The Bear Net “Pirate”

The “Bear Net” of Russian Long Range Aviation has been relatively busy during the last few months, no doubt some of this due to the exercises playing out in Northern Europe by Western countries and NATO. They also tend to increase activity around the same time as USSTRATCOM have their Global Thunder exercises, one of which kicked off on the 29th October and lasted for just over one week.

Three Russian missions took place within the last two weeks, all of which travelled through the same airspace as the area covered by Exercise Trident Juncture 2019 (TRJE18) off the North coast of Norway. One flight was of a single Tu-142M, RF-34063//Red 56, that made a low pass near participating ships. I was unable to follow this flight so not received by me, the likely callsign on the CW frequencies for this was LNA1. This was intercepted being called by IWV4 on 8112 kHz at approximately the same time as the pass was being made. Images of the pass were caught by AFP correspondent P. Deshayes who was on one of the ships.

One of the other missions was of more interest than normal. The “Bear Net” is always an interesting thing to follow on HF, but when extras are produced it makes them even more fascinating. In this case it wasn’t so much what the Russian did, but what happened late on in the mission that wasn’t them.

Stepping back, we’ll go to the beginning of the day – 31st October 2018. The net was still on the autumn frequencies with ground station CW first being picked by myself sending “W” markers at 0920z on 8162 kHz. I quite often put one of the receivers on the current season ground station frequency to get any alert of possible flights heading out thanks to the markers sent every 20 minutes at H+00, H+20 and H+40. With this 0920z interception I started recording the frequency and I switched all radios to the other known frequencies – 9027 kHz for Air CW and 8033 kHz for Simplex USB voice comms – and got set up to start recording these should anything happen.

The 0940z W marker came, but interestingly when I went through the recordings later on I was able to hear a very faint G marker in the background. This had at least two operators carrying out the task as there were two distinct methods of sending. One would use the standard G every two seconds, whilst the other sent as double G’s and slightly quicker. The marker also started approximately 10 seconds earlier than the W and – guessing as it was stepped on by the W – looks to have lasted the two minutes too. You could hear it in the background between the odd W space.

At 0949z 8033 kHz became active and I started up recording on multiple SDR’s whilst using my Icom IC-R8500 as the live radio. By this time, I had also observed callsigns associated with QRA flights on my SBS so was pretty certain something was heading towards the UK.

With a few more USB calls following, but no CW traffic except for the markers I was certain the aircraft involved were Tu-160’s as they don’t use CW.

My Russian is still pretty basic (if that) so I totally rely on recordings to go through it all in slow time. I had been able to work out live that there was at least the usual STUPEN callsign along with TABLITSA; but I was also hearing another one that when going through the recordings I worked out to be KONUS – this one I hadn’t heard of before.

Going through the recordings, this mission certainly helped my knowledge of Russian numbers, or rather the methodology of how the messages are sent, as there were plenty of messages involved. The two aircraft callsigns were 16115 and 16116. These callsigns carry on in sequence to those that were used on a mission a few days earlier on the 28th with 16111, 16112 and 16114 being used by Tu-160’s and 50606 by an accompanying A-50.

In general 16115 was much harder to understand than 16116. 16116 said it all much slower and louder. STUPEN was very clear at the beginning, but faded towards the end, whilst TABLITSA may of well have been in my room, she was that loud.

Here then is the first part of my USB log:

8033 – Bear Net

0941z 16116 calls STUPEN
274 443 624

0949z 16116 calls STUPEN
458 842 156 816 443 896

0959z 16116 calls STUPEN [replies, 16116 faint]
KONUS calls 16116 and tells him to pass the message to him

1000z [16116] 303 847 023 534 734 619 822 332
[with wrong read back of group three, corrected by 16116]

1002z 16115 call KONUS
138 534 005 964 312 147 443 896

1010z 16115 call KONUS
741 534 724 619 822 180 443 594

1020z 16116 calls STUPEN
478 815 023 534 071 955 117 957 084 305

1028z 16115 calls TABLITSA, then straight away calls STUPEN
138 1?5 [error?] 138 534 540 115 ??? 251 660 033 084 316
[garbled with a possible error]

1036z 16116 calls STUPEN and TABLITSA, STUPEN replies
303 815 023 534 671 612 842 768 084 544

1039z 16115 calls TABLITSA and STUPEN, STUPEN replies
741 534 671 619 246 768 023 084 544

1048z 16115 calls STUPEN
138 534 491 236 896 443 084 635

1050z 16116 calls STUPEN
478 815 023 534 635 233 107 219 084 615

The recording below contains the 1048z and 1050z messages

1112z 16116 calls STUPEN
452 635 084 125
[repeats third number twice]

1129z STUPEN calls 16116 twice – no answer

1132z STUPEN calls 16116 twice – no answer

1133z STUPEN send message
BLIND 553 028 533 ??1

1141z 16115 calls STUPEN
741 534 360 810 719 980 447 023 038 914

1144z 16116 calls STUPEN
303 875 023 534 106 673 980 719 038 914

1148z 16115 calls STUPEN
138 537 023 534 674 400 388 521 038 496

1159z 16115 calls STUPEN
741 537 023 534 940 441 388 441 038 896

1201z 16116 calls STUPEN
478 816 023 534 717 355 637 321 038 496

1210z 16115 calls STUPEN
138 537 023 534 600 902 955 462 038 844

1213z 16116 calls STUPEN
303 815 023 534 186 117 388 117 038 896

1217z 16115 calls STUPEN
741 537 023 534 981 980 356 789 905 149

1306z 16115 calls STUPEN
138 537 023 534 540 288 810 236 905 206

1318z 16115 calls STUPEN
352 315 544 243 942

1320z 16115 calls STUPEN
[4 calls, no answer]

1322z 16115 calls STUPEN
741 537 023 534 724 284 312 816 315 555

1325z 16116 calls STUPEN
457 187 905 844

1351z 16116 calls STUPEN
457 187 315 715

Then comes the interesting part of this…… the arrival on frequency of the “Pirate”.

