Autumn = amateur radio time

Out here in Kansas, on the eastern edge of the prarie, the leaves are turning and the first frost is upon us. The time is NOW to get the hamshack in order.

(1) My VHF/UHF antenna and Davis weather station NEEDS to get mounted up on the chimney. I have the mounting brackets – thin aluminium straps that circumnavigate the chiminey. However, the roof at the new QTH is basically three stories high and the roof itself is pretty steep. Too steep for me. The solution? I am trying to get a local roofing company to give me an estimate for the job.

(2) The HF antenna. In the course of sorting through all the hamshack flotsam, I’ve started to identify “stuff” I can part with. Already I’ve said goodbye to some old MFJ TNCs, the Kenwood TS-930S, and my old TinyTrak (thank you Craigslist!). There’s more to part with and I’m still in the process of identfying them (… like an ICOM PCR-1000, TenTec RX-320, and a D-STAR DV Dongle for starters). More importantly (and back on topic), I unearthed two in-the-package wire antennas. The first is an 80M OCF dipole from RadioWavz and the second is a G5RV+ from RadioWorks. Now I need to dust off the CSV19 Pneumatic Antenna Launcher and let the tennis balls fly.

(3) Once I have my antenna situation under control, I can take the hamshack innards to the next level.

Questions to ponder:

Do I retain the hardcopy collection of QST magazines I’ve been carting around since 2005ish? Starting for the late 40’s, it is a solid collection up to 2000. It takes up a great deal of space and I have the same issues on CD. I’d like to find the collection a new (local) home, if possible.

My new job has me on the road – it would be great to take some gear on the road with me. What to take? Needs to have a small footprint. Sounds like a job for the KX1. What to use for an antenna?

Enjoying the Sunshine

My intent this morning was to shake-out my portable operations gear. I am travelling out to California next week, enroute to Seattle and then Korea. For the flight to Korea I am allowed to take two duffel bags (<70 lbs each) and a carry-on. I get to ship a small amount of gear (aka "household goods") from here in Kansas to Korea, but I likely will not see that stuff again for a few weeks. So along with all the stuff I will need to function for a few weeks, I also want to bring some radio gear. The current plan is to use the Elecraft KX1. The rig has a tiny footprint and includes its own tuner and tiny set of paddles. For an antenna, I'm going to use my Buddistick. All the components fit into a small case. I decided to take the KX1 and Buddistick out for a test drive and see how everything worked together. I set up in a small park in Leavenworth on a bluff overlooking the the Missouri River. My dad had given me a heavy duty tripod from High Sierra that served as a great base for the Buddistick. The tripod is too big pack with my luggage, but I am definitely going to ship it with the rest of my household goods. I also brought along MFJ-259B to help tune the Buddistick. The Buddistick comes with a 31' radial. I found the challenge with the Buddistick is keeping the radial off the ground (as recommended). Instead of the 5.5' whip that comes with the Buddistick, I have the MFJ-1956, a 12' telescoping whip. 40M tuned up quick. I had the radial extended out all the way to 31'. Due to where I was at, there was no nearby tree that allowed me to get the radial up off the ground. The tripod let me raise up the Buddistick about 6'. It was interesting to see the SWR change as I adjusted the height. After connecting up the KX1, I found W5VYH, Bru, calling CQ around the old 40M Novice band. Bru was down in Arkansas and gave me a 559. Next up was 30M. After playing with the coil clip, I got the SWR down. Not much heard there. 20M was a bit harder to tune up. After playing with the coil clip and rolling in the radial, I was able to get the SWR down to 1:1.7. 20M was very busy with a bunch of station around 14.150 MHz. I responded to one or two stations calling CQ, but I imagine my small sized signal was hard to pull out of the mix. I'm going to try a few more trial runs. Also need to try out the adjustable clamp that comes with the Buddistick as a mount.

Let it snow!

It is snowing now – NWS says we’ll get 2 inches. I am hoping for more. I’ll have to do a bit of shoveling to clear the driveway in the morning, then I’ll head out with the 4 year old for some sledding. Should be a good time, although with the low temps (the high today was 10F) we will have to bundle up a bit. It has been so cold since New Year’s Eve that the wind direction sensor on my Davis Vantage Pro2 has frozen, pointing north.

