Credit to the photographs

I would like to thank Brian Losisto (Air Canada's photographer) for always allowing me to post his pictures. (The above thrust lever pic is his). Then there is Kelly Paterson from Calgary and plane spotter "Erik" from Germany. Of course, I have lots myself. On that note, if you feel a photo(s) may be in appropriate or the content I post a bit dubious by all means send me an email. I will ratify it! That's all I ask.

...I hope you enjoy the blog...

Monday, September 13, 2010

SWLing (Short Wave Listening)

Depiction of the North Atlantic Tracks.
Gander, Shanwick and Iceland look after most of the airspace.
I've done about 200 crossings or more...

Short Wave Listening

Aviation is a huge entity and with it comes many interest groups.

Of course, we have the bloggers and readers.
We have plane spotters and aircraft photographers. Sometimes they go hand in hand such as my friend in FRA, Germany. Thanks Erik for all the photos.
We also have the Sim flyers and pilots of the virtual airlines.
We have the volunteer security groups which keep an eye on the airport.
We have flight followers, authors, but have many of you out there heard of SWLing?

Air Canada's media department recently had a request from a SWLer asking for a QSL. That's exactly what they thought - WTF? So they asked me to pursue and handle this supposedly bizarre request. Turns out it's more prevalent than I thought. Actually further research shows it's very popular and quite interesting. It goes to show, one never knows who is watching or listening....

Shortwave listening (abbreviated as SWLing) is the hobby of listening to shortwave radio broadcasts located on frequencies between 1700 kHz and 30 MHz. [1] Listeners range from casual users seeking international news and entertainment programming to hobbyists immersed in the technical aspects of radio reception and DXing. In some developing countries, shortwave listening enables remote communities to obtain regional programming traditionally provided by local medium wave broadcasters. Some estimates have placed the number of shortwave listeners worldwide in the millions.

Many shortwave stations welcome correspondence from listeners, especially reports on how well the station is being received and comments on their programming. Stations often respond to such letters by sending out colorful souvenir cards, known as QSL cards, for correct reports of reception. Some station reply with QSL letters instead of cards, and a few send other items, like pennants with the station’s name or call letters, to lucky SWLs.

F.Y.I QSL is one of the many Q codes used in radiocommunication. Pilots use Q codes as well for altimeter settings: QNH, QFE and QNE

Here is part of the gentleman's request:

As an amateur radio operator I do some aeronautican radio monitoring ("SWLing") since we got the legal possibility here in Germany some times ago.

A few days ago I was lucky to receive one of your flights in contact with "SHANWICK RADIO" on shortwave 8906 kHz using the callsign and flight-ID "AIRCANADA 837".

As this was the very first catch of an aircraft from "Air Canada"
I want to send you a SWL report for my reception:

Date: 22-August-2010 at 12:14 UTC/GMT on 8906 kHz working Shanwick Radio (Oceanic Control) with oceanic clearance to CYYZ (Toronto).

That make it to the flight "AC0837" from Madrid to Toronto with a "Boeing 767" with the registration C-GHLT.

Receiver: Kenwood TS-50 into a DX-88 outdoor vertical antenna by HyGain Selcal decoding by the PC sound card software "MultiPSK".

If possible I would like to get a QSL for my report as I don't have so any QSL for any "Air Canada" flight so far in my collection.

And here is my response. It turns out an email response was not sufficient. I must remind myself to send it in the mail tomorrow. I also attached a picture of a B767-300 and Air Canada's logo.

Dear Mr...

We are pleased to confirm your reception report of our aircraft as follows:

Flight: AC 837

Date: 22-August-2010 at 12:14 UTC/GMT

Route: Madrid (LEMD) to Toronto (CYYZ)

Registration C-GHLT

Radios on the B767-300ER

B767-300 fleet: 2 Rockwell Collins HF Transceivers and 3 Rockwell Collins VHF COMM Transceivers.

