COAA PlanePlotter Review Part 1

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At the heart of the PlanePlotter system is Mlat. Here a USAF E-3C (SHUCK80H) is being successfully Mlated (manually by me - the blue lines are hyper curves used during the process). Note also the KC-135R (QID81) and MC-130J (LEGIT41)
At the heart of the PlanePlotter system is Mlat. Here a USAF E-3C (SHUCK80H) is being successfully Mlated (manually by me – the blue lines are hyper curves used during the process). Note also the KC-135R (QID81) and MC-130J (LEGIT41)

PlanePlotter Version Reviewed: 6.4.1.0-6.4.1.2 (GS/MU rN)

As an aviation enthusiast of many a decade I can tell you that this sort of hobby evolves over the years. Back in the 1980’s the only tools I had were a pair of binoculars, a copy of Ian Allan’s abc Military Aircraft Markings, a note book and pencil. As time went on I added a 35mm SLR (remember those?) and a collection of high powered lenses. The 90’s saw the addition of my first scanner plus a spotting scope for good measure. I was pretty much sorted – not much got past me at my local airfield.

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WouXun KG-818 66-88MHz (4M) Review Part 2

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WouXun KG-818 66-88 MHz at Amazon.co.uk

Time to grab the manual and start programming!
Time to grab the manual and start programming!

Programming the KG-818, can be accomplished with either CHIRP or WouXun KG-816 software. CHIRP will definitely get the job done with little fuss and I cannot recommend this universal radio program highly enough – its freeware and continually developed – supporting just about every transceiver currently available on the market.

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WouXun KG-818 66-88MHz (4M) Review Part 1

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WouXun KG-818 66-88 MHz at Amazon.co.uk

The WouXun KG-818 is a very sleek compact unit
The WouXun KG-818 is a very sleek compact unit

The WouXun KG-818 is something of an enigma. There isn’t much info about this radio on the internet but having recently purchased the 4M/2M KG-UV6D I felt safe in the knowledge that this single band radio would live up to expectations.

This model was on my original short list, back when I was weighing up numerous WouXun’s. At that time I really needed a dual band but the KG-818 kept calling!

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SDR Software (Free Stuff!)

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Check out the Realtek RTL2832U+R820T USB SDR at Amazon.co.uk

So you are in receipt of a shiny new Realtek RTL2832U+R820T SDR dongle and I understand the first thing you want to do is start decoding ADS-B, ACARS or some other exotic data format. Maybe you just want to listen in to some local comms? Well we really need to get some software loaded up.

There are two popular SDR tuning programs and both are freeware: SDR# (SDRSharp) and HDSDR. I’ve tried both, but highly recommend SDR# as its more user friendly – especially for newcomers so we’ll stick with that.

SDR# (SDRSharp)

There are numerous SDR# versions available (stable/nightly builds) and a degree of experimentation is required to get the program up and running. Installation worked flawlessly on one PC but was a total nightmare on another. Eventually I got it working on both (funnily identical Windows XP platforms!). SDR# requires .NET Framework to be installed prior to running and the problems I had installing SDR# on my laptop was because I had 4.5 installed and not 3.5. To be on the safe side I ended up installing .NET Framework versions 1.0, 2.0, 3.5 and 4.5 (overkill or what?!).

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Realtek RTL2832U+R820T USB SDR Review

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Check out the Realtek RTL2832U+R820T USB SDR at Amazon.co.uk

RTL2832U+820T fired up
RTL2832U+820T fired up

Check out the NooElec RTL2832U+R820T USB SDR at Amazon.com

I had my first real taste of radio decoding back in the 90’s. Things were a little different then though. For starters you needed a scanner or HF radio (or both), a demodulator (from Pervisell), leads to connect the radio audio output to a computer soundcard and of course software (or just plain old DOS) and a PC to process everything. At the time I had a subscription to Shortwave Magazine (sadly no longer in print) and the decode section was a godsend.

Each decoding practice had different protocols and often things didn’t work out as planned. Many hours (or days) were spent tinkering with leads, interface settings (bloody COM ports!) and antenna locations. If you were unlucky the Windows blue screen of death would make an appearance every now and again!

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WouXun KG-UV6D-E-V3 66-88/136-174 MHz Part 2

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Size comparison with a BaoFeng UV-5R (right)
Size comparison with a BaoFeng UV-5R (right)

The WouXun KG-UV6D fits nicely in the hand though it is a bit bigger than say a BaoFeng UV-5R – not in height – more in girth. Its quite a chunky device weighing in at 253g and measuring up at 65x119x 39.5mm. It feels solid and well built – just like a commercial radio should.

Similarly sized the WouXun wins in the girth department!
Similarly sized the WouXun wins in the girth department!

Unlike a lot of Chinese handheld transceivers, virtually all operations can be entered/adjusted via the inbuilt menu system including naming channels which is useful in the field. Sidekey ANI functions have to be accomplished via a PC as do personal welcome messages (which include a battery voltage option or 6 character message), add to scan and priority channel monitoring. The user manual clearly states which functionality requires PC or menu entry which is useful.

