HF Email From The Mobile?

Last summer when we were camping in the national parks, there were many campsites where we had no cell phone service. I am not complaining about that, but our work around to communicate back home to the XYL often required a trip to the pay phone (sometimes hard to find). I thought about perhaps using APRS’s capability of relaying short pieces of text as emails. Part of the problem is that there are many areas of the parks that don’t have any APRS digipeater coverage (Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks for example). How to get a message through?

Then I remembered my MARS station (AEN5AC) in Iraq. I was using an ICOM IC-7000 and an SCS PTC-IIusb modem to pass MARSGRAMS from my location north of Baghdad to another station at the US embassy in Qatar. The pairing worked quite well and I was consistently able to connect and pass traffic using PACTOR 3 at the 1400 baud rate. Could I use a similar setup to provide an HF email option while camping this summer?

September 2007, Taji, Iraq - MARS Station AEN5AC
September 2007, Taji, Iraq – MARS Station AEN5AC

I dug out my SCS PTC-IIusb modem. I had not used it since shutting down the MARS station in June of 2008. Everything was still in the box. To include the cables necessary to interface the modem with an ICOM IC-706MKIIG… the same rig I use for HF mobile.

I pulled out my spare IC-706MKIIG. Coming back to Kansas from Field Day in California back in 2009, my IC-706MKIIG quit on me. I ended up buying a second at the HRO in Denver and sent the broke one to ICOM. ICOM fixed it and returned it. I kept it in the box and it went back on the shelf. I did order a 6 pin Molex connector with powerpoles to allow for an easy power connection (#9). I connected the two cables from the modem to the rig. Once cable is for the data and plugs into the 706’s 13 pin accessory connection (#4). The other cable connects to the 706’s CI-V interface (#6) to have the radio change frequencies based on what station is being contacted.

Rear of IC-706MKIIG
Rear of IC-706MKIIG

I had the basic hardware of a HF email station, except for a computer. I would need one that would function out of the vehicle. This would probably require a laptop. I also decided for the ease of simplicity that the computer should be Windows driven (instead of Linux). Gasp! The bottom line is that the software and drivers required to send email via HF and use the SCS PTC-IIusb modem is Windows based. The answer ended up being an Dell XPS 15.

Using a Windows based computer helped me with a number of summer travel tasks that could not be accomplished by my small Linux laptop:
(1) Run the software required for HF email (more on Winlink and Airmail later)
(2) Run ARRL’s TravelPlus for Repeaters
(3) Run RT Systems radio programming software for my TM-D710A
(4) Run RT Systems radio programming software for my VX-8RGs
(5) Read the SD card from my Canon digital camera

Interestingly enough, the new laptop does not have a CD/DVD drive nor an RJ-45 connection for a LAN cable. Neither of these have been a show stopper yet.

ARRL’s TravelPlus for Repeaters

travelplus_repeatersI had purchased TravelPlus for Repeaters with the intent of installing it on my existing Linux laptop and running it under a VirtualBox Windows session (similar to how I run iTunes on my Linux laptop). However the software failed to install. I tried troubleshooting and looking at suggested fixes found on the forum sites but still had no luck. I tried installing TravelPlus using WINE. It installed but would not run as well.

Dell XPS 15 to the rescue. As the laptop does not have a CD/DVD drive, I copied the drive onto network storage. I then was able to install TravelPlus over the network and it is working without issue.

RT Systems Programming Software
The RT Systems programming software works fine under a VirtualBox Windows session. As I was moving all my vehicle related radio/computer tasks to the new Windows laptop, I attempted to install the programming software for the TM-D710A (used for beaconing the location of my vehicle and talking on VHF/UHF). Following a similar procedure that worked for TravelPlus, I copied the programming software from the install disks to a network drive. The software installation for the TM-D710A worked without a hitch. The software for the VX-8RGs (HTs we use for around camp and hiking) failed to load. The error said that I must use the original disk to install. A big challenge when the laptop doesn’t have a CD/DVD drive. The work around is that you find another Windows computer with a CD drive, load the software CD, then back on the driveless laptop, map the CD drive (like you would map a network drive). That worked and I was able to install the programing software for the VX-8GR.

HF Email Software
There are two main choices for software to allow for HF email: RMS Express and Airmail. I installed both. Airmail was the same program I used in Iraq and it offered easy configuration with the IC-706MKIIG and the SCS PTC-IIusb.

