near the transmitter, you should have no problem receiving the atis. If you are not, then either you don't have the scanner tuned properly or it's not functioning correctly. Can you listen in on other aircraft frequencies such as tower or ground? If so, then make sure that you have the atis correct. 111.6 seems pretty low in the band to me.

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    Did some checking after my post. It would appear that AVP broadcasts its atis over the VOR frequency 111.6.

    As long as you scanner can tune that frequency, you should still be able to hear it. You should also be hearing the morse code signal of the VOR.

    Also, some airports have a phone number that you can call to receive the atis.
    Last edited by SmAlbany; 09-11-2012 at 08:28 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris102 View Post
    I just got a Radio Shack PRO-404 handheld scanner and I'm having some trouble using it. My original intention was to use it to get the ATIS report for my local airport to see which runway was the active, but I can't seem to get a clear transmission on my scanner. The freq is 111.6, however when I dial it in I get static. I even tried it out at the airport, but I still had static which a few short, faint blips of the recording coming through the static.

    Do I need a special scanner to be able to get this frequency clearly? Shouldn't I be able to get this freq to come through miles away from the airport?
    You may have them already, but at the bottom I've put some frequencies for AVP tower and approach/departure control. It's been a long time--if ever--that I've seen an ATIS over a VOR frequency only. Since 111.6 is normally a navigation frequency (108.00-117.9 are navaid frequencies, 118.0-135.0 are communication frequencies), it may be that your scanner does not pick up the voice function of the VOR. Most navigation radios in airplanes have a switch that allows you to access the voice function of a navaid. There may be issues with the signal that don't allow your scanner to pick up the atis. That being said, my suggestion would be to tune in the tower and learn the active runway that way. Most airports have a preferred runway, either due to noise or terrain, which they use more than often than the other. You can determine that through either observation or talking to pilots or controllers. If they do have a preferred runway, find out what the max tailwind they'll use before switching (probably around 10 knots or so). You can get the latest weather by going to the Aviation Weather Center website, selecting METAR from the left side, and entering the 4 letter identifier in the box (KAVP). Select "translated" if you're not familiar with reading raw weather observations. That will give you the current conditions including wind direction and speed which should give you a pretty good idea of which runway they're using. (I just tried the ASOS phone number, which gives the weather observation over the phone, and it doesn't answer--don't know if it's still good or not).

    ATIS: 111.6
    ASOS: Tel. 570-457-3111
    WILKES-BARRE TOWER: 120.1 257.8
    WILKES-BARRE GROUND: 121.9
    WILKES-BARRE APPROACH: 124.5(280-100) 126.3(101-279) 256.7
    WILKES-BARRE DEPARTURE: 124.5(280-100) 126.3(101-279) 256.7
    EMERG: 121.5 243.0
    STAGE-III: 256.7
    UNICOM: 122.950
    STAGE-III RDR: 124.5(280-100) 126.3(101-279)
    AWOS-3 at HZL (24.4 SW): 119.975 570-459-4901
    ASOS at 22N (31.7 S): 119.350 570-386-3423
    AWOS-3 at N27 (40.4 NW): 123.00 570-265-1024

    If you're looking for business jets flying in there, another frequency to put in is unicom (122.95). This is the frequency for the FBO and airplanes will often call in with the time they'll be on the ground so the FBO can be waiting for them.

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    Senior Member megatop412's Avatar
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    Chris I have the PRO 528 and it works perfectly(receiving trunked police/fire systems, however, I still get confused about even though Radio Shack programmed the scanner for me). However, I almost NEVER get Tower com's unless I'm pretty close to the airport. ATIS however is no problem. And Manny is right about trying to listen inside your car especially when it is running- next to impossible for me as well. Maybe it's time for me to finally get a whip antenna haha

    Like the others it sounds like that is an unusual freq for a com channel.

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    Quote Originally Posted by megatop412 View Post
    ... I almost NEVER get Tower com's unless I'm pretty close to the airport. ATIS however is no problem.
    That might be a function of transmitter power. We typically tune the ATIS quite a bit farther out so we can get the information before we need to talk to the tower, so the ATIS transmitter might be a little more powerful, thus greater range, than the tower transmitter.

    Pure speculation from the cockpit side of the microphone here...someone with a background in the FAA's radio side of things might be able to shed more light on the subject.

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    Senior Member megatop412's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by snydersnapshots View Post
    That might be a function of transmitter power. We typically tune the ATIS quite a bit farther out so we can get the information before we need to talk to the tower, so the ATIS transmitter might be a little more powerful, thus greater range, than the tower transmitter.

    Pure speculation from the cockpit side of the microphone here...someone with a background in the FAA's radio side of things might be able to shed more light on the subject.
    I figured that would be the case, it only makes sense you wouldn't need tower to be as strong the further away you get. I'm sure the problems I encounter are also enhanced by ground clutter that doesn't affect those above the treeline/building line

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    Senior Member gonzalu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by snydersnapshots View Post
    That might be a function of transmitter power. We typically tune the ATIS quite a bit farther out so we can get the information before we need to talk to the tower, so the ATIS transmitter might be a little more powerful, thus greater range, than the tower transmitter.

    Pure speculation from the cockpit side of the microphone here...someone with a background in the FAA's radio side of things might be able to shed more light on the subject.
    The ATIS antenna at most airports is tuned with a primary lobe pointed at a somewhat high angle as opposed to a high tower mount with a downward angle since it needs to serve mostly high and away aircraft. For ground stations during initial check with tower for taxi and takeoff, the local side lobes work fairly well enough. Also, radio gear on airplanes is not only top notch, it is very selective (sensitive) and is well installed and grounded (far better than a hand held radio shack scanner) and use much better tuned antenna!

    Also, especially near JFK for example, a lot of other comms are going on at an airport. It is very easy for small home amateur scanners to get their front ends overloaded by spurious strong signals nearby. My UNIDEN scanner, while I am near Terminal 5 at JFK picks up ACARS readily on all frequencies... it is just that strong and the radio is that badly shielded and unselective. Keep this in mind as well. A good antenna mounted to the roof of your car will go a LONG WAY to that end.
    Last edited by gonzalu; 09-11-2012 at 03:48 PM.
    Manny Gonzalez
    Thrust Images | General Photography | R.I.P. Matt Molnar 1979-2013
    BRING BACK THE KJFK/KLGA OBSERVATION DECKS

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    Senior Member Mateo's Avatar
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    Make sure you're in AM mode. Lots of scanners will default to one of the FM modes when you're in the low-100MHz range.

  11. #11
    Senior Member Chris102's Avatar
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    Thanks for the tips guys! I'll head back out sometime this weekend and see if I can get it working properly.

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    Administrator Landing Lights's Avatar
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    I played around with mine around LGA today on the tower frequency. I found that I had to be pretty close to the field in order to receive clear transmissions. At roughly 10 miles away, I could get intermittent, somewhat garbled and static-covered signals occasionally. Presumably these were from aircraft at a high enough altitude that they were line of sight to my scanner. It wasn't until I was within a mile or so of the field that transmissions came in clearly. However once on location, they were crystal clear and static free.
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