Saturday, January 19, 2008

121.5 MHz Satellite Monitoring Phase-Out with CAP Lt Col John Desmarais

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If you land an aircraft unexpectedly or otherwise whack it with enough force, there’s a device in your aircraft that will automatically start yelling for help so that the US Civil Air Patrol and others cam come find you.

It’s called an Emergency locator Transmitter or “ELT.” There are two kinds of ELTs out there. They’re referred to by the frequencies upon which they call for help. The first is the older-style ELT that operated on 121.5 and 243 MHz. They’re called “121.5” ELTs and they transmit a signal that sounds like this.

The other kind is the 406 MHz ELT. The two do roughly the same thing but do it in different ways. To make a long story short, the 406 MHz ELT is better in most ways. And there will be an additional way beginning on February 1, 2009. On that date, the COSPAS/SARSAT satellite system will cease listening for 121.5 ELTs.

This doesn’t mean that the 121.5 ELTs will be useless. And, as far as I know, the US FAA has not required that owners switch to 406 MHz ELTs. And anyone monitoring 121.5 will still be able to hear 121.5 ELTs and search and rescue teams will still be able to do direction finding with 121.5 equipment. But 121.5 MHz ELTs will be a lot tougher to find.

To find out what that really means, we went to a guy who’s probably one of the most knowledgeable people in the country about search and rescue. He’s Lt Col John Desmarais, the Deputy Director of Operations of the US Civil Air Patrol. We caught up with him at his office at CAP headquarters at Maxwell AFB in Alabama.

[Interview Audio]

Contact information for Lt Col Desmarais and the US Civil Air Patrol:

Lt Col John W. Desmarais Jr.
Deputy Director of Operations
US Civil Air Patrol
CAP National Headquarters
105 South Hansell St.
Bldg. 714
Maxwell AFB, AL 36112-6332
(888) 211-1812 ext 303

ELT photo above by H. Dean Chamberlain. Originally appeared in the FAA Aviation News.

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