I now had all my equipment for a test run setup in my basement hamshack: spare IC-706MKIIG, SCS PTC-IIusb, and the Dell XPS 15 with Airmail. I connected the IC-706MKIIG to my Elecraft tuner and used my existing G5RV antenna. Airmail configures easily. The software has a list of stations offering mailbox services that can be viewed on a propagation chart by frequency and distance. Based on time of day, I selected a station in Texas that offered a 40M PACTOR 3 connection. Airmail allows me to click on the frequency in the propagation chart which then changes the dial frequency of the radio. After listening to see if there were any ongoing connections, I initiated contact. The modem lights flashed and the rig clicked between transmit and receive. The connection was made and I was able to send a test email as well as a position report.

Propagation Prediction & Frequency Selection
Propagation Prediction & Frequency Selection

Success! The position reports that go into the Winlink system are copied over into APRS. Now, even if I am not able to reach a digipeater with my VHF APRS beacon, I can send a position report over HF to let the XYL know where we are.

APRS.fi showing Position Report  from WINLINK
APRS.fi showing Position Report from WINLINK

I then thought about the steps I would have to take of transitioning my IC-706MKIIG configured for HF mobile to be ready to work with the PTC-IIusb to send email. As the remote head is located up near the drivers seat, this would present problems with being able to observe the modem, laptop, and radio control head all at the same time.

Remote control heads for the IC-706MKIIG and TM-D710A to the right of the center console. APRS Avmap GPS to the left of steering wheel.
Remote control heads for the IC-706MKIIG and TM-D710A to the right of the center console. APRS Avmap GPS to the left of steering wheel.

What if I just dedicated the spare IC-706MKIIG rig to the task of HF email? It would save me time and bother in pulling and plugging cables. It would also give the camping option of being able to operate HF from outside the vehicle.

VHF/UHF antenna is forward, above driver's door. Tarheel antenna is mounted on a swing out jerry can holder.
VHF/UHF antenna is forward, above driver’s door. Tarheel antenna is mounted on a swing out jerry can holder.

Using an additional iPortable box, I rack mounted the spare IC-706MKIIG and the SCS PTC-IIusb. Now I will have a spare HF rig with me, so if one goes out I will still be operational. I also attached the Tarheel screwdriver antenna’s rocker switch to raise and lower the antenna on the side of the box. During normal HF mobile operations, the TurboTuner (connected to the other IC-706’s tuner connection and CI-V connection) manages achieving a correct match between the operating frequency and the screwdriver antenna.

I only have the one TurboTuner. The TurboTuner requires a connection to the CI-V. So does the SCS PTC-IIusb. My solution was to leave the TurboTuner alone. Instead, using the rocker switch, I can manually tune the antenna while visually observing the 706’s SWR meter.

HF Email Ready: SCS PTC-IIusb, IC-706MKIIG
HF Email Ready: SCS PTC-IIusb, IC-706MKIIG

To transition between using the 706 dedicated to HF mobile to the 706 now dedicated to HF email, I have to do the following:
(1) disconnect the antenna feedline from the TurboTuner
(2) disconnect the control line that goes from the TurboTuner to the Tarheel screwdriver antenna
(3) connect the antenna feedline directly to the HF email 706
(4) connect the control line to the rocker switch
(5) connect the laptop to the SCS PTC-IIusb via a USB cable
(6) connect the iPortable’s powerpole connection to the junction box in the back of the vehicle

… then I am ready to go. The iPortable box rests nicely on the vehicle’s tailgate, next to the laptop. All at about lawn chair height. Not only can I use this setup to send email via HF, but I can also use it for causal National Parks On The Air contacts as well.

What’s left to do:
(1) Constant cooling fan modification for both IC-706s (see AD5X’s article)
(2) An extended control cable for the Tarheel screwdriver antenna. This will allow me to further remote away from the vehicle, but still use the antenna.
(3) A length of antenna feedline for remoting.
(4) A length of powerpole-ready powerline to attach to either the travel trailer battery or directly to the spare vehicle battery… again for remoting away from the vehicle.
(5) I have a set of Heil headsets that worked with my IC-7000. I think if I get the AD-1ICM, I should be able to use them with the 706.
(6) A Heil HS-2 hand PTT switch to use with the headset.

The pursuit of The Elser-Mathes Cup

The story of the Elser-Mathes Cup may be familiar to many of you. For those of you who are not in the know, you can get all the details from the article by Fred Johnson Elser, W6FB/W70X, in the November 1969 issue of QST. To summarize, the establishment of the Elser-Mathes Cup in 1929 was directly inspired by the leaps and bounds up to that point in radio technology combined with Hiram Percey Maxim’s fascination with the planet Mars. The cup is to be awarded in recognition of the first amateur radio two-way communication between Earth and Mars. I would bet that the cup’s initial establishment was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Although Fred Johnson Elser’s QST article, on the tail of the success of Apollo 11, gave the cups existence and purpose a good deal more veracity.