Happy SWLing!

Captain Doug Morris (Airbus 320)


Anonymous said...

I'm not quite sure I understand... Forgive my ignorance but from what I understand is that if I hear an operator on a shortwave frequency and I tell him that reception was '5x5' then I get free stuff?

Hmmm ;)

From the Flight Deck said...

Anon. It's not that simple! Firstly, you have to copy all the particulars of the position report. Then find the appropriate airline contact and send it and wait.

Then if the airline understands your request, you get a QSL (free stuff).

Captain Doug

bill said...

QSL cards are passed between two amateur (ham) radio operators after their contact if so desired. I get a QSL card from someone in Canada, I reply in kind. Mostly you collect cards from as many countries as you can, I currently have QSL cards from 165 countries which is a low count amongst my peers. Occasionally you receive one from a listener or SWL who overheard your conversation with another station somewhere in the world. Call sign WB2UXS USA

Rick Grant said...

Ah, QSL cards, how that takes me back.

I spent a lot of my early teen years listening to shortwave and sending QSL reports in the hopes of getting a nice card back. And almost always being pleased with the response.

I stopped about the time I started flight training and in the decades since I haven't given a thought to shortwave listening. I am pleased to hear that it is still alive.

After I had left full time commercial aviation for full time broadcast journalism (better pay, respect, cleaner clothes etc)I one day received an email from a shortwave listener who had heard some of my reporting from the war in Iraq.

I was so impressed that someone would go to the lengths that he did to prove he had picked up one of my broadcasts (relayed from the CBC to BBC and then some Pakistani shortwave broadcaster) that I packed up the grandest CARE package of "free stuff" that I could find.

Thanks as always for an entertaining post.

Rick Grant
Calgary (YYC)

From the Flight Deck said...

Bill. Thanks for sharing this. Years ago, I gave a talk to a group of HAM operators in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I realized then, this was serious stuff!

Out of curiosity, does a QSL card have a specific format?

Thanks again for the comments....WB2UXS USA

Captain Doug

From the Flight Deck said...

Rick. Thanks for sharing your story. I did not send the QSL yet, but after reading your comments, I must include a copy of my book as "free stuff."

I guess you know there is a Rick Grant working for CTV NEWS in Halifax, N.S?

The gentleman from Germany is 73 so I bet he has done a ton of SWLing.

Interesting stuff!

Captain Doug

P.S I like your reason for leaving aviation. :)

Blake said...

Although not related to SWL, I do have a question about the NATs.

I'm heading off to Iceland in a week and was curious as to the routing that my aircraft will take.

I took a look on flight aware and the route looks something like this:

YEE YQA YXI MOFAT SPOTE HO PORGY 5900N 05000W 6100N 04000W 6300N

I take it from this routing the aircraft doesn't use a NAT at all?

What would a routing that uses a NAT look like?

From the Flight Deck said...

Hi Blake. Off to Iceland? Nice! I've never been...if I had, it would have been a diversion. :)

I thought for sure I blogged about NAT tracks and ETOPS. I searched all my posts..."no joy."
I did teach a class last year on ETOPS (Extended range Twin engine Operations) so I'll rustle through my notes.

Looks like you've given me today's topic. :)

In a nut shell, NAT tracks change on a daily basis. Gander decides the tracks for the eastbound evening/night flights and Shanwick looks after the westbound day flights.

These tracks usually are dictated by upper winds/weather/turbulence/volcanoes.

There are several sites which depict today's routes.

Each day is denoted by the TMI (Track Message Indicator). It's the day's date starting from January 1st. Today's TMI is 257.

Here's one link:

Jeppeson also posts a nice visual with the tracks and weather superimposed.

Hope this helps and thanks for the blog idea.

Captain Doug

Anonymous said...