At 1427z an open mike became present on the frequency, in AM mode. This was fairly brief, and at 1429z the Pirate started.

Mike Delta Kilo Romeo, Mike Delta Kilo Romeo
Mike Delta Kilo Romeo, Mike Delta Kilo Romeo Standby
Mike Kilo Delta Romeo, Mike Kilo Delta Romeo, Mike Kilo Delta Romeo Standby

Note his own error or change with the callsign


Image of carrier wave and transmissions of MDKR//MKDR. The Pirate is using AM mode, but as the recording was in USB only that half was captured.

This was followed at 1431z
Mike Kilo Delta Romeo

The audio for the above is here:

At 1439z he was back but very faint, almost like it was a recording or live transmission of a Numbers Station. Shortly after this 16116 tries to call STUPEN and KONUS, getting stepped on by the Pirate who sends yet another attempt at an EAM/Numbers Station.

C78AAA5ACBCEA77D76FF33EAFAE63CF5A7AAAAFAF555A85CDBEEBBA5D6DFCCA – or something like that! It was hard to work out some of the digits due to the lack of phonetics. Each time I listen to it I get a different result!

Fake EAM/Number station message

The audio is below.

At 1446z, 16116 calls STUPEN, KONUS and TABLITSA but gets no response back.

The Pirate then attempts to jam the frequency again. First of all with an extract from a selcall system used by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs given the name “Mazielka”, designated X06 in the Enigma Control list. See the end of the blog for analysis on this.

This was followed by a continuous tone at 1090 Hz for approximately 35 seconds. These are the last transmissions by the Pirate.

Again at 1459z, 16116 tries the ground stations until TABLITSA finally acknowledges his presence and a message is sent. 16116 is barely readable with me by this time, though TABLITSA was ridiculously loud.

1459z 16116 calls STUPEN
calls STUPEN
calls TABLITSA answers [very strong]
452 730 969 463

1506z 16115 calls TABLITSA
590 375 143 986 196 233

1531z 16116 [very faint] calls TABLITSA
452 859 143 168

This was the end of all contacts on USB, with the last W marker coming it at 1520z (though these then did start up again at 1640z, though much weaker).

From various OSINT feeds, the approximate route of the Tu-160’s took them out over the Barents Sea having departed Olen’ya air base in the Murmansk Oblast and heading north before turning west once out over the sea. At some stage they were intercepted by Norwegian Air Force F-16’s and were escorted to abeam Bergen/NE of the Faroe Islands before turning for home. The Russian Air Force have stated that the flight lasted for ten hours which ties in with the seven hours or so of HF traffic, with the remaining 3 hours probably within range of Russian VHF communications.

Olen’ya is a common forward operating base for LRA missions, being one of the remaining Arctic Control Group (OGA) airfields available. The base itself hosts Tu-22M-3R Backfire-C of the Russian navy. These are Tu-22M3’s that have been converted for a navy reconnaissance role though it is unknown just how many are airworthy. The base has over 30 Tu-22’s in permanent storage.

Twitter feed for записки охотника (Hunter Notes) has a rough plan of the route flown, along with his intercept of the messages sent – he has few of the earlier ones, and there’s a couple of differences between his and mine.

So, who is this Pirate? It isn’t the first time he’s been around. He was also heard in September.

On this occasion he was a little bit more direct.

Russians we are watching you
Russians we know where you are
Russians, turn around and abort your mission

And later

We will blow you out of the sky
The Russians. We have you under observations [sic], stand down

Despite having what is clearly a South East England accent, he signed off using something along the lines of:
This is the United States BC36

No doubt he is trying to gain some sort of attention, and in a way he is succeeding – me writing this blog is proof of that. But what else is he trying to achieve? Is he hoping the Russians respond? I doubt they will. Apart from anything, I expect the radio operators, having had to listen to all the noise on HF for every flight, have learnt to ignore any calls which aren’t specific to their mission.

My initial thoughts were that he isn’t a radio amateur and hasn’t worked in any other field that involves speaking on the radio. His use of poor phonetics made me wonder this. However, with access to a transceiver and associated antenna this may not be the case – and amateur radio operators tend to make up their own phonetics rather than standard ones, and he may just not know them.

That said, he must have some interest in military aviation and possibly a member of a military aviation forum. These tend to have thousands of members that have not been vetted in any way or form and quite often have threads that give notice of flights are on their way, be it with an alert of a QRA launch or actual comms received on Bear net frequencies.

Twitter, of course, is another example of information being out there for anyone to then take action on.

One thing is for sure, if caught he will find himself in trouble with UK authorities with the possibility of a two year prison sentence and a heavy fine. He will most definitely lose his radio licence should he actually have one, and have all equipment confiscated.

Lets see if he turns up again in another LRA mission.

Analysis of the Mazielka (X06) transmission

It was obvious straight away that this was a recording of X06 – in this case the sub-variant X06b.

However there was something odd about it.

X06 is a selcall system used by the the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to alert outstations of an upcoming message, normally on another frequency.

The system sends out 6 tones, each lasting 333 milliseconds, making each call 2 seconds long. Each tone represents numbers 1 to 6 making a total of 720 different selcall combinations available for use.

The tones are sent on slightly different frequencies:
1 – 840 Hz
2 – 870 Hz
3 – 900 Hz
4 – 930 Hz
5 – 970 Hz
6 – 1015 Hz

The image below is taken from a X06 call I intercepted in November 2017 and decoded using go2Monitor. This shows a selcall of 116611. In this case the tones, which are still 333 ms long, sound longer but this is because the digits join on the same tone.

Whilst you can use a decoder, for X06 it is easy enough to decode using other means, such as Adobe Audition or Signals Analyzer. With these you can measure the tone frequencies and lengths.