How close are we to finally awarding the Elser-Mathes Cup? Lets look at some recent milestones:

Earth-Moon-Earth Bounce
In January 1953, Ross Bateman, W4AO, and Bill Smith, W3GKP successfully bounced at 2M signal off the Moon.

Signal reception of Voyager 1

On March 31, 2006, German radio amateurs successfully received transmissions from Voyager 1 which was already well outside the Solar System (~7,436,464,581 miles away from Earth).

Earth-Venus-Earth Bounce

On March 25, 2009, German radio amateurs achieved another first by bouncing a 2.4 GHz CW signal off of Venus – which at its closest point to Earth is a mere 24,000,000 miles away and 162,000,000 miles at its furthest.

Earth-Mars-Earth Bounce?
Mike Brink, ZR6BRI, has definitely done his homework to show the feasibility of radio amateurs bouncing a signal off of Mars (which has a distance from Earth that varies from 36,000,000 miles to 250,000,000 miles).

However, bouncing a signal off of Mars will not win The Elser-Mathes Cup. The amateur contact must be two-way.

Could the Mars Science Labratory (Curiosity) fulfill the role as the second party of an amateur QSO?

Curisoity does have UHF communication capability. One of Curiosity’s antennas is nicknamed “Big Mouth” and is used to send large data sets to one of three orbiters around Mars: the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (which will probably do most of the work), Mars Odyssey Orbiter, or the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter. The orbiter then relays the data via the Deep Space Network (DSN) back on Earth using X-Band.

“Big Ear” is Curiosity’s high-gain, directional X-Band antenna that can be used to communicate directly with the DSN on Earth. “Little Ear” is an omni-directional, X-Band antenna that is designed to be used primarily to receive low data rate transmissions from the DSN.

Putting aside the fact that Curiosity’s X-Band frequencies are outside the authorized US amateur frequency allocation and given the German amateurs success with Voyager and Venus – amateur communication with Curiosity looks possible (but probably not with my Arrow II antenna).

So, if it is possible for Joe Amateur (along with a heap load of expensive gear) to have a QSO with Curiosity – what would prevent the actual hacking of Curiosity?

Damon Poeter’s August 9th article “How to Hack NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover” takes a look at this proposition. Mr. Poeter all but dismisses the possibility of a private citizen contacting Curoisty and instead focuses at actually hacking through NASA’s control system. Then on August 10th, Mr. Poeter submits “Unknown Actor Soliciting Partners for Mars Rover Hack”. Now, possibily, there are individuals who are actually trying to hack their way through NASA by soliciting help in determining what frequencies are used to communicate with the orbiters above Mars.

Here on an IT secuirty forum, a question is asked concerning the secuirty of Curiosity. One of the responses is from a former controller who is somewhat familiar with NASA’s general communications protocal with spacecraft and identifies the transmission of bogus communications to Curiosity as a possibility. Although the post’s author identifies that the capability to conduct such an act would have to be another country (…. and everyone loves pointing the finger at China).

It is easy to forget that radio amateurs have been intercepting space communications for sometime, with Sputnik’s signal on 20.007 MHz and Apollo 11 communications being primary examples.

All this being said, I think The Elser-Mathes Cup will continue to gather dust for a bit longer.

Hold The Cheese Jokes

The road trip to Wisconsin went off without an issue. Despite the poor weather the night before, the skies generally cleared in the morning and I encountered only a few drops of rain during the first hour or so. By noon, the skies were blue and pleasant. The route was straightforward; I-35N, then I-90E.

I enjoyed using my mobile HF rig on the trip, mostly listening to pass the time but also having a few QSOs. There is a regional 40M net that occurs around 1100 AM (Central) that often has an NCS, Dave, KE0DL, who I talk to from time to time on the local repeater. I was able to check into the net and say hello to Dave. Then I made my way up to 17M and the band was hot with European DX for the rest of my trip: Hungary, Bosnia, Russia, Belgium, and Kaliningrad (a new one for me… I think). I was able to bust the pileups even with out adding the “mobile” to the end of my call.

This Saturday is the Armed Forces Day Crossband Test. The purpose of the event is to “give Amateur Radio operators and Short Wave Listeners (SWL) an opportunity to demonstrate their individual technical skills, and to receive recognition from the appropriate military radio station for their proven expertise.” Cooperation between civilian radio enthusiats and the military can trace its roots back to the Washington’s Birthday Amateur Relay Message back in Februrary 1916 in which a message was originated from the Army’s Rock Island Arsenal and was then passed over amateur relays around the country. Prior to and after WWII, the relationship between civilian amateurs and the military evolved to events more similar to what we see today with the Army Day and Navy Day messages from their respective service secretaries.

