launch at Valle de Bravo, Mexico powered paraglider launching from Evergreen Turf farms


paragliding training center

Radio setup info for ultralight pilots

By Had Robinson

Pilots have been killed because of one or more radios in use by a group was stuck in transmit mode (from an electrical short or by the pilot jamming his PTT button).  This effectively makes the common frequency unusable by everyone else.  Properly setting up the radio can prevent these kinds of tragedies.  That is, knowing how to setup the "transmission timeout timer" in the setup section of the radio is important.  Setting it to 60 seconds or less will automatically turn of a continuously transmitting radio so others can use the frequency during ordinary operations or if there is an emergency.

Get your Amateur Radio operator license!

All pilots would greatly benefit (and, possibly, save their own lives) if they would get their FCC amateur radio license for using a 2 meter FM radio.  It is so easy and local hams are thrilled to help.  Using a radio is way more than just "hitting a button".  How do you know you have been heard by other pilots?  Why have a power setting on the radio and why does it matter?  What is the proper way to speak into a microphone?  How long should transmissions be?  What is the danger of a "chatty" operator?  Do not be a fool and think you know everything – because you do not (see the 1st paragraph above).  The American Radio Relay League has this helpful resource for those who want to become licensed.  You will want to study the section on the Technician Class license.  To find a training class near you, complete this form.  El Paso, TX and Las Cruces, NM have classes.

Attention Amateur Radio Operators: New Mexico's Mega-Link system provides reliable and outstanding coverage over the entire state and west Texas.  The CTCSS tone for the system is 100Hz.

USHPA radio authorization

Study the USHPA Radio Authorization (RA) guide, take the easy exam (administered by an USHPA instructor), and apply to USHPA for an RA.  The guide was authorized by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission).  Studying will help pilots obey the law and, more importantly, increase their margin of safety while flying.  Southwest Airsports will administer the exam for any USHPA pilot free of charge online.  Contact us.

USHPA Radio Frequencies 151.505, 151.625, 151.925, 151.955, and 158.400 MHz, simplex, no tones   USHPA call sign: WPRY420

The best 2 meter band radio for pilots

The best radio for pilots is the YAESU FT-60R.  It is of top quality and has a simple connection to the Thermal Tracker helmet communication set (for PG) and the ICARO PPG helmet (PPG).  When the FT-60R powers on, it shows the current battery voltage.  Knowing if your battery is about to go dead can be critical when you are about to launch.  The YAESU is the only radio I know that has this important feature.  The other radios are not so simple nor are they as easy to program, switch batteries, lock, etc.  The Baofeng transceiver mostly works but is severely limited in receiver sensitivity and selectivity (which is why it is so inexpensive).  It should NOT be used for pilot to pilot communication in the air.

Southwest Airsports, among others, sells the specially modified FT-60R for use on the USHPA frequencies for $195 postpaid.  Contact us to order and we will send an invoice which you can pay online.  No 2 meter radio will transmit out-of-the-box on the business band frequencies.  All radios must be internally modified.  The only exception is the inexpensive Baofeng which is basically useless in the air between pilots because of its poor quality.

Aviation band radios

Aviation band (airband) radios are very different than the typical 2 meter radios that are used by hams and business band users (150+ MHz)The airband radios are used for communication between all general aviation aircraft and between aircraft and air traffic control towers.  They have special frequencies and a special form of modulation (AM).

If you plan on operating near an airport or going cross country (PG or PPG), it is important that you have an airband radio and learn how to use it.  Briefly, you should always announce your intentions to other aircraft in the area just before launching e.g. "Dona Ana traffic, this is powered paraglider 007, will be launching from the ultralight operating area at 0900 hours and heading south, Dona Ana traffic."  An airport manager or a licensed general aviation pilot can help with the best content of an announcement, the correct frequency to use, etc.  PG or PPG pilots that operate near busy aviation traffic need to demonstrate that they are responsible, something that too many are not.  Their irresponsible behavior affects the rest of us and it the main reason so many airport managers and general pilots are openly hostile to ultralight operations anywhere near them.  Will you do your part?  I hope so.

