Following on from my earlier post on the Realistic PRO-2006 scanner I wonder how many home spotters out there bought a Lowe Electronics Airmaster 2000 ACARS decoding package.
Revolutionary in its day, it comprised of some software (freeware I think) on a floppy disk and an demodulator dongle distributed and sold by Lowe Electronics, Matlock.
I have since learned that the decoder software was created by a radio amateur who sadly is no longer with us.
The Lowe original dongle at the computer end were some smd electronics packed in to a serial computer connector & professionally sealed in resin . Attached to this was a small fly lead that was terminated in a mono jack to plug into your scanner.
Not satisfied parting with more cash to get the official Lowe dongle..I think it was about £99 from memory, I decided to build my own version.
I built 2 units, a duty and a backup spare. Cobbled together with stuff bought from RS Components and Maplins (R.I.P).
A visit to the garden shed yesterday proved fruitful, I found one of my preserved examples.
Here is msn002 of 2 !
A little light surface rust around the 9 pin serial free chassis socket which was a solder bucket type made in the USA by Bendix Corp not cheap crimp asian rubbish.
Its been a long time since this was attached to my white “super duper” compaq presario 486 laptop running windows 95 !!!!.
Built in 1995,and unearthed from in my shed yesterday in 2017. For old times sake, lets open her up after many years of rest and take a look.
Well what have we here ?
A bubble wrapped pile of gear and some notes/”fag packet” drawings inside the box done by me some 22 years ago.
Lets undo the bubble wrap time capsule and take a look at the gubbins.
Built on a piece of biscuit (project board) around a TL081 op amp, I skimped on nothing ..only the best here..cost at the time about £5 total or each unit. It may look a little scruffy but by golly it worked and worked superbly.
I made sure I bought top quality components, tantalum capacitors and 1 watt resistors instead of 0.25watt smds used in the original.
Unlike Lowe, I wasnt bothered about making it as small as physically possible,or to look the part.. I just wanted it to work.
The all important cables (carrying the data and radio signals) is belden, the good stuff for both cables. The anti static coated project box enclosure sourced from MAPLIN .
Everything neoprene sleeved, everything hand soldered ,everything checked and double checked. I didnt want to chance blowing my (£1200) compaq 486 ! 😮
BTW , I recall there was a tie up program called flight database,which gave the user further aircraft & flight detail . I could not mention Lowe airmaster and not pay homage to this piece of software. Whoever wrote it (using microsoft foxpro) was technically brilliant. It was an amazing add on which a user could swap their licence from machine to machine using a hidden key token system. The security/licence transfer method was as I said a work of art in computing terms.This add on was about £30 or so and worth every penny IMHO.
I have since learned that the tie up software package was “Flight Database” made by a company called Rainford Software from the North West of England. I bought my copy (on 2 floppy disks I think) from Flightdeck aviation shop which was in Heald Green, Manchester. The store was run by aviation enthusiast David Fairbotham. His shop was probably the best emporium of its type in Europe at the time…You could spend hours in there ! David always had time for everyone beginner or expert spotter. Much information regarding delivery flights and rare visitors to Manchester,Birmingham and LHR was imparted to enthusiasts in this shop. David had his first Flightdeck shop on Wilmslow Road, Manchester before moving to a bigger premises in Finney Lane, Heald Green about a mile away. There was always a radio scanner running in the background receiving Manchester Tower , Ground and approach frequencies, a bit like piped music for aviation geeks. David always had a good selection of radios to try suitable for all budgets. He had HF radio receivers on display hooked up to a proper end fed wire antenna outside. There was an aviation shop at Manchester Airport itself but it was nothing like Flightdeck which, by any estimation, was in a different league.
If flightdeck didnt stock something, frankly you didnt need it.
It is sometimes difficult to understand those days before FR24,planefinder and similar tracking providers. Projects like Lowe Airmaster 2000 were absolutely ground braking at the time.
Looking at your early laptop ,tracking planes via airmaster with flight database tie up and listening in on the radio at the same time.
A 1990s plane spotters dream !
I recall another ACARS software package I had called Skyspy from Pervisel Ltd, amazingly after all this time, I found a live internet page of the company and its ACARS product.
Of course now there is the raspberry pi and other very inexpensive single board computers and a community of very clever developers with programs like AcarSDeco2 from Sergey Serov, fantastic !..
and best of all , its free ! http://xdeco.org/
We have to realise though that the same thing was being done by small programmers 25 years ago which is quite amazing when you think about it.
Nice to take a look at those things you did fiddling around in the early days of computer/scanner interfacing.
I hope you found this little trip into the early days of aviation hobby technology interesting. 🙂