FROM THE ARCHIVES: FIRST F-117 RADIO INTERCEPT – 17 YEARS AGO TODAY

Whilst spending the day with my partner and her family, the conversation randomly turned to today’s date and how it was significant in terms of family anniversaries. It was at this point my partner turned around to me and said: ‘isn’t this also that date of some aeroplane thing from many years ago’.

It took me a moment but then the date jumped out and I remember it was the date of my first ever radio intercept of an F-117 Stealth Fighter. I recalled fondly that day which felt like a few years ago, but then came the realisation the intercept was actually in 2002 – no less than 17 years ago!

That small fact alone is nothing short of frightening and as much as I was enjoying my day out with my partner and the in-laws, my mind kept wandering back to that day 17 years ago. 

So I made the decision to head back to the shack on the way home and delve into the archives and dig out the log back and look back at that fateful intercept. 

The nostalgia reading back through a log book from 17 years ago was nothing short of incredible. There’s something very special about rifling through old log books even down to the smells and the need to dust them off. 

The first entry in the log book in relation to the intercept came on Saturday 12thOctober 2002 and reads:

“Note: Rumours of 4x F-117 Stealth Fighters heading into Lakenheath tomorrow. They are apparently en route to Germany. Depending on the oceanic track they may well enter Scottish airspace.”

The entry itself might sound a bit silly by today’s standard but I need to add a bit of context and remind everyone this was 2002. There was no social media, no Facebook groups and no Twitter. Highspeed broadband was a thing you could only dream about and radio scanners were, in my opinion, much better in a lot of respects. 

It was a golden era of military radio monitoring using manually programmed radio scanners, paper log books and hard copy books listing frequencies and callsigns. Open source intelligence was hard to come by and could usually only be found in a few exclusive internet groups which you had to be invited to join.

Going back in time to this exact day and date 17 years ago, a much younger version of myself was sitting in my small (but quite impressive for a teenager) radio shack in my mum and dads house. Needless to say, the radio shack formed part of my bedroom however it’s fair to assume it wasn’t the standard bedroom of someone of my age back then.

Instead of posters of scantily clad females, empty beer bottles and big Hifi systems, I had a small radio shack including my pride and joy, a Uniden Bearcat 9000XLT radio scanner, two desktop PCs and a laptop. My posters consisted of air navigation charts, posters and cut outs from aviation magazines with the occasional X-Files reference thrown in for good measure. 

With the possibility of intercepting an F-117 Stealth Fighter it was an early start for a Sunday morning to immerse myself in the radio spectrum. I sat patiently for hours with my Uniden Bearcat 9000XLT scanning through the Scottish and London military radio frequencies, keeping a close eye on a small number of internet e-mail groups. 

Log book and pen at the ready, it would be a waiting game until the afternoon until things started to develop. The following is an exact extract from my 2002 radio log book of my first ever radio intercept of an F-117 Stealth Fighter. 

1.15pm – CACTI 31 working Scottish Military. USAF KC-135 Tanker. Primary boom frequency 236.750Hz. 

CACTI 41 flight on Scottish Military. Climbing in to flight level 270. CACTI 31 climbing from 210 to flight level 230. 

1.19pm – ‘CACTI 31 right 20 degrees’
Secondary boom frequency 254.600MHz. Wanting to proceed direct Mike Charlie 16 as per fight plan. 

Trend 81 flight is the callsign of the 4x F0117 Stealth Fighters.

1.28pm – CACTI requesting to break up flight as well. (Assuming F-117s broke away first). Was talk about the tankers slowing down to get some space between them and the F-117s. The F-117s also checked that they would be landing before the tankers in Germany. 

‘TREND 81 squawk 6152’ – F-117s working Scottish Military ICF 134.300MHz. They were then passed to London Military 299.97MHz. The tankers were also handed over to London Military on 135.27MHz. 

LOG ENDS

This was my first ever radio intercept of an F-117 Stealth Fighter. It would be many years before I ever seen one of these mysterious aircraft with my own eyes, but I would go on to have numerous stealth radio intercepts in the following weeks, months and years. 

It was without a doubt a much simpler time for military radio monitoring. The radios were simple and easy to use, the hobby was a small close-knit group and it pre-dated the social media era. Don’t get me wrong, modern computer-controlled radios and social media bring a lot to the hobby, but it also can make it far more complicated, and probably a bit daunting for someone new who is looking to get involved. 

At times it feels like you need a degree in computer (which I have incidentally) just to use a modern-day radio scanner. The days of sitting manually punching in radio frequencies from a hard copy book definitely seems to be a thing of the past. 

But just like life, technology and the hobby move on, however it’s nice to take the time to look back at where it came from. For me personally, I will always have fond memories of my younger years of military radio monitoring, what it did and still does mean to me, the impact it has had on my life and my career choices and the people, some of whom who are sadly no longer with us, that I’ve had the privilege of meeting. 

I just hope the hobby continues to retain people’s interest while also attracting a new generation of military radio monitor. 

On a separate note, the Uniden Bearcat 9000XLT is still going strong and still forms an integral part of my radio shack, and is routinely used alongside my array of other radio scanners. 

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