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Beale AFB Airshow report...

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b52hbuff

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The 2006 KBAB airshow was the first show the base has seen for at least six years. Besides a great opportunity to see a good variety of demonstration flying, it was also a great opportunity to catch up on the new 400MHz trunked radio system just recently installed at the base. Beale, located in Marysville CA is a bit off the beaten path and consequently there aren't too many folks nearby to provide information on what is going on at the base.

When I left, for Beale, I had three goals for the time I would have to monitor:
#1. Verify the current usage and CTCSS tones for the legacy VHF-Hi conventional frequencies.
#2. Gather information on current TRS, including:
P25 setting for Uniden radios
New TGID identification
Input frequencies
#3. Gather information on frequencies used by the airshow performers (Golden Knights, Thunderbirds, airshow control).

During my trip, I brought out the three latest radios in my collection. In reverse order of purchase, these are the Radio Shack Pro-96, Uniden BC-246T and Uniden BCD-396T. Before I left I tried pulling together a set of comprehensive radio profiles. I pulled information from "Monitoring the Military" (Kelty, 1991), "Grove Military Frequency (Van Horn, 2004), "Monitoring Times Airshow Guide 2006" (Van Horn, 2006) and RadioReference.com.

The executive summary is that I found very little usage on the VHF conventional frequencies. I had purposely left the tone information off of these frequencies, since it is often wrong or out of date. Therefore, I am confident that if the frequency was in use during the show, I could have heard it. There were seven conventional frequencies in use, and all of these were "Public Works/Base Operations" frequencies used to coordinate fuel, tie downs, ropes and other support for the airshow. All of the base security, fire and medical nets appear to have been moved to the base TRS.

The base TRS is new and is by definition in a state of transition. I monitored three conventional frequencies that were patched into the TRS. When I was listening I would hear the conventional channel active first, and after a slight delay, I would hear the same conversation on the TRS. I'm not sure if this identifies the source of the signal, but if I were guessing, I'd guess that conventional radio was the source of the original signal. The Beale configuration in RadioReference.com lists a cross patch between TGID 352 and 149.225/186.2Hz. I did not hear the TGID or the frequency during my time there.

The radio use for the airshow was pretty standard with a couple of suprises thrown in. The flying used frequencies available from the IFR Supplement and the Monitoring Times Airshow Monitoring Guide 2006. There were a pair of VHF civil frequencies used for airboss and discrete.

The surprise came from new equipment I noticed the Thunderbird Ground support staff sporting around the new Thunderbird Com Cart. I have to note that I haven't see the Com Cart in several years, so I can't say that it's new this year, just new to me. Anyway, instead of wiring their 'Dave Clark' headsets into the Com Cart with copious amounts of wire, the Thunderbirds are now using wireless headsets. I observed two headsets in use, and believe I have found two frequencies in use. I also found a frequency used to deliver the show soundtrack from the Com Cart to the crowdline speakers.


Conventional Frequencies in Use
===============================
Air
===
Frequency Source Description
-----------------------------------
119.40 IFR Sup Tower
121.60 IFR Sup Ground
125.40 IFR Sup NORCAL Approach
276.15 IFR Sup Tower UHF
287.00 Kelty Air to Ground
296.70 IFR Sup ZOA High Altitude
372.20 IFR Sup PTD

There was little surprise in the frequencies used for air operations before and during the airshow. The frequencies, with one exception, all came from the IFR supplement. The 287.00 frequency is listed as an air to ground, that is used to coordinate landing operations between the U-2 and its chase car. During the show, it appeared to be patched into the tower frequency.


Ground
======
Frequency/Tone Source Description / Notes
-------------------------------------------------
148.500/173.8Hz Kelty AP100SPS(*)
149.150/127.3Hz Kelty MntExpd / Simulcast to TGID 272 "Dragon Ops"
148.850/127.3Hz B52HBuff Input for 149.15
149.325/127.3Hz RR.com Airboss
150.325/127.3Hz RR.com FltMech / Simulcast to TGID 320
148.225/186.2Hz RR.com Maintenance / Simulcast to TGID 96 "Nickle 1"
452.250/D627 FCC J&J Maintenance WPMV361 (Repeated / Input 457.250)

The frequencies above are all that is left of the legacy VHF radio in use. My radio profile drew from several sources, including Robert Kelty's Monitoring the Military (1991) and Grove's Military Frequency Guide (2004). I should note that the way I created my profiles, I added the Grove information 'last'. Meaning that if a frequency was available in an 'older' source, I went with the older source as the origin. Therefore, these results should not be used as an indication that the Grove compilation is lacking, only that the information is contained in other sources.