I’ve been doing a little configuration work in the shack. I decided to dedicate one of my computers to running my weather station/APRS combo. Before I had the software (Weather Display and UI-View32) running on the same computer I used for my HF work. Things got busy with the log and Ham Radio Deluxe going plus the APRS and weather applications. Moving the weather and APRS applications onto its own computer should give me a bit more stability. I installed a dual boot configuration of Win XP and Ubuntu 9.10. I am initially sticking with Win XP as I know it works well with both Weather Display and UI-View32. My plan is then to migrate to Ubuntu 9.10 and run Xastir and the Linux version of Weather Display. I need to do some googeling and see who else is doing that and see what issues they ran into. I did find and interesting linux application called wview – will definitely explore that. Looks like it is also a replacement for Weather Display Live.

I have a new computer than I am going to dedicate to just HF operations – one of Dell’s new Zino computers. I like the small form factor and I will also install a dual boot configuration to have some fun with both Win XP and Ubuntu.

The old (circa 2005) desktop computer that used to run both the HF ham applications, Weather Display, and UI-View32 has now been moved to another table in the basement and has become the arcade machine. My cool xmas gift was the X-Arcade Tankstick – an amazing arcade controller that is built like an old school arcade console. Along with MAME software I have been able to play some wonderful, classic arcade games: Pac-Man, Galaga, Berzerk!, Robotron, Battlezone, and my favorite – Scramble. The Tankstick also has a trackball, so I have been able to relive the glory of both Missile Command and Centepede as well. I’ve had the four year old behind the joystick playing Frogger – and she did pretty darn good. It is hard to beat the classic arcade games.

The plan for my HF station, based around my Icom IC-7000 is to mount it in two iPortable boxes. The set up will include the IC-7000, a tuner, power supply, and the Dell Zino. If (…when…) I am deployed again, I will be able to have these two iPortable boxes sent out to me. I’ll take some pics as I put the iPortable station together and post it here.

Return of the ARSIB

It’s time to dust off the Amateur Radio Station In a Box (ARSIB) and get it ready for field day.
Back in 2006 I was inspired by other hams who had put together portable stations that were built inside waterproof containers, capable of multimode (phone, CW, digital) HF, VHF, or UHF operation, easily powered by 110v/220v AC or a 12v source, able to carry with one hand, and ready for immediate operation with minimal setup.
My prototype was the ARSIB which I used on several occasions.

The ARSIB was based around my FT-817 to provide complete flexibility of a minimalist operation on AA batteries if need be. For normal operations, the 100W Tokyo HyPower amplifier gets me were I need to be. I had a lot of fun with the ARSIB using it during an RV DXpedition and for a lighthouse activation.
I now want to take the ARSIB to the next level – fine tune the design a bit. In searching around I have found several sources of inspiration:

  • Notes on building a portable self-powered communications station suitable for RACES, ARES, remote station, or general QRP use
  • Second Generation EmComm Station
  • KA5CVH Portable

    For my second generation ARSIB, I would like to improve the inner shelving structure supporting the radio equipment. Another goal of mine is not to put any holes in the waterproof container, which has limited some of my arrangements inside the box. I also want all the equipment to be able to travel well, without worry of damage. I also need to clean up the wiring; power, audio, and antenna. Some more ascetically pleasing, but functional.

    I think the Dell Mini will serve as the perfect companion for the eARSIB.

    Ultimately I hope to use the eARSIB (“e” is for enhanced) for Field Day 2009. The plan now is to link with KD6EUG, Larry, up in the Sierra Nevada’s for Field Day. In addition to participating in the event, we will string up an antenna or two for his cabin/shack… and maybe even get an APRS weather station operational as well.

    Now it is time to make it happen!

  • The Evolution of the Elecraft KX1 Transceiver

    ANYWHERE, ANYTIME HF: The Evolution of the Elecraft KX1 Transceiver

    By Wayne Burdick, N6KR
    Special to the ARS Sojourner

    If there is a place, and you can get to it, you must operate from there.
    —Ade Weiss, WØRSP, Joy of QRP
    Some years ago at the Dayton Hamvention I did a presentation entitled Ergonomics and Amateur Radio. It was not lost on either me or the audience that the title was an oxymoron. I spent an hour suggesting ways to improve the situation.

