We have built and operated an ultra-wideband UHF pulsed-chirp radar for measuring firn stratigraphy from airborne platforms over the ice sheets of Greenland and West Antarctica. Our analysis found a wide range of capabilities, including imaging of post firn–ice transition horizons and sounding of shallow glaciers and ice shelves. Imaging of horizons to depths exceeding 600 m was possible in the colder interior regions of the ice sheet, where scattering from the ice surface and inclusions was minimal. The radar’s high sensitivity and large dynamic range point to loss tangent variations as the dominant mechanism for these englacial reflective horizons. The radar is capable of mapping interfaces with reflection coefficients as low as −80 dB near the firn–ice transition and as low as −64 dB at depths of 600 m. We found that firn horizon reflectivity strongly mirrored density variance, a result of the near-unity interfacial transmission coefficients. Zones with differing compaction mechanisms were also apparent in the data. We were able to sound many ice shelves and areas of shallow ice. We estimated ice attenuation rates for a few locations, and our attenuation estimates for the Ross Ice Shelf, West Antarctica, appear to agree well with earlier reported results.