If you're off to Iceland your flight will be unable to use the NAT tracks, they must be entered at an entry point and exited at an exit point and can not be left mid-way through unless it is an emergency. In addition, they are dispatched at the same flight level along the entire route of flight, though aircraft can request a clearance mid-route in the event of weather and turbulence, though clearance is dependent on the amount of traffic enroute. Typically eastbound NAT Tracks start a couple of hundred NM west of 50W and end a couple of hundred NM east of 20W (there are exceptions). Westbound NAT Tracks start a couple of hundred NM east of 20W and end a couple of hundred miles west of 50W (again, with exceptions such as NAT tracks that head south to handle traffic into Bermuda and southern US).

Enjoy your trip to Iceland, definitely on my 'to visit' list!

Captain Doug, would you be interested in including ETPs in that discussion as well and how they relate to ETOPs points?

YYC Dispatcher

Daniel said...

^ A good display of a mid NAT exiting was the few weeks that the volcano erupted.

My uncle is into radios and all that stuff .He likes talking to other people other people on it. I was never really interested in it but he usually takes it if he goes anyways if it involves a radio being used in some form, aka airshow and even onetime on a cruise ship ( yea wtf? ). He would listen to the ships coming and going.

How you enjoying your days off?

From the Flight Deck said...

YYC Dispatcher. Great stuff on NAT Tracks! I'll be taking a look at my ETOPS notes tonight. That is, if i don't get called out. I put myself on "make up." I've been denying flights and now the saying, "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" is haunting me.


From the Flight Deck said...

Thanks Daniel.Yes, there are lots of people into "radio listening."

My days off? The wife gave that look a few days ago, insinuating it's time to go back to work.

I put myself on "make up" yesterday and today. Yesterday I had the option of doing a Calgary and San Francisco turn but I denied them.
Too early for the check in. Then a "red eye" to Calgary and back popped up. Denied that too.
I guess I was after a juicy pairing, but now the phone is no longer ringing.

But it will. I see there is a LaGuardia turn this evening, but I'll deny that one. I avoid New York like the plague. :)

So I here I sit blogging getting dirty stares from the boss. :) :) :)

k1mgy said...

That's just delightful!

I am an Amateur Radio operator (here in the US and licensed also for Japan) and am surprised that SWL's seek QSL cards from aircraft communications. It was very kind of Air Canada to follow through.

Having listened to these same HF comms for years I asked the crew of a Swissair flight if I might listen on my portable HF radio during the crossing. They did better, inviting me to the jump seat. I got to listen in and even experience the approach and landing.

Too bad I couldn't give one of the position reports myself, but my accent wouldn't do.

From the Flight Deck said...


Yes, I sent his QSL today along with an autographed copy of my book! Hopefully, we at Air Canada will be at the top of the list for "extra stuff."

That was very nice of the Swissair crew to have you up in the jumpseat. Ahhh, the good ole days! :)

I remember years ago while flying over Russian airspace we had a young female flight attendant with an incredible sexy voice give our position report.
You could tell the fella working the radios sitting in cold Siberia enjoyed her transmission. :)

As far as accents, that's all there is on radios overseas. It adds to the diversity. :)

Thanks for sharing your experiences. Much appreciated.

And happy SWLing!

Captain Doug

bill said...

Captain Doug;

QSL cards are as varied as the countries they come from but there are some commonalities. They are generally post card size; The front is usually a picture with your call letters across the front. It depends on your budget some are very simply while others are detailed. The back contains the information about your contact, date time, Frequency, signal strength etc, which you fill out and usually write a little note on the bottom just like a post card. I have received cards (so called) on foreign money (worth less then a penny) with the contact information written around the edges. Sending a card with an Air Canada aircraft was very appropriate. Bill WB2UXS East Coast USA.

From the Flight Deck said...

Bill. Thanks for the info. If more requests come our way I'll make a suggestion to Air Canada to have official QSL cards made up.

Yes, I hope he enjoys the book. Funny thing is...postage for sending it to Germany...was more than my book. :)

I should send Air Canada the bill. :)