Civilian & Military Aircraft Frequencies
To receive civilian aircraft transmissions you will need a scanner that has a frequency range of 108-137Mhz. If you want to listen to military aircraft transmissions then you will need a scanner that has a frequency range of 225-400MHz. You should also set the scanner to the AM mode (Amplitude Modulation).
• Civilian aircraft band (VHF) - 108-137MHz AM.
• Military aircraft band (UHF) - 225-400MHz AM.
Search and Scan
When using a scanner you can either use the 'Search' mode where it searches through a range of frequencies until it stops when it finds a transmission for you to listen to, or use the 'Scan' mode where you store specific frequencies into the scanner and it will just scan through these frequencies until it finds a transmission.
A scanner usually lets you set either AM (Amplitude Modulation) or FM (Frequency Modulation). The scanner may also have NFM (Narrow FM) and WFM (Wide FM) but for listening to aircraft transmissions you should only use the AM mode.
Banks and Channels
The Scanner's memory is used to store your frequencies which are usually arranged into Banks and Channels. A Bank consists of a group of Channels and you can program a frequency into a Channel. The idea is that you could fill a Bank with specific frequencies for a particular airshow and just scan the Channels in that Bank. You could use other Banks to store Display Teams and/or Common Display Frequencies (used at many airshows). This helps to organise all the frequencies that you want to store on the scanner. Note that all scanners work slightly differently and you should always consult the manual for your particular model.
The Step size will depend on the scanner and some can scan through a list of frequencies using the following steps:- 5, 6.25, 8.33, 10, 12.5, 15, 20, 25, 50, 100kHz. Using the correct Step size will mean that you don't miss any frequencies. Recently the spacing between airband frequencies has been reduced from 25KHz spacing to 8.33KHz spacing so as to increase the number of frequencies available. Therefore your airband scanner should have a step size of 8.33KHz.
There should be a knob on your scanner to control the Squelch. When you start to search or scan then you should turn the Squelch down just enough to get rid of the background noise so that the scanner can scan through all the channels. If you leave the Squelch turned up then you will hear the background noise and the scanner will stop on that channel and will not scan.
Both VHF and UHF are short range, line-of-sight radio transmissions which are restricted to a maximum range of about 200 miles due to the curvature of the earth and usually considerably less depending on the surroundings (hills etc). This means you should easily pick up transmissions from an aircraft in the air as there are no obstructions between you and the aircraft, but you may not hear the control tower of a nearby airport because there are obstructions such as hills and buildings etc. If you want to hear the control tower as well as the aircraft then you should visit the airport.
People usually use scanners at UK airshows to listen in on the control tower and the pilots so that they know what is happening and when the aircraft are about to display. It is a good idea to be discreet with your scanner and use earphones so that you don't draw attention to yourself or disturb other people at the show. The frequencies used at UK Airshows are usually in the civilian frequency range of 108-137Mhz but if you wanted to listen in on the Red Arrows leader barking out his commands then you will need a scanner capable of listen to military aircraft transmissions in the range of 225-400MHz. If you are going to an airshow outside of the UK then check out their laws regarding airband scanners and if you are not sure then do not take your scanner with you.
You can also track an aircraft on your computer or smartphone while using your scanner to listen in. A tracker will display the aircraft on a map and supply lots of information such as aircraft type, airline, where it took off, its destination, altitude and speed. Below are a few trackers (civilian & Military aircraft):
• Flight Radar 24.
• Plane Finder.
• ADS-B Exchange / Global Radar View (military).
• Plane Finder Free App (Android).
• Plane Finder Free App (IOS).
A list of scanner frequencies can be found on this website for UK airports, UK airshows, display teams and Royal Air Force bases.
• UK Airport Scanner Frequencies.
• Airshow Scanner Frequencies.
• Display Teams Scanner Frequencies.
• Royal Air Force Scanner Frequencies.
The Uniden Bearcat UBC3500XLT was probably one of the best airband hand-held scanners, but it has now been discontinued, although it can of course still be found on the second-hand market.
This scanner can receive both civilian and military aircraft transmissions as well as receiving many more frequencies such as emergency, marine, amateur (ham radio) and other communications.
This sensitive hand-held scanner comes complete with an antenna, rechargeable batteries and an AC adaptor. The frequency range is 25-1300MHz (with gaps) and has a maximum of 2,500 (typically 1,600) channels. See specification below.
The UBC3500XLT has a decent screen and a keypad as well as many different features such as 'Close Call' which will detect nearby signals. With all of these features it can be a little complicated to use, but it is well worth the effort to learn how to use this excellent scanner.
Specification & some features:
• Dimensions & Weight: 3.1cm(Depth) x 6.1cm(Width) x 13.1cm(Height), 454g(Weight).
• Antenna Connector: SMA.
• Power: 3x AA batteries, 6V DC, or (50Hz)800mA AC adapter.
• LCD & Keypad Backlight.
• Signal Strength Meter.
• Key Lock.
• Battery Meter.
• Battery Saver.
• Dynamic Allocated Channel memory.
• Frequencies: 25-512MHz, 806-960MHz & 1240-1300MHz.
• 100 channels per second.
• Scan & Search.
• Steps: 5, 6.25, 8.33, 10, 12.5, 15, 20, 25, 50, 100kHz.
• Modes: AM/WFM/FM/NFM.
• 99 Quick keys.
• Close Call.
• Independent Alert Tone Volume.
• Fire Tone Out Alert.
• Air Service Search.
• Duplicate Channel Alert.
• Priority Scan with Priority Plus.
• Data Skip.
• Alpha/Text Tagging.
• PC Programming and Control.
Uniden Bearcat UBC3500XLT Manual:
The official UBC3500XLT Manual can be a bit difficult to understand, however there is another 'easier to understand' manual online. The links to both these manuals are below:
• Official Bearcat UBC3500XLT Manual.
• 'Easier to understand' Bearcat UBC3500XLT Manual.
Uniden Bearcat UBC3500XLT Software:
With this scanner you can program in your frequencies by connecting the scanner to a computer. Below is a freeware program which works with several Uniden scanners including the Bearcat UBC3500XLT. The software runs on Windows 2000, XP, Vista & Windows 7:
• FreeSCAN Freeware program.
• FreeSCAN Support Forum.
• Using FreeSCAN Video.
Bearcat UBC3500XLT Video Reviews: