My amateur radio readers will have noticed a lack of amateur radio posts in recent months. I explained why on Twitter awhile back, but I want to offer an explanation here on the blog as well. I apologize for the lack of amateur radio content and assure you that at some point, it will return.
My job also involves radio and radio related issues have been creating a lot of stress. The result of that stress is a reduction in the urge to get on the radio; when I’m off of work, I simply haven’t wanted to get on the radio as a hobby. Sometimes the last thing I want to see is a radio. It has even cut in to the amount of time I’ve spent on scanning and listening, which is my first love in the radio hobby. Aviation and Military Aviation is different from what I deal with at work, so listening to them has kept me anything close to active in the radio hobby.
These things too shall pass and as the work situation gets better, the hobby radio situation will get better. Rest assured that I have not abandoned the amateur radio hobby – I will be back and there will be amateur radio content in the future.
One of the things I enjoy about going to events like this past weekend’s Raise the Wreck Festival at Old Fort Jackson is listening to radio communications related to the activity and taking photos. My experience at the Raise the Wreck Festival motivated me to do something I haven’t done in awhile – write an equipment related blog post. I hope this post will help you come up with a good combination of kit if, like me, you enjoy combining visiting an event with the hobbies of radio and photography.
Over this year’s trips and event visits I’ve come across a small combination that allows me to listen, photograph, and record with minimal fuss and bother: a very flexible and capable handheld scanner, a camera with zoom lens, a “phablet,” and a vest. This combination is easy to carry, light, and doesn’t get in the way.
The scanner is the very flexible and capable Uniden BCD436HP handheld. It has a broad receive range that includes VHF, UHF, and 700/800 MHz public safety/land mobile in both analog and P25 digital, airband, and military UHF. It has built logging and recording features which allow you to review what you’ve heard later and keep recordings of anything interesting you might have heard (examples here from a Blue Angels practice and here from the Raise the Wreck Festival). It runs on 3 AA batteries, so keeping some spare batteries on hand isn’t a problem. You’ll also want to include some ear buds (or maybe headphones for loud events like airshows or races) for better listening.
Amateur radio operators can augment the scanner with an HT (or replace the scanner with one if they choose to or don’t have a scanner). The HT lets you keep communications with other hams that might be at the event and it can also be used as a secondary receiver. For talking to other hams at an event, I prefer to use 70cm because it’s usually easier to find an open frequency and because transmitting on 70cm doesn’t seem to cause as much RFI with the scanner as transmitting on 2 meters does. Used in place of the scanner, many HTs will allow you to listen to most VHF and UHF non-trunked analog frequencies, VHF airband frequencies, and with some HTs military UHF frequencies as well.
The camera is a Canon Rebel EOS with a 100-300mm zoom lens. It’s a good, simple to use digital SLR that offers both automatic and manual modes (it can also take video if you want). The 100-300mm zoom lens is a good lens for outdoor event photography. For example, at airshows it will reach out and catch much of what is flying but isn’t as bulky and heavy as something like a 150-500mm zoom lens. It won’t work for things closer up, but that isn’t as big a problem as it might seem given the next item on the list.
The “phablet,” a Samsung Note 4, is a multipurpose tool. It serves as a source of information, a camera, and a note pad. In addition to looking things up via a search engine, some events, locations, and museums offer apps that can provide information during a visit. There are also third party apps that are useful when visiting museums or events. The Note 4 also has a pretty good camera that I use for close shots; that keeps me from having to switch back and forth between lenses on the Canon (and having to carry two lenses). Using Twitter and/or Instagram, I can also post photos or short video clips from an event or museum. I also use Google Keep on the Note 4 to take notes. The S-pen allows me to write notes on the screen and the Note-4 changes it to text. Later I can read the notes on the Note 4 itself or log into Google Keep on a tablet or computer and read them.
The vest is a Redhead brand fishing vest from Bass Pro Shop, but I use it more like a photographers vest. Since I use the the camera on the Note 4 for close photography most of the time instead of swapping lenses, the vest can take the place of a camera bag. Small accessories, spare batteries, and the like can be carried in the vest’s pockets. You can also stash a small snack in one of the pockets for long events. It’s nice not having to lug a camera bag around and makes it easier to keep up with everything because you’ve got it on you.
I hope this gives you some good ideas on what you might be able to use for event listening and photography. There’s no need to be wedded to the brands and models I use, there are many different brands and models that will do the same thing. The key is to find what works for you. What’s important is that today’s technology will let you do a lot while carrying little. There’s no need for carrying a camera bag or back pack full of lenses, notepads, etc. when everything can fit into some thing like a fishing vest! Another benefit is that it not only lightens your load and shortens the list of what you have to keep up with, it can often be easier to get through security these days when some places prohibit camera bags, duffel bags, large purses, and the like.
