It’s no secret…the arrival of the 3x B-2 Stealth Bombers to RAF Fairford last month rekindled my military radio monitoring passion with a bang!
The creation of this new blog, rewiring antennas, overhauling my radio shack at a separate undisclosed location from my flat and full 24 hour Mode-S/ADS-B interception and data feeds are all testament to that.
That being said however, many things in my life circumstances have changed dramatically since my last serious efforts and presence in the military radio monitoring scene.
Flash back to eight years ago and I lived at home with my parents and had a fully functional military radio monitoring shack, which was generally used 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Through my work as the Military Editor of PW Publishing’s RadioUser magazine, a lot of my time was spent in the radio shack not only listening to all the radio traffic I could tune into, but also writing the monthly Military Matters and SBS Files magazine columns, as well as a host of other features for the military radio and aviation scene.
If I knew a certain aircraft or operation was taking place on a specific day or time, I could easily work my schedule around to ensure I was in the shack and I could tune into the action. Road trips were part and parcel of my line of work back then with regular trips south of the border for frontline coverage of air shows, exercises and deployments, often with full press and media accreditation.
Fast forward to now and I’ve got a full time high pressured job working a variety of shifts, I’ve got a second high pressured role on call as part of a search & rescue team, I live away from the shack with my future wife and have all manner of other commitments and pressures which require my attention.
Suddenly the enjoyment from military radio monitoring has become a real challenge to get even a little bit of time to sit down in front of the radios, tune into the military air bands and immerse myself in something which for a long time in my younger years, was a massive facet of my life.
Social Media is very much a double edged sword as well. While it’s a great platform to share and gather information in real time, it also means that whenever there’s something interesting then you generally speaking know about it, and this usually happens at times when there’s absolutely zero chance of getting anywhere near the radio shack.
On the flip side however, it also adds a new dimension to the radio hobby as well. It’s been great recently listening to the B-2s operating over Scotland, including air-to-air refuelling, only to then track them heading back to RAF Fairford and then seeing photos on social media of the same aircraft landing a short time later.
Living nearly 400 miles away from the base, the online military radio scene does allow you to track a lot of the sorties in real time. You get updates when they are leaving RAF Fairford, you can then listen in as they are operating in and around Scotland, and then ultimately you can track them back to RAF Fairford and see photos and videos of them landing.
There’s been several times recently when the B-2s have been flying over Scotland and I have been unable to get to the shack to listen in. I have found myself at work at some times, in meetings or tied up elsewhere. But overcoming these challenges makes that sought-after intercept all the more rewarding.
On Thursday 12th September, I was watching with interest while at work as the B-2s continued their sorties around the UK and beyond. Later that afternoon, I got an update via Social Media that they were airborne again and heading north. I was stuck away from the shack for at least two hours and no means of either getting away, or listening remotely.
Cue two hours of pain and heartache as I got near enough minute by minute updates on what was happening, including the aircraft being near enough directly overhead with some great radio comms in the process. Frustrated didn’t even come close and as soon as I was able to, I raced along to the shack and within a few minutes, was successfully intercepting MYTEE 23 and MYTEE 24 operating of Scotland.
After all the challenges of the day, I had successfully achieved another B-2 radio intercept from this deployment. It was short lived however as not long after I had arrived, I then had to head back to the flat and would miss the aircraft’s southbound return leg back to RAF Fairford later in the evening.
It became obvious that I needed to look at some additional aspects of the hobby and my current setup to try and minimise the frustrations and maximise the radio intercepting opportunities.
The two keys areas I am actively addressing just now are a proper mobile radio setup which I can deploy in certain circumstances while away from the shack, and also setting up remote control of the UBC800s in the radio shack.
Both should be relatively easy to achieve but I am keen to think it through and plan it out to ensure it works effectively and produces the results I am looking.
For the mobile setup I am seriously considering purchasing one of the new Uniden Bearcat UBCD-3600XLT handheld radio scanners. This will be carried with me at near enough all times when away from the shack, preprogramed accordingly and ready for use at a moment’s notice.
I am actively working with the Air Antenna team as well to design, create and produce an Air Antenna specifically aimed at the military radio monitor. This would undoubtably be my antenna of choice as it will dramatically increase radio reception, whilst also folding down into a small carry pouch to store with the radio. It would also be able to be rapidly deployed at most locations to enhance the listening experience.
The revolutionary Air Antenna is quite literally an inflatable antenna which can be erected in seconds and produces some great results. It was initially designed for the HAM radio scene and has been taking the hobby by storm. I am seriously excited about the development of an Air Antenna specifically aimed at the military radio and aviation scene.
In terms of remote radio monitoring, I operate the UBC800XLT working with the ProScan software system. At least one radio shack computer is on 24 hours a day providing full mode-S/ADS-B coverage and data feeds for PlanePlotter, so it shouldn’t take too much effort to setup a radio scanner and ProScan, which would allow me to be able to log in from the flat and not only listen to the audio feed, but also take control of the radio scanner itself.
It will take a bit of thought and effort to sort out IP addresses across networks, firewalls and similar but I am optimistic it will be a quick and painless task which will have some excellent benefits for being able to listen in while I am in the flat.
A few simple steps will hopefully overcome some of the modern frustrations that I have encountered over the past few weeks, but I won’t even get started just now on the trials and challenges of trying to organise a road trip to RAF Fairford before the B-2s head back to the USA…