Radio Mail How it Works

The Winlink 2000 Network, Amateur Radio, and How It Could Help Your Work

Your people in the field must be able to communicate with each other, with your organization, and with their supporters in order to be effective with their work, regardless of their location. High Frequency (HF) Radio E-mail may be their best option, and it is certainly the most affordable option.

Effective communications within your teams, and with their family, friends, and supporters means:

Timely, and dependable communications is one of the keys to success in the mission field .

Winlink 2000 is the best option for HF Radio E-mail:




You will need the following equipment:

Selecting a Radio Transceiver: Just about any modern amateur radio HF Transceiver will work. However, several issues will effect your choice. The main issues are your source of 12V DC power, portability needs, and of course, finances. Below are several examples of the many options:

Smaller, very portable radios: These make excellent field radios: Icom IC-706 (many available on the market used); Yaesu FT 100 Yaesu FT 857 Kenwood TS 50, ALINCO DX 70,

Good but less expensive "base" station type radios: These radios are not much larger than their miniature counterparts above. However, they may be easier to operate and have a bit more duty cycle time than their miniature counterparts above. Icom IC-718 ; IC-78 ; Yaesu FT-840 ; FT-600 ; Kenwood TS-670DG, Kenwood TS-570D (a little more money, but It has a built in tuner and other nice features the others don't have). Another is the Yaesu FT-897 .

External Antenna Tuners: An antenna tuner matches the antenna impedance to your transceiver. Automatic couplers, that are located at the antenna have the advantage of saving time and being much easier to operate. They are generally more expensive. SGC SmartTuners ; AlphaDelt Pathfinder ; LDG . Manual "tuners " are less expensive. One portable manual tuner is the MFJ-945E .

Selecting an antenna: A mulitband antenna capable of 15M, 20M, 40M, and perhaps 80M is the best choice. This gives you the option of several of the different amateur radio bands. Your best connection will depend on your distance from the nearest Winlink node, and the band conditions for the time of day.

Multiband wire antennas such as the G5RV or a folded Dipole tend to work well with the manual tuners. They can be made cheaply or purchased. They can be set up in the field between trees. Vertical antennas are also an option and provide for easier set up. Enrico IV3SBE and his friend Mauro IV3SCP make the ultimate travelling vertical Antenna ready to be used in seconds and top performance on full spectrum with no GAP from 80 m trough 10M .The MFJ-1798 or the Outbacker are two examples. For those with automatic antenna couplers (single wire,) other more convenient options are available and simple single horizontal or vertical wires may be employed.

Selecting a Pactor Capable Modem: Also called a Terminal Node Controller (TNC). Pactor II or III is much faster than Pactor I, and the SCS PTC II series TNCs are the only option for Pactor II and III. These modems are more expensive than the Pactor I only modems, but are well worth the extra money. The SCS PTC II Pro , which allows direct automatic control of the radio by AirMail is the best, but the SCS PTC IIe also works with the radio, but requires an extra computer serial communications port. However, it is considerably less. The SCS modems are capable of up to 3600 bits per second while the modems listed below have a maximum speed of only 200 bits per second. The SCS modems can hear signals below the noise level and can tune to frequency automatically. They are highly recommended by the Airmail and Winlink Development teams and are by far the modem of choice.

The Kantronics KAM+ TNCs (no longer available or supported) are much cheaper to obtain used, and work fine if you don't mind how slow they are and with much less efficiency. Other Pactor capable modems compatible with Airmail include the KAM-98, AEA (now Timewave) PK-232mbx, (firmware must include Pactor mode, and ver 7.1 or later firmware is needed to use binary mode.) These modems are available and may be used on a "shoe-string" budget, but not recommended.

Selecting a 12V DC (13.8VDC nominal) Power source: Assuming you will not have access to grid provided electricity, you will need some form of renewable 12V DC power. If your field work is constantly moving, the most obvious solution is the battery of your vehicle. Care must be taken not to drain the battery, but connecting to Winlink on a daily bases to upload and download E-mail will not likely drain your battery if you're also using your vehicle on a daily bases. A deep cycle marine battery or a gel cell battery in combination with some sort of charging system is also an excellent option. Charging systems can be comprised of a generator (if you already have one for your other work) and a battery charger or a solar charger such as the Uni-pac is also an excellent option. The ARRL site has this interesting article on emergency power . Visit the The HAM Contact Website, which has many power options available including gel cells and solar chargers.

