Saturday, May 07, 2005


Ham Radio

One of the things that intimidates many (most?) student pilots is use of the radio. There is a vocabulary to be learned, rules to be followed, and stage fright to be overcome. The controllers and pilots all speak faster than it seems possible to understand. It can be especially overwhelming for a student pilot who trains at a busy towered airport, but all pilots have to deal with it eventually.

PDK is a busy towered airport, which made things difficult at first but it will make me a seasoned radio user by the time I get my certificate. I am getting pretty comfortable with the radio. I'd like to get more practice with using it, and somewhere along the way it occurred to me that becoming a ham radio operator might be fun. This also dovetails with my desire to learn more about electronics.

After a few minutes of investigation on the Internet to find out how one becomes a ham, I picked up a copy of Now You're Talking!, the training/study manual used to prepare for the Technician-level amateur radio license. To obtain the license, one must correctly answer at least 26 questions on 35-question written multiple-choice exam.

The process reminds me a lot of studying for the FAA exam. There are regulations, procedures, communications skills, and system operation principles to be learned. The question bank is published, so one can study the possible questions for the radio exam just like the questions for the FAA exam.

No Morse code is required for the Technician-level license. Knowing Morse code is also useful to a pilot, as it is used by radio navigation aids to identify themselves. I do plan to learn Morse eventually, but not right now. The Morse test consists of listening to five-word-per-minute code for five minutes, and then correctly answering 7 of 10 questions asked about the content of the message. If a Technician passes the Morse test, that operator is entitled to operate on some additional frequencies. Passing the Morse test is also necessary for the higher-level radio licenses. [UPDATE: I found a Morse code training program written by Ward Cunningham that I'll give a try:]

I'm thinking of these future steps as "ratings," the term used by pilots to refer to additional privileges gained by getting training and passing tests. I'm developing an addiction to obtaining licenses, ratings, and other affirmations of my worth. That may not be healthy, but I'll learn a lot of cool stuff along the way.

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