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EAA AirVenture Today is published by the Experimental Aircraft Association for EAA AirVenture from July 27 - August 3. It is distributed free on the convention grounds as well as other locations in Oshkosh and surrounding communities. Stories and photos are copyrighted 2008 by EAA AirVenture Today and EAA. Reproduction by any means is prohibited without written consent.


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The official daily newspaper of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh

Volume 9, Number 7 August 2, 2008     

406 MHz can save your life!
By Kristy Hemp

There are changes being made to the monitoring of Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELT) and your life could depend on it. Traditionally, distress signals have been transmitted over 121.5 MHz and/or 243 MHz for search and rescue satellites to "hear."

As of February 1, 2009, the COSPAS-SARSAT will stop monitoring 121.5 MHz and 243 MHz and transition to monitoring the 406 MHz frequency for which you will need a newer, more advanced beacon that sends out an encoded digital 406 MHz signal. Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) transmit on 406 MHz. Currently, there is an international mandate from ICAO that all aircraft need to carry the new ELTs. The FAA hasnít enforced this mandate to this point, but it is highly recommended that the U.S. aviation community switch over. It could be the difference between life and death.

So what are the reasons for switching? One problem is that more than 90 percent of the alarms that are received by ELTs are false, but the Rescue Coordination Centers (RCCís) still have to search and confirm the calls. Some culprits are pizza ovens, ATMs, and sports stadium scoreboards.

The new beacons are unique because they have a specific identification code, which helps eliminate half of the false alarms. All aircraft are required to register their new beacon with the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Association (NOAA) and provide their name, phone number, two emergency contacts, aircraft make and model, and N number. "Thatís how weíll know the signal is unique and that itís an aircraft. We can immediately call the pilot and confirm and ask if they are actually flying or need help," Lt. Jeff Shoup, SARSAT Operations Support Officer, explains. "Itís a huge safety improvement. The name and number taking will eliminate the rest of the false alarms such as setting it off while testing, landing hard, and installing it wrong.Some ask how will they know if their ELT is going off with the new device. You can still go to 121.5 MHz at the top of the hour to test it like you did in the past.

The new beacon model still communicates by satellite, but there is a lot more coverage. The old beacons only pinpoint a 15-20 km search area on a 1/2-watt analog signal, where the new beacon pinpoints down to a 3-5 km search area on a 5-watt digital signal. 121.5 MHz had some dead spots and was picked up by low earth orbiting satellites, which are overhead for a 2-3 hour period. The new beacon uses geostationary satellites that are always overhead to find you and are much more accurate. However, it doesnít always give you the exact location.

"With the new beacon model, we can make a call to the pilot or contacts and pinpoint the location," explains Jeff. "Some people have been rescued without the position pinpointed because of this [registered ELTs]."

Jeff tells a success story about a pilot and his nephew that went down in their helicopter in Washington State around 8 p.m. They werenít expected back that night. They set off their personal locator beacon (PLB) using the 406 beacon frequency, and the time from that moment to when they arrived at the hospital was only 2 hours and 45 minutes.

NOAA wants more success stories like that and is striving to get the word out about the new beacons. There are 250,000 registered aircraft in the United States and only 25,000 are on the 406. Thatís only a tenth of the population! Thatís why their slogan is "Make the switch to 406!"

The 406 MHz beacon models can cost more, but when it comes to your life and the lives of your loved ones, itís priceless. Find out more about the 406 beacon models and how they can use GPS technology at the SARSAT booth located in the Federal Pavilion.

If you have questions call EAA Technical Services at 888-322-4636.

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