Because our paramotors do not have shielded ignition systems, reception of signals from airband radios may be unintelligible.  PPG pilot Frank Hoffman has done some experimenting with this and has discovered that the use of a resistor type spark plug greatly helps eliminate ignition noise.

PPG pilots can purchase a handheld airband radio for under $300 that includes the proper cables and pigtails to connect to your typical ICARO PPG helmet.  We can setup and provide a complete system for pilots.  Please contact us for more information including quotations.


These instructions are for the YAESU models FT-60R, VX-150/170 (discontinued), FT-250R/270R (discontinued), various other models, and other brands of 2m FM amateur radio transceivers, including the BAOFENG.  These are NOT instructions for setting an aviation band radio.  These radios are used by registered (N numbered) aircraft and other non-registered aircraft to communicate with other aircraft and air traffic control (ATC) towers.

Southwest Airsports sells the USHPA modified YAESU FT-60R FM transceiver for use by ultralight pilots.  Contact us to order.  USHPA pilots will need to have a radio authorization from USHPA to legally use their radio.

Why use a radio?  Proper understanding of how the common 2 meter transceiver works, mastering the skills necessary to use it, and setting up the radio properly can together, at the least, greatly enhance the safety, courtesy, and convenience of those who fly a paraglider or a hang glider.  In some instances, it can save a pilot’s life.  Always remember to keep transmissions to an absolute minimum.  “Chatty” pilots are an annoyance!
This article is about the setup of the common 2 meter YAESU transceiver, such as the FT-60R.  Others, like the ICOM and Kenwood, are set up in a similar fashion but have slightly different names and defaults for the SET values.  The popularity of the YAESU radios may be due to the fact that they have some critical functions that are missing in others brands, such as the ICOM and KENWOOD.  The VX-150/170 and FT-250R/270R are no longer in production and has been replaced by the similar FT-60R.

I prefer the YAESU handheld radios because they have been slightly ahead of the others in important features, have a fast way to change batteries, and easy external connections.  Note: The greatest design problem of the YAESU is the connection to an external speaker and microphone.  Pilots must either have a radio harness that will FIRMLY hold the connector in the radio or put a rubber band or a piece of Velcro around the radio to hold the connector in place.  IF THE CONNECTOR SLIPS OUT PARTIALLY THE RADIO WILL GO INTO TRANSMIT MODE!

The BAOFENG radios are "disposable".  That is, they are very inexpensive and mostly work.  Where they are particularly lacking is in the design of the receiver frontend which is neither very sensitive nor selective.  Translated: They do not receive signals well and other strong nearby signals overload the radio so pilots will hear transmissions from other sources not on frequency.  Other than that, they are great for SIV clinics and any use where they may be damaged or lost.  They also come with very long lasting batteries and are easy to charge.  They also come with a nice external microphone/earphone set that works as long as you don't pull on any of it.  That is, stuffing it inside your helmet quickly ruins the headset.  If it were not for the poor front end, they would be a great buy.

Microphone position

PPG pilots have high ambient noise because of the propeller and, to a lesser extent, the engine.  One of our PPG observed that "eating" the microphone at the end of the boom may decrease clarity.   However, this depends on the type of microphone.  Some types of noise-canceling sets require the pilot to almost touch the microphone with his mouth.  Pilots will have to experiment with their particular headset to determine what is the best position of the microphone.  For PG this not a problem if, for example, the Thermal Tracker communication system is used.  This is because the microphone is buried deep in the lining of the helmet and ambient noise is low.

Radio manuals

VX150 (obsolete)     VX170 (obsolete)     FT-60R     FT-250R (obsolete)     FT270R (obsolete)     BAOFENG Quick Setup  BAOFENG (reference)

Set mode items of critical importance to pilots

If your radio is not working properly, completely reset it before making the following changes.  On how to do this on the YAESU, see "Resetting the radio" below or refer to the respective manual for your radio.  You may lose any pre-programmed memory values, however.

