ELT *test* beacon 406 MHz (and/or 121.5)

Started by gknauth, February 01, 2022, 01:24:46 PM

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I'm interested in purchasing a test beacon for mission pilots and observers to use when practicing their 406 MHz (and/or 121.5 MHz) ELT airborne homing skills.  I'm familiar with the units that allow sending a test signal on, for example, 121.775 MHz.  I once had a mission pilot check ride with a check pilot who had a 406 MHz beacon he set up before our flight.  I can't ask him where he got it because this was some years ago and he has since passed.  I know that these things exist.  I have no idea where one would get a test beacon, how expensive they are, etc.  A Google search just led me to lots of sites explaining how to test your actual ELT transmitter, the one in the aircraft, or your personal PLB.  I have not been able to find out how my mission check pilot from a few years ago obtained a test transmitter.  As a side note, I do have a PLB; I haven't looked to see if it can transmit on anything other than 406 MHz, but I'd hate to wear down its battery in case I need it for an actual emergency.
Geoffrey Knauth, Maj, CAP


"Belligerent....at times...."
NSS ISC 05-00
US NWC 2016


Geoffrey Knauth, Maj, CAP


As I understand it, a practice beacon used for 406 MHz needs to be specifically coded to transmit with the "test user protocol" to prevent the message from being forwarded as a real alert; also I think there's some kind of mandatory pre-notification required to the AFRCC.

Aha, page about it here: https://www.gocivilairpatrol.com/programs/emergency-services/education-and-training/406-mhz-training-beacon-requirements


Several years ago (maybe 2017?) NHQ sent out ACR 375 beacons to each wing that were "test coded".  They were wired to transmit the 406 signal with reverse frame sync, which would be ignored by the SarSat system but fully functional for training purposes including a 121.775 homer.  Your wing should have those on the inventory.  If you are unable to find them, you might try checking in with the NOC or NHQ Operations to see if they have access to more.  Alternatively, you could try to borrow one from an adjoining wing.  The other option, which I wouldn't recommend, AFRCC and NOAA will under some circumstances allow activation of a "live" 406 beacon.  This requires submission of a specific form several days in advance and needs to be approved by both AFRCC and NOAA before activation.  Good luck.


NHQ distributed the test coded 406 MHz ACR PLB-375 test beacons based on where the Becker/Rho-Theta equipped planes were. ORMS shows 16 in our wing inventory.  To use them, you have to submit a form to AFRCC, which then forwards it to NOAA. The initial submission needs to be made at least 72 hours in advance.  The test beacons also transmit on 121.775 MHz. Information, official test policy and form here: https://www.sarsat.noaa.gov/emergency_beacon-testing/



Side note for those with NHQ provided training practice beacons:

My ESO reached out to the local ACR retailer,  and ACR themselves,  to inquire about battery replacements.  Seems the "battery replacement service" is upwards of $125 and includes a comprehensive check out, or that they had to do something special to the unit following the battery replacement.

(I get the manufacturers wanting to function check their gear at battery replacement time from a liability standpoint. In my other hobby, skydiving,  my rig has a battery-powered automatic opener on the reserve parachute.  One manufacturer requires you to remove the entire device and send it to their US service center for battery replacement and diagnostics.  The first gen of this manufacturer's device you had to do that every 4 years, device had a 12 year TSO life limit.  I've since moved on to another manufacturer's AAD with a user replaceable on-condition battery pack and no requirement to send it to the service center unless there is some sort of a version update..and a 20-year TSO..)

Since our units are not used for emergency purposes,  it's kind of silly to spend $125 or more for that level of assurance.


And the post-battery replacement step is a power function check.  That's it. 

So if you need batteries, replace your whole fleet for the cost of one battery change. (We have 4)

Darin Ninness, Col, CAP
Wing Dude
I like to have Difficult Adult Conversations™
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