SOTA: Signal Mountain, April 14

A snow-covered mountainIan, N0IMB, and I will attempt to activate Signal Mountain, Virginia as a Summit On The Air (SOTA)  on Saturday, April 14, 2012. Signal Mountain is less than an hour’s drive from my house, and with a name like Signal Mountain, it seems the natural choice. Strangely, for being so close to a metropolitan center, according to the SOTA database,  this “peak”  has never been activated.

Signal Mountain, SOTA designator W4/SH-049,  is a 416 m tall peak located at Long -77.7033 by  Lat 38.8816 degrees.  Conveniently, judging by a google map view of the site, a road runs up to the top, although by SOTA rules, we’ll park some ways down the road and lug the equipment to the top. We don’t have mules, but we do have a hand-truck and/or a furniture dolly, so we plan not to break our backs carting the equipment up the hill. While this may not sound very adventurous for more experienced SOTA enthusiasts, this is our first activation, so we are trying to keep it simple. One side benefit is that we’ll have a stronger signal: one item we are lugging will be a gas-powered generator, and we will be transmitting at 100W. [edited: Correction – it was pointed out by a more experienced SOTA-er that this would violate SOTA guidelines – no fossil fuel generators. Well, that’s fine with us, too. We’ll use storage cells, perhaps supplemented with a bit of solar if we can put our hands on the right equipment quickly enough. This means we will not be transmitting at 100W, or at least not for long stretches. Most of my gear is QRP already, so this isn’t a big adjustment. We’ll just talk louder :-)]  Rigs will be a Yaesu FT-817 and a TenTec 1320.

Operating Plan:

We will be operating under the call sign N0IMB from 16:00Z to 22:00Z on 14 April 2012. In local time, that is noon to 6 pm. Local sunset is 7:45 pm, so we should would like to pack up while we can see what we are doing.

We will operate voice from the top of each hour to forty-five minutes past, and then switch to CW for the last fifteen minutes. Typically, we will exchange a signal report, the name of the operator, and the SOTA designator.

Generally, we’ll stick to the following center frequencies. If these frequencies are busy, look for us up or down a bit:

Band CW Freq SSB Freq
40 7.027 7.187
30 10.127 cw only
20 14.027 14.277
17 18.077 18.127
15  21.027 21.287
12  24.897 24.947
10 28.027 28.487

We picked these frequencies after looking over the operating plans for other events on the same day (such as the various state QSO parties, the QCWA QSO party, etc.) as well as international band allocations. We may try 40m early in the day before strong absorbtion sets in, but then we’ll move to the higher frequencies. We are likely to spend the lionshare of the activation on 17 and 20m. In the last couple hours, we may try 30m. We will not be operation above 50Mhz for this event. [Note: Another update – to accomodate the US band plan, we have tweaked the center frequencies from the original posting, the three affected voice frequencies are highlighted in red.]

If anyone hears use, we’d sure appreciate being spotted so other people can find us! I think we will have cellular connectivity from the site, so we will also post our band changes via twitter (@dhakajack, with the hash tag #signalmt). My twitter account feeds to this website (, so the tweets will be visible in the right column in the desktop view. We will not post via twitter or SMS to qrpspots since we will be working barefoot for most of the event.

Contests 2011

It’s still barely the first week in January, so I’m going to do a little retrospective on contests entered in 2011. Some contests I just hear on the air and jump into (particularly QSO parties), others I obsessively prepare for over several months (like the Indiana QSO Party, Operation Sizzling Pork). Usually, though, I don’t think much about them when they are over.

Not included in my retrospective are some of the contests that I participated in as a member of VWS, e.g., Field Day, and the NAQP SSB and CW.

Except for some of the QRP sprints, most contests take at least a few months to turn around results, which is somewhat puzzling considering that log submission is almost universally electronic. So, here’s the run down, based  on a quick scan of outgoing emails with logs attached. Unless otherwise stated, I entered as single operator, low power, CW only:

MN QSOP 1st VA station in category
BC QSOP Hey — I was one of only 20 outside BC in the contest
CQ WW WPX RTTY No way I was going to do well in this contest, but I made some contacts at least
2011 ARRL International DX CW I gave up trying to find the results on the ARRL website
VA QSOP I worked part of this contest with the VWS club, but them went home in the evening. I ended up getting a certificate as 1st place station in Fairfax, County, Virginia. Not bad for a half day’s work.
FL QSOP I recall this one — I was on the back porch with a QRP rig and only worked a couple, but had fun.
IN QSOP Well, I’ve certainly written enough about Operation Sizzling Pork on this blog, but it was the highlight of the year for me. I had fun preparing, during the contest, and even afterwards in compiling the scores. We placed second in the category of multioperator, multistation. Our station ran low power and worked both CW and SSB.
CQ WW WPX CW I think I was camping an entered this one QRP. A bit frustrating because only one out ten heard me, but after a few hours, I had a decent number of international contacts on 5W with an improvised antenna
REF The French amateur radio league contest. I placed 20th among US operators – pas mal.
HA DX I always enjoy the Hungarian contest. I came in at #278, but I still like the way they run this contest, communicate with log submitters, post the results, etc.
RAC Canada Day The RAC contest is also a favorite, although the results are not broken down geographically.
IARU HF The International Amateur Radio Union contest was fun in that I made contact with a number of headquarters stations and added a few new countries to my list. The results have not been posted yet.
The MARAC US Country QSO Party I had just installed the rig in my car and I made exactly one SSB QSO in this contest, but one is better than none. I’d like to try this again next year, but working CW.
Maryland/DC QSOP I worked this one with the NIH Amateur Radio Club, so it wasn’t an individual effort. We ranked second as club station in Maryland.
TN QSO Party I always seem to have great propagation in TN, so I worked this one QRP. I came in as the #3 out of state QRP operator, so I was very happy.
Arkansas QSO Party Luckily, they break the scores down by state, and as not many others from Virginia entered, I was the top VA station. It’s always worth sending in a score.
WAE SSB Again, I don’t have a chance in this sort of contest, but I did finally figure out how the whole QTC thing works.
OSPOTA I heard a random call for the Ohio State Parks on the Air Contest and dialed around to catch a few more. I came in #10 for stations outside Ohio.
Arizona QSO Party I had one QRP CW contact while I was in Montreal for a conference. Results aren’t up, but looking at logs received, I can guarantee that I was the only VE2 entrant!
NY QSO Party I usually have good connections to New York during the QRP sprints, so I also worked this contest QRP. I think I did pretty well, because I recall crossing a bunch of counties off my list, but results are not yet posted.
IL QSO Party I came in 49th in this short contest
ARCI Hoot Owl I worked this contest in the dark with a 20m rockmite, a longwire antenna and some mosquito spray. I had a great time and my score was roughly in the middle of the range, largely thanks to the bonus for working portable. I’d like to do more ARCI events this year.
NAQCC Sprint Hands down my favorite sprint. I have slowly worked my way up, both in terms of operating skill and antennas. I look forward to this every month, but schedules don’t always work out.
Spartan Sprint I also enjoy the SS, and have been working on trimming the station down from a chubby to a skinny. I can now operate pretty skinny, but only on one band at a time.

QRV à Montréal

Graffitied picnic table with Tentec 1320, Winkeyer, Palm Paddles, and wiresI’m up in Montreal for a conference on rare diseases and the agenda is pretty tight. However, after meetings ended this afternoon, I scampered northwards from the hotel, up past McGill University, heading for the high ground of Mont Royal Park. The downtown is a canyon of metal buildings, but ground slopes up as you head north, away from the river.  I actually didn’t climb to the top of Mont Royal — I stopped when I found a picnic table about half way up. The top of the hill sports a bunch of antennas, and I thought it best to keep some distance from other radiators (and the giant metal crucifix at the top of the hill. I’m not sure if it radiates, but I didn’t want to go near it either).

My picnic table was already decorated by the local artisans with their initials and names, so I knew it was something of which they were proud. Conveniently, but not too surprisingly, there was a tall maple tree nearby, and the antenna went up in one throw (because no one was looking). I set up the TenTec 1320, the Hendricks SLT+ tuner, and my Swedish lead-acid battery. I should mention that this time, TSA had no problem with lead acid batteries. I guess that was last week’s policy.

I was operating as “AI4SV/VE2”, which is a quite a mouth [fist] full. The first station I worked was Ivan, IZ4DLR, who gave me a 569. He was running 200W into a 3 element beam. I informed him that his beam was performing very well both coming and going. My next contact was with Stan, N7OC, who was also running 5W in Custer, Washington. I was pretty happy with the distances — Italy and Washington within a few minute of each other. I had a few more contacts, working Virginia, South Carolina, and even one station in the Arizona QSO Party. I hope I was a multiplier for him. I’ll have to think about what station category I’d be in that contest — Single op, single transmitter, single band, cw only, qrp, portable, Candian.