In Adobe Audition the Pirate transmission is shown below


What is unusual is that the tones are off by 60 Hz. Whilst 1 should be at 840 Hz, here it is at approximately 900 Hz, and 6 is at 1075 Hz rather than 1015 Hz. Whether this is because the Pirate was transmitting in AM rather than USB I’m not sure. Maybe it is something to do with his original recordings. My recording is below

It is likely the long tone sent after the selcall here is the usual long tone that is sent before the standard ones. This is sent at 1090 Hz.


Looking at it using Signals Analyzer (SA) you can see that it is definitely X06. With SA you can measure more accurately the frequency and length of each tone.


Here you can see the two tones (actually 6). The total time for the selcall is 2.040 seconds with 1 marked at 896 Hz and 6 at 1074 Hz


Measuring the length of an individual tone (though actually 3 joined together) gives a length just over 1 second or 3 tones at 333 ms each


Finally, measuring the space between each call gives us 1.312 seconds which is the correct spacing for X06

The sub-variant of X06b is designated due to its format of six tones sounding like two. It is thought this is a test transmission.

Finally, just to confirm my theory, I ran a looped sound file through go2Monitor with the result confirming the selcall as 111666


2 B2 or not 2 B2

Whilst most of the UK were running around chasing B-52s and B-2s that were flying out of Fairford, more on which later, the USAF and USN over in the States were preparing for yet another large combined exercise involving multiple assets, including more B-52s and B-2s, as well as E-6s and KC-135s

Early heads up that something was going to take place was given when various airspace reservations were spotted by “Magnum” on the USAFs own NOTAM website. This was re-enforced when four KC-135s were positioned in Nova Scotia on the 10th of June

Sure enough, as predicted, on the afternoon of the 11th 11175kHz of the HF-GCS network started to come alive with calls from various assets involved in the exercise

I was preoccupied for the first few hours, but plenty of calls were coming through and picked up by the small group of us that regularly follow these missions. A couple of us do live in the USA so follow the action with their own gear, but in the majority Live ATC is a necessity for us in Europe; that is until a bit later and conditions let us follow the aircraft that are the furthest east

At around 1830z a long EAM (Emergency Action Message) of 147 characters was sent by GOALPOST, an E-6B operating over the USA:


This is significantly longer than the standard EAMs of 30 characters, and this EAM was repeated on quite few occasions over the next hour or so

By 1900z the callsign tally was quite large:
SPURxx KC135s
NARESxx KC135s
BEAKxx B2s

The operating areas of these flights had been pretty much worked out by those monitoring too, but I’ll leave those out except for one portion a bit later on

The sheer number of messages, such as the 4 group status messages used by the B2s in previous missions I’ve mentioned, and EAMs were overwhelming. There were so many they were stepping all over each other making it nigh on impossible to make them all out. It does make you wonder just how things would pan out should this all happen for real

Saying that though, the Russian CW networks I also listen too aren’t any better and do exactly the same thing.

I joined the action properly at around 2130z when I got a SkyKing message using my WinRadio Excalibur on 11175kHz. With the way the bandwidth was set up with the Excalibur I could see that Gander on 11279kHz was coming in strong which gave me hope that conditions would be good enough to pick some of the exercise up on 11175. I decided to set one of the other channels available on Gander as it’s always interesting listening to them sometimes

As it was, whilst monitoring 11175, I saw a really strong signal come in on Gander so I changed channels quickly and heard what I thought was SPEED20 calling with a position report. There was a distinct burn to the background call which showed it as a military flight.

A quick check through my old notes showed SPEED as a 97AMW callsign so I thought this would be one of the tankers. But, one of the US monitors then said he’d not heard a tanker using SPEED before, which made me doubt the call. Magnum then queried whether it may have been BEAK20 so I waited until the next position report about 20 mins later to confirm. It was indeed BEAK20, probably a B-2A from Whiteman AFB. The two B-2s were not that far from the boundary between Gander and Shanwick, and were now heading south

Route over the Atlantic by BEAK20/21

Route over the Atlantic by BEAK20/21

A bit of further delving through my old bits of papers that I call logs showed that I’d written down SPEED as a 97BW callsign in the early 90s. I’d tie this down to the fact that the 97th flew B-52s to Fairford for Desert Storm, and I visited the base then on a few occasions whilst stationed at Lyneham. Obviously, when the 97th transitioned to their new role of transports and tankers from Altus AFB, I’d just copied over the callsigns

As I’d not picked up much on 11175 on my own gear I decided to make Gander my primary on the Excalibur with 11175 on channel 2, along with 11175 on my Icom IC-R8500; and just to top that off, have Live ATC going on the PC too. It takes a lot of effort to listen to all this at once especially when there’s a time lag through Live ATC; it makes logging it all very difficult – I still feel like I’m cheating when listening to alive ATC too

Another position report followed with Gander telling BEAK20 to switch to 8891 as the new primary frequency. I followed them over as I was getting a good plot of their route using Skyvector. Again, with the bandwidth setup that I use on the Excalibur I was able to see other surrounding frequencies, and I noted that the Russian network on 8847kHz was also very busy. A quick listen showed these to be transports, but I was busy elsewhere so dumped the freq

I followed BEAK20 back to the Canadian domestic airspace at waypoint ELSIR, but before that at 2350z he asked Gander if they could go off frequency at midnight Zulu to monitor 11175 for approx 10 minutes. Gander said standby but never did get back to them, well not that I heard

At 0010z a new EAM was sent, this time by new callsign and an E-6B, OUTCROP. The Pool callsigns for the E-6s always change at midnight Zulu, so we were to expect a few new ones in the next half an hour or so, another one being LEGALITY.

With BEAK20 pretty much being back on Canadian domestic I was back to 11175 on the Excalibur and OUTCROP was quite clearly audible on it, whilst LEGALITY wasn’t.

