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How to Modify a Radio to Listen to Air Traffic Control

Updated March 23, 2017

Listening in to conversations from air traffic control is legal, and you often need a scanner to receive these transmissions. These scanners can cost £65 or more. If you are looking for a way to receive air traffic control signals on the cheap, you can modify your old handheld analogue AM/FM radio to monitor these high-frequency air traffic radio signals with 10 minutes of time and a small Phillips head screwdriver.

Open up the inside of your radio by removing the Phillips head screws on the case of the radio. There should be four screws to remove, one on each corner of the case.

Locate the coils of copper near the tuning dial. These will be next to the tuning capacitor, which is a clear box that houses the tuning equipment. Turn on the radio and tune it to a clear station near the end of the FM dial, at or near 108.

Touch the copper coils with the screwdriver until you hear an audible change in the clearness of the station. This is the coil that you will need to adjust. Starting with that copper coil, slightly spread out these copper rolls until each coil is about 1 to 2 mm apart from one another. Your station will fade away; this is normal as you have just increased your radio's frequency past 108 MHz.

Locate the tuning transformers. These are small, clear boxes with screws in the middle of them. There will be about four tuning transformers. Turn on the radio and tune it in between stations so that there is just static on the radio. Start turning the tuning transformers to the right until the static is at its loudest point. You can now replace the radio's casing and screws.

Tune your radio above the 108 MHz band and try to find the Civil Aviation Band, which runs between 108 and 138 MHz. Although you will be able to listen into your air traffic control station far away from the airport, it will be easier to find the space to listen in if you are closer to the actual airport.

Things You'll Need

  • Analogue AM/FM transistor radio
  • Small Phillips head screwdriver
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About the Author

Sam Surgalski is a writer in Traverse City, Mich. His articles have appeared in The iPhone App Review, Winners Within Us, and on various other websites. Surgalski has a passion for all things aviation and writing, and enjoys playing the piano.