    While discussing field operation, I alluded to something called a “trail friendly radio” (TFR), and speculated on what form it might take. Ergonomically, it’s an interesting assignment. Suppose you have no table? No chair? No room to string up a dipole? Suppose like Ade Weiss, you wanted to operate from anywhere?

    Though the need for a trail-friendly radio has been evident for years, we can thank Richard Fisher, KI6SN, for giving the genre a name. He and Russ Carpenter, AA7QU, popularized it here on the ARS web site in the form of the TFR Challenge, and many interesting designs have resulted. Cam Hartford, N6GA, and I talked about it at length at the Zuni Loop field day site one year, when Cam showed me his own beautifully-designed TFR.

    I’ve always wanted to explore TFRs myself, with the goal of optimizing them for small size, ease of use and maximum integration. But the idea had to simmer and morph in my mind for about a decade before all pieces of the puzzle came together – in my case, as the KX1.

    Early Attempts

    The story of the KX1 really begins in the 1970s. Like many hams who grew up in the era when transistors and ICs had just become affordable, I had the great fortune to acquire a copy of Solid State Design for the Radio Amateur by Wes Hayward, W7ZOI, and Doug DeMaw, W1FB (silent key, 1997). Armed with a Radio Shack etch-resist pen and ferric chloride, I home-rolled Wes’s Mountaineer, a crystal-controlled, direct-conversion, 40-meter transceiver. From then on I was hooked on both homebrew and QRP.

    But it was the small, grainy photo of Wes operating the Mountaineer with gloved hands and wool cap – while while standing – that fired my imagination. Wes listed the many difficult constraints he had to satisfy in this design. The rig had to be small and lightweight to be suitable for backpacking, which dictated the use of QRP and a small battery pack. The antenna system had to be similarly light, so he opted for a simple dipole and RG-174 miniature coax cable. It had to be usable in cold temperatures, which suggested crystal control. Finally, it had to be usable in many different operating situations, including sitting on the ground, lying in a sleeping bag, or standing beside a trail. These constraints would inspire my own explorations in the TFR design space.

    In 1989, I designed something I called the Safari-4 (QEX magazine, Oct. / Nov. / Dec. 1990). While not exactly a TFR, this 5 x 7 x 3″, 4-band, 1-watt transceiver did push the envelope on integration. It included an internal 0.8 amp-hour gel-cell, manual antenna tuner, SWR bridge, and keyer, and had a stack of four transverter boards covering 40, 20, 15, and 10 meters. Like the KX1, it had keyer paddle mounted on the front. Unfortunately it was actuated by skin resistance, and despite the gold-plated comb pattern on either paddle, it suffered when humidity was low. It also could not be used with gloves on.

    Still, a rig like this had been my dream for many years. All you needed to set up a station was a random-length wire and a pair of headphones. I used the Safari-4 at every opportunity, and once managed to work Angola from Arizona on 15 meters with 200 milliwatts and a 16′ wire strung horizontally just 8′ off the ground. All of the credit goes to the operator in Africa, of course, and to extremely quiet band conditions.

    I built my first truly back-packable, hand-held HF transceiver in 1991 while living in Massachusetts. It was 2 x 4 x 1″, operated on 15 meters only with a VXO and superhet receiver, and had a push-button CW key on the top. With two internal, paralleled 9-volt alkaline batteries, it eked out just one-half watt. This level was significant. According to Solid State Design, a half watt represented a good tradeoff between communications efficiency and battery weight. Taking this wisdom from my QRP heroes for granted, I took the little rig out on many occasions and made several interesting QSOs. The most memorable happened when I was operating mobile, driving north on I-495 outside of Boston one winter day. Using a three-foot-long whip on the roof – a Radio Shack CB antenna re-resonated at 21 MHz – I had a solid, 10-minute QSO with a station in St. Louis.

