Re: Airband Listening

Gary DeBock

Hi Paul,

As part of the 2015 Ultralight Radio Shootout (which is posted at
I did a thorough investigation of the Air Band capabilities of the C.Crane Skywave, which was the first Ultralight radio to feature coverage of those frequencies. The excerpt below is from that article, including a link to air band frequencies in use throughout the USA, a recording of local air traffic (from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport) and a general description of airport communication:

Other Bands

The CC Skywave really excels on two other bands– one of which is unique in the Ultralight radio class. Its Weather Band sensitivity is far superior to that of the CC Pocket and DT-400W models, and it has the same Weather Alert function and selectable time periods (4, 8 or 16 hours) as those vertical-form models. Weather Band reception which is dicey on the smaller models is usually crystal clear on the Skywave—most likely because of the dedicated DSP chip for Weather and Air Band reception in the model.

If any reader places an extremely high priority on the stable reception of Weather Band alerts during emergencies, this is definitely the Ultralight radio of choice. Not only is the whip antenna far superior to the makeshift wire antenna system of the vertical-form models, but the DSP chip-provided sensitivity is in an entirely different league.

Finally, one of the obvious attractions of the CC Skywave model is its AIR Band coverage from 118-137 MHz—unique in the Ultralight radio class. According to information from C.Crane., the Si4736 DSP chip on the digital board is used strictly for Weather and AIR Band reception—and it definitely provides excellent sensitivity on both of those bands.

To get started in listening to communication between airports and airplanes the owner’s manual instructs the user to check the internet for airport frequency listings, specifically mentioning the site. After checking that site (and paying a $10 fee for “lifetime membership”) I was able to download a file with airport communication frequencies for the entire USA, which is posted here.

My home town of Puyallup, WA is along the direct southerly approach route for Seattle-Tacoma International Airport—a pretty busy site with lots of air traffic. The frequency listings mentioned a SeaTac tower frequency of 119.900 MHz, which is used by the tower to receive communication from airplanes approaching the airport and requesting a runway assignment. Depending upon air traffic, the time of day and luck, the CC Skywave can receive either a lot, a little or almost no communication on this tower frequency. Since only communication from airplanes is heard, the signal strengths can vary from a thunderous level (for planes directly overhead) down to a ghostly wisp (for airplanes many miles away).

Below, you’ll find a sample MP3 of the Skywave’s reception on this 119.900 MHz SeaTac tower frequency (with communication from three airplanes within two minutes). Click here to simply download this MP3.

Audio Player

The CC Skywave has a Squelch function which will mute the background noise on the AIR band frequencies while you await voice traffic—which is engaged by pushing in the tuning control for two seconds, then rotating the control to choose your desired threshold level. This is a nice feature for those who only wish to hear the voice communication, but it does reduce the radio’s reception sensitivity somewhat. In general the Skywave’s AIR Band coverage is a major plus for those interested in airport communication, although these types of transmissions are almost always brief, businesslike, and to the point. Listeners should not expect any of the emotion and drama typical in airport disaster movies!

Gary DeBock (in Puyallup, WA, USA)

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