I have never participated in the Armed Forces Day Crossband Test but am hoping to this Saturday. I am going to try and copy the Secretary of Defense’s message via one of the digital modes. Once the message is copies, I can send in a copy (via mail) in order to receive a certificate. I think it will be fun to participate in this event – we will see how it goes.

Pearl Harbor: Patton vs The Signal Corps

Getting the Message Through: A Branch History of the U.S. Army Signal Corps” by Rebecca Robbins Raines

During 1940 President Roosevelt had transferred the Pacific Fleet from bases on the West Coast of the United States to Pearl Harbor on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, hoping that its presence might act as a deterrent upon Japanese ambitions. Yet the move also made the fleet more vulnerable. Despite Oahu’s strategic importance, the air warning system on the island had not become fully operational by December 1941. The Signal Corps had provided SCR-270 and 271 radar sets earlier in the year, but the construction of fixed sites had been delayed, and radar protection was limited to six mobile stations operating on a part-time basis to test the equipment and train the crews. Though aware of the dangers of war, the Army and Navy commanders on Oahu, Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short and Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, did not anticipate that Pearl Harbor would be the target; a Japanese strike against American bases in the Philippines appeared more probable. In Hawaii, sabotage and subversive acts by Japanese inhabitants seemed to pose more immediate threats, and precautions were taken. The Japanese-American population of Hawaii proved, however, to be overwhelmingly loyal to the United States.

Because the Signal Corps’ plans to modernize its strategic communications during the previous decade had been stymied, the Army had only a limited ability to communicate with the garrison in Hawaii. In 1930 the Corps had moved WAR’s transmitter to Fort Myer, Virginia, and had constructed a building to house its new, high-frequency equipment. Four years later it added a new diamond antenna, which enabled faster transmission. But in 1939, when the Corps wished to further expand its facilities at Fort Myer to include a rhombic antenna for point-to-point communication with Seattle, it ran into difficulty. The post commander, Col. George S. Patton, Jr., objected to the Signal Corps’ plans. The new antenna would encroach upon the turf he used as a polo field and the radio towers would obstruct the view. Patton held his ground and prevented the Signal Corps from installing the new equipment. At the same time, the Navy was about to abandon its Arlington radio station located adjacent to Fort Myer and offered it to the Army. Patton, wishing instead to use the Navy’s buildings to house his enlisted personnel, opposed the station’s transfer. As a result of the controversy, the Navy withdrew its offer and the Signal Corps lost the opportunity to improve its facilities.

Though a seemingly minor bureaucratic battle, the situation had serious con­sequences two years later. Early in the afternoon of 6 December 1941, the Signal Intelligence Service began receiving a long dispatch in fourteen parts from Tokyo addressed to the Japanese embassy in Washington. The Japanese deliberately delayed sending the final portion of the message until the next day, in which they announced that the Japanese government would sever diplomatic relations with the United States effective at one o’clock that afternoon. At that hour, it would be early morning in Pearl Harbor.

Upon receiving the decoded message on the morning of 7 December, Chief of Staff Marshall recognized its importance. Although he could have called Short directly, Marshall did not do so because the scrambler telephone was not considered secure. Instead, he decided to send a written message through the War Department Message Center. Unfortunately, the center’s radio encountered heavy static and could not get through to Honolulu. Expanded facilities at Fort Myer could perhaps have eliminated this problem. The signal officer on duty, Lt. Col. Edward F French, therefore sent the message via commercial telegraph to San Francisco, where it was relayed by radio to the RCA office in Honolulu. That office had installed a teletype connection with Fort Shafter, but the teletypewriter was not yet functional. An RCA messenger was carrying the news to Fort Shafter by motorcycle when Japanese bombs began falling; a huge traffic jam developed because of the attack, and General Short did not receive the message until that afternoon.

4th of July

I have been here in Korea for just over two weeks and am settling in at Camp Red Cloud, located north of Seoul. I think I’ve done a poor job in the blog of laying out the last month and half in which there has obviously been some significant changes in what I am doing.

On May 20th, I graduated from the School of Advanced Military Studies, culminating my two years at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, knee deep in graduate-level text books and Army field manuals. One of the requirements for graduation was to write a monograph on a military subject. I choose to write on the early history of MARS prior to World War II, when it was known as the Army Amateur Radio System (AARS). During this years Hamvention at Dayton, I had the opportunity to present the paper and I am pretty happy on how it all came together. No significant research had ever been done on early MARS history so I spent the majority of my research combing through primary sources and even conducting a few interviews with the few remaining former members of the AARS. If you have an interest in MARS, the history of radio in the Army, or the origins and organization of radio emergency communications, the paper is available here at no cost. One facet to the history of the AARS that I found intriguing was the relationship that grew between the AARS and the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. The ARRL recently posted a short article I wrote on the subject and you can see it here if you are interested.