Barrett Tillman’s Clash of the Carriers: The True Story of the Marianas Turkey Shoot was a book I was looking forward to reading. The “Marianas Turkey Shoot,” more properly known as the Battle of the Philippine Sea, was a great though tremendously lopsided carrier battle that was a death knell for the Imperial Japanese Navy and a triumph for the United States Navy. There aren’t many books written on the battle, so when I came across this on, it wasn’t a difficult decision to buy it (in Kindle form as usual).
As far as the information in the book goes, I have no complaints. Tillman does a good job of telling the story of the Turkey Shoot from both the American and Japanese perspective. He gives credit for good decisions and blame for poor decisions on both sides. On both sides, he includes the perspective of not just fleet, task force, and squadron commanders but individual pilots and sailors as well. He doesn’t just tell the reader that a ship was sunk, he explains the damage done by the attacks and explains why the ship couldn’t be saved. He does a good job of putting you in the cockpit, on the deck, or within the ship depending upon the sailor or officer’s job.
On the other hand, there are elements of the book that just undermined it for me. One of those things was the jargon/slang Tillman makes frequent use of. He doesn’t offer explanations of the terms and that could make for difficult reading by the casual reader. At times, the jargon and some of his descriptions go over the top. Second, he let his objectivity slip in the closing chapters (in retrospect I should have expected it to pop up somewhere given Stephen Coonts’ Foreward). I didn’t detect a lack of objectivity throughout much of the book, but in the “Where are they now” chapter near the end of the book, Tillman lets his objectivity slip and his politics shine through. As a History major (including a course in Historiography) I found that very unappealing.
I had a tough time deciding on how to rate Clash of the Carriers. It provided some good information and good perspectives on the battle, but it could have been written a bit better and Tillman could have left his politics out of it. If Goodreads had a 3.5 that is probably what I would have given it, but the over the top descriptions, jargon, and politics combined with a lack of maps led me to give it three stars. IF the print version has maps I would likely give it four stars (depending upon map quality). If you’re a naval/military/aviation history buff looking to read about the Battle of the Philippine Sea I would recommend this book, but I wouldn’t to the casual reader.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942 by Ian W. Toll. It covers the early portion of the Pacific Theater in World War II through the Battle of Midway from both the Allied and Japanese points of view. Due to an emphasis on communications intelligence, this book may also be of interest to the radio hobbyists that read my blog.
Toll begins Pacific Crucible by looking at how the Japanese came to decide to go to War against the United States and taking a look at the states of the Japanese and US Navies. He also looks into the leadership of both navies, particularly Yamamoto, Nimitz, and King. After examining how the attack on Pearl Harbor came about, he explores the Europe-first strategy and how the war would be fought in the Pacific. From there, he goes through the early chronology of the Pacific War, showing how it was truly a closely run thing in the beginning but also showing how the United States Navy learned from it to become the force that would come to dominate the Pacific by the end of the War.
“Combat was a hard an unforgiving school, but the U.S. Navy was taking its lessons to heart. If the navy did one thing right after the debacle of December 7, it was to become collectively obsessed with learning and improving.”
One of the central themes of the book was the hubris and contempt with which both the Japanese and United States Navies held their opponent and how that changed through the early part of the war. The Japanese never really lost their contempt for the Americans and became infected with “Victory Disease” that clouded their judgement and created flaws in their planning. On the other hand, the Americans learned from each defeat at the hands of the Japanese, becoming a stronger and more effective fighting force in the process.
“By making believers out of the key decision makers in the upper ranks, who had entered naval service when radio technology was in its infancy, the victory at Midway ensured that communications intelligence would never again suffer for funding, manpower, or respect.”
As a lifelong radio enthusiast, I love Toll’s emphasis on the United States Navy’s communications intelligence operation. He not only describes how they came to get inside the Japanese Navy’s communications but also shows how the Navy’s leadership came to not only trust communications intelligence but put a premium on it in planning and decision making. It’s pretty cool that a group of folks who would today be considered geeks or nerds played a considerable role in not only the US victory at Midway, but the Allied victory in World War II as a whole (take into account Ultra and efforts into communications intelligence against Germany).
Pacific Crucible is well written and never falls into the history book trap of getting dry. He does a good job of developing the personalities of the leaders and doesn’t go into minutiae that would, while delighting the anorak, would turn off the casual reader. Reading the Kindle version, I was very pleased to find well placed maps of excellent quality that illustrated battle movements (which are frequently hard to visualize in naval battles). This is definitely a five star book and one that I would heartily recommend to anyone interested in how the United States Navy got off of the floor after receiving an almost knock out punch at Pearl Harbor, gathered itself together, and began to win World War II in the Pacific.