Search Ranges
=============
Description Lower Freq Upper Freq Step/Mode
---------------------------------------------------
MilGnd 138-144 138.0000 144.0000 12.5k FM
MilGnd 148-150.8 148.0000 150.8000 12.5k FM
MilGnd 162-174 162.0125 174.0000 12.5k FM
400MHz Trunk 406.1000 420.0000 12.5k NFM

Only one new frequency was found using search limits above, 148.85. It is an input frequency for 149.15. None of my available sources had the frequency or the usage. The lack of any other inputs leads me to believe that either the other VHF frequencies are simplex, or there were no VHF portables in use and all input traffic came via the TRS patch.


Beale TRS
=========
Beale has recently deployed a TRS. One of the sources of information can be found here:
<http://www.radioreference.com/modules.php?name=TRSDB&sid=3525>

The system is a P16 system with P25 audio. It uses the more common legacy 3600bps control channel and P25 audio for the voice. Even though the system is digital, you can use an older or non-digital trunk tracker (e.g. BC-246T) to 'monitor' the system and help look for new TGIDs. The sound of the digital audio is a real 'attention getter' to write down the TGID and then quickly lock it out. :)

I overheard one of the users say he was using a Motorola XTS 5000 LR. Here is more information on the XTS 5000:

<http://www.motorola.com/governmentandenterprise/northamerica/en-us/public/functions/browseproduct/productdetailpage.aspx?navigationpath=id_803i/id_1388i/id_2354i/id_1670i>


I-Calls were monitored on the system. The I-Calls I monitored while looking at the radio display were encrypted.

Control Channels Monitored
6/2/2006 407.9625
6/3/2006am 406.7625
6/3/2006pm 407.9625

Outputs Inputs
406.7625(cc) 415.7625(v)
406.9625(cc) 415.9625(v)
407.1625(cc) 416.1625(v)
407.9625(cc) 416.9625(v)
408.1625 417.1625(v)
408.7625 417.7625
410.3625 419.3625(v)

Output channels and control channel tags were taken from radioreference.com. Inputs were monitored/derived by me. After I got a couple of hits, I realized the system was using a 9MHz split. I only verified the inputs with the '(v)' tag.


Raw notes dump is below. Text in "" is quote from radio chatter. Text seperate by "/" is radio call heard in form of 'To this is from'. Example, "Airboss / ground" -> Airboss, this is ground. Extra words were typically ommitted in radio traffic. Call would go out as "Airboss, ground".

TGID Description / Notes
32 Full-time Encryption
80 Security F2 (Part time encryption)
Vulture Control
Defender 4 / Tango Lead
96 Nickle 1
Rhino 1 / Ops 2
Hotel 1 / Ops 4
Lima 1 "Have extra truck"
112 "Run 4-5 cases of water to VIP tent"
"Shirt 1 / Any Shirts on flightline?"
144 Phoenix Control
192 MCC(?)
240 Airboss / ground
Airboss 1 / Beale Tower
272 Dragon
Airboss / Dragon
MOC Super / Direct3
320 Petrol
"Top off Thunderbird"
368 Shuttle Bus Dispatch
"Jim / Steve Radio Check"
"Keeping close to shuttle bus"
432 "Tanker Net"
496 "Swing by bus ops anyhow?"
560 "Tac Channel 1"
720 Med Net
MCC (Medical Command Center?)
Bio Base / Bio Entry
864 Telcom / Networking (on Friday)
(on Saturday...)
"Hey Scott..." (Vendor booth coordination, very informal)
880 Public Affairs
Public Affairs 1 / Public Affairs 2
"Comms this is LMAR? do you copy"
992 Airshow Control (Logistics / supplies / coordination / no airplanes!)
Show 3 / Show 1
Safety 2 / Safety 3
1008 Beale MOC / Thunderbird MOC

MOC = Maintenence Operations Center
TA = Transient Aircraft

One nice feature on the Uniden radios is Autostore. When used on a TRS, it will automatically store TGIDs that are not already part of the configuration. It is a great way to see what is in use beyond what you already have programmed in the radio. I put the autostore feature to good use during the show, so I could focus attention on the other radio or the actual flying. :)