A basket of friesOn the way back, I stopped by a restaurant advertising itself as a transplanted Belgian fritérie. It was nice to see a place that served different sauces with their fries, but the fries themselves were a bit overcooked, and the sauce andalouse could have been a bit spicier. Nonetheless, their beer was good, and they had hockey on a big TV, so it was still worth the trip.

Visiting with Swedish Hams

Continuing the visit to Sweden from the previous post

Saturday morning, Kjell pulled his car up to the hotel, and we took off towards the village of Dalarö. Along the way, he showed me his mobile set-up, which included a Kenwood mobile rig set up for ARPS and an associated GPS unit.  As we drove, he gave me a brief run down of the history of the area and what was going on in terms of ham radio activity.

A scan of a business card from the restaurant SaltskutanAfter about fifteen minutes, we arrived at quiet village on the water (I realize “on the water” may not be very informative when it comes to an archipelago). Kjell mentioned that this particular village is popular among the well-off who maintain summer cottages there. One of the stops on our tour of this town was the tiny sea cabin that belonged to Anders Franzen, the archeologist who discovered the 17th Century wooden ship Vasa, preserved in the brackish waters of the Baltic.  For lunch, he took me to a restaurant in the building that at one time has served as the customs house (tullhuset) for ships bring in goods. The meal was very tasty and involved a meat similar to bacon, but thicker, served over what I think was a potato pancake.

A photographic qsl card for club station sk0qoAfter eating, we continued the trip towards the club station, SK0QO. The station is located on the Gålö peninsula, which until fairly recent times was an island. The station has been there for about a year, and the club owns the building, which is on the edge of some farm land. Driving up to the station, I noticed that they had a number of dipole antennas strung up, a vertical, and I think even a discone.

A number of hams were present at the station, some on the air, and others preparing for their annual hamfest, which will occur next week. I learned that the club is among the largest in Sweden, and that they frequently take part in contests.

The club house has a main room with a central table and a corner fireplace. One rig was set up on the table for QRP voice. I could hear some morse code sounds coming from behind the door to a side room. I peeked in a found a few operators on an IC-7000. It turns out that one of the operators was Jonas, with whom I had a CW QSO the previous day. He filled out a QSL card on the spot, and handed it to me, which is about the fastest turn around time I think I will ever have for a “dx” QSL. Afterwards, Kjell snapped a photo of some of us out in front of the station.

Photo with some Swedish hams in front of the SK0QO club stationJonas explained that on the previous day, by the time our qso took place, he had been operating for a few hours, mostly in English, and was relieved to hear a Swedish call — which turned out to be me.  I was relieved to learn that he had, in fact, sent to me in Swedish and that there wasn’t something wrong with my listening skills.

Also in the photo are Olaf, who oversees the station itself, and Carin, who is working on her sea captain’s license, and was also sending morse code that day.

After a nice time chatting with the hams at the stations (all of whom spoke excellent English), Kjell took me to visit his friend Sven, an extraordinary homebrew experimenter who definitely has “the knack”.

Sven is interested in monitoring the planet’s Schuman resonance, an extremely low frequency (i.e., 7 Hz fundamental) signal, and he has gone to extreme lengths to build his own equipment to do so. It is well worth reading Kjell’s excellent article on Sven’s efforts. What is amazing is that Sven has built equipment sensitive enough to isolate these tenuous signals, and that he does it in a populated area, where radiation from power lines, heating systems, and every other domestic electrical device complicates the situation.

This was no small task, and Sven is willing to put in an extreme effort. He has, for example, entirely cut AC power to the second floor of his house, where he has built a magnetic loop antenna the size of an upright piano. The coil itself is suspended by elastic supports and the ceiling and walls are covered in anechoic material to avoid acoustic vibration of the coil. He has gone so far as to “tune” the room itself, by positioning baffles to null out the room’s intrinsic acoustic resonances. No half measures there.

a map showing the route driven earlier in the day as reported by ARPSAfter all of this, I thanked Kjell for being an amazing host and for extending such a warm welcome to a visiting ham. We agreed to set up a sked at some point, and I hope we’re able to meet on the air in the future. Later that evening, Kjell sent me a link to our APRS tracked route from earlier in the day.

I was able to get on the air again that evening from the hotel room using a longwire thrown out my 8th floor window. Even with this very suboptimal antenna arrangement, I worked two stations on 20m, one in Wales, and one in the Czech Republic. For kicks, I did try the rockmite on 40m. I didn’t get any replies, but I did at least show up on a Netherlands reverse beacon monitoring station at 8dB above noise.