    A PIC in the Pocket

    Several years later, after designing a few PIC microcontroller projects at work, I decided to see what a PIC might do for the cause of further transceiver integration. The result was another hand-held, which I dubbed the Koala. This was a 2 x 4 x 1″, half-watt, 40-meter superhet that ran from a single 9-volt battery. The Koala had a keyer, dot and dash buttons on the top cover, frequency counter, battery voltage monitoring, and most significantly, audio-Morse-code frequency readout of all parameters including the VFO. This allowed operation with no display.

    I should also briefly mention my club project phase, which led to the NorCal 40, Sierra, and SST transceiver kits. Again, these were not TFRs, but each furthered my goal of optimizing transceivers for portable use. All three were also enhanced by the addition of microcontrollers.

    The NorCal 40 was the first NorCal club project. Doug Hendricks, KI6DS, Jim Cates, WA6GER, and others helped me specify the NC40’s features, which included small size, very low current drain, “wireless” construction, and the now-ubiquitous BNC antenna jack – I liked the small size, and I couldn’t find a PCB-mount SO239 anyway. I can’t thank Doug and Jim enough for their efforts, which made this rig and other NorCal projects a success.

    The KC-1 keyer / counter option was added when another NorCal member, Bob Dyer, K6KK, started Wilderness Radio to sell the NorCal 40A commercially. The KC-1 used a PIC as a keyer and audio-Morse frequency readout – features now widely found in small transceivers. But I added one other unique firmware feature: the operator could use the keyer paddle to enter a target VFO frequency in kHz, then rotate the VFO knob until they heard an acknowledgement from the KC-1.

    To minimize complexity while preserving low current drain, I used plug-in band modules in the Sierra, NorCal’s second transceiver project. Having tried a band switch in the Safari-4 and modules in the Sierra, I am now a firm believer in a third solution—latching relays—which I’ve used in every multi-band rig since, including the KX1. I later designed the KC-2 keyer / counter for the Sierra – yet another PIC-based unit. By running the KC-2’s MCU at just 100 kHz, and using a non-multiplexed LCD display, I was able to keep RFI to an absolute minimum. The Sierra construction article, sans KC-2, can be found in any ARRL Handbook from 1996 through 2003.

    In the case of the SST, or Simple Superhet Transceiver, I tried to cut the size, parts count – 85 or so – and current drain to absolute minimums while preserving ease of construction and decent performance. The receiver still included AGC, the transmitter put out 2 to 3 watts, and there was room inside the box for a 9-volt battery and a KC-1. The combination of these features has made the SST popular as a Spartan Sprint rig. I suppose it could even qualify as a sorta-TFR if the KC-1 controls and dot / dash buttons were installed on top.

    The NC40A, Sierra, and SST are all still available from Wilderness Radio.

    Five Field Days

    Before I could turn my attention to a serious TFR, a most amazing thing happened: I quit my day job. I did this even though my wife and I were only a few months away from having our first child. What inspired this irrational behavior was my teaming up with Eric Swartz, WA6HHQ, to start Elecraft.

    Eric and I had met quite a bit earlier, through NorCal. He was recruited as a technical advisor to the club, and helped me with some last-minute Sierra design issues. He also proved he was serious about QRP by racking up over 100 countries on his NorCal 40.

    But it was doing Field Day together for five straight years that laid the foundation for Elecraft and for our transceiver designs. At FD 1995 and 1996 we used a hodge-podge of radios, batteries, antenna tuners and antenna switching schemes, often doing more QRP experimentation than operating. Finally, in 1997, we looked at that year’s pile of gear and concluded that there just had to be a better way. By early evening we had abandoned operating and were sketching out the K2 on the backs of FD log sheets.

    The K2 was our notion of the ultimate Field Day rig, with all-band coverage, wide receiver dynamic range, current drain of about 200 mA, and internal accessories – battery, ATU, antenna switch, power meter, and contest keyer. But it was not really a backpacking transceiver. So in 2000 we introduced the K2’s baby brother, the K1. Now we were getting close!

