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TECHNOLOGY

All About
MODE S
TRANSPONDERS B Y T O N Y B A I L E Y

W
ith all of the new hype the
past few months concern-
ing Elementary Surveil-
lance and Mode S enhancements, it
would seem appropriate to discuss the
technical characteristics and purpose
behind the new functionality and how
avionics technicians can appropriately
correct problems.
Of course, knowing the purpose
of transponders and what affects en-
hancements have to the functionality
are extremely important, especially
since this is one system you can count
on to continually evolve. The recent
mandates for this system are just the
tip of the iceberg as the real capabili-
ties and functions have not even been Air Trafc Control Radio Beacon System (ATCRBS)
tapped yet. Believe it or not, transpon-
ders in aircraft make up the smallest nals sent provide a unique identity interrogated in Mode C it is asked for
segment of their functionality. for each aircraft, essential in crowded altitude. Modes B and D are not used.
According to market forecasts, the airspace to avoid mid-air collisions. The civil Mode A coincides with the
Radio Frequency Identication (RFID) Transponders were originally devel- military Mode 3. That is why Mode A
industry is expected to have double oped for military aircraft in WWII for is often called Mode 3/A. The replies
digit growth over the next few years identication friend or foe (IFF) appli- are called Codes. The Mode A Code
and be a multi-billion dollar industry cation but evolved into the commercial is set in the cockpit in four digits, the
by 2008. New uses for the military and arena. Most air trafc control centers Mode C Code automatically transmits
commercial applications are literally rely on the range and altitude informa- the altitude, with 1013.2 hPa as the
staggering. Everything from animal tion returned by commercial aircraft reference pressure, just like in Flight
tracking to ski passes are utilizing tran- rather than raw radar data. Levels. Coupling a dedicated Mode A
sponder technology to communicate All interrogations are made on 1030 Code to a ight plan allows the ATC
tracking information between sources. MHz, all replies on 1090 MHz. There controller to see the Aircraft Identi-
Wal-Mart has issued mandates to their are four ways of interrogating, called cation (ID) of a particular aircraft di-
suppliers to incorporate a version of Modes. When interrogated in Mode A rectly on his screen. Mode C does the
the technology in all of their products. an aircraft is asked for its identity, when same with the addition of altitude. To-
What does this mean for aviation?
Well, the technology is denitely get-
ting rened and enhanced.
So what does a transponder do?
Technically a transponder is a com-
bined radio transmitter and receiver
which operates automatically relaying
data between aircraft and Air Trafc
Control (ATC) on the ground. The sig- Bendix/King KT 73 Transponder

44 AVIONICS NEWS APRIL 2005


gether with the heading, derived from sponder may be installed to replace a cic services are described in ICAO
the tracking algorithm, the information Mode A or C transponder without ne- Annex 10 Mode S System. The
available to the radar controller on his cessitating the installation of TCAS. minimum operational performance
screen has enormously improved. However, Mode S is required with standards are described in RTCA
However, because of the increasing TCAS in order to facilitate ID, ight DO-181C ATCRBS/Mode S MOPS.
commercial trafc there is a lack of status (on ground/in ight) and alti- A detailed technical denition of all
Mode A codes. Additionally, the 1090 tude. Different Classes of transpon- the parameters required for Elemen-
MHz reply frequency is becoming ders that identify the capability levels tary and Enhanced Surveillance is
saturated, with two typical subsequent have been developed over time. How- given in the ICAO Manual on Mode
problems: garbling, which means that ever, to meet the EUROCONTROL S Specic Services, Doc 9688. These
the reply pulse trains from more than requirements for Elementary (Basic) denitions are further rened in EU-
one aircraft upon one interrogation Surveillance, a Level 2 transponder ROCONTROL document SUR.ET2.
may overlap, sometimes causing con- is necessary as a minimum capable of ST03.2000-ID-04, DAP Technical
fusion, and erroneous replies received supporting both Interrogator Identier Characteristics for Mode S Enhanced
on the ground from transponders that (II) and Surveillance Identier (SI) Surveillance. The transponder design
were interrogated by other interroga- codes in accordance with International and interface requirements are docu-
tors on the ground. Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) mented in the ARINC Characteristic
The Mode Select Beacon System, requirements. 718A.
commonly referred to as Mode S, One new feature of the Mode S There are numerous Mode S Tran-
was developed by Lincoln Labs in Transponder is that each aircraft is as- sponders in service and troubleshoot-
1975 as a way to monitor aircraft to signed a unique address code, which is ing begins with identication. There
support an evolutionary addition to the broadcast in unsolicited SQUITTER are currently nine manufacturers of
Air Trafc Control Radar Beacon Sys- transmissions occurring approximately aircraft Mode S Transponder systems:
tem (ATCRBS) for automation in dense every second. ATC or another Mode S ACSS, AlliedSignal, Bendix/King,
trafc areas and to solve the Mode A/C equipped aircraft can use this address Filser, Garmin, Honeywell, Narco,
short comings. In 1986 a mid-air col- for interrogation or communication Rockwell Collins and Thompson-
lision between an Aero Mexico DC-9 purposes. Flight ID capability is one of CSF.
passenger aircraft and a single engine the functions required by Elementary Continued on following page
Piper over Cerritos, Calif. which killed Surveillance.
82 people placed more emphasis on Enhanced Surveillance is the new
the technology. The crash was blamed cat on the block which allows for an
on inadequate automatic conict alert extension to the Squitter Code up to
systems and surveillance equipment 24 bits containing the International
resulting in congress passing into law Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)
the Airport and Airway Safety and Ca- required aircraft address and aircraft
pacity Expansion Act in 1987. reporting information.
This new law required that all air The aircraft parameters required for
carriers (part 121 operators) operat- Enhanced Surveillance are as follows:
ing within the United States with more Magnetic Heading
than 30 seats must be equipped with Speed
TCAS (Trafc Collision Avoidance Roll Angle
System) II by 1993. Air carriers with Track Angle Rate
10 to 30 seats only had to have TCAS Vertical Rate
I. Mode S performs all the functions of True Track Angle
Mode A and C transponders, and has Ground Speed
datalink capability. Mode S transpon- Selected Flight Level/Altitude
ders are an integral component of all FMS Selected Altitude
TCAS II installations and replace the Baro Correction Value
Mode A and C transponder for TCAS Inertial Vertical Velocity
II equipped aircraft. A Mode S tran- The standards for Mode S spe-