On Sunday, I again hiked into the woods behind the hotel, spent about two hours on the air, and worked eight stations (in Russia, Germany, Italy, Slovenia and England). I turns out that I was lucky, as not too long afterwards, a series of solar events disturbed the ionosphere for a few days. In all, I worked 14 stations and 9 DXCC entities with my 5w 20m transceiver.



SM0/AI4SV versus the TSA

Last week, I attended the European Cancer Organisation (ECCO) conference in Stockholm. Most of the time, I was either at the conference, or at side meetings that took place between meeting sessions. My schedule was pretty tight, but I packed my QRP bag in case I had some free time.

My plans almost ended at Dulles Airport. The United Airlines baggage clerk gleefully told me that my suitcase was about 500 grams over the limit, and that it would cost an extra $200 to ship it to Europe. I reached in, took out my QRP bag, and brought the suitcase weight back under the limit.  I had hoped to pack the QRP equipment in the checked luggage rather than to carry it through security, but having travelled many times with the same equipement, I wasn’t really worried about it. That was something of a mistake.

A TSA agent adjusts his light blue vinyl examination glovesWhen my QRP bag went through TSA screening, as expected, they wanted to hand-inspect it. They pulled the sealed lead battery out and said that it couldn’t go on the plane — they were unable to get a good image on their x-ray machine. I replied that this made some sense, it was, after all, a lead battery. I suggested they rescan it, rotating it 90 degrees in one axis or the other, so that the lead plates would be parallel to the beam. I got a puzzled expression. I explained that the exact same battery had gone through security many times, including at that same airport on other international flights, and had not been a problem. I wasn’t getting anywhere, though, so finally I let the issue drop, handed the battery to the TSA agent, and said he could keep it. I suppose they must have a nice collection of confiscated electronic gear by now, so they are probably in need of some batteries as well.

On the flight over, I wracked my brains trying to think where I might find a suitable power source, with limited times between meetings. I recalled that batteries were expensive in Belgium, and assumed that the cost would be similar across the EU, related primarily to ecological concerns about battery waste — in fact, I had guessed batteries would be even more costly considering exchange rates and Sweden’s reputation as a green country. One option I considered was visiting the hotel’s business center and borrowing the battery out of a UPS for a day or two, but I’m glad to say it didn’t come to that.

Right before jet lag caught up with me on the first day, Thursday, it occurred to me that no one would know better about where to find a battery than a local ham. A quick Google search led me to the blog of SM0FOB, Kjell Bergqvist. I strongly recommend reading through his blog entries — they’re interesting, even if you’re not headed for Sweden. Anyhow, I noticed that he lived very close to the town in which I was staying, so I shot off an email and turned in for the night.

Kjell's FB QSL card printed on glossy photo paperKjell wrote back the next day and identified two stores within a five minute walk from my hotel, both of which sold a variety of lead acid batteries and chargers. Kjell also suggested that I could just borrow an already charged battery from him, but since I had donated my last battery to the TSA, I thought it better to buy a replacement, plus a smaller charger. The cost was comparable to what I would have paid in the US, so I guess the cost of batteries in Belgium may have been driven more by local taxes or that lead acid batteries are considered more ecologically sound since they are rechargeable and in the end, somewhat recyclable.

Beyond giving me helpful advice about where to buy batteries, Kjell suggested that we go out for lunch on Saturday and visit a couple local hams and their club station. The timing couldn’t have been better, since my first meeting on Saturday was late in the afternoon, so we set a time to meet.

Friday morning, I visited the conference, caught up on email, and picked up a battery. The battery was fully charged when I received it, and since I had some time before an afternoon teleconference, I took my QRP bag and went for a hike.  The hotel is just east of the Handen commuter rail (pendeltåg) station, and just across the railway tracks is a park and a lake. I took a footbridge over the tracks and then followed some trails in the park. I assume that in the winter, these trails are for cross-country skiing. I followed the trail that looked like it led to the greatest elevation, and walked more or less parallel to the lake front. Eventually, I found a nice rocky area to one side of the path, and threw an antenna into a tree.

radio, tuner, earphones on a moss-covered rockThe location was perfect: a rock to sit on and a few other rocks at just the right distance to serve as a desk. The rocks were coated with moss, and the whole area was so undisturbed that I was a bit worried that perhaps people weren’t allowed off the trails. I tried not to bruise the moss and brushed pine needles over my footprints on the way out.

