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

Hardware Notes

P25 digital radios are required in aviation. The only exception 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.

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 and OAS special mission aircraft.

Technisonic Programming Tips

Many people program their Technisonic radios from a PC and run into problems.

· Each radio model uses a different programming cable. They cannot be used interchangeably among radio models.

· TDFM-136 series radios must use the most current version of Technisonic's TDP-136 software or the radio can be corrupted.

· TDFM-136 and TDFM-136A models require a computer with a serial port. All modern computers lack serial ports so a USB-to-Serial adapter must be used. Not all USB-to-Serial adapter cables work with all computers while programming Technisonic radios. Unfortunately this is a trial and error process.

· TDFM-138B radios can be programmed via their faceplate connector. However, you MUST already have drivers for this connector loaded on your computer. Drivers are available at:

· TDP-136 software is free and available from the Technisonic Programming website at:

TDFM-9000 series Radios: The Technisonic TDFM-9000 series radios use highly complex Motorola APX CPS software to program them. This software's complexity is generally far beyond the ability of most users. APX CPS software controls not only frequencies and channel arrangement but Zones, available tones, keypad button functions, display operation, etc. It is easily safe to say that one box not properly checked is this complex program will render the radio unusable. For this reason the NIICD has developed an APX CPS "Codeplug" which covers the US. TDFM-9000 series radios not using the NIICD Codeplug cannot use the two NIICD produced documents: TDFM-9000 Quick Reference Guide and TDFM-9000 Radio Operators Guide.

Automated Flight Following (AFF)

Interagency Avionics Inspectors have little to do with AFF. AFF is a performance based system. It works or it doesn't. Our function is to simply ensure AFF units provide accurate and timely data to the government's AFF system. For questions relating to AFF, visit the AFF website. A list of acceptable AFF equipment is not listed.

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 a wide array of possible configuration 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