Selecting a computer: Nearly any laptop capable of running Windows 95 or newer will work. A serial port (or a USB port with an adapter) is required. Airmail (the client software of choice for using the Winlink system) is a 32-bit program designed to operate under Windows-95, 98, ME, NT, or XP. It cannot be used under DOS or Windows 3.1 or 3.11. Airmail is reported to work well on a Mac under either Virtual PC or SoftWindows.

The minimum configuration to run Windows-95 is 8 megabytes of memory (RAM), and Airmail should run acceptably well as the sole real-time application. To run Airmail concurrently with any other programs, particularly real-time programs such as a weather fax program, charting or data logging, 16 or 32 megabytes of memory should be provided. When Windows does not have enough memory to store all active programs simultaneously, it begins to swap blocks of memory onto the hard disk, causing long delays when starting new programs or switching applications. Providing additional RAM memory will provide a much greater performance boost for Windows at a lower cost than a faster processor. Also make sure that there is plenty of free disc space, preferably 50+ MB, for Windows to use as a swap file. Airmail also works well under Windows NT, Windows 2000, and Windows XP, but be sure to provide plenty of memory.


In order to use the system you need to have a Radio Licence, please check with your local Telecomm authorities.

In most cases it is easiest to get licensed in your country of origin first. Sometimes that is all you need; other times you will need to apply for a permit in the country your serving in too. We can research this for you if you need help, and present you with a course of action. ARRL's international operation support page.

For additional help with licensing issues please E-mail:


Airmail 2000 is the best client software for accessing the Winlink 2000 network. Airmail 2000 is written by Jim Corenman, KE6RK, who graciously makes It available at no charge for use with Winlink 2000.

Overview of Airmail Features: The Airmail program has two principal windows, a "Main Window" for viewing and editing messages, and a "Terminal Window" for communicating via radio with mailbox stations and other Pactor stations.

A Message Index window for easy access to incoming and outgoing messages, with Message Icons to provide feedback on message type and status.

An Explorer-style Folder Tree facilitates storing and retrieving messages, including separate folders (directories) for saved messages and trash you never wanted to see again. Either a single folder or a mix of folders can be open, the initial setting is for the Inbox, Outbox and Bulletin folders to all be open together.

Message Windows to provide easy display and editing of messages and bulletins. The Windows MDI (Multiple-Document Interface) is used to allow multiple Message Windows and the Message Index to be viewed simultaneously and arranged as desired. An email-style fill-in-the-box message header makes creating a message straightforward.

A spell checker is provided for checking outgoing messages, if you know how to spell then you can turn it off but it is great for the rest of us. Spell dictionaries are available for a variety of languages, see the Airmail web site.

A Toolbar provides convenient access to the most common functions.

An Address Book stores Internet and radio addresses and formats messages automatically. A tool to import addresses from Outlook, Netscape and Juno email programs is provided.

A special Frequency List window is provided for ham stations to parse MBO frequency lists and designate which stations will be visible for selection from the Terminal Window.

A special "Mail Server" provides support for Outlook, Netscape or any other standard email program. If you have a favorite email program you can continue to use it and Airmail will take care of sending and receiving the messages via the radio instead of directly via the Internet.

A Log File is automatically maintained indicating stations connected to and messages transferred. The Terminal Window controls communications with the remote station and automates message transfer using an automatic protocol to forward messages to the MBO station. A keyboard mode is also provided. Features include color-coded split windows to provide viewing of received and echo data separately from entered keyboard data. Controller link messages can also be displayed if desired.

Station and frequency selection can be done directly from the Terminal Window for compatible radios equipped with a suitable interface (direct serial connection or via a PTC-II controller).Both the Main Window and the Terminal Window have a toolbar across the top and status boxes along the bottom, which can be turned on or off.

A Local Mail Server allows a standard email program such as Outlook to be used for sending/receiving radio email.

A Propagation Window provides assistance with selection of appropriate times and frequencies for connection.

To get started with HF Radio E-mail and Pactor we highly recomend the Pactor Primer by Jim Corenman, KE6RK. Once you have a station in place this will help you get on-line with it.


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