If programming your radio is too daunting a task, send it to us.  For $35 we will professionally program it including specific repeaters or frequencies you desire.  If you accidently (or purposely) mess things up, just send it back to us and we will reprogram it NO CHARGE.  Contact us to order.

Some radios may be different in how to enter the SET mode but the SET parameters are similar for all radios, including the Baofeng.  Please refer to the "Baofeng Quick Setup" link above to program the SET functions on that radio.

YAESU – Press the “F” key (function key) and then “0” (set key).  (Note that some radios may be slightly different in how to enter the "SET" mode.)  Rotate the dial (can be the inner or outer dial) until the number you wish to check/change appears at the left of the display.  Press the “F” again to toggle between the item description and the value.  Change the value by rotating the top (or bottom) right knob.  To save, be sure the display is the description, not the SET value and then press the PTT button to save and return to the mode you left (VFO or MR).  For other radios, check the respective manual. 

Recommended settings for YAESU

9    Rx SAVE – OFF (receive save function) – default is .25 sec
10  Tx SAVE – OFF (transmit save function) – default is off
11  APO – 3 hours (automatic power off) – default is off
22  TOT – 1 minute (transmission time out) – default is off  (this SET value is CRITICAL for the safety of other pilots!)
32  LK Mode – K + D (all keys & dial locked) – default is key only
37  BAT check – shows the battery voltage – recharge if below 7.3V – 7.4V  Some power on with the battery voltage showing.

Changing the various set commands from their defaults without thoroughly understanding what you are doing can easily make your radio a nuisance (and even dangerous) to yourself and others, especially #22.

Transmit/Receive Save Function

Both these set functions save battery power but have significant drawbacks.  For example, waiting 2 seconds for your receiver to turn on after it receives a transmission will cause you to lose the first 2 seconds of what is being transmitted.  Activating the transmit save function lowers the radio’s transmit level if the prior received signal is very strong.  If you are near another pilot and receive a transmission, the next time you transmit, your power level will be lowered greatly.  If the other pilot flies away, he won’t hear you as your power level may be too low.  It will not correct itself until he contacts you again.  Meanwhile, you have no idea whether your transmission was heard or not.  It gets more complicated if you have many pilots.  Turn these features off!

APO automatic power off

There is nothing more annoying than to be at launch, turn your radio on, and nothing happens.  A serious design flaw with YAESU radios is that it is easy to accidently turn your radio on with ordinary handling.  If you have this function set correctly the chances of having a dead battery are lessened.  The exact time out should be more than the time you expect to be in the air.  The APO clock starts from the time of your last transmission.  Three hours should be plenty for any pilot.  If you are not communicating within a 3 hour period, you probably are not in the air.  When the radio is about to turn off, it plays a tune (Beethoven's "Ode to Joy").  If you push the PTT to transmit, the timer will reset and the radio will stay on.

Transmission Time Out Time

It is of vital importance to set this feature.  Pilots may have a malfunction of their PTT wiring and their radio will transmit until they discover the problem or the battery goes dead.  Either way, other pilots in the area will not be able to communicate.  Such scenarios can endanger pilot safety as vital information cannot be shared, calls for help received, etc.  Setting the TOT correctly (1 min) can help prevent tragedy to say nothing of the annoyance you could be to other pilots.  This writer knows of one needless death that could have been avoided if the radios in use had been properly setup and if the users had obtained minimal training in radio use.