AVIONICS NEWS APRIL 2005 45


MODE S TRANSPONDERS
Continued from page 45

MODE S MODELS BY MANUFACTURER AND THEIR CAPABILITIES:

ACSS Bendix/King (Honeywell)

Filser

AlliedSignal (Honeywell)

Garmin

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Honeywell Rockwell Collins (continued)

Rockwell Collins

Thompson-CSF

Once you have identied the unit, it is important to get the


correct, most current manual (we always do, right?) because
the checkouts are constantly changing. Transponders must
be checked and certied for operation every two years as a
minimum commonly referred to as the 413 check. Federal
Aviation Regulation US FAR 91.413 states:

ATC transponder tests and inspections.


(a) No persons may use an ATC transponder that is speci-
ed in 91.215(a), 121.345(c), or Sec. 135.143(c) of this chap-
ter unless, within the preceding 24 calendar months, the ATC
transponder has been tested and inspected and found to com-
ply with appendix F of part 43 of this chapter; and
(b) Following any installation or maintenance on an ATC
transponder where data correspondence error could be intro-
duced, the integrated system has been tested, inspected, and
found to comply with paragraph (c), appendix E, of part 43
of this chapter.
(c) The tests and inspections specied in this section must
be conducted by
(1) A certicated repair station properly equipped to per-
form those functions and holding
(i) A radio rating, Class III;
(ii) A limited radio rating appropriate to the make and
model transponder to be tested;
(iii) A limited rating appropriate to the test to be per-
formed;
Continued on page 49

AVIONICS NEWS APRIL 2005 47


Mode S, UF21
MODE S TRANSPONDERS
Continued from page 47
Diversity isolation
Transponder squitter
[(iv) deleted]
Airplane identication code
(2) A holder of a continuous airworthiness maintenance
It is very important to test the transponder system in the
program as provided in part 121 or Sec. 135.411(a)(2) of this
right steps with the right equipment. In the future, Automatic
chapter; or
Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) and Trafc In-
(3) The manufacturer of the aircraft on which the transpon-
formation ServiceBroadcast (TIS-B) are enhancements cur-
der to be tested is installed, if the transponder was installed
rently under development that will add complement to radar
by that manufacturer.
for en-route, terminal area and airport surface surveillance,
While most avionics technicians have been performing
destination weather, Pilot Reports, add support for certain
91.411 and 91.413 checks for most of their careers, Enhanced
airborne separation maneuvers, facilitate the broadcasting of
Mode S requires updated test equipment and procedures. The
ight information (e.g. gate, stand, and number of passen-
IFR ATC-601 is the most common test set used in conjunc-
gers) and the ability to utilize arrival management programs
tion with a pitot/static test set for testing transponder systems.
for airport terminals among hundreds of other combinations
However, any test set can be utilized providing it can test the
of data. These additions will require properly trained techni-
following transponder responses:
cians with all of the right tools in order to maintain the strict
Mode A response
tolerances and stacked data.
Mode C response with altitude if available
That, in a nut shell is Mode S. Tomorrows transponders
Mode S all-call response
promise to be the backbone of aircraft monitoring and sur-
Mode S lockout
veillance. It is even possible that transponders are pilots in
Transmitter frequency
the making.
Transponder power output
Welcome to the future!
Receiver frequency discrimination
Receiver sensitivity
Receiver interrogation pulse spacing discrimination (all
modes)
Individual pulse-width discrimination (all modes)
SLS (Side Lobe Suppression)
Transponder response to invalid address interrogations
SPR on/off
Mode S, UF0 (uplink format 0)
Mode S, UF4
Mode S, UF5
Mode S, UF11
Mode S, UF16
Mode S, UF20

Terms and Denitions


ATC Air Traffic Control
ATCRBS Air Traffic Control Radar Beacon System
MODE S Mode Select Beacon System
EAS Electronic Article Surveillance
TCAS Traffic Collision Avoidance System
ICAO International Civil Aviation Organization
ID Aircraft Identification
II Interrogator Identifier
SI Surveillance Identifier
IFF Identification Friend or Foe
SLS Side Lobe Suppression
ADS-B Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast
TIS-B Traffic Information ServiceBroadcast

AVIONICS NEWS APRIL 2005 49