Things had really started picking up again, with lots of stepped on calls again as everyone came back up on frequency, a pattern that is common with these – busy (all checking in) – quiet (flying the mission) – busy (checking back in). A couple of new callsigns also followed along with new groups of EAMs

This continued on for the next few hours, with myself calling it a day around 0130z when it had mostly died down. The final callsign list for the night was:

SPURxx KC135s
NARESxx KC135s
BEAKxx B2s
GLUExx ?
HALLxx ?
SUMACxx KC135s
HISTO possibly B52s

The last group of E6s were the same ones as earlier but have the midnight callsign change

Interestingly, a new NOTAM has been published that covers at least the next week, and the same airspace as used for this exercise. Is this to be a bigger and better one?

UK B-2s and B-52s

As I mentioned earlier, 2 B-2s and 3 B-52s have deployed to the UK for two exercises; SaberStrike for the B-52s and a FAMEX(Familiarisation Exercise) for the B-2s. They have caused nothing but what I would call a “boy band” over excitement from the UK aviation enthusiasts (of which I am one, though I’ve not got that excited)

It is great to see them over here again, and I did manage a glimpse of two B-52s as they left the Turnberry VOR tracking NW, but the commotion and excitement they have caused is amazing. Maybe I got too used to them 20 years ago (the B-52s) and I’ve seen a few B-2s in the USA so maybe I’ve been nulled by that.

As I live a good 300 miles away from Fairford, and with a holiday during the same period, I was never really going to see them, but I thought the radio may be a bit interesting. In the end it wasn’t. Daily round-robin tours of the UK for training purposes gave mainly route information. The B-2s tended to fly as singletons, but the B-52s did fly in pairs so there was some inter-plane chat between them – at the time of going on holiday this was on
226.875MHz and 300.125MHz

One of the routes flown as plotted by Chris Globe

One of the routes flown as plotted by Chris Globe

With the flights there seemed to be a regular pattern of one in the morning, one in the afternoon (of both types); and after a while it was noticeable that they used the same waypoints or FRDs (fix/radial/distance) but maybe in a different order. After two days, once they were used to being here, air to air refuelling also was incorporated into the missions with 100ARW from RAF Mildenhall

Callsigns used for the UK flights were:

EXULT11-13 B-52s on the 7th for flights from USA to Fairford
CORE11/12 B-52 UK flights
DOOM11/12 B-52 UK flights
DOOM20 B-52 UK flights
DEATH11/12 B-2 for flights from USA to Fairford
SPIRIT01/02 B-2UK flights
SPIRIT11 B-2 UK flights
ICOSA11/12 B-2 flight to Ascension

At the time of this blog the B-52s are yet to take part in Exercise SaberStrike except for one fly past at the beginning of the exercise

As I’ve said, I went away on holiday so missed some of it, but on the 11th the B-2s made a trip to Ascension Island (where I was posted to in the 90s) as ICOSA11/12 flight and they were monitored again by the small group of us. They were met by four to six KC135s that flew from Lajes in the Azores. This was part of an Out-of-Area operation to prove they can carry out Global Power flights outside of operating from Whiteman AFB

Although I believe they were due to land at Ascension, they didn’t and they returned to Fairford that night following a very long mission

Let’s hope these exercises are repeated next year, and maybe I’ll be able to head down to Fairford to see them

Logs from CONUS exercise:




1842z NARES42 calls SkyMaster, no response


2128z SkyKing PP3 T28 Auth RJ

Gander 11279

2220z BEAK20 (B-2A)
5442N 38W @ 2200 FL250
Est 5448N 3338W @ 2220
5245N 3339W next

2225z BEAK20
5448N 3338W @ 2220
Est 5245N 3339W @2238
5012N 3340W next
asked by Gander to do a radio check on 8891, then told that this was the new primary. 5616 is back up

Gander 8891

2240z BEAK20
5245N 3339W @ 2239 FL250
est 5012N 3340W @ 2301
5018N 38W next

2300z BEAK20
5012N 3340W @ 2259 FL250
est 5018N 38W @ 2324
5015N 42W next, Req FL280 (approved at 2304)

2323z BEAK20
5018N 38W @ 2324 (note being sent before this time) FL280
est 5015N 42W @ 2342
5007N 45W next

2345z BEAK20
5015N 42W @ 2342 FL280
est 5007N 45W @ 2359
50N 50W next

2351z beak20 Requesting to go off freq at midnight to monitor 11175


Gander 8891

0002z BEAK20
5007N 45W @ 2359 FL280
est 50N 50W @ 0023
ELSIR next

At 50W call Gander on 122.375




0015 BEAK21 1msg 4grps TL5T


0020z SPUR44 1 msg 4 grps 1YCK



0035z HALL33 1msg 4grps KIW2

0039z SPUR23 calling





0045z SUMAC24 1msg 4grps TPUW








0107z BEAK20 1msg 4grps HG2W

0109z DOOM92 with REDRIVER radio check


0116z BURNT15 1msg 4grps 6SX6 (only OUTCROP heard)

0120Z SUMAC42 1msg 4grps YUWI (only OUTCROP heard)

All information, callsigns and data has no connection to my employers and is obtained from my own radio logs, personal knowledge and public information

Global Lightning

On the night of the 14th into the morning of the 15th of May there was another exercise involving B-2A bombers transitting the Atlantic and returning to the USA following an Air to Air refuel with two KC-135Rs from Mildenhall. Also involved again was an E-6B operating out of Stuttgart

I’ve covered this type of operation previously in this blog which goes into detail how things happen, and this can be found here to recap on

There were two changes to the usual though. Firstly, the B-2 status messages (made every 15 minutes) had a slight word change, using “items” instead of “groups”; and secondly, and more significant was where the E-6 operated.

There had been the usual NOTAM in adavnce of this exercise which had the standard operating area of the E-6 out over the Atlantic, and this is where it was expected to transit to. E6However, on getting airborne it went NE from Stuttgart and settled over an area near Rostock in Germany. Whether this was some sort of show to Moscow, I guess we’ll never know but it does seem likely, especially with the Baltic Fleet homeport at Baltyisk not too far away

Anyway, on to the the log for the night.