My assignment following school was to Korea with the 2nd Infantry Division. To actually get there, I elected to take a less typical means of transportation for part of the journey. I decided to take Amtrak from Kansas City to Seattle, where I would board a government contract flight to Seoul. I had ridden trains quite a bit in Europe, but never had taken a train for more than a short distance in the United States. I had also recently read Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service, A Year Spent Riding Across America by James McCommons. If you are interested in passenger rail travel, enjoy a good road trip, or would like to know why train travel fell victim to the car culture, you will enjoy this book. The author, James McCommons, travels all the primary Amtrak routes (with mixed experiences) and talks with US rail movers and shakers around the country. Overall, he said Amtrak was good and getting better. I decided to see for myself.

One of the countries more historic and picturesque routes is that travelled by the California Zephyr. Originating in Chicago, the train traces its way west, climbing through the Rockies west of Denver and on to the Sierra Nevada’s an into California, terminating near San Francisco. My folks still live where I grew up near San Jose, so California was great for a stop over. I could then take Amtrak’s Coast Starlight from San Jose through Northern California, central Oregon through Eugene and Portland, then on to Seattle.

The train ride west was wonderful and I did write a post about it. The stop over in California was a lot of fun. Arriving during the early evening of Thursday, June 10th, I was able to get some sleep and meet my dad for some QRP portable field operations. We headed up to the Santa Cruz Mountains, above Saratoga, strung up a 40m dipole and had fun playing with my FT-817 and KX1. Although we didn’t achieve any great DX contacts, it was a great time. Saturday morning we headed over to a local monthly hamfest known as the Electronics Flea Market @ De Anza College. De Anza College is a little known junior college which has overseen the growth of Silicon Valley. Although I did not find anything I couldn’t live without, I enjoyed roaming around and seeing what the vendors had.

Before lunch, we headed over to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. Founded in 1999, the museum opened long after I had left the Bay Area. Very cool museum!

Then it was back to the train station in San Jose and I hopped on the Coast Starlight and headed north. The train ride was relaxing with some amazing scenery.

I spent Sunday night in Seattle and caught a shuttle bus on Monday to SEATAC. Flying with AMC can be an experience and differs from a commercial flight. The AMC counter was located at the far end of the international terminal and I joined a long line of guys with short haircuts and heavy, canvas green bags. Although I had to check in at 7:00pm, the flight wasn’t scheduled to board until 1am. They didn’t pack the flight, so there was a little elbow room. Instead of flying directly to Korea, our route would take us to Anchorage, followed by Yakota (near Tokyo) and then Osan Airbase in Korea. We got to Anchorage, deplaned for fueling, reboarded and then sat for three hours. Apparently the weather was bad over Japan, so we were held over for about 24 hours in Anchorage. I had been stationed in Alaska during 1993-1994 and it was nice to see that midnight sun again (sunset at 11:30pm with sunrise at 4:30am).

From Anchorage to Japan with a short layover and then on to Korea. The rest of the story is here.

And on the amateur radio side of things… My equipment is here. I shipped over my Icom IC-7000 for HF and a Kenwood TM-D710A to use with my EchoIRLP node. Also on the way is a Davis Vantage Vue weather station that I hope to get on line and on APRS. I need to get my Korean license and have all the necessary paperwork. Just need to get it turned in now. There is a monthly hamfest in Seoul next Sunday that I am going to try an attend – that should be an experience and I will have to bring my camera.

Have you been enjoying Jeff’s new podcast at KE9V.net? Cornbread Road is a Jeff at his best, weaving a tale of mystery and amateur radio in the heartland.

I will endeavor to keep my blog up to date with posts about my experiences here in Korea.

DXpedition to the Land of the Morning Calm

It has been almost two years of having my nose buried in the books. The school work had a significant impact on my time for radio (school as well as the addition of a new harmonic just over a year ago). Other than last year’s field day, I have not been on the air that much.

My next assignment is in South Korea and I hope to have a little bit more time on the air while I am there. The process for getting an amateur radio license for South Korea is pretty straight forward. What I don’t know at this point is what my housing conditions will be like and how that will impact my ability to get an antenna up. Worse case will see me putting up an antenna for temporary/portable operations. Ideally I’ll get a dipole up or maybe even a mini-beam like I had in Iraq. The plan is to also get up an APRS weather station and I will bring along my embedded EchoIRLP node.