    The K1 is just a bit larger than a NorCal 40, draws 55 mA or so on receive, covers up to 4 bands without modules and includes an integral battery and ATU. We wanted the K1 to function like a TFR, so we designed a special tilt stand (KTS1) that would allow the rig to be aimed up, even when it was resting on the ground. The tilt stand is fully collapsible for transport, keeps the connectors up off the ground, and provides a place to mount a keyer paddle such as the Paddlette Backpacker.

    But the K1 still doesn’t meet all of the design constraints for a TFR. It’s too heavy for many backpacking expeditions, and can’t be used conveniently in difficult operating situations, such as when sitting in a camp chair, lying in a sleeping bag, or standing up. So for two years the idea continued to simmer. And then, finally, something bubbled over.

    Inspiration, Perspiration

    One morning in March, 2003, I woke up suddenly with the design for a plug-in, physically-reversible keyer paddle in mind. This was the all-important missing link. The trick was to mount the paddle at a 45-degree angle for ease of use. I could thread a metal-bushing eighth-inch stereo plug into the custom mounting bracket and use a captive thumb screw to hold the paddle firmly to the panel. I quickly sketched out a TFR-style radio around this paddle: controls facing up, paddle facing forward, and batteries accessible via a removable bottom cover.

    A few days later Eric and I fleshed out a set of performance and feature requirements. Like usual, Eric pushed performance and features, while I aimed for low current drain and ease of construction. Then, at the expense of other projects that I had been pursuing, I spent the next month doing the design.

    This is where, for me, all of the constraints and possibilities of the CW TFR finally converged. I now felt that it was possible to satisfy all of the requirements Wes Hayward had laid out for us in the Mountaineer, while providing much better performance, enhanced usability, multiple bands and more operating features.

    The most important design decision was to use a DDS VFO. This would eliminate a number of parts, including the transmit mixer and its crystal oscillator. While it wouldn’t provide the high spurious-free dynamic range of an L-C VFO, it would be very stable over a wide temperature range, and also frequency-agile, allowing full coverage of 40, 30, and 20 meters as well as nearby SWL bands. Other designers had used DDS VFOs in QRP rigs with success, notably Dave Benson (NN1G) in his DSW series. But I’d been holding out for a DDS chip with much lower current drain. Luckily, one appeared: the Analog Devices AD9834, which draws just 5 to 8 mA.

    Another critical question was whether to use an LCD or LED for the 3-digit display. An LCD would have required a backlight, complicating packaging given the small area available for the display. It would also have required a separate display driver, since the KX1 had to get by with only a 28-pin MCU. So we opted for a rugged, incredibly efficient red / orange LED. The unit we selected can be driven directly by the MCU (multiplexed), and requires less than 100 microamps average per segment in typical room lighting. For outdoor use, the current requirement increases to as high as 0.8 mA per segment, meaning the LED contributes up to about 10 mA average (12 segments lit) at its brightest setting. However, we included two refinements to make this a non-issue: a programmable display-off timer, and a 100 percent audio Morse-code interface, even including menu text.

    The Morse-audio feature allows the KX1 to be used without looking at the display, which is great for bicycle mobile operators, too-sleepy-to-keep-your-eyes-open Field Day operation, and operation in extremely bright sunlight. But we’ve also discovered that blind hams appreciate the KX1’s Morse-audio interface, and that alone was worth its inclusion.

    Revisiting the Power-to-Weight Issue

    In order to allow room for the automatic antenna tuner option (KXAT1), we decided to use just six AA cells for the rig’s internal battery pack. We discovered we had to use two 3-cell sockets with a gap in the middle to accommodate the keyer paddle jack and the I.F. and BFO crystals.

    Six 1.5-volt lithium cells work very well in this application, providing around 1.5 to 2 watts output. And they last forever, it seems, with a rating of nearly three amp-hours and a very long shelf life. I did six KX1 field-test outings from May through September on a single set of these batteries.

    So let’s return to the issue of how much power output is required for a backpacking rig. As you recall, Wes Hayward suggested one-half watt to attain a good power / weight tradeoff. But he didn’t have access to lithium 1.5-volt AA cells, which were invented in 1992. Alkalines have a similar milliampere-hour rating, yet their voltage rapidly drops as they discharge, and the mA-hr rating is based on an end-of-charge voltage of 0.9 volts. In contrast, lithium cells have a nearly flat discharge curve, remaining at about 1.4 volts for some 90 percent of their charge life. They also weigh just over half as much as alkalines – a six-cell pack weighs just 3 ounces.