Once set up, I realized that I had not packed an RCA phono cable to go from the keyer to the rig. Luckily, I had some wire leads with alligator clips in the bag. I opened up  both the keyer and the rig and made the connection directly (that’s why the keyer is open in the photo). The rig was the usual — my TenTec 1320 and a longwire antenna tuned with a Hendricks SLT+.

I spent about an hour there and worked four stations: two in Russia, and one each in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Sweden. I didn’t realize that the final station, SK0QO, was Swedish at first. I thought the SK prefix was in Eastern Europe. After a while, I realized that the station was sending to me in Swedish, though, assuming from my “SM0” prefix that I was a Swedish operator. I copied the name of the operator, Jonas, wished him a vy 73, and figured I would look it up when I got back to the hotel room.

When I got back, I did search it on, and realized that SK0QO is the same station that Kjell had mentioned in his blog, and that we would be visiting the following day. While I was at the computer, I checked the reverse beacon network, which showed that my 5w signal had made it as far as Canada.

More on that and the rest of the Swedish QRP adventure in the next entry

Arissat1 – First Attempt

a graphic of Arissat1I got up a bit early this morning and parked the car on top of the 6-story NIH garage in Bethesda to catch the 10:45 UTC (06:45 local) pass of Arissat-1. From there, the view North is unobstructed. The max elevation on this pass was 20 degrees, with AOS at azimuth 304 and LOS at 94, almost ten minutes in duration.

I tuned to 145.920 on USB and twirled the RIT back and forth above that frequency because I wasn’t sure how much doppler shift would matter. About a minute and half in, I picked up the CW beacon. I did not hear the bpsk signal as clearly as in this audio file. Here is what I heard this morning: Audio from Arissat-1 attempt #1 from FM19km.

In principal, to decode the BPSK1000 signal, the lower cw beacon should be kept near 500 hz. I tried my best, but after today’s experience, I realized I need something to look at — either some sort of spectrum display or the windows version of the TLM software. I had not played with the software earlier, but hoped that if I kept the signal within the receiver’s bandwidth, the decoding software would be pretty tolerant to centering, and might even track the signal pitch. Well, that is not the case. Maybe I can somehow pitch shift what I’ve captured, but I think the more practical solution is to try again, adjusting pitch live.

I did switch briefly to FM and heard just a couple syllables of speech before it went into SSTV mode and faded to static. In the above audio clip, the first part is USB, and you can easily pick out the CW signal. About halfway through, I switch to FM and you can definitely hear the SSTV, although the signal goes up and down rapidly (changing orientation of the satellite?).

I have to admit, this was something of a last minute effort, but I did remember to throw an audio splitter cable and the computer into the car before taking off to work today. I am not using a special antenna — just my trunk-mounted antenna (1/2 wave on 2m, 3 dBi). Considering that this was all before coffee, I guess I should consider myself lucky to have heard anything at all.

Later in the day, I fired up the Mac version of the TLM software, which seems less developed than the windows version. I tried to import a wave file, and it seemed to hang for quite a while, but them became responsive again. I assume it was trying to decode the bpsk, and having a hard time because the signal is very low in my recording and the frequency is all over the place. Unfortunately, for purposes of troubleshooting, no sample file is available on line, although the Arissat website says one will be posted shortly.

There’s another higher-elevation pass tomorrow at 11:23 Z / 07:23 local, and I’m planning to be set up for it. This time, I would use the PC-based version of the TLM software, which provides a real-time frequency analysis to keep the cw beacon in a narrow-enough window to center the bpsk1000 within the expected bandpass for decoding.

It would be helpful if I could figure out when the satellite is in eclipse, to know when it will be operating in lower power mode. I assume that it’s keps are not very stable, so I’ve just been going to the orbit prediction page.

Addendum: Not sure why the Amsat page just went down this evening (Aug 4th), but there’s another tracker that does a nice job — it shows whether the satellite is in eclipse or not, and if it is likely to be visible. It also provides real time tracking:


M&M Rounds: FD2011

From my perspective as the captain of the 80/20/10 cw station, field day was a success. We had fun, made contacts, and nothing really went wrong. There’s always room for improvement, though, so looking forward to next year’s event, here are some thoughts…

What worked:

  1. We had a very useful meeting a couple weeks ahead of FD to talk about antennas. We took the general plan laid out by the scouting committee and added some details and enhancements, trying to lock down where all of the supplies would come from, and how we’d go about setting up the station. Most of the people who came to that meeting participated in the setup and operation of the station. A short pre-FD team meeting is something I’d repeat.
  2. We didn’t use inline bandpass filters, but I didn’t hear any complaints about interference, and we barely had any interference, even when we were working 20m at the same time as the SSB station.
  3. Having a mast to support antennas near the station worked out well. The only lesson for next time is to balance the load in all directions so it doesn’t bend like a wet noodle.
  4. Shade. It was a hot day, and being in the shadow of a big tree helped.
  5. Lines in trees. Having the antenna plan in hand, we are able to shoot lines into appropriate trees even before we had all the equipment on hand and enough people to raise the mast.
  6. The headphone breakout box was very helpful. We had at least two sets of headphones plugged in, plus the external speaker so onlookers could see what was going on.
  7. We made use of all keying modes — via computer, paddles, and straight key. All should be enabled in future operations.
  8. We went across the road with antennas. This worked out okay, with the actual crossing accomplished quickly, someone in the road to direct traffic, and someone to climb the tree on the far side to tie the antenna up out of the reach of park users. We managed the tree climbing part, but next year a ladder would be a good idea.
  9. LAN. We were at the very limit of the available CAT5 cable. We had no problems at all with the LAN.
  10. Logistics: We had no problems with parking, toilets, etc. Food was phenomenal.

What didn’t work:

  1. The B2000 is not a great radio for S&P. It lacks a nice big knob. Next time, I’d use the Ten Tec Omni VII as the main station and leave the reserve radio in the car.
  2. Folding chairs. The folding chairs were good, but a bit low relative to the table. I’m not sure what the solution is — lower tables, higher chairs? Also, next time: some lawn chairs so we can stretch out.
  3. Sleeping arrangements. Next time, I’ll bring a separate tent for overnight camping, plus an extra sleeping bag and perhaps an air mattress.
  4. Spotting radio. We had two radios set up, but consistent with operating as a 4A, we used on only for listening. We had hoped to use the receive-only radio for marking the band map to make S&P more effective, but found that by the time we switched bands, many of the stations had disappeared (either QSYd or were lost due to changing propagation conditions).
  5. Beetles. Not sure what to do about them — we may have to live with them.

Lessons learned:

  1. Even when everything is working right, the generator pauses every now and then, for instance, when it refuels. Not a problem for the laptops, but it caught me mid-QSO a couple times. Byron wasn’t affected. Why? Because he had a powergate on his radio, with a back-up battery. Even a small 12V battery can provide enough power to finish the QSO. The other advantage of the powergate is that the battery is charging when it isn’t in use.
  2. A thermos of hot coffee would be a welcome addition.
  3. N1MM: At one point, N1MM refused to key the rig because it saw that another station on the network was calling CQ. This was because the log was set up for “single station”, and was quickly corrected.
  4. The 40/15 cw station was operated primarily by seasoned operators, which is entirely appropriate since it is the workhorse band for cw. Many of the operators of our station operated at lower speed or were not as familiar with contesting. Both in terms of fun and preparation for future contests, this was very worth doing. In strategic terms, though, thought could be given to running a fifth station for those times when another higher speed operator is available. This would be particularly useful during the next few years with higher solar flux, when 10m might be open. For most of the contest, we could have worked both 10m and 20m. The fifth station could also serve as “swing” considering that our antennas also would have worked 40 or 15m. The main constraint would be the number of cw operators.
  5. Bring lots of rope early in the day. A couple long ones, e.g., 300+ feet, a bunch of 200 foot, and the rest can be 100 feet. At a minimum, the tower itself requires four guy ropes, plus additional ropes to haul up each antenna.
  6. Next year, we should put signs outside each tent to identify the station, e.g. “80/20/10m CW tent”.
  7. The tents are big enough to accomodate two tables plus operators. Next year, even if we don’t have a second radio in the tent, we should set up a second table for stuff. This will keep food, drinks, etc., away from the operating position.
  8. It was a hot day. Whoever arrives early should bring some water, as it takes a while for the food/drink area to get set up.
  9. Scheduling. There are a limited number of cw operators, and some operators require a mentor to ride shotgun. We were off the air from 3:30 to about 6:30 am on Saturday morning. Ideally, we would recruit additional operators to provide shorter shifts and reserve someone to cover the early morning hours.
  10. Tags. I’m not sure everyone got back their own ropes and other odds and ends. Chances are that one rope is as good as another, but if we had some self-adhesive tags, we could label stuff as it is unpacked, and be sure that everyone gets their own stuff back.


