Wireless Waffle - A whole spectrum of radio related rubbish
Eye in the Skysignal strength
Thursday 12 March, 2009, 09:00 - Licensed
Posted by Administrator
eye in the skyHave you ever tuned into your local radio station and heard the travel news being read out from the 'eye in the sky' - a presenter checking out the traffic from an aircraft high over the area concerned? Have you ever stopped to think how that is done? Well Wireless Waffle is here to help explain it all.

There is no denying that it would be very easy for any radio station to pretend to have a traffic plane or helicopter by playing sound effects in the background whilst the travel news was read out. However, there are some real benefits about doing it properly, not least it is possible to find out how the traffic is flowing as and when problems occur instead of waiting for listeners to phone in news (which can be unreliable) or for the local police or traffic department to let you know what's happening. But that doesn't mean that the aircraft in question can necessarily see all the problems in an area and in some cases, it is not possible to fly over certain areas due to airspace restrictions (for example, it would not make sense for a 'traffic plane' to be buzzing around a major airport, stopping commercial airliners from landing!)

What happens, therefore, is that there is someone on the ground who collates traffic information in the normal way (eg through listeners or the police) and then relays this information to the man in the aircraft. The plane (or chopper) can then visit some of the travel hotspots and see what is happening and if, along the way, they see other problems that haven't been reported, they can update the person on the ground. This means that, in general, travel news from an aircraft is more accurate and up-to-date than travel news from a regular travel studio.

From the technology perspective, there is lots of radio used (hence the Wireless Waffle interest). For starters, the pilot will be communicating with various air traffic controllers on the VHF aeronautical band (117.975 to 137.000 MHz).

in flight serviceNext, there is a need for the person on the ground, including the presenter in the radio studio, to be able to communicate with the presenter in the aircraft - the 'uplink'. Typically this is done via a simple VHF or UHF PMR frequency (in the UK try listening around 141.000 to 141.500 MHz and 455.000 to 455.500 MHz). As well as passing travel news to the airborne presenter, this frequency is also often used as the 'cue', providing a live feed of the station on which the travel news is to be broadcast so that the airborne presented knows when to start reading the news.

Finally there is a the link from the airborne presenter to the ground - the 'downlink'. This is usually (but not always) a slightly higher quality link than the uplink as the audio is going to be broadcast. In the UK, these links are usually at UHF (try between 467.250 and 469.900 MHz). As they are transmitted from the aircraft, despite being low power, they can often be heard over a wide area.

If the aircraft is providing travel news for a wide area, more than one up and/or downlink might be used for the different areas, depending on whether or not frequencies which can be used over a wide area are available.

In some countries, the presenter uplink and downlink are also in the aeronautical VHF band (this is the case, for example, in Malta), and the frequencies use do vary significantly between countries. If you are in an area where the local radion station has a travel plane or helicopter, why not have a tune around and see what you can find and post a comment to let us all know.
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