If my job allows, I will try and operate a MARS station in Korea. When I was in Korea during the early ’90s, there was a pretty active MARS station down in Seoul, but I have heard that lately MARS activity has diminished a bit in Korea. There is a long history of US servicemen operating on the amateur radio bands while serving in Korea. An interesting story of ham servicemen playing an early role with Korea goes back to the Korean War. Take a look at the March 1951 QST on Pg. 40 for “Hams Aid Korean War Effort” [it is available for download by ARRL members]. Looks like there is also an interesting book called SOS Korea 1950 that I will have to get. During the war and for a while afterwards, South Korea prohibited amateur radio operations. After South Korea came back on the air, they have made it relatively easy for US servicemen to operate.

Now I have to draw up my packing list of what to take. I am limited to the amount of gear I can take with me for my year-long tour, so I need to plan carefully.

Windom and The Army Amateur Radio System

I found out today that the primary designer of the off center fed antenna, also known as a Windom antenna was a member of the National Guard and a founder of an early version of the Army Amateur Radio System (AARS) back in 1923. The gentleman’s name is Loren G. Windom. His individual initiative helped push the development and success of the AARS.

Army Amateur Radio System

I am closing in on the end of my research concerning the history of MARS, focusing on the early years when the organization was known as the Army Amateur Radio System (AARS). I choose this as a research topic because no one has ever written a thorough history of MARS.

Dr. Paul A. Scipione, AA2AV, wrote MARS: Calling Back To ‘The World’ From Vietnam (The History of Military Affiliate Radio Systems Operations During the Vietnam War) which was published back in 1994. This hard to find book was truly a labor of love for Dr. Scipione, who had served as a soldier and MARS operator during the Vietnam War. He conducted countless interviews with soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and civilians who were involved in MARS during the length of the US involvement in Vietnam. He also conducted some initial research concerning the early days of MARS, prior to WWII. The majority of his research concerning MARS early history was done at Fort Monmouth, NJ, the location of the US Army’s Signal Corps School from pre-World War I to post-World War II. His primary source was QST which reflects a very ARRL flavored version of the AARS history. Army MARS currently uses an abbreviated version of Scipione’s history on their website:

In November, 1925, the Army Amateur Radio System (AARS) was initiated by a few dedicated pioneers in the United States Army Signal Corps led by Capt. Thomas C. Rives. His original intention was to enlist the talents of volunteer Amateur Radio operators as a source to train Soldiers in the then new technology of radio as well as pursuing radio research and development to improve radio equipment within the Army. His efforts were very successful.

This organization continued until the United States entry into World War II, at which time radio Amateurs were denied the use of the air. Therefore, the activities of AARS, as it was known, were suspended until 1946 when, once again, AARS was allowed to go back on the air. During the years 1925 through 1942, the AARS functioned more or less as an extra curricular activity of the U. S. Army Signal Corps, its scope being necessarily limited by the meager budget of the pre-World War II depression years. The best available figures indicate that as of the 7th of December, 1941, there were approximately 60,000 FCC licensed Amateurs within the United States and its possessions. Some 5600 of those Amateurs were members of the AARS. About 20% of the pre-World War II AARS members eventually entered the service of their country either in the Army or in a civilian capacity. The U. S. Army recognized the great importance of reactivating the AARS to train vitally needed communications personnel at a relatively inexpensive direct cost to the U.S. government. Therefore, in 1946, the AARS was reactivated and functioned as such until the creation of the Military Amateur Radio System in 1948, later renamed the Military Affiliate Radio System (MARS) with Army MARS and the newly formed Air Force MARS reflecting the creation of the Air Force as a separate service. In early 1963, the Navy-Marine Corps MARS was established.

From my research: AARS was officially constituted in November 1925, although the seeds for the organization had been planted a few years earlier. Both the ARRL and the Signal Corps had different motives for the founding of AARS. The ARRL was looking to affiliate with a government organization in order to ensure the radio amateurs continued to have the freedom to use the airwaves. Coming out of WWI, the ARRL was blindsided by the US Navy when it initially made a grab at permanently taking control of the radio spectrum. The ARRL proved to be an effective lobby and successfully persuaded Congress to maintain the status quo of the Radio Act of 1912, which gave the radio amateur his on-air privileges. The next fight was against commercial interests as broadcast radio skyrocketed in popularity. The ARRL knew that by affiliating with the Army, they could clearly justify the radio amateur’s continued access to the ham bands.

In the early 1920s, the Signal Corps was attempting to stand up a near-global radio system which came to be known as the War Department Radio Net. The hub of the net was based out of the Washington D.C. area and the other major nodes were located in each one of the nine corps areas.

