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The Tale of the Aviation Radio

Updated: May 9

Here's the tale of how I've been designing a series of new, game-changing radios for the Aviation enthusiast. And if you're looking for "software defined radio" (SDR), you might want to keep close tabs on this development.

Over the last two years, Radiant has been marketing the AirLite (TM) family of radios. We've sold close to 1,000 radios, which makes us tiny compared to Garmin, but huge compared to nothing, which is where we started.

These radios were sourced offshore, slightly modified by me, and then sold through our distribution network. They were simple receivers, doing basic tasks.

I've always hoped I could design a better radio, based on my 40+ years of electrical engineering, and my years of experience with aviation. What would it look like, how would it be better than the competition?

Here's my list of key features:

Situational Awareness is really important, so my radio design allows monitoring up to 8 different frequencies at the same time. This allows the user to hear all the multiple controllers, ground, tower, clearance delivery, all at the same time. Well, not literally at the same time, but this scan function always hops promptly to another transmission when the current transmission ceases. I've got a demo on YouTube.

It's fascinating to hear pilots talk to controllers, track them on FlightAware. Notice the exchanges as they are passed from controller to controller or to the tower frequency. If I was flying into busy airspace, it would help me feel the airspace before I was there.

Squelch is also important, so my radio would have an easy-to-adjust squelch knob that worked well.

Sensitivity is fun, and it allows me to monitor high altitude aircraft in Nebraska. (I live in southern Kansas.)

Size is important, so this radio will be pocket-size small. And battery operated. And USB rechargeable.

This radio design takes a fresh approach using some electrical engineering tricks. For those who are looking for the internal tech talk details, all I can do is provide some hints: It runs off an Arduino, uses my own design RF receiver board (with built in aviation bandpass and LNA), frequency hops up to 100+ times per second, and is able to quickly recognize intelligible reception.

Oh, and just one more thing. It makes an awesome waterfall scanner as well. This means it is analyzing up to 2 mhz of aviation bandwidth, identifying where communication is taking place, and on what frequencies.

Aviation Waterfall Prototype
Aviation Waterfall Prototype

(Everything shown on this blog is subject to change without notice and represents alpha form hardware and software.)

Read More Blogs on the Aircraft Receiver Arduino Project

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the killer app is the nav frequencies, in flight. If all VOR frequencies were hopped and listened to for radial from the station, location could be derived using a database that mapped VOR frequency by location. (it would take longer listening time to determine and decode ID, which also would work) After gathering that frequency map, and driving a "legal" DME with the paired DME channels and reading its distance outputs, you would have autonomous DME DME RNAV.

I know, I know... no market for that....

I believe the Narco StarNav could do something similar.

What there may be a market for, is: gps-RTK-LoRa, for centimeter accuracy approaches to private airstrips, worldwide.

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Pete Z
Pete Z
Apr 06

Nice! How about a second version which will record a selected frequency(s) to an SD card, but only during transmissions, with date and time-stamped files.


Jim - I was not aware of your project. Interesting! Does it also cover the military aircraft band?

Thanks - Don

Replying to

Hi Don,

No, it doesn't cover military. I've got that in mind for future product work.




What a fabulous product. Your integrity and passion make this new product line an important one to follow. Great to begin with and only going to add more great stuff in the future.

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