During the second half of 2019 we were busy working away in the radio shack and scrolling through our social media feeds catching up on the events of the day. Through the notifications on our account was a new follower by the name of @AntennaAir which instantly sparked our attention.
Having a look at this account, it quickly became clear this was someone we wanted to follow back.
The account belonged to a UK-based antenna manufacturer who had developed both a unique and eye catching VHF antenna aimed at the HAM radio market. Named as the Air Antenna, this product was in essence an inflatable antenna system designed specifically to operate on the amateur radio bands. It’s eye catching luminous yellow colour scheme and extreme portability instantly got our attention and our minds began racing towards a future collaboration to a new and exciting antenna system for the military aviation and radio enthusiast.
After making initial contact, it would transpire that the man behind @AntennaAir, Tom, was actually based just down the road from our editorial office. Within days a meeting had been arranged, introductions made and positive conversations started about a joint collaboration on bringing something truly unique to the military radio enthusiast scene.
It’s widely known that you could have the best radio receiver in the world, but if it’s connected to a low quality antenna system, the results will be seriously under par and likely lead to disappointment.
While we have quite an extensive antenna array at our main radio shack, we have always struggled to find something as effective as we would like when going mobile on holiday, attending airshows or airfields or indeed covering live exercise deployments such as Joint Warrior. The standard antennas which come on hand held radios are sufficient up to a point but often limited in range which can become problematic at times, especially during exercise coverage.
Other mobile antennas were readily available but none that ever really fitted our requirements especially if camping or spending a prolonged period of time monitoring when mobile. At one stage, we had toyed with the idea of rigging up a base station discone onto a tripod system to set up what would effectively be a mobile base station but the logistics involved quickly put that idea to bed. It would also be not particularly useful for airshow coverage or stopping in at the local airfield.
The instant appeal to the Antenna Air is the fact that when it’s deflated, it folds into a small carry case which could easily be stored in the car for monitoring when mobile, or indeed be a nice easy addition to the camera bag when attending airshows or exercise coverage. Having seen the Antenna Air during our first face-to-face meeting with Tom, it was clear the portability potential was absolutely perfect and also the ease and quickness in deploying and repacking the Antenna Air made it the perfect companion.
There were some key challenges to overcome however. The original Antenna Air had been specifically manufactured to operate on the Amateur Radio bands and it also came with coax terminating in a PL259 connector. For it to be of any use to the military radio enthusiast, it would have to be able to cover both VHF airband and also the UHF military bands and also come terminated with a BNC connection. In order to provide further appeal, a different colour scheme would also be beneficial as well.
Tom has a wealth of experience in the radio antenna industry and VHF/UHF coverage and BNC connections were no problem at all to him and his band of radio engineers. We both instantly clicked as life long radio enthusiasts and it was clear this new product had lots of potential in what can best be described as a niche market.
Within a matter of weeks we collected a sample antenna after a late night rendezvous at an undisclosed location with full VHF/UHF coverage and coax terminating with a BNC connection. The luminous colour scheme still remained as this was only a sample and we agreed the finer points would could be ironed out once we were both satisfied the system worked.
On the first available opportunity it was straight into the back garden and after two quick puffs, the Antenna Air was inflated and connected to our UBC3500XLT hand held radio receiver. Within seconds it was pulling in signals from nearby Prestwick Airport, including aircraft and the air traffic controller (something which we struggled with from our antenna array in the loft) and getting multiple strong hits across the Swanwick Military frequencies.
It was only a quick test but one that absolutely confirmed this antenna was a winner.
After another couple of meetings with Tom, the decision was made the final product would be supplied in tactical black and with that The Black Knight was born.
Stay tuned for Part II coming soon.
In the meantime you can find out more by visiting http://www.airantennas.com and by following @AntennaAir on Twitter.