How Do I HAM?

As more and more people venture into the realm of FPV (First Person View) flying, we are seeing more and more people use the technology irresponsibly in ways that can endanger our hobby. Why do I say that, you ask?

Let’s flash back to the 1970’s for a bit and think about a technology that, due to advancements in electronics AND the timely peaks of Solar Cycles 20 (late-60’s and early 70’s) and 21 (late 70’s and early 80’s), brought popularity to a little thing called “CB Radio” (Citizen’s Band Radio). For those of you old enough to remember this era, you’re probably immediately drawn back to the memories of sitting in a den with your grandfather using a “base station” to talk to people around the world when the atmosphere allowed you to “bounce” or “skip” the radio waves. Or maybe your thoughts were of some trucker bouncing down the road, steering wheel in one hand and mic in the other, hollerin’ “Breaker 1-9”. LoL

However you remember it, it was a fascinating technology. It USED to be that one had to apply for a license from the FCC and HAVE that license, complete with a Call Sign, in order to legally USE those radios (I still remember my Pop’s Call Sign – KAAP1672). Unfortunately, there was no law stating the one had to have that license in hand to BUY those radios. The result was everyone and their Aunt Gertie illegally using this fairly inexpensive equipment so that they, too,  could be cool like their favorite Smokey And The Bandit movie characters. LoL Unregulated, CB radio became something of a “Trash Band” (think of today’s ‘internet trolls’, except talking on CB Radio). The channels became crowded with all sorts of rude and sometimes incoherent chatter – so much, in fact, that many people just quit using the technology altogether.

Think about this whole scenario playing out AGAIN, but this time with the frequencies we use  for flying FPV. Without proper licensing and control, those frequencies could also become “Trash Bands” of their own!

As it stands now, in order to legally use anything over 25 milliwatts of transmitting power (not very much at all) for most of the frequencies we use to send video back to our ground stations or goggles, we need to have an Amateur Radio license granted to us by the FCC. Fortunately, we only need the lowest class of license (or “ticket”) to use these bands, and that level is called the TECHNICIAN class license. It is very easy to obtain and will cost no more than about $15 for a license that lasts 10 years! Oh, and there’s no whining about the material you have to know being “too hard” – I have seen a young lady in my local club that passed HER exam at the age of 8, so roll up your sleeves, Nancy, and let’s get to work earning that ticket so you can use the frequencies legally, properly, and do YOUR part to protect our sport.

Getting Started

I think that the best place to check out would be the website for the Amateur Radio Relay League. Think of the ARRL as an organization kind of like our AMA (Academy of Model Aeronautics). Just as the AMA serves as our sanctioning body for events and our lobbying voice in Congress, so is the ARRL. They are our voice to Congress, as well as the FCC. Pretty much everything you need to know about getting starting in the world of Amateur Radio can be found on the ARRL website, so I certainly won’t try to regurgitate that information here. However, I am going to give you some tips on how to follow the “fast track” to getting YOUR license.

First thing I always recommend is to get the official ARRL Ham Radio License Manual for Technician Class. You can buy it direct from the ARRL, or just about any reputable book store, BUT (and this is important) BE CERTAIN THAT IT IS THE LATEST VERSION. To date, the question pool is valid for tests taken between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2018. I have actually seen the older manual in my local Barnes and Noble bookstore, and the last thing you want to do study that book front and back and then find that none of the questions and answers that you now know are on your test! LoL Oh, now that you know that the manuals are only good for 4 year periods, be sure to check your local library for the manual. It’s better to check out the book from there if they have the most recent copy than to drop $30 on one, right?

The manual is about 336 pages, but don’t worry about how “thick” it is, as there are many pictures and diagrams. Trust me, there’s lots to know, but it’s all EASY! The thing is an easy read and pretty much allows you to learn everything in little bite-sized morsels. In fact, every time important information that could be on your test is covered, there’s a callout noted that you can follow to the back of the book where you can find the EXACT question as it might appear on the test, as well as the EXACT multiple choice answers that will be presented to you. See, I TOLD you it was easy!! There are a few hundred multiple-choice questions in the pool and you will be tested on a random 35 questions (a few from each section of the  book). All you have to do is answer 26 of them correctly and you get your license!