Main Callsigns involved:
FOWL11/12 = 2 B-2A
MERCATOR = E-6B likely to be the one over Rostok
SALESMAN = E-6B Rostock E-6B, callsign change at midnight Zulu
CALAMINE = E-6B LANT/CONUS flight, callsign change at midnight Zulu
QUID90/91 = KC-135R flight from Mildenhall

All other calls from MainSail unless otherwise stated

11175[on Live ATC]

1647z STRATEGY with request to Mainsail

1648z ETHAN28 with radio check






1903z Diego Garcia with test count

2105z FOWL12 calls SkyMaster with 1 Msg 4 groups V3JM

2107z SkyKing BTL T07 Auth 00

2112z SkyKing 6OL T12 Auth FM

2120z FOWL11 to SkyMaster 1msg 4items 9J93

2130z MERCATOR standing by for traffic

5598 – Santa Maria Oceanic

2134z FOWL11 flight
44N30W @ 2133
Est 44N2230W @ 2208
44N22W next

2135z FOWL11 to route 44N22W after 44N2230W

2150z FOWL flight to route KOPAS 36N13W 36N18W 33N20W from Santa Maria


2150z FOWL11 1msg 4items 6JPN

5598 – Santa Maria Oceanic

2154z QUID90 calls for 44N22W ALTRV clearance

2159z clearance approved

2217z FOWL11 flight
44N22W @ 2217 block 260/270
Est 44N13W @ 2325
36N18W next

2220z QUID90 flight
44N22W @2219z Block 280/290
est 44N20W @ 2321z
44N15W next
In contact with FOWL flight, req MARSA and block 260/290 for refuel

2228z Quid90 informs SM they will be off HF for 30 mins for refuel


2230z MERCATOR standing by for traffic

2202z MERCATOR calls Mainsail for r/c

2205z FOWL12 1msg 4items MG52

2210z NORMANDY standing by for traffic (very weak – TACLANT)

2220z FOWL11 1msg 4items 7FR7

2230z MERCATOR standing by for traffic

2240z NORMANDY standing by for traffic (very weak – TACLANT)

5598 – Santa Maria Oceanic

2249z Quid90 flight
44N20W @ 2233
est 44N15W @ 2310
44N13W next
block 260/290


2250z FOWL11 1msg 4 items VKGT
FOWL12 1msg 4items U1VO

2257z SPAR781 calls Mainsail for r/c

2300z MERCATOR standing by for traffic

2300z RCH155 calls Andrews for r/c

2305z FOWL12 1msg 4items 06T6

5598 – Santa Maria Oceanic

2305z SM is asking FOWL11 for its route after KOPAS:


2310z NORMANDY standing by for traffic

5598 – Santa Maria Oceanic

2313z Quid90 calls SM, refuel complete, est KOPAS 2321
SM asks Quid90 to confirm Quid91 eta for KOPAS. Has to explain to SM that they are all together and will get there at the same time!!


2320z FOWL11 1msg 4items SS7U

5598 – Santa Maria Oceanic

2323z Quid90 flight
KOPAS @ 2322 FL280/290
Est TAKAS 2331
ETIKI next

SM gives reroute KOPAS dct REGHI FPL route


2324z FOWL12 calls SkyMaster for any Message traffic
No message tfc at this time

2330z MERCATOR standing by for traffic

2335z FOWL12 1msg 4items 1Q4K


2353z E5GSHU – IP5T2TGZKSU7LXXPS73B22LG (possibly FOWL in background)


0006z FOWL12 1msg 4items RFKR

0007z CALAMINE standing by for traffic


0012z SALESMAN standing by for traffic

0027z TINHORN calls Mainsail for systems test


0036z FOWL12 1 msg 4items E0TH

0039z Open mike from one of the E6s


0041z SALESMAN standing by for traffic

0049z FOWL11 1msg 4items AILK


0104z FOWL12 1msg 4items P8UE


0114z SALESMAN sends E5GSHU – IP5T2TGZKSU7LXXPS73B22LG (lots of background noise)

0117z SALESMAN sends E56QA3 – 4IKTV2HPK44KY7O5NBJTOY7K (but on first transmission after preambles, starts at TV2H etc)

0119z FOWL11 1msg 4items OO1C


0134z FOWL12 1msg 4items IUB6 – disregard – 3Y16

0140z SALESMAN sends E56QA3 – 4IKTV2HPK44KY7O5NBJTOY7K, more follows standby

0150z FOWL11 1msg 4items H5ZX


0206z FOWL12 1msg 4items IUBI

0219z FOWL11 1msg 4items XNB1

0229z 0159z E56QA3 – 4IKTV2HPK44KY7O5NBJTOY7K

0235z FOWL12 1msg 4items K5GT

0240z SALESMAN sends E56QA3 – 4IKTV2HPK44KY7O5NBJTOY7K, more follows standby

0249z FOWL11 1msg 4items DABJ



0309z SALESMAN sends E56OYP – D7Y5WI4F7XKJMBBCV7BNVAG6, more follows standby
E56QA3 – 4IKTV2HPK44KY7O5NBJTOY7K, more follows standby

0326z SALESMAN standing by for traffic

0329z 0304z E56OYP – D7Y5WI4F7XKJMBBCV7BNVAG6

0339z SALESMAN sends E56OYP – D7Y5WI4F7XKJMBBCV7BNVAG6 (background calls of SKYMASTER to other station)

0353z SkyKing PFF T53 Auth DS

No further calls were received after this. Another busy night, shame there’s not more of them

All information, callsigns and data has no connection to my employers and is obtained from my own radio logs, personal knowledge and public information


With everything else that’s been going on, I totally forgot to do a blog on my new antenna set-up; and when I say new it’s now nearly 12 months old

My old set-up wasn’t too bad with a longwire stretching from the study and just tacked on to the top of the fence and wall around the garden, then from an old washing-line pole to the corner of my garage at the far end. This created a horizontal L shape with a slight incline. Reception was very good although as the antenna wasn’t earthed there was a bit of noise. Luckily I live fairly remote so there isn’t the usual interference from neighbours TV sets etc, but I wanted to improve the signal by creating a better set-up.

