For a handheld VHF radio carried as an emergency backup, how should I expect the effective radius of a handheld radio to compare with on-board radios in two-way communications? I figure reception should be the same. But transmission would probably be different, dependent on the power. Would the difference be significant? What factors would change the useful radius of a handheld radio?

  • $\begingroup$ The dominating factor in radio range calculation is antenna height over ground. $\endgroup$
    – Wirewrap
    Jan 13, 2016 at 8:51
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    $\begingroup$ I think this question is fair game in Aviation.SE because it relates to good aeronautical decision making regarding safety equipment. It is no less applicable than aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/8580/…, which is not on hold. $\endgroup$
    – rbp
    Jan 13, 2016 at 13:53
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    $\begingroup$ I think this is an excellent question. Even if the answer is "depends on X, Y, and Z factors" it should lead to informative answers. $\endgroup$
    – J W
    Jan 13, 2016 at 14:28
  • $\begingroup$ The range would depend on whether you are inside the aircraft . In the middle of the aircraft the range would be from the cockpit to the tail section. In the cockpit with the antenna near the window at 37,000 feet approx 300 miles line of sight with a major dead spot directly below or behind the aircraft. On the tarmac in the same position about 6-10 miles. $\endgroup$
    – Old_Fossil
    Sep 25, 2016 at 0:04

1 Answer 1


This ICOM hand held has a max output of 5W compared with their panel mount radio which outputs at 8W. Unfortunately they don't quote effective ranges on their website (and its highly dependent on many factors anyway). In any case you are limited by line of sight which depending on the plane you are flying (and how high up you are) may be more of an issue. There is some discussion here on the matter and generally people say the work pretty well. Keep in mind also that the aircrafts installed radios have their antenna that are mounted on the exterior of the plane which has an effect on the reception and transmission ability. Using a hand held inside a plane may in practice yield different results even if it has the same transmission specs as an installed radio.

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    $\begingroup$ With that small of a power difference antenna location will have a significant effect on transmission range. If the surface of your craft is metal that will act as an attenuator for an internal transmitter and receiver. For optimal usage maintain the antenna in a vertical orientation and be near a window. $\endgroup$ Feb 24, 2017 at 12:32
  • $\begingroup$ Do any aircraft panels have a "connect handheld here" RF jack so you can use the plane's external antenna with an handheld radio? Seems like an option at least worth considering, though you'd also have to store the coax cable to use as a jumper. I know our portable backup radios on the ground are normally connected to external antennas but have portable whip antennas in case we need to bring them with during an evacuation. $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Feb 10, 2021 at 16:27
  • $\begingroup$ @randomhead if you ask your mechanic to install one they might, nothing i have ever flown has had one. $\endgroup$
    – Dave
    Feb 10, 2021 at 16:35

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