I have heard some people advise the newbs to just skip to the back of the manual and highlight all of the correct answers and then just memorize those and take the test. I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS APPROACH! Why? Because the whole reason for going through the exercise of taking the exam to get the license is so that you WILL KNOW the rules, the safety, and the technology! I always advise people to read the manual cover-to-cover, and THEN start studying the question pool. If you simply memorize the answers and manage to get your license, you and I both know that 90 percent of what you memorized is going to simply fall out of your head a week after the test. If you take the time to LEARN the basics to get the Technician ticket, you will remember the do’s and don’ts and most likely end up using the frequencies responsibly (remember, we want to protect the sport, right?).

I read my manual in three evenings and then started to work on the question pool. After taking tons of practice tests, usually whenever I had a few spare moments, I was passing the ‘practice test’ ever single time within just a few days. After a week had passed from the time I received my book, I was scoring 100 percent every single time!

Testing Yourself 

I mentioned above that I was taking loads of practice tests. Well, there are a couple of ways to do this. Included with your manual SHOULD be a CD that contains an app that you can pop into your computer and use to test yourself. I lost mine somewhere, so I never got to use it. No worries, though, as there are other ways of taking practice tests:

Internet: I liked using the site HAMExam.org. It’s free to test yourself any time. It’s also free to create an account. I recommend this, since it will collect your results from each test and tell you the areas that you are weak in. Other great sites that you may like equally well are eHAM.net, ARRLExamReview, and QRZ.com.

Smartphone: Whether you use an Android or iOS device, there are apps that you can buy to aid you in getting that license. Since I am an iOS guy, I used the apps from Patrick J. Maloney, LLC. The Exam Prep Technician level app is only $4.99. Trust me – it’s worth it! You can use it like Flash Cards, you can set it up so that it will immediately tell you if your answer is right or wrong, and you can set it up where it won’t tell you if you got any incorrect answers until the test is complete (like when you actually take the real test). Best of all, it tracks your progress so that you will know the areas you’ve ‘nailed’ and the areas that you’re still weak in. I liked the fact that I could take practice tests ANYWHERE, so I was able to use it often without having to sit in front of the computer every time (yes, there were many practice exams taken in the …errr…LIBRARY. Yeah, that’s it. The library. LoL). I was so impressed with these apps that I ended up buying all three (Tech, General, and Extra class) and used them to help me pass all three exams.

And Finally…

So you’re passing that practice test every time you take it? Well, it’s time to find a place to take the exam and throw down that cash and do it!

Use this link at the ARRL to find an Exam Session in your area —> CLICK HERE

And use this link to know WHAT TO BRING to that Exam Session —> CLICK HERE

 

One last thing that I would like to leave you with…

If you found your way here, then it’s most likely because you are an RC enthusiast and are interested in obtaining that Tech-level ticket so that you can play the FPV game legally. For that I commend you!

HOWEVER!

Having that license opens you up to a “new” old technology – radio communications. Consider picking up an inexpensive two way radio and learn to use it! Google “BaoFeng UV-5R” and you’ll find a nice little radio that is LESS THAN $30!! It’s a pain in the butt to learn to program, but it’s a great little radio in the field (I’d much rather lose this one than my $175 Yaesu! LoL). Set it up with your local repeater frequencies and talk on it now and then. I have found many opportunities to give back to my community since I got my ticket in 2011 (I actually helped to coordinate relief efforts after the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion, for one). In fact, I have even served as a trained SkyWatch Stormspotter for the last three years. HAM Radio operators know what’s going on with the weather BEFORE your local weather man! LoL

If you’ve already earned the license, wouldn’t it be nice to have the practiced ability to use it in times of need to serve YOUR community? Remember, when all else fails, HAM Radio WORKS!

73s!

N5TCC

 

EDIT: On May 15, 2015, listener David G. offered up yet ANOTHER great resource for preparing to get your license: KB6NU’s No Nonsense Study Guides

This site allows for a FREE PDF download of the study guide for the Technician-class license. Thanks for sharing this resource, David!