Whether you want to listen to Approach Control, Ground Control, Local Control, ARTCC’s, ATIS, Airshows, Military Communication, or any other type of airborne communication, at home or on the go, one of the following aviation scanners will be more than up to the task.
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4 of the Best Aviation Scanners
Top Pick (Digital and Analog): Uniden BCD436HP
For aviation, you don’t necessarily need a digital scanner. But if you don’t want to be limited and would prefer to be able to pick up everything, including civil and military aviation, and Fire and Police communications, look no further than the digital Uniden BCD436HP. The scanner covers everything from 25 Mhz – 1,300 MHz.
The BCD436HP required very little to no programming due to its channel selection by location via ZIP/postal code, GPS coordinates, and Service Type (i.e. Civil and Military Aviation, Police, Fire, etc.).
The included microSD card covers all known radio systems in the US and Canada and is updated weekly. I found the Auto-Locate feature to be very useful to find local systems when I didn’t know my exact location.
The device was easy to use thanks to its Easy Scan Control that allowed me to organize and access my Systems into your Favorites Lists.
Arguably, my favorite feature might be the scanner’s smart audio recording that also allows for instant replay. I was able to capture transmissions and play them back for up to 4 minutes, as well as automatically record audio from a range of frequencies to find unknown frequencies.
Besides this, the Uniden BCD436HP comes with everything you would expect at this price point, including Close Call RF Capture, GPS Connectivity, NOAA Weather Alert with SAME, an extra-large display, and a feature that let me quickly and easily silence unwanted systems, departments, or channels.
Top Pick (Analog): Uniden BC125AT
If you’re happy with just analog signals, you can’t go wrong with the Uniden BC125AT.
The scanner made things easy with its Service Type search to automatically find Civil and Military Aircraft bands. I could also find and pre-program any frequency I wanted into memory, such as airport frequencies. The Close Call RF Capture was useful for finding transmissions that aren’t listed in frequency guides.
Due to the aviation scanner’s compact design, it happily fit into my shirt pocket. It also takes regular AA size batteries in case the included rechargeable batteries run out of charge.
Budget Pick (Analog): Uniden BC75XLT
There isn’t a huge amount of difference in price between the Uniden BC75XLT and BC125AT, but there are a few features that differ.
The biggest difference is that with the BC75XLT I wasn’t able to listen to military air frequencies. It could also “only” store up to 300 channels in 10 banks, and I was unable to assign names to these banks and channels.
Its battery life is arguably shorter, and range perhaps not quite as strong.
For most aviation lovers, the BC125AT is worth the extra money. But if you are sure you can live without some of the additional features, you may as well spend less.
Best for Home: Uniden BC365CRS
If you plan to do all your listening at home, look no further than the Uniden BC365CRS. It was able to scan 90 channels per second, store up to 500 channels in 10 banks, and covered all civil and military aviation bands.
The BC365CRS has a very respectable range of 20-40 miles and is attractive enough to make a nice addition to your preferred listening area without looking out of place. Its LCD display shone brightly at night, making it easy to read at just a glance.
It’s also an aviation scanner that is ideal for quiet listening late at night due to its headphone support.
The Whistler WS1065 is another good option if you’re looking for a digital scanner that supports more frequencies (1,800), comes with more features, and has a longer range.
What to Consider When Buying an Aviation Scanner
- Analog vs. Digital
Generally, digital aviation scanners are more expensive than analog ones. The benefit of digital scanners, though, is that they allow you to listen to everything, not just limiting you to the frequencies used in aviation
If you just want to use a scanner solely for civilian and military aviation purposes, an analog model is all that is required.
- Handheld vs. Home
Handheld aviation scanners usually just come with a USB cord, so you will need to buy a wall adapter for home charging, and a car adapter for car charging.
You can expect handheld scanners to last approximately 4-5 hours before needing to be recharged. The benefit, of course, is that they are portable, fit in your pocket, cheaper, and can be taken anywhere.
Home scanners are heavier, bulkier, and more expensive, but tend to have clearer and louder audio. So, if the best audio quality possible is important to you, it’s better to opt for a home model.
- Memory Presets
Memory presets can be very useful if you want to save a specific channel. Some aviation scanners only allow you to store a handful of channels, while others allow several hundred.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Listening to Air Traffic Control Legal?
Yes, generally speaking listening to air traffic control is legal. There are a few exceptions though.
Refer to the FCC’s Interception and Divulgence of Radio Communications for more information.
Is It Worth Buying an Aviation Scanner Antenna?
If you’re planning on scanning from your home, an antenna can be a useful addition. It will allow you to increase what you can pick up, often up to 30 miles.
Within What Range Will an Aviation Scanner Work?
You can expect an aviation scanner to pick up signals from planes that are about 100 miles in the sky. Similar to aviation handheld radios, listening to airport communications varies due to the line of sight and whether buildings, trees, hills, etc. are in the way.
Typically, you can expect scanners to pick up signals from 30-50 miles away with a clear line of sight.
Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.
Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.
Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.