As a back up, I also had a Garex Compact Active antenna in the loft which I also wanted to move outside. This is a great active antenna, designed initially to be used on small boats and was perfect as I live on a harbour and have to cope with the same atmosphere and conditions that would be found at sea. Corrosion of metal is a big problem due to the conditions around here, and this was evident in the longwire.

With this in mind, I selected Military Spec. Kevlar Antenna Wire from Nevada Radio. Not only is this wire weather proof and light, it is green and will blend nicely into the background around here, just like camoflage (another reason why it’s used by the Military). It is also incredibly strong, and once tensioned will not stretch like standard wire

Mil. Spec. Kevlar Antenna Wire

I also ordered a few other things including 100m of Military specification RG58C/U coax cable, some Ceramic Insulators, plugs and sockets. Nevada have never let me down and I can recommend them totally

Prior to all this, in a general conversation with John who supplies me with my firewood I mentioned how it would be great to have an old telephone pole to use as the main mast for my antennas – “well, I have loads of them” he says. So when it was time to get it all together in the New Year, John delivered the pole, all 8 meters of it!

Telephone pole after delivery

Telephone pole after delivery

The design was simple really. It would be the longwire stretching from the house in an L, with the down side running down the wall, connecting to the Co-ax, which would then run into the house via an air brick. Grounding would run from the co-ax connection to a copper rod driven into the garden. There would be a splitter in the loft space which would then feed both my Icom IC-R8500 and SDR-IQ radios.

The Garex would be placed at the top of the pole and the co-ax would then run along the wall and fence to the house; and in through the same air brick. The co-ax would continue through to the Icom as my second antenna

With rough calculations I realised that with a pole of 8 metres in length, I was going to need a pretty deep hole to put it in. BT use a screw type thing to dig the hole to the correct depth for their installations, but I didn’t have that, just a spade. 8 metres was too much anyway so I decided to cut off about a metre and calculated that around a 3 foot deep hole would be ok, with 6 bags of quick drying cement to firmly secure it in.

Garex attached to the pole

First of all though, I needed to attach the Garex to the top of the pole as I didn’t fancy doing that once it was upright and in the ground. Far easier to connect it all up and then plant the post into the hole. There are the usual steps attached to the pole which would be ok to use for general maintenance but it was going to be hard work getting the screw bolts into the solid wood of the pole that were needed to secure the mast mount.

Longwire clamp and step

With the Garex mounted and the cable run complete, it was then time to turn to the longwire. Again, it was going to be much easier to attach first and then raise the pole into position. BT had left the wire clamp on the pole so after a bit of a fight to get the bolts out that connected this, I was able to service them by wire brushing off the rust and corrosion before reconnecting them with some copper grease added to stop any further rust. To help secure the wire a bit better I first threaded some garden wire through some yellow/green earth sleeving which was then fed into the clamp and I then put the wire through one end an insulator. Then I fed the longwire through the other end of the insulator and tied off the wire using a standard camping guyrope tensioner, as unlike conventional wires that you wrap around itself the Kevlar wire uncoils due to its great flexibility. The tensioner butts up against the the insulator stopping the wire from going through the hole

So with both antennas attached and the hole dug, it was time to get the pole up. This turned out to be very easy, and with some assistance to hold it steady and totally vertical, I poured in the 6 bags of quick drying cement. After about 10 minutes it was ok to leave the pole on its own, and I waited a further two days before stretching the longwire across to the house

Whilst I waited those two days, I carried out the remaining tasks of getting all the co-ax in place and fully connecting the Garex to the Icom. Already, with the Garex, I could tell the difference that the new location made. The noise floor was much better, and there was no interference at all from anything electrical. The co-ax and splitter were all connected and the run down to the study was also completed, although I had previously needed to rearrange my whole desk to get everything in a better position in anticipation of this project



Prior to the desk change I needed to stretch quite a way to the Icom, normally needing to stand up, but now I can just adjust from my seat as it is within half an arms length. I had also connected up an old NAD amplifier and two NAD speakers to the SDR-IQ via the second soundcard in my PC

When it came to the final connection of the longwire to the co-ax, I just used a standard chocbloc, placed inside a waterproof electical box available from most DIY stores. Getting the wire nice and tight wasn’t a problem using an insulator at the corner and end of the L, and I left a little slack to feed into the waterproof box. The earth rod was connected by some old wire to the outer shield of the co-ax and we were good to go

RG58 running into the house via an air brick. Even in this picture it's hard to see the Kevlar wire

RGU58 running into the house via an air brick. Even in this picture it’s hard to see the Kevlar wire

The results were excellent. Nice clear signals with hardly any outside interference. I get the occasional trouble with electricals, normally my own PCs, but in the modern world this is hardly surprising (or avoidable). The longwire runs almost exactly North-South, which is perfect for what I normally listen too – Russian Navy and Military transmissions, but it’s also perfect for getting the Ocean traffic and USA

Overall, I’m very pleased with it. With the use of an old telephone pole and green wire, the whole antenna has basically disappeared into the background. After some chats with neighbours most hadn’t even noticed it had gone up. In fact, one even said they thought it had been there for years

Finished longwire running down to the house

Finished longwire running down to the house

Looking back to the pole

Looking back to the pole

Another angle on a sunny day

Another angle on a sunny day

Spirit Mission

On Sunday September 8th 2013, an E-6B, registration 164387, arrived at Stuttgart Airport in Germany, as usual being caught on the airports webcam as it arrived. Usually when an E6 arrives at Stuttgart they are parked over the far side of the airport and are normally visible on webcam 1. This time however it was parked out of sight of all the airport webcams


164387 at Stuttgart on September 9th. Photo taken by Lutz Herzog

It was soon noticed by a fellow radio monitor that there was a NOTAM published for the following week for an airspace reservation which tied in with an E6’s operating profile. In fact, almost the same area had been used before by an E6B involved in other high profile missions by the US Military.

