Field Day 2012

Ray, K2HYD at the operating position of the 80/20/10 tent. Hap, K7HAP is at the second position on the laptop, and Byron, W4SSY, supervises

To make everyone’s life easier, we stuck mostly to the plan developed for last year’s event, although I made some effort to simplify the set up where possible. This year, the main rig was a TenTec Omni VII, a radio with clearly marked controls and big tuning knob. Most people could sit down at this rig and be on the air in a matter of minutes without reference to reading material, nifty or otherwise. Instead of three antennas, we went with two: a moxon for westward gain on 20 meters, and a G5RV for all band coverage. The Omni had no difficulty tuning the G5RV for any band that we tried (10, 15, 20, 40, 80).

One major difference from last year is that we did not shut down in the wee morning hours. Both of the CW stations pounded brass for the entire 24 hour period of the contest. We had more operators than the previous year and divided the shifts carefully to assure that at least one person would be at the key all the time. It also helped that several of us brought our own tents this year for quick cat naps. We were all a bit punchy by Sunday morning, but after several cups of coffee, we powered through the rest of the event.

The CW tent is near a busy intersection and more accessible to other parts of the park, so we had a number of visitors drop by the 80/20 tent.  Some of these visitors turned out to be hams eager to put their hands on the paddles, and a few of them racked up an impressive list of contacts and we made sure to invite them back for next year. The more operators we have, the more pleasant staffing becomes. We might even be able to put someone on VHF CW for part of field day next year.

The 20 meter moxon (left) and G5RV (right) supported by a 40 foot military push-up mast, guyed at 3 levels.

Our computer wasn’t fully networked in at the start of the contest, so I don’t know how all the stations did. I have fuzzy recollection that we had around three hundred contacts on 20m and another 300 or so on 80m. We also worked on 15m for a while on Saturday evening, when the 40/15 station had gone to 40m and our 20m operation had been interfering with the SSB 20m station. I’m eager to see the final numbers after all the logs are merged.

One item to consider for next year — is it time to bring an SDR radio to field day? Would a graphic view of the whole band give us an advantage? Would a Flex radio (or other similar radio) play well with the other radios? I like the feel of a big tuning knob and I am used to zipping up and down the band by ear, but that’s all a matter of habit, and if there is better technology, we should consider it. Maybe it would be worth a test drive at some other event before field day 2013.

June mW Sprint

The view west towards mount roseI was sent on fairly short notice to attend a meeting at Lake Tahoe, which is just south of Reno along the California/Nevada border. I had one free evening before the conference, and it just happened to fall on the date of an NAQCC Sprint. I gave serious thought to throwing a wire out the hotel window, but the surrounding mountains called to me. This was not the usual monthly sprint, but the milliwatt version, so I figured that I needed all the help I could get and wanted to take advantage of the elevation.

After some quality time with Google Maps, it looked like Mount Rose was the highest accessible peak in the area. There is a parking lot near the trails that lead to the top of the mountain, but I didn’t think a business suit and dress shoes would fair very well on the gravely slopes. Across the road from the park lot is a campground with picnic tables and tall trees: the ingredients for comfortable field operations. In principle, there is a trail that runs up from the campground to Mount Slide, which, like Mount Rose is a SOTA peak. Again, if I had the right clothing and gear I might have attempted it, but it just wasn’t going to happen this trip. I settled for the 9000+ foot elevation of the campsite.

The view North, down the slopeI tossed a water bottle with a string into a tree, fired up the FT817nd on internal batteries and tuned up with the Hendricks SLT tuner. Before the Sprint, I worked WW0SS in Minnesota on 2.5W. Everything went faster than I had planned, so I laid down on the picnic bench and basked for a while.

I started searching around just a bit before the sprint to get a sense of band conditions. When the sprint started, I alternated between searching and calling. A number of local signals masked the sprint stations for a while, particularly with the poor selectivity of the ft817 (without a filter). I heard quite a few, some of whom were operating at 5W, while others were true milliwatt (less than 1W) stations.

I kept the rig at 0.5W for the entire event, and although I had two small lead acid batteries in the radio bag, I never had to use them. The 817 was running on fumes by the end of the sprint, but I was glad to see that it could make it through two hours of minimal power operation that had included a lot of calling.

All in all, I had six qsos on 20 and 40m. I reported 5 on the NAQCC sprint page because I wasn’t sure the last qso was complete, but I heard afterwards by email from the other station and confirmed that he had, in fact, correctly copied by call at the end of the contest. I think we gave each others 339 for that contact, and I recall that we needed a lot of repeats due to a mixture of summer weather background sounds, QSB and neighboring signals.

I didn’t come close to winning the sprint or even my category, but I enjoyed the scenery and the chance to sign myself as AI4SV/7.

WV Double Whammy

A few days ago, a troublesome area of the sun rotated earthwards and belched forth a stream of plasma meant to make my weekend challenging. A second coronal mass ejection occurred shortly after, with a higher velocity stream in the direction of Earth. Both shockwaves arrived during the West Virginia QSO Party. This K-index histogram covers the period of the QSO Party up to the point that I returned home.

