Are you sick of seeing this sign everywhere?
It can be a nuisance to see, because many people don’t want to or have the time to obtain their ham radio license. Now, many people may ask: “Do I really need to get a Ham Radio license in order to fly FPV?” That question will inevitably go through every pilot’s mind at one point, and the simple answer is a big “YES!” A ham radio license is required in order to transmit on common FPV frequencies. I know, it may seem like a daunting task, requiring many hours of study and dedication, but getting licensed really isn’t as hard as it seems.
This article was submitted through the GetFPV Community Program by Lawrence Ro.
Disclaimer: This article was written solely by a member of the FPV Community. Views and advice in this article are that of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinion or views of GetFPV.
What is Ham Radio?
Before trying to study for a license, it’s probably a good idea to know exactly what you are studying for. Ham Radio is a hobby and privilege granted by the government which allows for civilians to utilize certain radio frequency bands for communications. Ham radio is used by many people worldwide, with millions of users having one of the three current licenses. Cool fact, many astronauts have ham radio licenses, and often use radio to communicate back to Earth.
Ham Radio has been used for hobby purposes, emergencies, local event communications, and natural disaster aid. It allows for worldwide communication without the use of cell data, Wi-Fi, or the Internet. This is because the ham operator essentially is the cell tower, and if he or she has access to a reliable power source, may make contacts across the world if desired. Ham radio grants a huge amount of power and usability to the person who knows how to utilize it to its full potential. People have been able to bounce radio waves off the moon and back using small, low power devices!
The main organization for ham radio is called the ARRL. This stands for the American Radio Relay League and is the largest ham radio organization in the United States. In order to regulate ham radio and to make sure that people responsibly use the bands which the government has given us, a ham license is required for legal operation.
There are three different licenses: Technician, General, and Amateur Extra. The lowest tier license is the Technician. The middle tier one is the General, and the highest tier license you can get is the Amateur Extra. All three allow for radio usage, but the higher tier license you have, the more rights as an operator you are granted. For example, the General and Amateur Extra licenses have access to more bands in the lower frequencies that the Technician license.
The Technician license is all FPV pilots need to fly, but if you want to get the General or Amateur Extra, then go for it! The General and Amateur Extra exams require a good deal amount of extra studying in order to pass, so be prepared!
There are many ways to study for the Technician’s exam. The most widely used and successful methods are studying the ARRL Ham Radio License Manual or taking a class. An app may also be helpful for studying on the go. Just know that in the end, you must pass with a score of 26 out of 35 from a bank of 423 questions chosen at random. The question pool increases for the General and Amateur Extra, with upwards of 700 question pools! The questions range from very easy, to relatively difficult, so be prepared for anything! However, you may already know some answers due to your knowledge of FPV and common sense. Here are some examples questions from the current pool you may encounter:
T1A02: Which agency regulates and enforces the rules for the Amateur Radio Service in the United States?
- Homeland Security
- The FCC
- All of these choices are correct
T1B07: Which of the following VHF/UHF frequency ranges are limited to CW only?
- 0 MHz to 50.1 MHz and 144.0 MHz to 144.1 MHz
- 219 MHz to 220 MHz and 420.0 MHz to 420.1 MHz
- 0 MHz to 902.1 MHz
- All of these choices are correct
T5B10: What is the approximate amount of change, measured in decibels (dB), of a power decrease from 12 watts to 3 watts?
- -1 dB
- -2 dB
- -6 dB
- -9 dB
T1F03: When is an amateur station required to transmit its assigned call sign?
- At the beginning of each contact, and every 10 minutes thereafter
- At least once during each transmission
- At least every 15 minutes during and at the end of a communication
- At least every 10 minutes during and at the end of a communication
T5B02: What is another way to specify a radio signal frequency of 1,500,000 hertz?
- 1500 kHz
- 1500 MHz
- 15 GHz
- 150 kHz
T6C06: What is component 6 in figure T2?