The NOTAM was readily available on National Aviation websites providing warnings to pilots

AREA:4830N01400W – 46N014W – 46N010W – 4830N01000W – 4830N01400W
MNPS 30NM, NON-MNPS 60NM. 1000FT AMSL – FL250, 10 SEP 10:00 2013 UNTIL 10 SEP 18:00 2013. CREATED: 04 SEP 12:35 2013

AREA: 4830N01400W – 46N014W – 46N010W – 4830N01000W – 4830N01400W
MNPS 30NM, NON-MNPS 60NM. 1000FT AMSL – FL250, 09 SEP 10:00 2013 UNTIL 09 SEP 18:00 2013. CREATED: 04 SEP 12:27 2013

AREA: 4830N01400W – 46N014W – 46N010W – 4830N01000W – 4830N01400W
MNPS 30NM, NON-MNPS 60NM. 1000FT AMSL – FL250, 13 SEP 09:00 2013 UNTIL 13 SEP 20:00 2013. CREATED: 04 SEP 12:23 2013

There was one anomaly to this NOTAM which initially made me think it wasn’t anything to do with E6 operations and that was the height limits, which were slightly different to normal. These would normally be from the surface to FL260 (SFC – FL260). I’ll explain a little about E6’s to show why

E-6B Mercury – TACAMO
Operated by the US Navy, the E-6 carries out the TACAMO role for the US Military, the airframe is based on the Boeing B707, with a modern day glass cockpit, Avionics and Turbofan engines. The aircraft has systems and an airframe which have been hardened to EMP from Nuclear weapons. The endurance is substantial, with an unrefuelled duration of 10hrs 30mins, all the way up to 72 hours with multiple Air to Air refuels; only being penalised by the engines requiring oil after this time. There are 16 aircraft in the fleet.

TACAMO stands for “Take Charge and Move out”, and was originally a mission that uses VLF to transmit messages to the US Ballistic Missile fleet of Submarines (SSBN) from the National Command Authority. As well as this mission, with the upgrade from the E-6A to E-6B, the fleet took over the roll of AirBorne National Command Post (ABNCP) or “Looking Glass” from EC-135 aircraft in 1998. This gave the aircraft the ability to Command and Control land-based missiles and nuclear-armed bombers, as well as the Submarine fleet. Now the primary mission is to receive, verify and retransmit Emergency Action Messages (EAMs) to US strategic forces by communicating on nearly every radio frequency band. The aircraft can “talk” to every element involved with a potential Nuclear war, from ground forces all the way up to E-4B AABNCP and Presidential VC-25 (Air Force 1) aircraft.

To communicate with the SSBN fleet the aircraft use VLF (Very Low Frequency) using a Long Trailing Wire Antenna which is reeled from the centre fuselage through an opening in the cabin floor. The length of this wire is 26,000ft and is weighed down at the end.

And this is where the height in the NOTAM comes into play. To achieve the communication with the Submarines the aircraft flies in a very tight orbit at 26,000ft, which stalls the wire making it fall almost vertical. A 70% vertical fall is required to effectively communicate with a submerged SSBN

With the NOTAM quoting 1000ft AMSL to FL250 this showed that the area wasn’t to be used for communicating with any SSBNs that may be in the area. The dates were also strange, with the area not being active on the 11th and 12th, but back on the 13th. So what else could it have been for?


Lets rewind a bit. On the 21st August the Syrian Regime used Sarin gas against its own population during the on going civil war there. This effectively meant they had crossed the “red line” Barack Obama has set in place that would mean repercussions from the US. This immediately started a build up of US forces in the area, with a large fleet of ships arriving in the Mediterranean very quickly after, giving an estimated 250 Cruise Missiles available to strike Syria. Aircraft movements through Europe increased also, including the E-6B.

As I said earlier, the E-6B had possibly been used in previous military actions including the mission against Osama Bin Laden. In this case it was used as a forward communication platform or as it’s officially known AirBorne National Command Post (ABNCP). The day after it had arrived in Stuttgart, the E-6B got airborne using the ATC callsign “RAZZ02” and headed NW towards the UK where it did a large orbit of the country before returning to Stuttgart. On HF it was using the callsign TIME OUT, and I picked it up early on at home on USB 8992kHz at 0747z. The HF side of things is carried out by the Command staff at the “backend” of the aircraft, whilst the ATC part is done by the cockpit flight crew

E-6B transiting home on the 15th September

E-6B transiting home on the 15th September

The flight lasted most of the morning and involved various calls to Mainsail (the US HF-GCS network , operated from Andrews Air Force base using remotely controlled sites around the world) and Sigonella Naval Air Station (also part of the HF-GCS network). This was almost the same profile as used before

Amazingly, the E-6Bs can be tracked using online aircraft tracking programs like Planefinder. I don’t think this is a mistake as the whole fleet use Mode-S IFF transponders. I believe they purposefully send out this information so that the “World” can see they are out there and are available 24hrs a day, 365 days a year

It was during this flight I suddenly realised why the 11th and 12th had no airspace reservation. It would be the anniversary of 9/11 and possibly not the best day for US forces to make a strike against Syria – it would only give Syria propaganda that the attacks on them were in revenge for 9/11. With the time differences, the 12th GMT would still be the 11th is the USA (well for part of it) so this gave a potential strike day of the 13th.

