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Thu, Jun 30, 2005

That's A Lonely Dog Leg

Airman Flies To Florida's Dog Island To Test Radio Communication

An avid private pilot and amateur radio operator assigned to Hurlbert Field, FL, participated in Field Day 2005 on June 25, a national emergency preparedness exercise aimed at ham radio operators.

Working alone on a desolate island, Lt. Col. Edward Linch combined his two passions and brought a concept he has long championed to reality.

Colonel Linch, the wing plans chief of the 505th Command and Control Wing, flew to Dog Island, a remote Florida island in the Gulf of Mexico, to test whether "bush planes," or small, maneuverable private aircraft capable of landing on grass airfields, could help bridge gaps in communication during a disaster.

American Radio Relay League officials held Field Day 2005 to link amateur stations with federal, state and local disaster relief agencies. Each station attempts to make contact with as many different operators as possible, forming a virtual chain that can be quickly brought together in a crisis. The nationwide event even caught the attention of President Bush who commented on the importance of the effort.

"Licensed amateur radio operators help first responders and law enforcement officials save lives and make our country safer," he said.

Colonel Linch first got his license in 1978, but as his career progressed, his hobby waned with the demands of flying F-16 Fighting Falcons and completing his education. After Sept. 11 and Hurricane Ivan, ham radios proved to be one of the most effective means of communication after other networks became overloaded or damaged, Colonel Linch said.

"Ivan was a real catalyst for me to get my station back on the air," he said. "I was sitting in my home with no power, no cell phone and no way to help any of my neighbors."

After these events, Colonel Linch resolved to get his station back on the air and regain his proficiency in operating his equipment.

During the exercise, he flew his Van RV-4 experimental aircraft to the island along with a generator and radio gear. The shortwave radio he used bounces its signal off of the ionosphere, allowing for extremely long-range communication.

Colonel Linch ran his station for three and a half hours repeating, "CQ... CQ... CQ... Kile Alpha Four Alpha X-Ray Sierra calling CQ Field Day" before being forced to leave because of weather. He made contact with 36 other operators from the tiny island, including operators in Canada and Kuwait.

"Ham radio operators working with small bush planes are proving to be a powerful tool during crisis," Colonel Linch said. "During the (December tsunamis), a friend of mine was landing on small roads and dirt patches and was able to send vital communications -- even e-mails -- to rescue workers."

Now that Colonel Linch has proved that bush planes and amateur radio operators can easily set up a network in remote areas, he said he plans to make his services available during the upcoming hurricane season.

"This season is supposed to be as active, or maybe even more active, than last year," he said. "I hope that I won’t have to use these skills, but if needed, I’m ready."



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