NIICD Avionics


Provide safe and reliable aircraft avionics to the national wildland firefighting community through maintenance, aircraft inspections, innovative equipment, and the creation of national standards.

NIICD's Avionics shop is a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certified repair station supporting national goals for wildland firefighting and homeland defense.

Important Avionics Information

Important Dates

January 1, 2010: All radios must be P25 digital compliant. See the Hotsheet for more info.

February 1, 2009: Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELT) operating solely on 121.5 MHz will no longer be received by SARSAT (the international search and rescue program). Only TSO-406 ELTs will be monitored by satellites after this date. All 406 MHz ELTs must be registered with NOAA prior to installation (47CFR87.199) and re-registered every two years. See NOAA's ELT FAQ webpage and the GPO's website to view 47 CFR. The FAA has not yet mandated conversion to 406 MHz ELTs. The Forest Service (FS) and the Aviation Management Directorate (AMD) will follow the FAA's lead on 406 MHz ELT implementation. The FS and AMD still accept TSO-91a and TSO-406 ELTs on interagency aviation contracts.

Hardware Notes

P25 digital radios are required in aviation. The only exeption is the Forest Service's Forest Health Protection program which may utilize specific analog VHF-FM radios for specific missions.

TSO-91 ELT's are no longer acceptable for interagency aviation contracts.

All fire aircraft must have at least one 760 channel VHF-AM radio operating from 118.000 to 136.975 MHz. If can be seen in the radio's display window, then it's a 760 channel radio. If the frequency stops at 135.975 or loops back to 118.000 after passing 135.975, then it's a 720 channel radio. Some older contracts still allow 720 channel radios. Most of these older contracts will require 760 channel radios when they are resolicited.

All federal VHF-FM communications must operate in the narrowband mode (12.5 kHz). Most VHF-FM radios indicate the narrowband mode with a lower case "n".

Automated Flight Following (AFF) is required on all Forest Service special mission aircraft and most AMD fire aircraft.

Technisonic Programming Tips

Many people program their Technisonic radios from a PC and run into problems. You must realize that each radio model requires different programming software. To complicate matters even more, software for a particular model may not operate with all models of that radio type.

TDFM-136: There are two basic versions of radio software, those with version one software (R1V40 or similar) and those with version two software (2.2.6 or similar). Software versions are displayed in the radio's lower right display area when the radio is first turned on. Both radio software versions use different PC programming software. This software is free and available at from the Technisonic Programming website at: You can construct a simple PC to radio interface cable or use a PIB-100 interface box. All radios can be upgraded to version two software although older radios have some hardware limitations. See the Hotsheet for current radio software information.

Automated Flight Following (AFF)

NIICD Avionics has little to do with AFF other than to ensure it works during avionics inspections. For questions relating to acceptable equipment, visit the AFF website and view the AFF Contacts list. A list of currently acceptable AFF equipment is not listed on any website.

About NIICD Avionics

It is important to keep avionics equipment modern and useful. NIICD Avionics works with other interagency avionics personnel to develop incident specific avionics equipment and standards, avionics contract language, and to provide avionics guidance to contractors and any federal, state, or local agency.

VHF-FM Aeronautical Radio

The first VHF-FM radio used in fire aircraft had a two (and only two) channel capability. Interchangeable frequency crystals permitted operation on different frequencies. In the late 1970's Joe Hole, a Forest Service avionics technician, created specifications for Motorola and Honeywell to design and build a VHF-FM aeronautical radio for the Forest Service. Shortly thereafter Wulfsburg Electronics produced the RT-9600 which became a standard in the fire community for several years. In the mid 1980's Northern Airborne Technology (NAT) introduced a VHF-FM radio with two radios controlled from the same control head. In the early 1990's, Bendix-King asked the Forest Service for their minimum requirements in order to make a less expensive radio, resulting in the KFM-985. In the mid 1990's Technisonic Industries built the first panel-mounted TFM-138's.

As technology evolved and requirements changed the P25 digital standard was adopted in the mid 1990's. Project 25 digital aviation radios began appearing in 2000 with the introduction of the Technisonic TDFM-136. In 2005, NAT began producing the NPX136D.

Currently we have Cobham (NAT) and Technisonic P25 digital radios. The rest have served as stepping stones to where we are today. Throughout the last four decades, Forest Service avionics personnel have developed, guided, and specified VHF-FM radios that have become commonplace in worldwide aviation.

See which VHF-FM aeronautical radios meet or do not meet current specifications on the Documents page.

Portable Radio Kits

Portable Radio Kits, more commonly known as "Air Attack kits", allow an aircraft to communicate with other incident assets while keeping the cost to the aircraft operator at a minimum. Creative technicians have used anything short of two tin cans with string to get the job done. A wide variety of airframe layouts makes a standard design next to impossible. Proper "slip-in" kits started when Earl Koenig, a Forest Service avionics technician, designed a kit using two portable radios in an aviation slip-in map case. In the early 1990's NIICD Avionics introduced an Air Attack kit having two audio control panels and a King KFM-985.

There are two basic types of radio kits: Air Attack kits and Reconnaissance kits. Air Attack kits must meet the minimum requirements for Supplemental Radio kits as specified in Light Fixed Wing contracts. Air Attack kits are used on fire missions. Reconnaissance kits contain P25 digital radios with in a wide array of possible combinations. These kits are used strictly for reconnaissance missions and may not be used on fire missions.

NIICD Avionics had a kit designed using Technisonic radios. NIICD has several Air Attack kits (NFES 4499) available for issue. Each kit offers up to four users multiple radios in different combinations.

Frequency Use

NIICD Avionics represents the aviation community on several boards, workgroups, and in a variety of meetings. Frequency and user guides have a direct impact on aviation issues and NIICD Avionics does its part to further aviation communications safety and simplicity. Air Guard, air tactical, and national flight following frequencies are some examples of NIICD Avionics efforts.


NIICD Avionics personnel travel throughout the United States providing training to pilots, mission specialists, ground personnel, and trainers. We teach radio use, programming, equipment use, policy, and procedures.

NIICD Avionics has developed unique equipment for radio training. These units simulate voltage from an aircraft, allowing the use of radios for classroom training. This unique equipment is not available for general ordering.

Military and Homeland Defense

NIICD Avionics regularly supports military aviation operations. Firefighting operations include activations from the US Army and US Marine Corps in support of large fire operations. Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) activations involving the US Air Force are a regular part of NIICD Avionics tasking.

Homeland Defense aviation support includes drug interdiction operations and unique mission support needs such as the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games and Space Shuttle Columbia recovery efforts.

In the Spotlight
photo of wildland fire and operations