    So the equation really has changed. Given lighter batteries with better performance, I think the optimal power level for backpacking rigs is around 1.5 to 2 watts. This will produce more QSOs and more reliable emergency communications.

    Finishing Touches

    There are a number of other subtleties in the KX1 design that contribute to its small size and moderate parts-count. For example, the transmit low-pass filter is a careful compromise, covering three bands yet using just one relay. Only three crystals are used in the varactor-tuned IF filter, rather than four (K1) or seven (K2). T-R switching of the receiver’s bandpass filter is handled using a series-tuned circuit and an NPN transistor clamp rather than PIN diodes. The BFO is fixed-frequency, optimized for a 600 Hz sidetone / TX offset. A contacting rather than optical encoder is used, the former being much smaller and still having a long predicted lifespan of more than 100,000 rotations. Four sidetone levels are provided by simply using two outputs on the MCU and two resistors (i.e., a 2-bit DAC). And finally, a simple AGC circuit is used in combination with limiting at the AF amp. The LM386 runs from just 6 volts, so it clamps leading-edge thumps pretty effectively.

    Two other features provided the icing on the cake: the log lamp and SWL coverage.

    The integrated white LED log lamp elicits a lot of smiles when we demonstrate the KX1. It’s really handy for nighttime operation, allowing you to shut off your larger lantern or flashlight, which might disturb someone sleeping nearby. The LED only requires about 6 mA when operated from internal batteries, and since it has its own on-off switch, it doubles as a book lamp, flashlight, or a visible signaling device. During field test someone suggested that we use a red rather than white LED, since white light attracts flying insects. You can easily swap LEDs if this is a concern.

    The KX1’s SWL coverage allows you to get news, time beacons (including WWV at 5, 10, and 15 MHz), weather information, and a variety of perspectives on world events. This seemed like a useful addition to a backpacking rig, since it may be the only radio you carry, and it has proven popular with early builders. The crystal filter can be widened out to about 2 kHz to listen to AM and SSB stations. For flexibility, we also added 5 kHz tuning steps, three frequency memories per band, and USB / LSB capability.

    The KX1 could be made much smaller if we had used surface-mount components and AAA batteries, left out the ATU, and had been willing to pack the controls together more tightly. While this might help someone win in the “skinny” division of the Sprint, it would also make the rig less rugged and a lot harder to build and use. Instead, we designed the rig from the ground up to be a reliable, easy to build, easy to use, fully-integrated station. Our chosen 3″H x 5″W front panel size allows quite a bit of room for controls and display, and the 1.2″ height allows for AA batteries and an automatic antenna tuner.

    K-zero (Not!)

    Initially we didn’t know what to call the rig. We tried and rejected K.5, KR5, K-zero, and other names that would complete the dubious mathematical series { K2, K1, … }. We also rejected “Elecraft Elf,” although we may use that for something else . . . someday. “KX1” won in the end. “K” would keep the KX1 firmly planted in our line of transceivers. “X” was a reference to “eXtreme” operating conditions or “eXtremely small.” And “1” seemed a reasonable choice, since the rig is just too small to be a “2”.

    When I first envisioned the KX1, what came to mind right away was the Adventure Radio Society. Russ and I had had a meeting about his ARS proposal a few months before the launch, and it was clear that he really did have adventurous and innovative plans for the organization. Given the many serious backpacking trips taken by Russ and other ARS members, the KX1 just seemed to be a good fit. I’m hoping we’ll get a lot more feedback on the design as the rigs find their way into the field.

    But I also had a more esoteric goal for the KX1: I wanted it to be the ultimate radio for couch potatoes. Imagine lying on the couch, working CW DX with a paperback-novel-sized lap-top transceiver. It’s an entirely new way to experience CW – anywhere, anytime!
    * * * * * * * * * * *
    Wayne Burdick, N6KR, a founder of the Adventure Radio Society with membership No. 2, is one of amateur radio’s leading designer / innovators and co-owner of Elecraft, manufacturer of the KX1 trail-friendly transceiver.

