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Personal Locator Beacon (Distress)

The ARI-23237 was a small hand-held personal locator beacon intended for use in distress situations, manufactured by Graseby Dynamics in the UK. It was often carried by Special Forces (SF), such as the British S.A.S. during the First Gulf War in 1991, as part of their standard gear.

The British Special Forces used to call it a Tactical Beacon or TACBE for short. The image on the right shows a typical TACBE unit, carried in the palm of a hand. It is shown here without its antenna. The lower half is the battery.

The small hand-held radio can operate on two frequencies that are monitored 24 hours per day by Air Force units around the world. Despite the fact that TACBE has officially been phased out, some units may still be on active duty and the frequencies remain monitored constantly, even today! So, if you find one, don't use it.
The TACBE in the palm of a hand

When in distress, the operator simply removes a blocking clamp by pulling a string. The unit then immediately starts sending out a distress signal on 243 MHz. This frequency is monitored 24/7 by Air Force units world wide, by planes that are passing by and by NATO AWACS planes.

The operator can also talk to the pilot of a passing plane on the same emergency frequency, by pressing the PTT-switch (Press to Talk) on the side of the radio. In order to listen, the PTL-switch (Press to Listen) has to be pressed. If no button is pressed, the radio continues to broadcast its distress signal.

Power and frequency of the radio have been choosen such that its range is very limited. When talking to a pilot, the plane has to be in the 'line of sight'. This was done to allow operation for a relatively long period of time from a small battery, and to avoid detection by enemy intercept and direction finding stations. The TACBE can also be used for short range ground-to-ground communication by using the auxiliary channel on 282.8 MHz. When doing this, its range is even more limited than for the ground-to-air communication described above.

The TACBE in the palm of a hand The bare TACBE unit with a carrying strap Another view of the TACBE Rear view of the TACBE Connecting the battery TACBE with battery Top of the TACBE TACBE seen from the top
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The TACBE in the palm of a hand
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The bare TACBE unit with a carrying strap
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Another view of the TACBE
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Rear view of the TACBE
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Connecting the battery
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TACBE with battery
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Top of the TACBE
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TACBE seen from the top

Bravo Two Zero
The TACBE was used by British Special Forces (SF) during the First Gulf War in 1991. It was carried by SF members as part of their standard gear. It would only be used in case of an emergency, e.g. when their normal PRC-319 radio was lost or out of range. They would use the distress frequency (243 MHz) to contact the AWACS plane that was continuously flying overhead at high altitude.

They could also use TACBE to contact passing fighter jets, but as these planes were generally flying very low - in order to stay below radar - the time for a conversion would be very limited.

A good example of the use of the TACBE is given in the book Bravo Two Zero, written by Andy McNab (pseudonym). The book is based on a real SAS mission in Iraq lead by McNab in January 1991. Four of the eight members of his team carried a TACBE for emergency purposes. In one case they managed to send out a distress call to a passing American fighter pilot.

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Crypto Museum. Created: Tuesday 10 August 2010. Last changed: Saturday, 06 January 2018 - 13:00 CET.
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