A two-wheel trailer with two cross-polarized antennas mounted on an az-el rotor
Not every antenna was as cool as the satellite trailer

For Field Day 2011, the Vienna Wireless Society fielded four HF stations, plus a GOTA, a VHF and a satellite station. As mentioned previously on the blog, planning for the event had started months before, and picked up speed in May. Somewhere along the way, I ended up as captain for the 80/20 cw station, which was quite a learning experience, never having participated in a VWS field day prior to this one.

We had a pow-wow about antennas and rigs a couple nights before the event, but the plan continued to evolve until spud guns started puffing around 2 pm on field day (when antennas were allowed to be erected). The centerpiece in our antenna arrangement was a 40-foot galvanized pole. To the west, an alpha-delta DX-EE was hung between a tree and the pole. To the east, an 80m OCF dipole was hung, with the long end crossing the road and suspended from a high tree. We were able to adjust the tension so those two antennas more or less balanced each other. To the north, we hung a home-made 40/20/15/10 antenna, and about 12 feet behind it on separate lines, we suspended a 20m reflector. Having no antenna to the south, the pole bent a bit towards the north once we got it up.

A mast with many attached wires bends slightly to the north
Our overburdened mast

Raising the pole was an interesting affair, never having done this before. A stake was driven in at the base of the pole. Guy ropes were attached to the next-to-top-most ring. Two to the side of the antenna were set up as pivot points, with a forward and aft halyard as well. Carabiners were looped through the upper most ring to serve as pulleys for the antennas. The 20m reflector was drawn up through a large toroid knotted into the rope suspending the OCF. Consequently, when the whole thing was pulled up, it had about ten ropes hanging off it. Note to self: make sure that all the ends of every rope are either being held or are tied off. As soon as the mast went up, one rope went whizzing through the carabiner and the mast had to be lowered again to rethread it.

We checked each antenna with an analyzer and had to tweak the homebrew multiband, but once we got going, the antennas all worked really well. Mike K3MT started us off with some solar-powered contacts, powering Byron’s Ten Tec Omni VII from a lead acid battery that he had charged earlier. We then ran for quite a while on the Kenwood B2000.

I’m probably leaving out of a few people, but as I recall, quite a few people tried their hands either calling or running on 20m including Sheila and Mel, Hap, Dave, Deapesh, Ray (Albers), Kevin and a ham who was new to the area, Leon.

Hap and Sheila work a contact on cw
Hap logs and Sheila works the straight key on a cw QSO

A couple days before FD, the solar flux was edging into the low hundreds, but there were some low grade solar disturbances. The ionosphere calmed down just in time for field day, and propagation was great. Ten meters was open throughout the afternoon and into the evening. Although the voice stations continued to work 10m into the late evening, I switched to 20m to take advantage of our “2 element beam” westward. While others continued to work 20m, I did a survey of 80m on the Ten Tec, and 80m also sounded good. At some point after midnight, we switched over to 80m and went up and down the band a few times. Deapesh and I wrapped up at 3:30am, but were relieved by Byron and Hap early on Saturday, as they continued to work 80m before the sun was up.

80m faded in mid-morning, and we were back to 20m for the rest of the event. On Saturday, there wasn’t much activity on 10m, and solar flux was already on its way down. Ron came by later in the day and worked as my logger, which was a real luxury. We lined them up and knocked them down in a solid run, which was satisfying.

Tear down went quickly, and I think I ended up with all the right equipment at the end. A few items need to make it back to their owners at the next meeting.

Some photos from Field Day, from… Linda (AC4LT) and Bernie (N4JDF)

Next post: What worked, and what I’d do differently next time for field day.

Field Day Antenna Plans

aerial photo of the field day site with antenna and ropes superimposed
80/20cw is at lower, righthand corner

Several of the people involved in planning for the VWS field day event came over to my house on Wednesday evening to brainstorm about antennas and setup for the 80/20cw station. By the end of the evening, we had run through quite a few possible configurations, some fancier than others, but in the end we decided to use two dipole antennas. I’ve updated the map showing the layout. Ian’s Buckmaster OCF dipole will run roughly East/West, between ropes suspended from the tree at the top of the hill next to the 80/20 SSB station, and to a tree across the road on the other end.  To help support the antenna, a 40′ double-guyed pole will be positioned near the 80/20cw tent. The same pole will also support one end of a multiband dipole oriented more or less North/South. Between the two antennas, we should have broad coverage (10-80m on the OCF, and 40/20/15/10 on the multiband).