On the 10th the E-6B didn’t fly. And negotiations had started between the USA and Syria, with Russia as an intermediate who had advised Assad to give up all his chemical weapons to avoid the strikes

60-0337 | Boeing KC-135T Stratotanker | USAF - United States Air Force

60-0337 arrives at Mildenhall. Photo by Chris Globe

The E-6B was up again on the 11th doing the same profile whilst 2 KC-135Rs arrived at Mildenhall using callsigns SPUR57 and SPUR58. These were aircraft 58-0069 and 60-0337. The SPUR callsign is quite often used for special flight refuels which made it look like it was going to be an airborne mission of some sort on the 13th. It was looking like it was going to be a B-2A day and I was on a day off

Getting into the Spirit of things

At 0806z it was reported by another radio monitor that 2 B-2As had just refuelled in the USA. The callsigns of the B-2s were HAMAL11 and HAMAL12. They were on their way. But was it to be a wasted journey?

B-2A taking off at Nellis AFB during a Red Flag exercise in March 2012. Copyright Tony Roper

It looked like it was going to be, as the USA had agreed to the terms suggested by Russia that Syria hand over all their chemical weapons to stop an attack on their military.

It wasn’t long before further confirmation came through that the flight would not be a strike on Syria, but just a “round robin” flight back to the USA. The route would take them east to a waypoint called KOPAS, off the NW coast of Portugal by about 210 miles, to then track south to 36N13W and then back west.

Route of HAMAL flight

Route of HAMAL flight

The full routing was caught by another radio monitor and then plotted by our “Global Strike” expert, Rich

The E-6B was airborne from Stuttgart just before 0900z and was trackable using Planefinder as usual. It was again using RAZZ02 as the ATC callsign, with the backend using AUDIO KIT. At 0906z the KC-135R refuellers for the B-2s got airborne, using callsigns SPUR57 and SPUR58

I was yet to hear anything from any of the aircraft involved. The HF-GCS network frequencies were very quiet. The usual primaries 8992kHz and 11175kHz were dead. And there was nothing on 6761kHz, the frequency used by tankers to call the receiving aircraft long distance

The E-6B and KC-135Rs routed via VLN and LND before heading down to their relevant points for the mission. Others were starting to get faint transmissions on 11175kHz from AUDIO KIT whilst I was still getting nothing. I was starting to think I was going to have to do some DIY instead

At 1043z, one of the monitors picked up HAMAL flight talking to Santa Maria Oceanic control, whilst another caught SPUR flight in contact with Shanwick on 6622. Half an hour later, after hearing nothing from anything I decided to give up and do the DIY I’d been putting off all morning.

With the constant messaging coming through on the forum about the flights and what was being picked up I decided to stick with it, and finally at 1330z I picked up AUDIO KIT on 11175kHz. What follows is my complete log from then:

Audio Kit = E6B
HAMAL11/12 = B2A

1330z Audio Kit standing by for traffic

1333z Mainsail – SkyKing JE3 T33 Auth NV

1335z HAMAL11 this is Audio Kit in receipt message, 1 gp, CF9Q

1342z Audio Kit with EAM – FVFWJL

1404z Audio Kit Standing-by for traffic (repeats)

1405z HAMAL12 this is Audio Kit in receipt message, 1 gp, ERTC

1430z Audio Kit with EAM – FVFWJL

1449z HAMAL12 calls Lajes Control, who replies simulated destroyed

1459z HAMAL11 flight, this is Audio Kit. Stand-by for high precedence traffic

1500z Audio Kit with EAM – FVFWJL

1513z Skymaster this is HAMAL12 with message, 7RRP
HAMAL12 this is Audio Kit in receipt message, 1 gp, 7RRP

1520z HAMAL12 this is Audio Kit in receipt message, 1 gp, QDLC
HAMAL12, Audio Kit, we did not receive message AZZ4

1521z HAMAL12, Audio KIt. Message AZZ4, has this been transmitted already?

1530z Audio Kit with EAM – FVFWJL

1534z HAMAL12 this is Audio Kit in receipt message, 1 gp, 65I9

1550z HAMAL11 this is Audio Kit in receipt message, 1 gp, KBKL

1600z Audio Kit with EAM – FVFWJL

1605z Skymaster this is HAMAL12 with message, 1 gp, 44LF
HAMAL12 this is Audio Kit in receipt message, 1 gp, 44LF

1620z HAMAL11 this is Audio Kit in receipt message, 1 gp, HMOL

1629z SkyKing UTL T28 Auth WU

1635z Audio Kit in receipt message, 1 gp, KQ5T. Confirm callsign? (stepped on….)
Mainsail – SkyKing QBR T35 BC

1637z HAMAL11 this is Audio Kit, copy all

1657z HAMAL11 this is Audio Kit in receipt message, 1 gp, IL4M

1659z HAMAL11 this is Audio Kit. Have you weak and broken. Were you asking for the message sent at 1530z?

1700z HAMAL11, message was FVFWJL and no longer in queue

1705z HAMAL12 this is Audio Kit in receipt message, 1 gp, 3IMV

You may notice that the group messages from the B-2As were occurring every 15 minutes or so. Rich said that these were probably position reports as they coincided with the normal cruising speed of a B-2A travelling 3 degrees Longitude. I agreed with him as there was one call that had been missed out that AUDIO KIT was expecting

An hour or so later and things had died down to the occasional call from AUDIO KIT. And it was time to give up for the day

It had been a very interesting few days with the 13th being the most interesting. The whole thing has reawakened my interest in the USAF HF-GCS network as it has, in my eyes, got fairly boring, with just EAM messages. If it was a bit more like this I’d definitely be there more often

And it was a lot more fun than DIY

All information, callsigns and data has no connection to my employers and is obtained from my own radio logs, personal knowledge and public information

Further references:
E-6B Mercury overview
E-6B short video
TACAMO on Wikipedia
EAM on Wikipedia
E-6B on Wikipedia
Jane’s All the Worlds Aircraft
Jane’s Aircraft Upgrades