The WVQSOP runs over the whole weekend, but I was only able to join on Sunday. I knew about the CMEs, but figured that I’d still be able to make a least local contacts. I was also hopeful that as the day progressed, conditions would improve.

Since it was also father’s day, Lara decided to accompany me on my mad drive around WV. I had planned a course through three of the northeastern counties: Morgan, Hampshire and Hardy. Looking over reports from recent years, there were some Morgan entries, but not much for Hampshire and Hardy, which is suprising considering that both are near enough to the Baltimore/Washington corridor that it should be possible for hams from those areas to support the event.

My flight plan took me first to the Capacon Mountain Resort, a state park with some really nice facilities, but most importantly, a road that runs to the top of a 2500+ foot ridge. From the observation parking lot at the top, there is a clear shot east and west.

I set up the Tarheel screwdriver antenna and tuned around on 40m and 20m — I heard almost nothing. I know that the car station works okay — I worked Sardinia and the Virgin Islands last night on the way home from work, and I’ve had lots of DX success with the antenna. After about an hour and a half, I had one CW contact on 20m, and one very surprised voice contact on 40m. The voice contact was at least 58 from New York — he said I was the only station he heard on the air, and the feeling was mutual.

The operating location in Hampshire County wasn’t ideal, so I didn’t spend long there, and logged no contacts. I continued towards the VA border and stopped just short, on top of another ridge to get some contacts in for Hardy county. It was getting towards evening (7 pm local / 23:00Z) and 20m seemed to have some life. I worked two more stations on 40m cw, both in Indiana, and one in Kansas on 20m.  So, at the end of the day, what do I have to show for the effort? Five contacts.

Throughout the entire contest, I didn’t hear one other WV station. I had wondered why I had no logged contacts on LOTW, and only a couple that issued physical QSL cards. The low activity seems to be a combination of the number of hams in WV and their level of participation in this contest. Looking at the past logs, it looks like participants from states outside WV dominate the contest.

I’d  like to revisit the Capacon resort this summer for camping or perhaps for next year’s WV QSO Party. The one change I’d make would be a full size antenna. Even if I were to deploy from a car, I’d consider hanging some sort of wire antenna with a tree support and running the cable to the car. The screwdriver is a versatile antenna, but still physically very short.

For next year’s reference, and for anyone else who works the WV QSO Party, I’ve prepared a reference sheet of the counties in West Virginia in a more friendly format that is found on the event website.


New Trick: 6 meters

an old dogThis past weekend was the ARRL’s June VHF Contest, and for the first time, I got on 6 meters. None of the HF rigs in the house handle six meters. On Sunday morning, I did try plugging the Yaesu 817nd into my attic antennas, but I wasn’t able to get any of them to tune up (nor would I have wanted to try QRP through a long, mismatched feed line at 50Mhz).

Just for the heck of it, I tried the radio in my car, a headless version of the Kenwood TS-2000. I knew it would work 6m, but I was doubtful that I’d pick up much using my vertically oriented screwdriver antenna from the parking lot next to the house. That parking lot is surrounded by other houses and is line of sight to nowhere. I knew that weak signal modes use horizontal polarization on VHF, so I figured I’d have a pretty stiff cross-polarization penalty and be down 4-5 S units.

To my surprise, I heard a couple ssb conversations, right where they were supposed to be. Their grid locations were next to mine, but I was happy to hear anything. I cranked up to 100w and worked them without a problem. Next, I spun the dial down to 50.080 and started scanning for CW. I pounced on a few signals, got impatient, and ran a clear frequency for the next fifteen minutes, picking up ten additional contacts.

I had a few errands in the middle of the day, and got back into town around 6 pm. I couldn’t do much about the car antenna’s vertical polarization, but I was able to add some elevation by parking on top of the Fairfax Metro Station parking ramp. In principle, I had line of sight to mountains in the Appalachian chain. The car also has a 2m/70cm gain antenna, and I tuned around in the weak signal portion of those bands, picking up a few more ssb contacts, but no cw. I have a feeling that most people were on 6m and that the cross-polarization was a bigger issue at higher frequency.


Around 7 pm, the 6-meter band seemed to improve, and I starting hearing Canadian stations. In the next hour or so, I worked three provinces (AB, SK, and QC) and ten US states out as far as MN and TX (see the map). I am sure some of these stations had elaborate antennas, and when they would pan away the signal would drop to nothing.

This experience has convinced me that there might be signs of intelligent life at and above 50 Mhz, and that this would be worth doing again, but with better antennas. One option would be to try this contest next time (June or December) from W3NIH, using the 2M/70cm AZ/EL rotatable antenna and the STEPPR for 6m.  Another option would be to head to the mountains and see if I can put together some yagis (maybe combine it with a SOTA activation?)

In other news, I’ve been travelling a lot for work, so I didn’t write up the CQ WPX CW. I hopped in for part of the second day of the contest and logged 273 contacts. Most were entities that I had worked before, although some were on new bands. I did notice a new entity in the LOTW right after the contest, though: Saba & St. Eustasius. I guess it makes sense that St. Eustatius hears well.