- Regulator IC
The whole question pool for not only the Technician but also the General and Amateur Extra may be found on the ARRL’s site here: http://www.arrl.org/question-pools
Some resources which proved to be very helpful included the ARRL Ham Radio License Manual, attending a local class, and an app called “Ham Test Prep”. You can pick up a copy of ARRL’s book from here: https://www.amazon.com/ARRL-Ham-Radio-License-Manual/dp/1625950136/ref=sr_1_5?crid=1VIDRIKZXESQM&keywords=arrl+technician+class+license+manual&qid=1575925240&sprefix=arrl+te%2Caps%2C273&sr=8-5
To find a class, simply go over to the ARRL site again and search for one based on location: http://www.arrl.org/find-an-amateur-radio-license-class
Attending a class is probably the best way to prepare for the exam, because the VEs (Volunteer Examiners) may give tips and tricks to help you pass. One interesting tip I received from my class was to “When in doubt, pick the longest answer”. The guy told us that one time, he took an exam and circled the longest answer for each one and ended up just barely passing! Hopefully, this will help some of you guys out there struggling on test day!
There are many more free resources to help you study for the exams. Listed below are a few notable sites with great test prep material and practice tests:
Studying for the ham radio test is going to be hard for some, and a cinch for others. It really depends on one’s prior knowledge of radio and the effort they are willing to put into studying. At the end of the day, it’s just another test, and whatever study method works best for you should be the way that you study.
Expect to take at least a couple of weeks to prepare for the test, although some people may be able to pass it in much less time. I know of people who have crammed for a few days, and passed the test on their first try, so study time greatly varies.
Prior to taking a class, I skimmed through most of the ARRL’s license manual to get a general idea of what I would be facing, and to be honest, half of the test is just common sense. There may be a few technical terms here and there, but overall, the actual test really is not as hard as it may seem.
Furthermore, if you intend to use ham radio outside of FPV, then pick up a Baofeng UV-5R handheld ham radio to practice. This is the most popular amateur radio out there. For $20, you get loads of features, and can communicate across the globe using this small device! They can be found on Amazon, Ebay, and many other stores.
Taking the Test
Before signing up for a test, be sure to get your FRN (FCC Registration Number) by signing up on the FCC website here: https://apps.fcc.gov/cores/userLogin.do. Be sure to bring your FRN written down, a scientific calculator, and a form of ID to the test, as these three things are critical in registering for a ham license.
Once you feel you are ready to pass the test, sign up for an exam near you, and when the day comes, relax. The day before, do something relaxing! Fly a few packs, read a book, watch a movie, or play a video game. The best thing to do before a big day is to get plenty of sleep. This is critical to make sure that your brain is functioning at its fullest potential. Also, be sure to eat a hearty breakfast.
You will be issued an exam by the VEs there, and once you pass, will see your name and radio call sign up on the FCC database here: https://apps.fcc.gov/coresWeb/publicHome.do. Your radio call sign is basically your “on the air name”. It is the way you would identify yourself on the air, as well as standardized “nickname” for hams. It is recommended to print out a copy of your ham radio license and laminate it. Carry it around with you while flying, just in case!
There are a number of ways to get involved in ham radio. One of these ways is to join ARES. This stands for the Amateur Radio Emergency Service and enables hams to put their license to good use, helping people in danger and responding to emergencies. In fact, during some notable tragedies, including the bombings at the Boston Marathon, the hams in the area volunteering were able to get emergency contacts out in mere minutes from the attacks, much faster than any other form of communication during the time. You can find more about ARES here: http://www.arrl.org/ares
Also, the ARRL again a nice webpage outlining different ways to get involved in ham radio: http://www.arrl.org/get-involved
In conclusion, studying for the ham radio test is a rewarding task, granting you special Amateur Radio privileges, which will enable you to fly FPV! Now, you can get on the air, talk to other people, and do some crazy stuff using your newfound power!
Have fun flying and stay safe!