At the station, we’ll have two radios, but only one will be used for transmit (according to the 2011 FD rules, class is determined by number of transmitters). Byron has made available his TenTec Argo VII transceiver, which I believe has been used in previous years as well. At the other position, we will have Jim Nagle’s ICOM 7000. If we have adequate staffing, the other radio can spot, populating the band map, while the other runs a frequency. After the bandmap is full, the second position can efficiently S&P the marked sites, while the other position marks another band.  Since all the band map information is shared on the LAN, we could also mark spots on 40/15, if desired.

I’m still looking for some CW operators for the 80/20cw station — if interested, sign up online or email me.

VWS Field Day 2011: 80/20 Station Planning

It’s about two weeks until Field Day. I’m captain of the 80/20 cw station, and I’m trying to pull together plans for the station. The club has done this event many times in the past, and there is plenty of experience to tap into, which is good, since this is my first time running anything at Field Day. Pete K6BFA is the top boss for the event, but there are a large number of people involved in logistics. A large chunk of the planning took place last month during a walk-through at the site, Burke Lake Park (see map of proposed station locations and antenna deployment). Due to work commitments, I was out of the area on that day, and on every weekend since then. Earlier today, I had a chance to scope out the site for myself. Tomorrow night, I’ve invited people who have signed up to work the station during the contest plus a few members of the planning committee over to my house to talk about antennas for the 80/20cw station, but I wanted to get the lay of the land before the meeting.

The present plan is relatively limited — to run a long wire antenna from a mast near the 80/20 station to a tall tree. It sounds like this would be reasonable for the 80m, although maybe not optimally high near the station end. I’m not sure it would work well for 20m. We have a number of other antennas available to us, plus a push-up 40-foot mast. Also, the station is near the spider beam, which is designated for the ssb station, but perhaps could be shared (?). In pow-wowing about antennas tomorrow night, my goals are:

  1. Put up a single and reliable antenna so we are ready to go when FD starts.
  2. Not interfere with the other stations.
  3. Lay out a strategy for best use of our resources at different times during FD.
  4. Incorporate any experimental suggestions that are not likely to interfere with #1-3.

I went to the site of the 80/20 station, and spun around, capturing the landscape around the site with my cell phone’s camera. The site is a bit lower then the surrounding area, and there is a slight grade upwards to the west. I am initially facing west. At 0:03 seconds, facing the non-40SSB. At 0:06, facing 40/15SSB support tree. At 0:09, facing the tall tree planned to support? the 80/20. Another potential support tree is masked in background at around 0:11 seconds.

I also took some still photos, thinking about trees that might make good antenna supports. Starting with the current plan, there is a really tall oak tree just across the road to the East, in the direction of the minigolf course. We could use a 40 foot mast towards the station end to give it some height. I counted 132 paces over to the tree, so something like 130 meters. A view towards the big oakAccording to the layout picture on google maps, the antenna is about 160 feet, and the support rope about 185 feet (but considerably longer in practice, since it has to go up to the top of the tree and the antenna wire will slope upwards, so not all of its run will contribute to the horizontal distance).

The advantage of this layout is that it should be dead simple to set up. An ICOM AH-4 antenna tuner would be at the tent, tied to a ground, and the single long wire would run up to the mast and then over to the tree.

A number of people have volunteers other antennas for the effort as well, including Ian N0IMB’s Buckmaster OCF dipole, my G5RV, or Byron W4SSY’s 80/20 fan dipole. Of these, the fan dipole may be the most attractive because it is resonant, and perhaps to least likely to interfere with other nearby stations. The difficulty with these antennas is getting the feed point near the 80/20 station.


There is another large tree to the South of the large oak, pictured above. On the aerial, the tree is just west of the run of three smaller trees near the road:Another large tree



A large tree at the top of a slight gradeThe other end of a dipole could be suspended from the large tree just up the hill from the station. According to the site layout, this tree would also support an antenna for the non-40 ssb station. The tree could be used to support a rope, so the two antennas would not be so near each other. Additionally, the two antennas would be near right angles to each other. This end of the antenna would also be near the spiderpole, though, so perhaps that would be a problem.

A view across the field towards the taller trees in the eastLooking eastward from the site of the non-40 ssb station, the “long wire” tree is to the left, and the tree proposed as the other end of the dipole is on the right in the background. Closer, the trees on the right are the site for the 80/20 cw station, so the dipole would run in a straight line past the station, requiring a 50-100 foot feedline if we played it right with the ropes on each end.

In addition to these antennas, Byron has volunteers the use of his 20-meter Moxon, which has been used several previous times at Field Day. John K4US has also made available a 40 foot push-up mast. We’ll have to figure out how to best use all of this equipment tomorrow night.

Guess I should get some soda and chips for tomorrow night…