Savannah – Yesterday I visited Fort Jackson to get a look at the work the US Navy Divers are doing to raise the remains of the ironclad CSS Georgia, which lay in the Savannah River just off of the fort. Since I was there I toured the fort, which was part of the city of Savannah’s defenses from the Revolutionary War when it was just an earthen fortification through the Civil War. By the time of the Civil War it was undoubtedly outdated but it still held a commanding position on the approach to the port of Savannah. In one of the photos below, you can clearly see the tops of the cranes on the barge being used to recover the Georgia showing over the walls of the fort, which shows how close it is to the channel.
Fortunately for us, and for Fort Jackson, there was no need for Union forces to reduce Fort Jackson the way they took Fort Pulaski further downriver near Tybee Island. They could blockade Savannah from Fort Pulsaski and take the city from inland (as Sherman would eventually do). If they had attacked Fort Jackson as they did Fort Pulsaki, it would likely have taken a much shorter time. The fort was evacuated when Savannah fell to Sherman and the garrison retreated into South Carolina with Hardee. As a result, the fort is still standing pretty much intact (minus structures that were burned when it was evacuated) and here for us to tour and learn from today.
As a student of History, it was great to see a group of Girl Scouts there getting a guided tour of the fort from museum interpreters. Among the topics the went over were the Girl Scouts were the role of nurses in the Civil War and how nursing changed during the war, the use of semaphore flags to communicate, and how the fort protected Savannah. As part of showing them how the fort protected the city, the interpreters ran some of them through a gun drill on the fort’s 12 pound Mountain Howitzer. During the drill, the Scouts learned that firing the gun effectively under the pressure of battle wasn’t easy or safe.
Naturally, the Girl Scouts didn’t use live ammunition; they simulated loading and used an inert ignition device. After putting the Scouts through the drill, however, the interpreters did it with a live blank round. They demonstrated the use of the Mountain Howitzer to defend the fort from the land side using a canister round.
Along with Fort Pulaski near Tybee Island and Fort McAllister in Richmond Hill, Fort Jackson helps illustrate the development of fortifications prior to and during the Civil War. Fort Jackson’s place is the oldest standing brick fortification in Georgia and if you live in Savannah but have never been or are visiting Savannah, I highly recommend a visit to it along with the others. We’re lucky to have the three in such close proximity. If you visit Fort Jackson within the next couple of weeks, you’ll have the chance to see the work on the recovery of the CSS Georgia, who knows – you might even get lucky and see them bringing something up!
Mode-S hits from Military, Government, and Public Safety related aircraft as well as various other aircraft that catch my attention from attended monitoring of my RadarBox in Savannah, GA:
04C15A – 787, Boeing Test CHS (BOE662)*
0A400A – G-IV, 7T-VPM, Algerian Gov’t
0A400B – G-V, 7T-VPG, Algerian Gov’t (GULFTEST 18 on ATC, c/n 617)
529281 – (KEYS 10)
71010A – G-IV, HZ-103, Saudi Arabian Air Force
A000E8 – G650, N1KE, Nike Inc
A1ECBD – N223GA, G-V, FBI (N223GA)
A29903 – Bell 206L-1, N267AE, Air Evac (N267AE)
A2A071 – Bell 206L-3, N269AE, AirEvac 91 Vidalia
A30BC9 – Bell 206L-1, N296AE, AirEvac 95 Statesboro (N296AE)
A39666 – G450, N330GA, Gulfstream Aerospace (GLF34)
A3B067 – G450, N337GA, Gulfstream Aerospace (GLF92)
A3C4D2 – B767, N342AX, Omni Air Intl (CMB543)
A4C05A – G450, N405MU, Verizon Corp Services Group (GLF55)
A57B23 – G450, N450GA, Gulfstream Aerospace (GLF55)
A60F36 – BE20, N49R, Dynamic Aviation Group
A67C07 – G550, N517GA, Gulfstream Aerospace (GLF19)
A67FBE – G550, N518GA, Gulfstream Aerospace (GLF19)
A67FBE – G550, N518GA, Gulfstream Aerospace (GLF66)
A68375 – G550, N519GA, Gulfstream Aerospace (GLF99)
A6A36E – MD-500N, N527FB, Chatham Co (EAGLE 03 on ATC)
A89108 – G650, N651GA, WFBN (GLF 77)
A8B1DF – BE30, N66, FAA (FLIGHT CHECK 66 on ATC)
A8C811 – G450, N665P, Phillips 66 Co (GULFTEST 07 on ATC)
AB333B – DHC-8, N8200H, Dynamic Aviation Group (GRZLY34)
AC9B8D – BK-117, N911MZ, LifeStar 1
ADFF0C – KC-135R, 60-0335, 6 AMW (BOLT91)
AE0226 – KC-10A, 86-0027, 305 AMW (FORCE06 on box, MOVER 21 on ATC)
AE02C6 – C-130H, 89-9102, (CODY01)
AE0386 – KC-135R, 59-1468, (STEEL71)
AE0468 – C-2A, 162166, VRC-40?
