Grumpy at the AMA

So, after getting all excited by the opening of the new Utah Helicopter Association flying field, I found out yesterday that the field is only chartered for pilots who use 2.4 GHz spread spectrum radios.

This really upset me as the 2.4 GHz band is brand new; it’s only been around for 2-3 years; it’s still buggy hardware -- heck, I saw a guy total $3,000 worth of helicopter and radio gear when his 2.4 GHz system locked out. And it was a nice machine - a Synergy N9 with a custom canopy, YS engine, nice radio gear. It was pretty much all a complete loss. So I’m not entirely sold with the spread spectrum radios; at least not with them being “better” than the older tech. Granted, it’s a case of the last generation of the old technology vs. the first generation of the new; but for the moment, the spread spectrum equipment has more problems than the FM & PCM equipment -- heck, there have been ad campaigns based on “our spread spectrum won’t lock you out”.

The other factor is that they still sell the old FM/PCM radios; even high end ones. The older FM & PCM radios haven’t gone away.

I was completely shocked to hear that the club field is 2.4 GHz only. There is an airplane field adjacent, with a full frequency board about fifty yards from the heli flight line... why can’t they share? I’m especially unconcerned about frequency contention, both because of the heedless rush to the new spread spectrum tech is making the airwaves even more clear, but also because I use the Amateur radio 50 MHz frequencies; you have to have a license to even use them, which means in my years of flying, I’ve only seen one guy who was on my channel - and he was old enough to be dead by now.

So, to fly at the club field, I have to buy a new transmitter & receivers for all my helis -- even though my current equipment is still perfectly good. That didn’t sit at all well with me. Naturally, I jumped on the club forums and complained; after all, I am a disenfranchised club member. I paid my dues to fly at a field, and just found out I can’t fly there because I don’t have the latest shiny. Being told that I can fly at the other club’s field was still an option also didn’t sit well with me. Flying at the airplane field when the heli field is yards away is a good way to attract the ire and abuse of the airplane pilots. I’m in the hobby for fun, not to attract abuse to myself.

The response was that due to the adjacent field, the AMA would only charter them if they were 2.4 GHz only, and involved the county, lawyers, etc. The thing is, I know they’re telling the truth. The UHA wouldn’t have even gotten the new field if they hadn’t agreed to 2.4 GHz only. Why something sensible like sharing the frequency board isn’t possible smacks of a bureaucrat who can’t be bothered to contact the club that runs the airplane field.

And there’s not a whole lot of motivation on the UHA’s part to accommodate the FM & PCM pilots, as there are only a couple of us. So, while it’s good for the club and most of its members, it’s bad for me, as I can’t fly with them unless I shell out several hundred dollars and replace perfectly good equipment. As a result, my options are to:
  • Draw the ire of the UVA pilots by flying a helicopter on an airplane field, even though there’s a dedicated heli field a few yards away.
    • I’m not a glutton for punishment in my free time; sorry...
  • Fly at the Jordan Modelport, which has decent heli facilities, and airspace for helis.
    • But costs $4 every time I go
  • Replace perfectly good hardware with the new shiny, at a cost of several hundred dollars.
    • And somehow get my wife to approve of the purchase; it’s not a small amount of change.
Given those options, I’ll go with #2: it costs much less.

The thing that really makes me mad is that the ‘upgrade’ modules that make my radio use the new 2.4 GHz tech: It costs a few dollars less than buying a whole new radio - literally; the cost difference is about $20 right now. I may as well get a new radio at that price...

I’m wondering if the AMA is being influenced to ban the old frequencies in order to spur sales of the new radios.