The pilot is responsible for all things that happen on the ground and in the air. However, because there are so many things to do and prepare, the pilot doesn’t do everything alone. He or she works with a team made up of cabin crew, cleaning crew, air traffic control (ATC), GSE mechanics, and so on. And in order to communicate and coordinate all these personnel, the pilot uses the most important tool in their arsenal, the portable aviation radio.
There are many different uses for the portable aviation radio, from radioing for clearance to communicating with ATC for help during turbulence, the portable radio can be a life-saver. But that begs the question of “how good is a portable radio during emergencies?” Is it only good up to a short distance from the airfield? Or does its usefulness end with the boundaries of the airfield?
The Icom A14, Icom A24, Yaesu FTA-550, and Sporty’s SP-400 were put to the test in a one-hour flight on a Robinson R44 helicopter. Most pilots would assume that portable radios only work within a few miles of the airport at best, but apparently, that’s wrong. Surprisingly, the portable radio is more useful than we’re inclined to believe. In fact, the portable radios were perfectly usable at a range of 5 miles from the airport. Even at 10 miles, all transmissions were still readable — that’s enough of a range for most emergency situations. At 10 to 20 miles, the results began to vary. The Yaesu was the most limited, becoming unreadable at 17 miles, while both Icoms worked up to 20 miles. The Sporty’s SP-400 worked very well up to 20 miles and only became unreadable at 25 miles.
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