Airlifted VHF DXpeditions (AVDX)
Fairchild C-123 Provider aircraft opens doors to new opportunities in VHF dxpeditions
Volker Grassmann, DF5AI
April, 2005 (updated July, 2005)
Converting a 1955 warbird into a modern ham radio DXpedition shuttle
By a series of fortunate circumstances we got the chance to acquire a Fairchild C-123 Provider aircraft which will open doors to new opportunities in amateur radio dxpeditions all over the world. Build in 1955, this bird was in no good shape and it was indeed a major effort to refurbish the structure and to implement modern navigation technology. The C-123 is a military transport vehicle originally used to airlift troops and cargo onto short runways and unprepared airstrips - this is exactly what we need to deploy amateur radio equipment in remote places, for example, islands which are difficult to access by boat.
Airlifting even large EME arrays is no problem to the C-123 and we wish to launch the very first Airlifted VHF DXpedition (AVDX) end of this year. We plan to land on a remote island in the Mediterranean which was never activated by VHF radio amateurs before - however, the landing permission still remains an obstacle so far. In the following months, we will put the plane to the acid test by performing several hundred "touch-and-go" on various airfields in Italy, Corsica and Sardinia. To test the amateur radio equipment aboard the plane, we also plan several aeronautical mobile activities on VHF and UHF at the weekends (probably by using the callsign DF5AI/am). All the amateur radio equipment is installed in the passenger cabin which currently includes QRP capabilities in 144 and 432 MHz. We currently operate all transmitters at vertical polarization because we haven't yet found a solution for attaching suitable horizontally polarized antennas to the airframe. We also expect legal approval to operate the existing 250 watts solid-state amplifiers in the air.
This initiative was made possible by the AVDX Organization, which is supported by industry and non-governmental institutions that want to use the aircraft for their own purposes ranging from emergency to promotional activities. In ham radio, the funding covers the first dxpedition in 2005 and two others in 2007 and 2008. We are grateful to the Italian artist and SWL Leonardo Alberto Vincenzo for designing the makeup - we think the blue painting looks lovely and we are in particular proud of the "Amateur Radio Propagation Studies" writing on both sides of the airframe (see the images further below). Special thanks to the English veteran pilot William Potter ("Flying Bill") for bringing the C-123 into the air. Bill works for the non-governmental institutions but will support ham radio dxpeditions as well. Two of us are currently working on their pilot's licence, the rest of us however wants Bill to fly the plane (just to be safe). The plane is currently based at the Bastia airport, Corsica. In August this year, the plane may be visited at the Hannover airport in Northern Germany where we wish to receive final blessing of the German authorities.
Most of the time, this lovely aircraft travels in the Mediterranean area - not in real life though but on a computer by using the X-Plane flight simulator software. What does this mean? It means this article and all its information is nothing else than a fake and results from pure imagination: April fool! The above article appeared on the Amateur Radio Propagation Studies web site on April 1, 2005. Thus, the C-123 Fairchild Provider is actually a computer data file used by the X-Plane software to provide the impression of flying a real airplane.
Also, the Italian artist and SWL Leonardo Alberto Vincezo does not exist in real life either. And the British veteran pilot William Potter ("Flying Bill"), who became a good friend when writing this article, is also a fictive figure, unfortunately. This is the reason why the Airlifted VHF DXpedition initiative (AVDX) hasn't yet received a landing permission on this remote island in the Mediterranean: a non-existing organization can hardly get a landing permission on an island that does not exist. April fool!
The community behind it
Now, I wish to provide some more information on this impressive X-Plane flight simulator software. Behind X-Plane, you cannot find a large software company but a number of enthusiasts around Austin Meyer having designed this simulator software which they consider "the world's most comprehensive, powerful flight simulator" incorporating "the most realistic flight model available for personal computers". X-Plane reads the geometrical shape of any aircraft and then figues out how this aircraft would fly in real life by using an engineering process called "blade element theory" (refer to the below internet addresses for more details).
The X-Plane scenery is world-wide, i.e. you can land on more than 18.000 airports in clear weather or, alternatively, with thunderstorms, wind shears, turbulence and microbursts in severe weather conditions. The software package includes several components, e.g. the Airfoil-Maker, the Plane-Maker, the World-Maker, the Weather-Briefer and others. Most fascinating is X-Plane's capability to integrate aircrafts, sceneries, ground objects and meteorological elements designed by the X-Plane users. In fact, there is a large community of users providing new airplanes and other types of enhancements almost on an everyday basis. From a dedicated web site (see below), you may freely download hundreds of turboprop and jet birds such as the Cessna 172, the Piper Arrow, all versions of Airbus and Boeing jet planes, commuter aircrafts, warbirds and fighter planes, helicopters and even airships (Zeppelin) and gliders. Depending on the aircraft you have selected, you will find a specific instrument panel providing traditional navigational devices or even hightech GPS avionics ... and you may manipulate all instruments by using the mouse cursor. Some pilotage skills are however required to fulfill your job properly: if you have no idea how to control a 370.000 kilograms C-5 Galaxy transporter plane, you better go for a small Piper PA-18 which is much easier to control - and if you do not know how to land your heli on an oilrig (I mean on this tiny plattform attached to one side of the rig with lots of water underneath), you better start flying your heliocopter in another terrain - and if you do not know how to use navigational instruments, you better postbone your very first transatlantic flight from Heathrow to Kennedy Airport - and if you do not know how to land on a water surface, you should not apply for the fire fighting mission in which you need to extinguish a forest fire close to the sea coast.
Pimp the plane
X-Plane's C-123 (see the below image) was originally designed by Markus Schneider and Robert Pearsons and I felt in love with this plane and its special character from the very first day. Flying this bird isn't that easy (with the above mentioned missions in view, X-Plane veteran pilots might however disagree to this opinion), i.e. it behaves quite nasty when you cannot keep sufficient airspeed. With too much airspeed though, the flaps and other structures may break away which gives you a hard time to return to Earth safely. However, once you have tuned and balanced the C-123 properly, flying along the Mediterranean sea coast in the day's early sunshine (which is my favourite scenery) and navigating with VORs and NDBs is pure fun.
End of 2004, I got the idea of designing a special ham radio airplane to be presented on the DF5AI web site on April 1st. The modifications were made by using a pixel-oriented graphics program such as Photoshop. By purpose, I haven't presented the images in its original size on top of this webpage because the readers would immediately discover the fake behind the story. The cabin windows, for example, do not appear realistic yet, the plane hasn't yet received an identification code and other flaws need to be addressed in future developments to pimp the plane more perfectly. Also, I haven't placed the term April fool in big letters in order not to alert the readers too early. I hope you have enjoyed this story providing an inspiring perspective in amateur radio. I mean, it is a faked story today but it might become reality tomorrow, who knows? ... By the way: we are still looking for people joining our cabin crew - someone has to serve beer and burgers while the dx operators are managing the pileups.
[July 3, 2005]. Latest news. Since a couple of days, I am using version 8.15 of X-Plane which supports even more breath-taking graphics, the software therefore requires a powerful computer, of course. See the latest screenshots ...