AE0480 – KC-135R, 60-0324, 6 AMW (BOLT91)
AE04BA – KC-135R, 58-0055, 6 AMW (PIRAT44)
AE04BA – KC-135T, 58-0055, 6 AMW (BOLT42)
AE04F5 – KC-135T, 58-0050, 6 AMW (PIRAT53)
AE05E5 – C-130H, 88-4403, 440 AW (BREWR61 on box, PACKER 61 on ATC)
AE05FF – C-130H, 80-0320, 165 AW (DAWG 01 on box, DAWG 99 on ATC)
AE05FF – C-130H, 80-0320, 165 AW (DAWG 01)
AE05FF – C-130H, 80-0320, 165 AW (DAWG 02 on ATC)
AE0600 – C-130H, 80-0321, 165 AW
AE0601 – C-130H, 80-0322, 165 AW (DAWG95 on box, REACH 221 on ATC)
AE0604 – C-130H, 80-0325, 165 AW (DAWG 06)
AE06E4 – UC-12M, 163836, MCAS Beaufort (FOX 836 on ATC)
AE087E – C-37A, 01-0028, 6 AMW
AE118A – C-37A, 02-1863, US Army (R1863)
AE11CC – T-6A, 03-3706
AE11F0 – E-3G, 82-0007, 552 ACW (VNGRD71)
AE11F6 – C-40B, 01-0041, 89 AW (VENUS31)
AE123A – C-17A, 04-4128, 305 AMW (RCH297)
AE148E – E-8C, 94-0284, 116/461 ACW (KOMODO1)
AE1D72 – P-3C, 162318, VP-30 (VVLL29)
AE1D7D – P-3C, 163000, VP-30 (LL 29 on ATC on evening sortie)
AE1EA8 – T-6A, 08-3939, 479 FTG
AE1FF6 – UH-72A, 12-72231, ARNG (GUARD 72231 on ATC)
AE266A – MH-65D, 6516, CGAS Savannah (C6516)
AE2678 – MH-65D, 6530, CGAS Savannah (C6530)
AE2688 – MH-65D, 6550, CGAS Savannah (C6550)
AE268D – MH-65D, 6555, CGAS Savannah (C6555)
AE2694 – MH-65D, 6562, CGAS Savannah (6562)
AE27FF – MH-60T, 6014, USCG (C6014)
AE2FAC – C-17A, 08-8200, 62 AW (RCH501)
AE4C61 – MC-12W, 10-0739, B/224 MI Bn (SUNNY 28 on ATC)
AE4E08 – C-130J, 08-5712, 317 AG (RCHA612)
AE4E0A – C-130J, 08-5724, 317 AG (AEGIS64)
AE4EB3 – P-8A, 168429, VP-16 (00000000 on box, TALON 11 on ATC)
AE4EB3 – P-8A, 168429, VP-16 (00000000)
AE4EB9 – P-8A, 168435, VP-16
AE4EBA – P-8A, 168436, VP-5 (MADFOX11)
AE4EBC – P-8A, 168438, VP-8 (TIGER55)
AE4EBC – P-8A, 168438, VP-8/16 (TALON17)**
AE4EBF – P-8A, 168754, VP-30 (VVL849)
AE4EBF – P-8A, 168754, VP-30 (VVLL846)
AE4EC0 – P-8A, 168755, VP-30 (00000000 on box, LL 831 on ATC)
AE4EC4 – P-8A, 168759, VP-8 (TIGER13)
AE4EC5 – P-8A, 168760, VP-5 (MADFOX88)
AE4EC7 – P-8A, 168762, VP-30 (VVL838)
AE543E – MC-12W, 10-0738, AFTD (EVAL 85 on ATC)
AE58B6 – C-12, EMARSS (EMARS 66)
C2B1C5 – CP-140, 140104, 14 Wing RCAF
*Kenyan flag shown on box, future Kenya Airways 787?
**AE4EBC/168438 flew as TIGER 55 (VP-8) yesterday