Whatever you choose in a scanner, Stay Away from anything called an "aviation scanner". Waste of money, simply put.
Personally, I use a Uniden SC180 scanner. Has all of the VHF frequencies, a neat search feature (useful if you find yourself in Cleveland with no AFD) and the ability to label each individual channel (100 available) alpha-numerically, based upon the assigned frequency. You also have 10 "Priority" channels that keep you from missing anything on these freqs (I like putting clearance in these....that way, I can figure out where everyone is going). The only thing the SC180 doesn't have are the military UHF frequency bands. Honestly, I had a scanner that did have them when I lived on a Marine Corps Air Station. Now....I don't miss them.
The SC-180 is a full featured scanner that satisfies all of my other needs for a portable scanner. Police bands, State Troopers, EMS...everything!!! I need nothing else!
The problem with an "aviation scanner" is that it doesn't really mean anything. I have a friend with that Sporty's Piece of crap, and it's really a waste of money. No true scanning feature....just kind of a reciever. Hmmm, I guess it's all about what you want.
You can pick up an SC180 on the Uniden website for $139...maybe cheaper on Ebay!! Any questions, let me know!!!
What kind of range does your scanner have? I have always thought about getting one, but it would be kind of useless here in GFK, except for our company traffic!!
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Well, realistically, it all depends on the transmitting station and it's strength. I can hear aircraft within about 5-10 miles below about 1500 feet, and then after that, it just depends. I'll often hear aircraft up at 350 and above for many more miles. Since it's all line of sight, and I usually can't hear the controllers unless it's a wonderfully cloudy night, and I'm upstairs in the bedroom, holding the scanner just right next to the window. Not worth the trouble...lol.
If I'm anywhere near the airport, I can usually get everything, and that's pretty cool. Like I said before, the only thing I miss are the Guard C-130s at the airport, and they stay on VHF most of the time anyway (it is the air guard, you know....almost civilian...
Up in the Gran Forks area, you might not get much Southwest Airlines traffic, but it might be neat sitting around when you're studying to hear the aircraft out in the practice area, or listen to them while you're shooting approaches. And when/if you travel, it makes your time at the terminal alot more fun!!
The Uniden's are nice because most of them are digital. I have a fairly nice Dual Trunking Scanner from Radio Shack. Cost me 300 bucks and can sit 1000 channels in the memory bank. I really dont use it much for aircraft scanning (signal not good, and I already here anough of it) I like listening to police and truckers. Especially police, there quite amusing to listen to "behind the scenes".
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what would a typically good scanner cost?
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Depends on what you're going to use it for, exactly. If you're listening to many metropolitan utility frequencies, a trunking scanner like the one john_jones is refering would be ideal. For most general purpose aviation uses, however, $100 to $175 would do just fine. There really isn't much need to pay more than that for general listening.
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Would a two way handheld like the one Sportys make be good enough? Or am I missing something?
It seems if the Sporty's Handheld worked good enough to listen on the ground, then you could also use it in the plane when your coms hit the crapper.
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A handheld transceiver similar to the models that Sporty's advertises would work great in the event of 2-way radio failure. It is also awesome for listening on the ground. However, for SCANNING, you kind of need a scanner.
A scanner has a set number of channels, each of which can have a specific frequency assigned to it (i.e. 121.9 in Ch. 1, 119.1 in Ch. 2, 135.3 in Ch. 3, etc). The scanner then "listens" to each frequency for a fraction of a second, and stops on a channel if it detects a transmission being made. Many models even delay the continuation of the scan after a transmission to ensure that the listener can hear the return transmission.
Most models in production now (stay away from Radio Shack...with a few exceptions, they're wayyyy overpriced) even allow you to name your channels (BNA GND, APPCH EAST, BNA CLNC, etc). This way, you even know who you're listening to without having to memorize all of the freqs.
These features really come in handy at a major airport. For example, at BNA when it's busy, there is a tower freq, clearance, ground, anywhere from 3-5 aprooach/departure freqs, etc, etc, etc. Then, of course, center, ATIS-D, ATIS-A, the list goes on and on sometimes. It's nice not to have to enter any frequencies when it's time to listen to airplanes (or Police officers, EMS, etc.).
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I read somewhere that scanners are illegal in some states. Does anybody know which states, or where I can find this info?
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Well, they're illegal in just about every state if they're used to help you commit a crime. If you're robbing liquor stores and using a scanner to know when the police are on the way, that's definately illegal.
I'm not sure about any other laws...if anybody knows, please chime in!!
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I think the RadioShack scanner is about 100 bucks.
I have wanted one for a long time, but live in a fairly woody/hilly area, so I can't imagine getting great reception very often.
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Well hell I got ripped
...Actually like mtsu_av8er is saying the dual trunking one on my finger tips is very nice.
As far as crimes it is also illeagal to "listen" into phone conversations on digital phones, and I'll admit it I've broken that "law" a couple of times. Most of all scanners dont have the "good" channels available (FBI, CIA, Secret Service-if near a leader) because of a chip that disables it and tampering with the chip is illeagal. They sell them without the chip in Canada though, just with a steeper price, but I guess unless you are really wanting that option it doesnt really matter.
This isn't a "scanner", but Radio Shack sells these receivers that cover the aviation band for less than $30, if you're just gonna monitor a single freq like tower or CTAF or something. They're even on sale for $25 at the moment, tho you have to buy them online, I think.
I got one of these. For $36 it is a great deal. Still on the same set of AA batteries for over a year. I use it for CTAF monitoring, on way to, and while judging landings. and for ASOS while within about a mile since the terrain driving to WVI doesn't allow much more. There is no squelch, so you will hear the hssssssssssssssss, all the time if no one is transmitting. Having memories is great though, I keep all local stuff in the first 5, and nearby fields in the other 5. Even listen the the AM/FM broadcast stuff now and then.
Much better deal than anything else out there, if you just want cheap.
It is nice to know what freq you are on, but it does not have the best rejection. In other words, I can hear local CTAF stuff on 122.8 where it should be, and 122.75 and 122.85, almost as clear.
I'd buy a ton of these, and keep meaning to tell my local FBO to keep them in stock.
I used to have an old Airstream or whatever the Radio Shack one that aloft posted here is. Used it a few times to find a few ELTs actually. Hard thing, is it is hard to tell what is 122.7 and 122.8 on there!
If you are looking at spending hundreds, or near that, as others have pointed to a normal scanner, then I'd suggest start looking at a nav/com you can bring with you as a backup radio too! For under $50 new, the one I listed here is the way to go. Battery lasts forever.