When it comes to software there are quite a few options. WouXun’s official programming software, CHIRP and KGUV6 Commander written by radio amateur Jim Mitchell, KC8UNJ.

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Realtek RTL2832U+R820T USB SDR Preview

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Check out the Realtek RTL2832U+R820T USB SDR at Amazon.co.uk

rtl2832u-820t_pack

Check out the NooElec RTL2832U+R820T USB SDR at Amazon.com

Now this is a very interesting bit of kit and will appeal to anyone with an interest in radio. I’ll go into more detail when I complete the review on this one, suffice to say it is an extraordinary Software Defined Radio (or SDR for short) with the capabilities of a receiver many times its actual cost (which is about a tenner!).

It’s original purpose and one that it performs effortlessly is as a DAB/DVB-T tuner (digital radio/TV), but some clever chap discovered its tuning chip could be manipulated via software to perform the role of a high end monitoring device.

The model featured here (Realtek RTL2832U+R820T) has a frequency range of 20.100 MHz to 1.7660 GHz (all mode via software) and is the number one choice for new comers to the wonderful world of ADS-B aircraft monitoring/tracking on 1090.000.

The receiving qualities don’t stop there though. Coupled to the right software (I’ll compile a list of the best freeware examples in the review) all sorts of things can be decoded such as AIS, ACARS, trunking systems, weather satellites, APRS, and POCSAG/FLEX pagers. Of course if you just want to listen in like a conventional scanner you can do that too!

I heard about these a while back, but only recently picked one up. I read the hype, but are they really that good?

Unequivocally, yes!

Full review here

Useful links to get you started with tuning:

… and ADS-B/Mode-S decoding/realtime aircraft tracking:

Shopping list

WouXun KG-UV6D-E-V3 66-88/136-174 MHz Review Part 1

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WouXun KG-UV6D-E-V3
WouXun KG-UV6D-E-V3

Right now the Chinese are pumping out two-way radios like never before. And as regular readers will know I picked up two BaoFeng UV-5R’s recently. So impressed by these little handies it wasn’t long before I started short listing my next bit of kit. There is a bewildering choice and manufacturers seem to magically appear on a daily basis! Unfamiliar and exotic sounding names such as Huitong, Puxing, Quansheng, TYT, and Waccom (to name just a few) have all joined the battle for Western cash.

Many are simply rebadged models utilising the same internals and software, but a few really stand out from the crowd. One such example is WouXun (pronounced Wo-Shone as far as I can tell). Reputation is everything and I think its safe to say WouXun is widely accepted as the name to look for when purchasing a Chinese built transceiver.

I don’t just write reviews – I also read them. So I checked out the internet for some background information. It didn’t take long to see that the radio amateur community held WouXun in high regard. Sure there is always a bit of negative press about some aspect, but overall its was positive.

So WouXun it was.

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WouXun KG-UV6D-E-V3 Preview

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WouXun KG-UV6D-E-V3
WouXun KG-UV6D-E-V3

As a little taster of what’s to come… here is a first look at the WouXun KG-UV6D!

I have only just purchased this unit off ebay so I’m currently giving it a thorough testing, including programming it with two different software programs (CHIRP and KG-UV6 Commander – links at bottom) prior to writing the review proper.

There are numerous versions of the UV6D and this is the VHF only 66-88/136-174 MHz “International Version” (WouXun KG-UV6D-E-V3 to be precise, designed for the EU market), making it 4M (70MHz) and 2M (145MHz) friendly. It has 2.5kHz step sizes needed for US 2013 FCC narrow channel spacing compliance, but only through software programming not menu operation. 2.5kHz spacing is not necessary in Europe, but of interest to our US readers/users (more on that in the write-up).

As mentioned this transceiver is suitable for 4M/2M radio amateur bands, but I have purchased it primarily for licenced business use in the Low VHF and Mid/High VHF PMR bands.

If you have a question about this radio and its functionality please feel free to ask in the comments section and I’ll try to answer it in the upcoming review… Part 1 here.

Useful links

Apollo Classic Tobacco Review

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Apollo Classic Tobacco E-Liquid

Apollo Classic Tobacco E-Liquid
Apollo Classic Tobacco E-Liquid

Its been a while since I reviewed an e-liquid – when I find something I like, I stick with it and Apollo’s Tobacco flavour has been doing it for me recently! That said I was curious about their “Classic Tobacco”, so picked up a 24mg, 30ml bottle to try (30ml was a bit adventurous – should have tried a 10ml sampler first). I also ordered a 30ml bottle of their regular “Tobacco” just in case I didn’t like it.

In direct comparison the two bottles couldn’t be more different. While the regular tobacco e-liquid had a familiar lemony shade the classic version was distinct – a vibrant, if not artificial pinkish orange. Unscrewing the childproof cap it was evident this was going to be a flavourful e-liquid. Apollo describes this as a classic full bodied American tobacco blend, but to my nose it has a soapiness to it with a touch of coffee and I didn’t get any tobacco nuances at all. When I think of classic American tobacco my mind conjures up Virginia’s and Burleys, rich earthy Kentucky tones, but not here.

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