Transmit power level

It is important that other pilots can hear you in the air.  Ordinarily, the “mid” setting of 1-2 watts should be used.  The “low” setting of .5 watts is not enough to be heard more than a few hundred yards away. The “high” setting, however, will quickly drain your battery and broadcast your signal for a hundred miles.  In fact, FCC rules state that you are to only use enough power to maintain adequate communications.  To change it, press the “F” key and then “3” (low).  Rotate the dial to change the power level.  Press the “F” key again.  Note: The display will read “low” in both the “low” and “mid” power settings.  If you can see other pilots the “mid” setting is more than adequate.  If you cannot see other pilots, try the “high” setting.

Locking the Keypad and Dial

Radios that are in a pilot’s harness are prone to having various parts pressed hard, including the buttons.  It is important that the radio be locked when flying but the right mode must be chosen (both keypad and dial locked).  To do this, see above (recommended settings #32) and be sure the mode is “K + D” which means that both the keypad and dial will be locked.  On newer radios, you can also prevent any transmissions of the radio (PTT locked).  If you choose “ALL” on the newer radios, you won’t be able to transmit!  Turn on the lock mode by pressing the “F” key (function) and #6 (lock).  On newer YAESU radios, there is not a separate key to initiate the lock mode.  Instead, just hold down the “F” key for a few seconds to lock the radio.  A little key icon will appear in the lower right of the display.  BAOFENG radios lock the same way.

BAT check

The VX-150/170 and the FT-250R/270R (unlike the FT-60R) do not display the battery voltage at power on.  Do not fly with a battery less than 7.3/7.4 volts.  Always carry an extra fully charged battery – you might need it, especially if you are injured.

Memory Operations

To save a frequency to memory (YAESU models), get in the VFO mode by pressing #8 (VFO).  Repeatedly pressing “VFO” will toggle between the two VFO banks “A” and “B”.  Choose one or the other – it doesn’t matter.  Dial the frequency you want (but without the first number e.g. "1" on single band radios). To start over, press the PTT button or power cycle the radio.  To save it to memory, hold the “F” for one second and then immediately rotate the dial to pick the memory channel you want. (If the channel is blinking, it already has a frequency stored in it.)  Then press the “F” key momentarily again and the frequency will be saved to memory but you will still be in VFO mode.  To check what you saved in memory, press the “MR” button.  If you press the “MR” twice, the “MR” in the display will blink and the radio will be in temporary VFO mode where you can adjust the displayed frequency up or down.  It is easier to do this than to go to VFO mode and then dial in the frequency you want.

Resetting the radio

If you program your radio incorrectly and have no idea what happened or how to fix it, you can reset it.  YAESU: Turn it off, hold down both the PTT button and the lamp button (two buttons down below the former) while turning on the radio.  It will make an interesting set of beeps.  Turn the dial to “ALL.RST”.  To reset just the set values, dial “SET.RST”.  To reset just the memory, dial “MEM.ONLY”.  Now press the “F” key briefly.  Power cycle the radio.  Other brands of radios are similar.

USHPA Radio Authorization

This instructor recommends that all pilots complete the USHPA Radio Authorization Study Guide and become certified in the use of the USHPA radio bands.  It all takes maybe 15 minutes of time and any USHPA instructor can sign you off.  Complete the guide, take the short T/F exam, send USHPA $15, and then be a fully authorized user of the frequencies given us by the FCC.  All too often  pilots take a scoff-law approach to the use of VHF radios and this can further erode the confidence that various Federal agencies have in FAR 103 pilots.  In the end, it can jeopardize the future of our sport or lead to more and costly (for us) regulation.

Use of the Amateur bands by pilots who are not licensed will upset Amateur operators who hear them and can result in complaints to the FCC.  Getting noticed by the FCC is similar to being noticed by the CAB.  The pilot will need lots of money (fines) to make either go away.  Pilots can always appeal but going before an Administrative Federal Law judge can cost thousands of $$$ because you must have a lawyer.  Don't be a nuisance – we already have way too many of these people in our flying community and they have ruined the public's attitude towards our sport in some parts of the U. S., especially on the West coast and in New England.  Rude and dangerous pilots affect us all.  Think about what you are doing for the sake of others who fly.

Fly safely!