This net grew to include Alaska, Hawaii, the Panama Canal Zone, and the Philippine Islands. The Army lacked a large number of radio operators and soon faced budgetary and personnel cuts in the mid-1920s. Additionally, the Army was also looking at long term requirements. They realized the time required to draft and train the amount of radio operators that would be required for a major mobilization would be prohibitive. The Army viewed an affiliation with the ARRL and the American radio amateur as a possible solution to their short and long term manning issues.

While CPT Rives was stationed at Fort Monmouth during this period and a very active radio amateur, he was not the driving force behind the creation of AARS. The Army never saw the radio amateur as an asset to be used in helping with training at the Signal School. The Signal School was very progressive in its implementation of radio innovations and heavily leveraged the faculty at nearby MIT for technical assistance in addition to the school’s military staff.

Between 1925 and 1941, AARS was successful in training many amateur radio operators in Signal Corps procedure. Participation in AARS nets trained the radio amateurs in use of Army ciphers, how to pass message traffic, and net procedure. AARS members often provided aid during natural disasters, providing a link between local, state, and the national government. During the 1930s, AARS frequently teamed with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps to provide a radio link. The MARSGrams that became very familiar to soldiers during Vietnam can be traced back to the support provided members of the CCC sending messages back home. During the summer of 1941 as the US Army began its expansion for the coming war, AARS members operated directly from Army camps in order to pass messages from the soldiers back to their families.

While the Army had done an excellent job at training the AARS in Army communication procedures, it never was able to formally place the AARS members in any type of reserve status were they could be called up to active duty. No organized system was used to track membership and no plan was made to attempt to draft the AARS members into the Signal Corps. The AARS membership figure of 5600 is not accurate. Active membership during 1941 was at ~1200 with about 2000 inactive members.

The day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, AARS evaporated. Members were encouraged to join the Army and promised placement in the Signal Corps. Compliance with this request was not universal. Not immediately seeing a use for AARS in a civil defense roll was shortsighted. The AARS could have served as a basis upon which to build the Wartime Emergency Radio System (WERS). Instead, the organization was scraped and it was hoped that they would seek placement in the Army.

Radio amateurs served in the US military in large numbers, but the vast majority were never prior members of AARS. National Guard units had consistently leveraged the use of radio amateurs who were members of their units to perform radio communication functions. For those radio amateurs drafted into the Army, their placement in a radio position was not assured.

AARS, during its existence, was a truly valuable organization – not an extra-curricular activity for the Signal Corps. Had the Army better managed the program and personnel, they would have derived much more benefit from the organization while on a wartime footing.

In addition to using QST as a source, I also used The Signal Corps Bulletin which was the professional journal of the Signal Corps up until 1940. The Signal Corps Bulletin provided a great deal of insight from the Army perspective concerning AARS, their development, and interaction with the CCC, National Guard, and the rest of the Army.

I continue to write my paper and am hoping to have a solid draft by next Friday. I am going to take the history a bit further – to just after the reconstitution of AARS as MARS in 1949 and then follow MARS up to 1953. If you are trying to find me in the coming days, chances are I’ll be at the Fort Leavenworth library, swimming in my notes as I try to tell the story of MARS in about 50 pages.

Chasing MARS…

I’m continuing my research of piecing together the history of MARS starting back from the early days of the Army Amateur Radio System (AARS). The process of research is as enjoyable as the information I’m digging up.

– Jeff, KE9V, had a post on his blog the other day that featured a humorous cartoon of different styles of keying and he sited it from a 1952 MARS Bulletin. The “MARS Bulletin” reference caught my eye, because I had not yet heard that there was such a bulletin. Additionally, the time frame of the bulletin in 1952 was near the time when MARS had been reincarnated from the ashes of the pre-WWII AARS. Jeff said he had got the picture from Dr. Kristen Haring’s book Ham Radio’s Technical Culture, published back in 2006. I contacted Dr. Haring (she’s a professor at Auburn University) and asked if she could provide me any additional information on the MARS Bulletin. Dr. Haring told me that she had accessed the MARS Bulletin while conducting research at both the Library of Congress and Columbia University’s library. She also recommended a search tool called WorldCat to help locate copies of the MARS Bulletin nearby. WorldCat is a great tool (it would have been helpful to have had this earlier on in my research) and I was able to locate copies of the Bulletin at the Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering and Technology located in nearby Kansas City (with the next closest source at Indiana University which is some distance away). The library here at Fort Leavenworth is top notch – its official title being the Combined Arms Research Library.

