Mar 31, 2010 Update: Added common
frequencies and USHPA Business Band Authorization information.
Nov 11, 2008 Update: It's official!
Well, almost. The test has been passed (100%) and now I await the FCC
listing to officially become a Technician Class Amateur Radio Operator.
Congrats to Tim Kaiser who is now also licensed. Read below the why and
how of the process.
Why a Ham License?
The best powered paragliding communications I've ever had came
through 2-meter radios and the lowly, ancient,
M101 microphone system. But 2-meter radios require an Amateur (HAM)
license, so I set out to become licensed. This is an account of the
process, now completed, along with some completely unnecessary, but mildly interesting,
information used by "HAM's".
Getting the HAM License in a Day
There is a fairly foolproof way to get your license with one intense
day of studying and testing. Don't expect to be an electronics guru, or
an antenna expert, or expert anything—you won't be. But if you're
willing to spend about 6 hours of fairly intense study followed by a 35
question test, you'll get your license. Expertise comes later, if you so
desire. There's lots of help available, too, as HAM radio folks have
proven to be among the friendliest I've encountered. I think it's
passion—people with passion are just more interesting and usually love
sharing their passion. Look at how you light up when someone shows
interest in your PPG!
Here's how to proceed.
a test on an evening that you have the whole day. In my case, I
found one at 7:30pm in a city about 40 minutes away. It cost $14
since the test is administered by volunteers.
Download the test pool with several hundred questions and correct
Block out six hours of time. Spend six 45 minute sessions, with
15 minute breaks, reading the questions and the correct answers.
Don't try to understand the answers at this point and use whatever
memory aids you want, but keep plugging away.
Take the test as soon afterwards as possible, preferably within
Others who have administered these programs at a collegiate level report better results if you do this on your own.
A group setting is fine as long as there is no distraction. Don't quiz each other, just read the questions and correct answers several times. If you do work with another, say one is driving and the other reading, simply read the question and correct answer out loud. If you can remember two simple formulas, it can help but you'll pass even without learning that E=IR (Voltage=Current x Resistance) or P=IE (pie, Power=Current x Voltage).
Take the test immediately after studying. This method relies on,
and maximizes use of, short term memory.
My History with Ham
Way back, and I do mean WAY BACK, I set out to get my Ham license.
I'd just graduated college and was living at home. A deep winter storm settled on Mansfield, OH and I had latent interest in HAM radio. Plus, I
had gotten into computer programming and wanted to flex my coding muscles.
In 1985 you needed to know Morse code (no longer required). How to
practice? That's where the programming came in. I developed software
that would sound out Morse code and let me type it into the computer.
That was actually pretty easy. What was a lot more difficult was getting
the computer to understand Morse code. Using the shift key for a button,
I developed a way to do it that proved quite versatile. It would
determine, on the fly, my average dot length and average dash length and
then interpret the results as letters. Pretty cool to a new programmer.
In that winter I got to the point of transmitting at 20 words per
minute (fairly decent) but could only receive at about 10. The minimum
for HAM's Novice test (no longer used) was 5 words per minute with the
Technician license requiring 13. The test was all listening, though, so
my fast-fingered transmit did me no good.
Alas, winter ebbed and Spring found me employment so I never got
around to actually taking the tests. All that code for naught but
developing that software sure was fun.
Now in 2008 I find myself doing videotaping and photography with the
paramotor and need reliable communications. Enter the HAM band's 2-meter
radios. The Morse requirement is gone, testing has gotten far easier and
the benefit to me personally has made it worthwhile. And so it is that
I'm getting the Technician class Ham license.
Some common frequencies used are 146.460, 149.950, 147.470, and
146.460 MHz although you can use whatever frequencies at whatever power
your ham license allows.
USHPA Radio Authorization
If you are a member of USHPA (formerly USHGA) then you can get a
USHPA instructor or observer to give you their special
Business Band radio test and use certain frequencies there, too. It
costs $15 and it may not be legal to use for powered paragliding since
USHPA doesn't recognize powered flying as being under its purview and
the very first item in its form says:
1. Radios may be used in competitive
events, meets, retrievals and other member activity that is for the
benefit of the sport of hang gliding per the articles of USHGA.
Also realize that USHPA's authorization doesn't authorize use of the
most common programmable radios. Rather you must use only crystal
controlled or EPROM programmable synthesized radios. Obviously getting
the full ham license lets you use whatever you want with no worries of
mis-using USHPA's authorization. As a free flyer myself, I'd rather see
us respect their hard-won use of these frequencies.
73's (well wishes in ham-speak).
codes used by radio operators worldwide - Thanks to ON4SKY for his
Paramotoring Galveston Beach with a helmet using the
FootFlyer comm system. It was easy to talk using a Push-To-Talk in my
right hand. Good communications rocks! Photo by Tim Kaiser