    W1AA activation of Dumpling Rock Aug 4, 2007 USA 1231 and USA 247

    The Cape Crusaders ….Don N1DT and I finally back on the road again to activate Dumpling rock on Saturday …. and it felt great !!

    We arrived and set up the generator and truck station by 6:45 AM local time ….started on 75 phone … band conditions were very poor … Solar Flux was 70 .. A index 5 .. and K index 0 … static levels were S9 or better … Difficult to copy through the crashes …. only worked five Qs on 75 phone …. KD3CQ… N3HIS ….

    We then went to 40 phone …. band conditions were no better …. almost every QSO was a struggle through the static and noise… 19 QSOs… 2 on 40 CW …. worked a few of the regulars …VE3TPZ… K8YTO… VE1REC
    VO1RYL … KD3CQ …. 2 on 40 CW …..

    After the event I received an email from a local ham friend George KA1PS … about 40 miles away … He said he could copy us on 40 phone and hear others calling us but we could not hear him and did not go back to him … we were using a 33 foot vertical wire on the back of the truck … vertically polarized … he was using a horizontal dipole … horizontally polarized … the difference in signal with these conditions can be as much as minus 20Db …. on ground wave this is more than enough difference for us not to be able to hear him or copy him … add the high static level on 40 to this and we can understand why we did not hear him …

    At 1247 UTC we went to 20 phone …. the band was stretched out … not much short skip … still had a high static level … We had a QSO with VA2ASS/W1 on Ground wave …. he was on Cape Cod on vacation running 5 watts… That call is CORRECT … seems that Canada issues calls with that suffix … we worked VE6ASS many years ago..
    When I asked him he how he got the call … he said when the officials looked at him they said they had an appropriate call for him … that call is no longer active …. We worked a few familiar calls … K9PVZ (ARLHS #1000) … WA5TDK …. W5AZO Patty and W5AXN …. VO1RYL…

    By noon the 20 meter band had completely gone in the tank … We could copy WA8REI working stations on the Gulf coast … Joe W5PVZ … etc … but we could not work WA8REI or W5PVZ … we had lost the propagation but being further west the W8s… W9s and W0s still had it as they were further west ……

    Our last QSO was with Jim KA3UNQ on 40 phone ….. he is always there ….

    Stats …

    22 States

    4 DX Stations … France … European Russia… Virgin Islands …. Ukraine

    23 ARLHS Members

    Phone CW
    75 5
    40 20 2
    20 55 6
    80 8

    Total 88 QSOs

    A big thanks to all of those who hung in there to work us under miserable propagation conditions and the QRN …

    Don N1DT and I will be out to activate another light for the International Lighthouse/Lightship Weekend on Aug 18th.

    Keep the Flame

    Don N1DT #962 and Whitey K1VV / W1AA

    Already the 19th of November!

    I’ve been falling behind on my updates…

    (1) W4V – Veterans’ Day Special Event Station. I got a late start on Saturday… took a while to pack the truck. Setup at Fort Story took longer than expected – my biggest challenge was tying down the center mast after I’d gotten it vertical. It’s really a two person job and hard to do alone. But once I got the antenna up, the rest was easy. A beautiful day as well, low 70s and clear skies. The QSOs rolled in, as long as I was calling “CQ” I was getting QSOs. Sunday was a different story. The forecast called for rain, but I thought I could weather it out. I arrived at Fort Story but the winds became too extreme – no chance of getting the center pole up. I threw in the towel for a portable operation and headed home to operate. Not the same satisfaction running a special event from home, but I still enjoyed the QSOs. Even got Wyoming… which completes my Worked All States Award!

    (2) Kenwood TS-930S…. my “new to me rig”. I picked this up from a local ham at a bargain. What a radio!

    This piece of electronics perfection is over 20 years old, but it performs like a dream. The receiver is amazing. Also getting great reception reports on both SSB and CW. This rig is now the centerpiece of my shack.

    (3) I didn’t work the Sweepstakes this weekend, but did have a QSO with a special event station celebrating Oklahoma statehood. However, I did work a sweepstakes station on 15M who was operating from the Santa Clara Valley.

