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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Monitoring helicopter traffic over Boston

In nice weather, helicopters are constantly flying in and out of Boston. The three types you'll most commonly see are Medical Helicopters, Mass State Police, and the TV news helicopters. Occasionally a military, especially a USCG helicopter will fly through. If you're within range of the city, all of these can be monitored pretty easily.
Helicopters entering the Class B airspace around Boston are required to be in communication with Logan Airport air traffic control on Boston Skyways (124.725). They will request one of the designated routes through the city, and if they need to deviate from that route, they will inform ATC of their intentions. For example, a medical helicopter may identify themselves, request the TOBIN route inbound, and say that they'll be landing at MGH. News or police helicopters will often request an area that they can hover in.
Unless you are very close to the airport, or have a fantastic antenna, you will probably not be able to hear the air traffic control side of the conversation.
Boston Skyways, as well as the helicopter air-air frequencies, can be monitored online here.

Medical Helicopters


Boston Medflight communicates with their dispatch center on several channels, generally all on the same frequency, 460.8 MHz. They use several different PL tones, depending on which tower they are closer to. For Boston, tones 114.8 & 107.2 are used. In Plymouth, the tone is 127.3, and for Bedford, 103.5. Your best bet is is likely to put the frequency is as CSQ, so that you hear all the repeaters. When communicating with air traffic control on Skyways, they use call signs Med1, Med2, etc.

UMass LifeFlight is dispatched on 155.16, and the dispatch side of the conversation generally comes in quite well in the Boston area. LifeFlight frequently makes trips into Boston, and with air traffic control, the helicopters use "Lifeflight" as a their call sign.

Southern New Hampshire and Maine are covered by the Dartmouth Hitchcock Advanced Response Team, known as DHART. Their missions are dispatched on 155.325 and 464.45 MHz and can generally be heard in the Boston area and especially north of the city. Their air traffic control call sign is DHART.

Medical helicopters headed into the city will usually contact the destination hospital on the CMED system, identify themselves, and provide an ETA and information about the patient's condition.

Helicopters responding to the scene will generally establish scenes with the agency in charge of the landing zone, which is usually the fire department, on the FD's main channel, or another frequency provided by the fire department.

Massachusetts State Police


The MSP airwing helicopters are easy to monitor on the 800 MHz trunk system. Most of their communications happens on the talkgroup dedicated to them, 35472, which is active on most sites of the trunked system. They will also establish direct communications on whatever troops TG they are working with, or direct with the specific police department they are working with. Their callsigns on both the MSP systems and with air traffic control are "State Police 2", "State Police 5", etc, or "Air2", "Air5", etc.

News Helicopters


There are generally three news helicopters (not including traffic) working the Boston area. The easiest way to monitor them is  on Boston Skyways and the helicopter air-air frequencies (123.025 and 123.075). When communicating with air traffic control, these helicopters will use their tail number as their call sign. WCVB's helicopter is N505TV. WHDH's helicopter is N55SL.

Several news stations offer live tracking of their helicopter on their web site, for example, Channel 7's helicopter can be tracked here.

Military


Military helicopters occasionally pass over the city. Your best bet for monitoring them is to listen to Skyways and keep an ear open for unfamiliar call signs. For example, the Massachusetts Army National Guard helicopters often use BOSOX as a call sign. Coast Guard helicopters generally use their serial number, for example "Coast Guard 6004". If you have a scanner, you can sometimes hear them on the military frequencies, such as 46.85 MHz for the MA ARNG units.

Good luck, and as always, your questions and comments are welcome.






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