But I am sometimes surprised that they lack items like the MARS Bulletin. Tomorrow I will head down to Kansas City and see if the MARS Bulletin can help explain why MARS was resurrected after WWII and what was the military’s intended mission for the organization.

– Following another lead for QST, I found a letter to the editor in the October 1998 issue from a gentleman by the name of Robert Gabardy, K4TJ. In the letter, Mr. Gabardy explained how he was part of a team which formed to bring MARS back to life back in 1949 and explained how they arrived a the new name for the organization. I was able to contact the retired Lieutenant Colonel Robert Gabardy, who served in the US Army for a period of over 23 years and is a veteran of WWII. He was able to give me a bit more background and also agreed to respond to some additional questions that I am developing.

– My last hot lead comes from another QST letter to the editor from the June 1998 issue that had caused LTC Gabardy to write in. This letter was from George Hart, W1NJM, a former staff member of ARRL… but also a former member of the AARS and also an Army veteran of WWII. From what I can tell now, Mr. Hart is in a retirement facility in Connecticut. I am going to try to reach him tomorrow and see if I can conduct a telephone interview with him. He would be an amazing source of information into how AARS functioned. I am particular interested in trying to determine why the US Army failed to directly draw from the pool of trained AARS operators to fill the ranks of the Signal Corps after Pearl Harbor. Equally confusing is why the Army didn’t maintain the organization to continue to fulfill its domestic responsibilities of acting as an auxiliary communications network. Instead AARS disintegrated within hours after Pearl Harbor, but only to be replaced later by the Wartime Emergency Radio Service (WERS).

I am hoping tomorrow will be a productive research day.

History of Army MARS – can you help?

Since July I have been attending the School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) here at Ft. Leavenworth, KS. SAMS is a 10 month course that “educates the future leaders of our Armed Forces, our Allies, and the Interagency at the graduate level to be agile and adaptive leaders who think critically at the strategic and operational levels to solve complex ambiguous problems”. The majority of our classes are focused on the study and application of the elements of national power, international relations, and operational design. The end result is a planner who spends a year on a division or corps staff helping to draft campaign plans for operations. One of the requirements for graduation is to write a monograph (like a master’s thesis) on a topic relevant to the military. I chose as a topic to write about the history of the Army’s Military Affiliate Radio System (MARS).

I’ve enjoyed researching the subject. Army MARS was officially constituted back in 1925 as the Army Amateur Radio System (AARS). I go a bit further back into history and trace the introduction of radio into Army use and then what circumstances brought about the requirements for the Army to want to organize something like the AARS.

Once organized, the AARS had a difficult start and then went through a fairly significant reorganization in 1929. There were a few reasons the Army wanted to establish the AARS. One was to extend the Army’s existing War Department Radio Net beyond the radio stations on Army installations to achieve a greater reach to all corners of the country. Knowing the limitations of wire (telephone and telegraph) communications during significant weather and natural disasters, the addition of AARS stations to the War Department Radio Net would help the local and Federal government better coordinate and respond to emergencies. The other major reason for the founding of AARS was to provide a pool of civilians trained in Army protocol for radio operations in case of a major conflict. The Army had learned from WWI that there was little time available to amass and train a significant force. Radio operators required specific skills which needed longer training. If a trained pool of operators was already in existence, it would make it that much easier to mobilize in case of general war.

AARS did serve as a benefit in providing communications during natural disasters. However, after the Pearl Harbor attack and the country began to mobilize, AARS literally evaporated. It was not used as a pool to draw from to bolster the Army’s Signal Corps. The organization basically ceased to exist until it was reconstituted as MARS some time after the conclusion of WWII. That is one area where I have been unable to find any definitive information as to why the Army chose not to draw from the AARS pool when they started full mobilization for WWII. And why was AARS abandoned and then another domestic organization (WERS – War Emergency Radio Service) stood up in its place? If you can help show me where I can find these answers, I’d greatly appreciate it.

ARRL and the amateur community had its own agenda in supporting AARS. Both before and after WWI, the amateurs (represented by ARRL) and the US government clashed over who should have privileges in the RF spectrum. The Navy was adamant about preventing the amateurs from retaining any RF privileges that might interfere with naval radio traffic. When the ARRL got the opportunity to affiliate with the US Army through AARS, they hoped it was an opportunity to help cement their hold over the amateur RF allocations by virtue of the proven service amateurs were providing the country.

It is an interesting topic and I am enjoying digging through old copies of QST as well a Army journals.

I’ve started writing and have my first 10 pages complete. I’ll post it here soon for comment.

If you have any specific knowledge of either AARS or MARS operation between 1925 and 1963, please let me know (scott dot hedberg at sign gmail dot com). I would enjoy getting some real history straight from a primary source.