Radio Free Southwest
May 7, 2009 5:00 PM   Subscribe

Two part radio scanner question. Part one, Looking for a radio scanner that can receive at least police and commercial airlines. Part two, if and when I get one that picks up airline frequencies would I be able to use it during a flight (when any other electronic device is allowed)?
posted by tropikal to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Your scanner on a plane. Looks like it's up to the individual carriers to determine which devices are allowed on their flights.
posted by torquemaniac at 5:10 PM on May 7, 2009

There's no FCC regulation against it, but if a steward or other flight crew tells you to turn it off — however nonsensical or irrational their reasoning might be — you have to comply or you're risking a felony.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:35 PM on May 7, 2009

Many cities have moved police/first responders to encrypted digital transmission. This thoroughly sucks and there's a growing movement to require cities to make the encryption keys public. Join the fight.
posted by unixrat at 6:01 PM on May 7, 2009

I would be pretty freaked out if I got on a plane where some dude was scanning flight communications. I would personally find it interesting to listen, but it seems like the kind of thing that should, within the context of a society containing crazy people, be need-to-know information, securitywise. Just saying that you shouldn't be surprised if you encounter some unease.
posted by troybob at 6:01 PM on May 7, 2009

You'll find lots of info about scanners on airplanes via Google.

Related, my experience has been with GPS receivers. Most airlines allow them, but also have a clause allowing crew discretion, meaning that the crew can say no and you can't argue with them. Most flight attendants are not that familiar with all this gadgetry, much less the finer points of their own airline's rules about them, so I just try to be discrete about using the GPS receiver. That is, if they're about to deliver refreshments to our row, I put it away for a few minutes.

United Airlines sometimes offers air traffic control radio
on one of the audio channels, which is Freaking Awesome. Alas, my city is a Delta hub and I rarely fly United.
posted by intermod at 6:54 PM on May 7, 2009

If you're handy, you could make a passive receiver.
Or buy a kit.
I don't know if you could fly with such a device.
posted by Floydd at 9:42 PM on May 7, 2009

it seems like the kind of thing that should, within the context of a society containing crazy people, be need-to-know information, securitywise

This is just paranoia. There's no plausible security threat from someone intercepting any information transmitted over the cockpit radio. The channel is never assumed to be secure, and nothing that goes on between the tower and the cockpit would aid an attacker. (It's really very routine to the point of banality if you're not a bit of a geek.)

Let's put that whole line of thinking to rest before DHS decides to start a "war on radios" to go with whatever else happens to be the theatrics du jour.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:06 PM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

My understanding is that all radio receivers are technically disallowed on airplanes (due to interference concerns) though people seem to be fine with passive receivers like Floydd. Of course, flight attendants aren't RF engineers, so you're mileage may vary greatly. Seconding intermod's recommendation of Channel 9 on United, which gives you this without the need to carry anything, worry about rules, or switch frequencies. Plus you can usually listen right during takeoff and landing, which is likely to be the most interesting part anyway. It's up to the flight crew whether they want it turned on or not, but it definitely doesn't hurt to ask if it seems to be disabled.
posted by zachlipton at 1:18 AM on May 8, 2009

it seems like the kind of thing that should, within the context of a society containing crazy people, be need-to-know information, securitywise.

This is ridiculous. The information will not be of any significant aid to a "crazy person." The air traffic control transmissions are so innocuous that United even pipes them through its in-flight entertainment system.

That said, there is a good reason why an airline might not want you to use your own receiver—most receivers use a local oscillator for tuning, which actually transmits some interference for a short distance as well. I found this passive scanner which doesn't use a local oscillator and supposedly generates no interference. But flight attendants can't be expected to tell the difference or to take your word on it, so such a thing will almost certainly be banned by commercial passenger airlines.
posted by grouse at 7:16 AM on May 8, 2009

Floydd: That first link of yours isn't a passive receiver - it's superhet design which, by definition, must have at least 1 local oscillator (in this case the NE602, running at 10.7MHz).
posted by Pinback at 12:35 AM on May 9, 2009

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