Tuesday 3 November 2015

DX'ing The 'Utilities' - Pt. 2

Unlike the growing scarcity of good HF maritime DX targets, there is still a large amount of HF aero activity to enjoy! Even with the move to satellite comms, there is still, at any given time of the day or night, hundreds of aircraft using HF radio to communicate with controllers, companies and home bases. Both commercial aviation and the military, as well as many privately owned aircraft, use the HF communication networks to keep them flying safely. From trans-oceanic 777s' and military transports to single engine float planes in the Canadian Arctic and Alaska, the sky is alive with DXing opportunities!

A huge percentage of commercial aircraft are delegated to moving freight and many of them can be heard on HF radio. Many of the planes in use are retired passenger planes that have been reconfigured for moving cargo. Back when I did this type of listening, older DC-8s seemed to be particularly popular, especially on the nightly South / Central America to Florida routes. I suspect that nowadays, these have been replaced with older DC-10's and 747's.

'FINE AIR 432' was logged on March 24,1996 at 0435Z while working Miami Radio on 6637kHz. The DC8-51F (Freighter) was over Bogota while enroute from Lima to Miami.

'NIPPON CARGO 083', a 747-200F, was logged
on 8891kHz working Baffin Radio. They were reporting position "LT", a waypoint above Alert, at 82-31N / 62-12W, westbound on Polar Track "Quebec".
The freighter was enroute Amsterdam to Anchorage.

The Antonov 124-100 is a gigantic Russian built freighter - capable of transporting in excess of
120 tons. This is aircraft "RA-82045" which was logged as 'HEAVYLIFT 878' in June, 1996.

Operated by Volga-Dnepr, 'HEAVYLIFT 878' was working Dakar (Senegal) Aeradio on 6535kHz reporting FL240 and position 13-14N / 24-26W enroute Cape Verde Islands to Sao Paulo, Brazil.

'AFM 01' was a DC8-55F logged while working Brazzaville Radio (Congo) on 8903kHz. It was at FL350, enroute Harare, Zimbabwe to Kano, Nigeria at the "MPK" waypoint, 250 miles east of Kinshasha, Zaire. Brazzavile was advising of 'crossing traffic, same level...please say intentions'... Yikes!
On another evening I heard the Dakar (Senegal) controller advise a British Speedbird 747 to 'go to flight level 330 ... please go now ... go very very fast'. I don't think I'll be flying in Africa anytime soon.

'AFM01' (Affretair) was Z-WMJ, shown here on final approach to Gatwick.

'PACIFIC AIR EXPRESS 3517' was heard on 8867kHz working Brisbane Radio while over the Coral Sea. The Lockheed L-188C four-engine turbo prop was enroute Honiara to Brisbane with a load of fresh tuna destined for the Japanese market. N360Q, shown on the ground at Honiara, was leased from the states and operated by Charrak Air.

The U.S. military is still active on HF radio and some interesting catches can be had. During the testing phase of the 'cruise' missile, the missile navigation systems were tested over the Northern Territories and Alberta. Once dropped from their B-52 launch platforms, the missiles were tracked across Alberta by Advanced Range Instrumentation Aircraft (ARIA). 'AGAR 93' was heard on one such mission on 11176kHz. 'AGAR 93' was # 81-0893, an EC-18 (modified Boeing 707) out of Wright Patterson' 4950th Test Wing. According to the aircraft commander who signed my verification, the aircraft was approximately 1 hour S.E. of Namao, Alberta. One can easily see why # 81-0893, shown here, was affectionately known as "The Beast".

'DOOM 81' was a gigantic B-52H from the 96th Bomb Squadron, stationed at Barksdale AFB, LA. The appropriately named big bomber was heard on 11176kHz while working Ascension Radio and was just about to rendezvous with their mid-air refueler when the mission was aborted. This was the first and only B-52 that I was ever able to confirm.


'ROMA 99' was logged on 17975kHz while working Thule Radio. They were taxiing for takeoff at Dulles International in Washington D.C. and reporting a minor fuel-pump problem. 'ROMA 99' was a KC-135R Stratotanker, # 62-003512, from the 509th Air Refueling Squadron at Griffis AFB, NY.

'REACH 71839' was heard on 11176kHz while working Albrook AFB, Alaska. Tail # 65-0239, this 'REACH' flight was an aging C-141B Starlifter, at one point, the Air Force's major transporter. 'REACH 71839', out of McChord AFB, was enroute Brazil to Puerto Rico.

There's still plenty to be heard on HF, outside of the amateur bands and a quick internet search on 'Utility DX' will turn up several interesting and informative sites ... each one having an abundance of related links to follow. Here are some that will be helpful:


A freshly updated list of all active HF aero frequencies. Also check their list of active aero 'callsigns'


If you can catch an aircraft's four-letter SELCAL code, often given during waypoint checks, you can search here for more info on the actual aircraft itself:


The Milcom Blogspot:



Mark AB0CW said...

I am surprised these airplanes actually had qsl cards to send out ! Wonder if they still do that ? Really nice collection of cards there Steve, thanks for sharing ! Really like "DOOM81" !

Mark AB0CW

Steve McDonald said...

Hi Mark - good to hear from you! No...none of the planes or ships have their own QSLs. These are 'PRC's, (Prepared Reply Cards) that I designed and printed out. I filled-in the name and call of the ship or aircraft and left the other sections empty for the verification-signer to fill-in and stamp/sign on the bottom.

John said...

Your blog brought back some memories of aircraft comms heard
during my employment as a radio operator and before that as a SWL.

In the 1950's the SAC broadcasts "Skyking Skyking Do not answer" were often
heard on old shortwave radios acquired from my after school job in a radio TV
repair store.

Lately I have nabbed call signs off the aeronautical radio frequencies
and then plugging them into flight following services on the internet..
about as exciting as watching paint dry.

FlyingSavannahs said...

Why on Earth would military aircraft confirm a location, aircraft type, and base of operations to someone who mails them a letter? Regardless of happening in the mid-90s, even then, this kind of intel should have gotten an RO in a lot of hot water, I would think.

I've used some a/c tracking apps today that provide lots of details for civ a/c, but I haven't reviewed what you can find for realtime military ops. Does the military limit the info these apps collect for display? Thanks!

Thanks Steve for a great article. Have you thought about an update? The technology and comms modes change so quickly now you'd probably have lots to discuss.


Baltimore, MD, USA

Steve McDonald said...

Hi Alan and thanks for your comments. I think the answer to your first question is "when they having nothing to hide" as was the case for my B-52 verification. They were flying in Alberta while doing some early cruise missile testing.

There are a number of guys that follow military aircraft operations and are particularly active on Twitter. They seem to be able to track them easily via software but I haven't looked into it.

I will probably not do more of this as the number of commercial aircraft using HF has fallen off but there are still lots of the smaller guys up in Alaska and northern Canada that are active.