Other TGIDS captured during Autostore on 6/3/2005:
144 Phoenix Control
368 Shuttle Bus Dispatch
416 (Never monitored)
576 (Never monitored)
656 (Never monitored)
832 (Never monitored)
848 (Never monitored)
880 Public Affairs
960 (Never monitored)
992 Airshow Control
1008 Beale MOC
710213 I-Call

TGIDS captured during Autostore on 6/4/2005:
700201 700192 711860 (All I-Calls)

The list below shows that no new 'non-I-Call' TGIDS were captured during the second day. It gives me a high degree of confidence that most of the TGIDs used between 6/2-6/4/2006 were captured. Obviously there may be other TGIDs associated with normal base operations that may not have seen use during the show.
 
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b52hbuff

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Part II (was too long for one message :) )

Beale Airshow / Performers
==========================
Frequency Source Description
123.475 MT Airshow Golden Knights
124.55 B52HBuff Airboss
127.05 B52HBuff Performer Discrete
376.025 MT Airshow SJ F15E Strike Eagle Demo Team

143.85/AM MT Airshow Thunderbird Diamond (Victor 1)
235.35 MT Airshow Thunderbird Solos (Uniform 1)
413.275 MT Airshow Thunderbird Maintenance (DCS 431)

216.72/FM B52HBuff Thunderbird PA feeds
901.50/FM B52HBuff Thunderbird ComCart headset
905.35/FM B52HBuff Thunderbird ComCart headset

Did I mention Beale was having an airshow? :) As you can see there was a lot of information that was available from the Monitoring Times Airshow article. All of the demo teams used 'well known' frequencies.

The new information for me was the discovery of RF used for transmitting the PA feed and the ComCart headsets. The PA feed, 216.72, was very loud and clear on my radio. I verified that it was dormant when the other performers were being announced and active when the Thunderbirds audio came active.

I would like someone else with another radio to verify the ComCart headset frequencies of 901.50/FM and 905.35/FM. These frequencies were used to carry audio from a Thunderbird ground crew to the ComCart. The ComCart would retransmit this on the 143.85/AM so the pilots could hear.

I verified these with the BC-246T and the BCD-396T. The audio was a bit scratchy on both radios and on both frequencies. My concern is whether I monitored a direct frequency or if there was an image. If the frequency is direct, then the scratchy sound could be attributed to the radios' inability to have an input bandwidth wide enough to receive the frequency. If you cannot verify these frequencies try searching in the 90MHz ISM band (902-928MHz / 12.5kHz).

Monitoring strategies
=====================
One of the fun challenges at these events is to try and maximize all of the opportunities to monitor the radios, watch the airplanes, take pictures and interact with the military folks on base. In my experience, I have a hard time managing more than a couple of radios at the same time. The trick is to try and configure them so that there is as little manual intervention as possible.

The Uniden radios are much better suited than the GRE radios for unattended monitoring. The Autostore feature for both conventional and trunked systems makes them the clear winner in this regard. My typical setup was to have the 396 monitoring the airband frequencies, since it was my only radio capable of UHF MilAir. If there wasn't a lot of flying, then I'd configure the 396 for air _and_ the Beale TRS.

The 246T was my 'unattended' radio. If I really wanted to 'ignore' the 246T I would have it on TGID Autostore on the Beale TRS. I would use this mode when I was walking around the static displays and needed to be 'hands free'. Even though the Beale system uses digital audio exclusively on their TRS, the 246T can still decode the control channel and store new TGIDs.

If I could spend _some_ time interacting with the radio, I'd have it looking for one of two things. I would either have it searching the VHF Search limits mentioned above looking for new conventional frequencies, or I would try and verify activity on the TRS input frequencies. I was reluctant to use Autostore on the conventional search ranges since there was a greater opportunity that noise would be recorded as a new frequency find.

For future study
================
Despite my best efforts at taking complete notes, there were just a couple of things that fell through the cracks. These frequencies are listed as 'for future study' the next time I manage to get to Beale.

141.7750/127.3Hz Potential input frequency
408.15/FM B52HBuff PA Announcement feed

Misc search range hits monitored in area
407.550 Sysid 0x5434 (LLNL TRS)
417.500/118.8Hz
410.625/218.1Hz
417.625/118.8Hz
166.925/67.0Hz Encrypted??
415.450/173.3Hz Grass Valley?
417.450/114.8Hz Sacramento Base
143.900/162.2Hz Civil Air Patrol
 
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