2019 Note: Bluetooth comm systems are becoming popular but have much less range unless you’re in good cell range. They have many advantages and a few drawbacks.
Staying in touch is always problematic. Finally, a solution.| Ham License in a Day | Home Built Comm
Being able to talk with fellow paramotor pilots has been a struggle since I got into the sport. Electronics wizards like Nick Scholtes, Robin Rumbolt and others have helped but still many pilots go without reliable comm.
During a trip with Jeff Hamann, Phil Russman and others to Baja, where communications was especially important, I found the answer. Both Jeff and Phil were always perfectly clear, more so than any other pilot. And more clear than any I’d ever heard. The key to their success was simplicity itself, the M101 mic is wired without any resisters or electronics whatsoever and through a equally simple Push-To-Talk (PTT). Jeff wore ear buds that plugged right into the radio’s earphone jack and the mic plugged into its mic jack.
I took the system up to try it with Phil Russman and the clarity was incredible. In fact, Powered Paragliding Bible’s edition 2 and 3 cover was made possible by being able to talk so clearly to Phil using this system.
Unfortunately you have to build it yourself since there’s no commercially available system that uses this. It works with
Simplicity: M101-AIC 150 ohm Microphone
The beauty of this is that, not only is the audio exceptional, but it requires no electronics, no batteries and is completely portable when paired with the right radio.
The M101/AIC 150 ohm dynamic microphone itself was developed eons ago to military specs for various aircraft communications needs. Whatever noise canceling properties they needed turn out to work well for us. Engineering types prefer electret microphones, but for simplicity, this works amazingly well. New M101’s are expensive, costing an average of $40 to $50. Most M101’s are 150 ohm but there are some 5 ohm models used primarily in military applications. We use the 150 ohm version.
Reliability and portability are major benefits. So many times I’ve gone flying with a group who don’t have comm because either their helmet stopped working or it won’t work with the radio they just bought. Matching radio to helmet can be a nightmare. This system eliminates the problem by separating the mic from the helmet. Ear buds are available anywhere.
For those who would like to save money and build the system yourself, it requires no electronics. You could even use an off-the-shelf PTT from Sporty’s pilot or other catalogue sales outfit.
To build it, purchase an M101/AIC microphone and wire it in series to the PTT and then into a 2.5mm plug. Mount the microphone to your helmet’s existing boom using wire ties. The one that FootFlyer sells comes with a small extension to make that easier. We’ll sell just the microphone, too, but you could probably find it cheaper (see the used ones above).
We’ve tested the system with a number of radios and, so far, have found it is extremely compatible. Having said that, my experience suggests not to trust any radio that’s not listed.
So far, the models that we’ve tested it with are:
1. Vertex VX 150 and Vertex 170 2-meter (requires Ham License). This is the best quality communications we’ve ever had. Numerous groups around the country are using these radios and have proclaimed exceptional reliability. You have to have their optional (CT-44 for the vx150, different for each radio) 1-to-2 prong adapter.
2. Midland two-prong. We’ve tested the small, cheap radios from Wal-Mart. Range is questionable but audio quality, if the squelch is broken, is decent.
3. Motorola. Just say no to Motorola. First of all, they’re almost all single prong radios. You’ll need an adapter that goes from single prong to two-prong (like all single jack radios). But what’s worse is that Motorola insists on using a proprietary, and slightly longer hole than everyone else so just using a regular single prong plug doesn’t work.
I’ve actually used the FootFlyer system with Motorola radios but had to file down the radio’s case so our more-standard 2.5 mm plug fits. You can see in the picture at left how the case of the right-hand radio was filed away around its single-hole mic/speaker jack.
4. Insignia. So far, works good. I don’t even know where we got these FRS/GMRS radios but the FootFlyer system keys them and has good audio.
5. Cobra. We’ve tested the two-prong wx 310’s which work well right out of the box. We’ve also tested two models of their microTALK through our 1-to-2 prong adapter and they worked fine.
6. Aviation Radios. The FootFlyer system does NOT work with aviation radios. Robin Rumbolt tells us that’s because aviation radios key the microphone by shorting one of the radio pins to ground whereas the FRS and 2-meter radios key by connecting the microphone and a resister.
Note: Using 2-meter radios require a Ham license and, strangely enough, so does GMRS which most FRS radios now incorporate. Some channels are GMRS and some are FRS. You need an $85 FCC license, good for five years, to operate on the GMRS frequencies.
Our hope is to improve the communications in this sport so more pilots will benefit from being able to talk. Lord knows there’s not much profit in it.
Enjoy and, by all means, stay in touch.