Military aircraft monitoring in the Boston area

1 Nov

You may not think of Boston, or New England in general, as a hotbed of Air Force and Navy activity, but this can actually be a fairly active area for listening to military airplanes. Both Maine and New Hampshire have very active Air National Guard refueling wings which can be heard almost daily. Fighter wings from Massachusetts and Vermont can be heard frequently, and I’ve heard the RI National Guard flying, too.
Besides these, the majority of the military aircraft deploying to, or returning from overseas pass over the region, and can often be heard communicating with air traffic control. Some can’t make the trip without gassing up, and you can hear mid-air refueling over Maine, New Hampshire, and Nova Scotia.

The first thing you’ll need, obviously, is a capable receiver. You’ll want one that receives the UHF military air band, 225-400 MHz. Not all scanners have this capability. I use a Uniden BCD396XT and an Icom IC-R20. An aftermarket antenna will probably also give you a signal boost. If your scanner doesn’t have the UHF air band, you can still hear military flights as they contact air traffic control. If your new, just be aware that most commercial airlines use callsigns; SPEEDBIRD213 isn’t some cool new stealth bomber, it’s just the British Airways flight into Logan.

Most of the milair transmissions happen very fast. Ever with a fast scanner, if you’re scanning a couple hundred channels at a time, you’ll probably miss a lot. I’d recommend either dedicating a scanner to listening to milair, or use the “priority” feature on your scanner to concentrate on, and frequently scan, the most likely channels.

The ScanNewEngland wiki is a great starting point to find military frequencies active in the area. You’ll also want to check out the mid-air refueling routes in the area, and program in those frequencies. Lastly, you’ll want to program in the UHF air traffic control frequencies for the Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center and the Boston Consolidated TRACON. Military flights contact air traffic control on VHF and UHF, but UHF is only used by military flights. If you listen to VHF & UHF, you’ll hear every flight, military and civilian. You may also want to be proficient in quickly adding a frequency, as the pilot will often announce over the air which ATC frequency he’s using or going to use next.

A website run by the FAA will even tell you when there are going to be military exercises in the area, or when a certain refueling area will be active. 

For example purposes, here’s the transmissions I noted this morning. Blanks indicate where I missed a callsign.

11:18 PACK61 on 321.0

11:23 PACK61 & 62 (NH Air National Guard KC-135R’s) on 321.0MHz (PACK Control Com 2), climbing to 21,000, receivers will be in formation at 19,500, are running 15 minutes late. Receivers will also be linking up with TEAM21 (KC-10A from the 305th Air Mobility Wing). Will also be using 282.7MHz (AR-204 alternate) during refueling.

11:33 TEAM21 & KILLER1 (MA ANG F-15) on 338.2MHz (Boston ARTCC GDM36)

11:38 RAGE1 (Likely Navy F-18) on 338.2, dropping from 41,000

11:45  ___531 on 269.2 (Boston ARTCC PVD34)

11:46 ______ requests Uniform (UHF frequency assignment) on 307.9 (Boston ARTCC BOSOX47)

12:51 PACK61 on 321.0MHz, 15 minutes out from landing, Code 1, 35k fuel remaining.

13:34 PACK62 on 321.0MHz 15 minutes out, Code 2, two maintenance write ups for bad battery on one piece of equipment (IGY-2?), FLS no go on MMR2, 25k fuel remaining. Requests air stairs.

Good luck! I’m more than happy to answer any questions, or take any suggestions!


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