Airwire programming


I don't use AirWire myself, but have used it and evaluated it. There's so many questions, I decided to put some of the hard or impossible to find information here. (also some truths that may have been obscured!)

This is SOLELY about the use of the AirWire system that communicates wirelessly between the throttle and the locomotive directly, not the traditional DCC system they also sell.

Also, there are severe limitations in this system as compared to a "real" DCC system, and I do wish to point this out since many people do not realize this and later find out much to their chagrin.

The bottom line is to remember that AirWire is NOT a "DCC system", in fact it is neither true DCC and it is NOT a system, i.e. where the components work together.

To try to make sure there is no misunderstanding, one throttle and loco have no idea what another loco or throttle is doing. There is no "central intelligence" or control that is necessary in a system. So things like a universal stop all locos command, or shared knowledge of consisted locos, or the ability to control the "taking control" of a locomotive from one throttle to another are impossible.

This system is best suited to a situation where throttles and locos are not shared, i.e. where the operator stays with "his" locomotive, or if it is to be handed off, the throttle is physically passed to the new owner. Consisting of trains is severely limited, and there are many occasions where locos must have their radio frequency changed. The limited number of frequencies also limits the number of throttles, users, and locomotives in operation.

Frequencies and loco addresses

One of the results of this not being a cooperative system, is that it's "every man for himself" on throttles. Thus, even though each loco can have a unique DCC address, the throttles have to be on separate frequencies. So it's not enough to know the address of the loco, but you have to set your throttle to the same frequency. I do believe that the newer throttles can do this electronically, but the older throttles have a rotary switch. Clearly trying to control multiple locos from more than one throttle becomes a mess.

The older throttles only had 8 frequencies, the T5000 has 16.


One of the most often asked questions is about consisting.

In DCC systems, it's important to know about the 3 different ways to create a consist.

1. Basic consisting
    all the locos in the consist have the same address

2. universal consisting
    the throttle is told what locos are in the consist, and sends separate commands to every loco every time

3. advanced consisting
   the locomotives are given an additional address, a "consist address" and will respond to this single command from the throttle, basically you have a "common address" for all loco, like in #1 but you do not have to reprogram the locos to take them in and out of the consist.

Basically the advantages in terms of speed, capability, etc. increase from 1 to 3.

In Airwire, #1 is accomplished by reprogramming the address for each loco. This is a pretty lousy way to do this, even if you always run these locos as a consist... the headlights of all locos will be on in forwards, not just the lead loco. Likewise the horn and whistle will come from all locos. Yes, you can reprogram all the locos so that the lights work properly, and you can silence the other loco bell and whistle, but still will be wrong in reverse. This is the method used 20 years ago when there was no alternative.

In Airwire, method #2 is available, where the commands for each loco in the consist are sent out every time, you have 4 locos in the consist, change the speed and you have to send 4 commands, one for each loco. Unfortunately, as the consist grows, the overhead of sending the same command to multiple locos gets to be a problem. AirWire has addressed this issue by only allowind ONE consist with a MAXIMUM of 4 locos. Sorry about this comment, but needs to be said, Wow, still back in the dark ages of DCC. To make it worse, all locos need to be on the same frequency.

I cannot find that method #3 is available with AirWire, if anyone know about it, let me know. It might be possible to set up the addresses for advanced consists in the CV's in the locos, but I don't know if the consist address could be transmitted, I believe it is a different command than the normal loco address.





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