Getting the Technician Class Amateur Radio License for Paramotor Pilots

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.

  • Schedule 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.

  • Search for “Technician class test pool correct answers only” and download what you find. Or try and select “Only show correct answers”. Avoid looking distractors (the wrong answers): it takes time and adds confusion.

  • 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 an hour. 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.

Common Frequencies

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).

Various codes used by radio operators worldwide – Thanks to ON4SKY for his presentation