Episode 8: Air Band Transceivers

Marc discusses hand held, air-band transceivers, and has some options about them as well.

I was really hoping to get excited about all the features that exist on the latest and greatest transceivers. Unfortunately, I was sorely disappointed. They really haven’t improved much over the years. With the advent of smartphone’s, GPS’s, satellite weather, and products like the iPad, I was thinking that the modern transceiver would have extra bells and whistles. I would have even settled for something that had extended power or range.

Unfortunately, they’ve stagnated. There is no GPS integration, no internet connection, no dynamic frequency mapping… absolutely nothing to get excited about. The modern transceiver could easily have been made 15 years ago. They have frequency/memory positions and the big feature is that text names can be assigned to a frequency… but don’t go over the number of allowed characters! You don’t have many.

Didn’t we live through the same thing with cellphones years ago? I remember running out of memory on my cellphone back in 1995 when I input everyone I knew into the memory. Now days consumers expect their phones to be able to store not only every phone number of everyone they know, but their birthdate, their email addresses, the physical address, and random personal notes about them, not to mention a bunch of other fields. What is it about the scanner/transceiver industry that hasn’t caught up with the times? Memory shouldn’t be an issue. Memory is cheap!

Another feature we should have, is the ability to take a course from a flight plan and have the software figure out all the frequencies we might need for the trip. But, alas… transceivers are not that exciting. You get to transmit, receive, program in the frequencies you think you might need – that’s it.  They’re boring.

All air-band, hand-held transceivers have the ability to scan, transmit with 5 watts of power, and all have a 121.5 emergency button.  Even the battery life is about the same with all of them.  The only real difference is the look and feel. Even that isn’t really all that different.

I own an IC-6. but if I were to buy a new transceiver I’d get the VXA-710 because it has two additional frequency ranges which could be useful for times I am not flying.  I don’t see that loosing 40 positions from memory is really that big of a loss. As I said, the number of memory positions is limited – nothing like what we have in the cellphone market today.

Vertex is very proud of being water resistant to 3′ for 30 minutes.  Where this is good, it’s not a huge selling point.  ICOM does not claim that their transceivers are as water resistant, but honestly… submerge any electronic gizmo, don’t turn it on, and dry it out thoroughly, and it will be fine. ICOM transceivers are okay in the rain.  Mine has gotten wet (from rain) several times, and I never gave it a second thought. The Vertex may be able to go to three feet for a half hour, but I’ve never had any electronic gizmo fail because it got wet, but I’m not one of those people who talk on the cell phone in the restroom.

Transceivers Functional Body Aditional Information
Frequnecy Memory
Standard FM Reciever
Business Radio Service
VOR Navigation
Weather Channels
PC Programming
Weight (oz)
Width (inches)
Height (inches)
Depth (inches)
External Headset Adapter
Water Restance
Battery Life (hours)
ICOM IC-6 / IC-24 $274 200 N N IC-24 Y N 15.2 2.13 5.09 1.41 Y Splash resistant 6 to 26 IC-24 model is $45 more. The only benifit is the VOR naviagation, which there is no point to having.
IC-A14S / IC-A14 $210 100/(200 IC-A14) N N IC-A14 IC-A14 N 12.3 2.09 4.72 1.44 +$50 Spash resistant 4 to 40 IC-A14 model is the same price as the ‘S’ (Simple Keyboard) version. There is no reason to get the S model!
Vertex VXA-220 $190 250 N N Y Y +$85 12.7 2.36 4.09 1.2 +$15 30 min @ 3′ 7 to 23 The biggest differance between the VXA-220 and VXA-300 are the buttons. The VXA-300 buttons are easier to use. This is mostly becasue the unit is sliglty larger than the VXA-220. Also, the volume buttons have been removed from the front of the VXA-300, and volume is controled by a dial.. This makes for a cleaner, be it larger, unit.
VXA-300 $220 250 N N Y Y +$85 13.7 2.4 4.7 1.2 +$15 30 min @ 3′ 7 to 22
VXA-710 $297 160 Y Y Y Y +$85 9.9 2.36 3.78 1.12 +$15 30 min @ 3′ 7 to 23

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2 Responses to Episode 8: Air Band Transceivers

  1. joatnm says:

    Well I think you have given a shining example of downside of ranting. What I am referring to is the bad advice you spouted mid-rant. If a private pilot without an instrument rating should find himself/herself in IMC inadvertantly the last thing they should do is descend! Remember the 5 C’s. (Climb, control, conserve, confess, comply) First thing to do is Climb. I agree that the portable VOR Tranceiver is not going to save you with partial panel and probably a bad idea as you suggest. The thing you want to do is climb to a safe altitude, hopefully you know your rough position enough to be able to identify the grid altitude on your sectional. Then once you have that you can safely follow the rest of the 5 C’s and make your way out of the IMC and to safety. Don’t try to make it out yourself. If you can call ATC, Confess your situation and ask for help. In that situation don’t descend. Climb, use your head and figure the best way out of the IMC, depending on winds and conditions a 180 degree turn isn’t always your best option. So knowing the weather patterns before you go and geting inflight updates on the current conditions is always helpful.

    I agree with your points about these radios and especially about the usefulness of a portable VOR tranceiver. Either of these radios would serve most pilots well for many years.

    I love the Preflight TV series and I look forward to many more episodes. Keep up the great work!

  2. Marc says:

    I believe I ranted, “turn around or descend.” I didn’t intend to imply that descending is the only option. It depends. Very often VFR pilots get into IMC during a climb, or immediately after a climb. In such a case, they should immediately descend (if clear of obstacles). A better resource than me on “Inadvertent IMC” would be Patrick Shaub (AOPA). He wrote an article that might be fodder for a good debate: http://www.aopa.org/asf/publications/inst_reports2.cfm?article=6153

    I completely agree with confessing the situation to ATC. I think that too often, as pilots, we are unwilling to admit that we’re over our heads. A little help can go along way.

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