    (4) Also a few CW QSOs – I’ve hooked up my Logikey CMOS4 Keyer. Amazing little device, lots of features – but does a great job as a basic keyer.

    CW QSO

    I jumped on the radio real quick last night before bed. After jumping around from 30M to 40M to 80M, I got an answer to my CQ from Tim, WD4GXD. Tim lives in Ruffin, a small town in the hills of western North Carolina, that I actually visited back in June of this year. We had a nice QSO, only wish it could have been longer. Tim was telling me that he had just picked up an IC-706 for mobile operations. He QRS’d so I was able to get almost 100% I hope to catch him again later for a longer ragchew.

    I tried looking for a quick lunch time QSO, but had no luck. I think I might try and take the ARSIB out here to Fort Monroe and try to work a lunchtime QSO using a portable antenna. Might be fun.


    Finally checked into the VA MARS net. The net started late and I had almost given up on it. I’m going to try and check in again tomorrow morning. I need to get around to raising the height of my inverted vee – I think it will better help my signal get out.

    I was able to catch W1AA (Henry and Whitey) and their activation of the Highland Lighthouse (USA 110) out on Cape Cod. Whitey, K1VV, is usually out ever weekend doing a lighthouse activation – always has a nice signal.

    Had a very nice Radio Merit Badge class for a young Scout out at Fort Monroe in the afternoon. I setup my 10′ x 10′ shelter and the ARSIB. Initially I planned on setting the G5RV (like during the W4M Memorial Day Special Event) but the wind was quite heavy, so I opted to put up the homebrew vertical dipole. To get some height on the antenna, I attached it to the top of the painter’s pole. Before I had a chance to tie down the pole, a gust of wind knocked the antenna down. The fall caused the feedline connection to break off. Not good. However, with a little bit of wire and some electrical tape, I was able to reattached the feedline connection. Now the antenna was low to the ground and I was a little concerned about it’s performance. The Scout arrived and we started reviewing the Radio Merit Badge requirements. I was able to easily tune WWV on 15 MHz and was also able to find a CW QSO in progress on 40M. Also demoed a bit of CW using my MFJ paddle that has a speaker built in. After we’d reviewed all the requirements, it was time for the HF QSO. The Scout called CQ and after a few tries, received a reply from Charlie, N1MUQ, in Stamford, CT. Charlie had a booming, solid signal and the Scout was able to successfully complete the QSO. We then moved to my mobile VHF rig and the Scout had a nice QSO with Randy, WB7URZ located up in Gloucester. Even with the antenna setup issues, the Radio Merit Badge session was a success and I think both the Scout and I had a good time.

    Blue Ridge Mountains DXpedition

    The Thursday before Labor Day Weekend I was able to get off work an hour early and headed up to Fort Eustis through a light drizzle (the early beginnings of Tropical Storm Ernesto) to pick up the RV. The beast was 29′ long and about 11′ high. A young gentlemen gave me a orientation of the vehicle which lasted about 45 minutes. First an initial walk around, then an explanation of how to flush the black and gray water holding tanks, how to connect city water, how to connect electricity, how to operate the generator, and how to operate the propane supply. All of this and we hadn’t even made it inside the RV yet. When we did make it inside, I was briefed up on how to operate the test panel, how to turn on the water heater, and a assortment of additional tips for easy operation of all the RV’s features. For instance…. don’t run the A/C while also running the microwave and the water heater takes 20 minutes to provide enough hot water for a shower. There was also a TV with an external antenna that cranks up into position. Nothing super complex, just lots and lots of stuff.

    It was a slow ride on I-64 back to Hampton. Not because of heavy traffic, but because I was trying to get a feel for piloting the beast. The wheel was a little loose and it took a while to slow down. The rain didn’t help much. I arrived home and parked out in the street in front of the house. When untethered to an electrical hook up, the RV uses propane to keep the refrigerator going. To avoid depleting the propane, I ran a heavy duty extension cord out to the RV to give it a steady supply of juice.

    We decided to watch the progress of Ernesto and wait to see if we’d leave Friday or postpone until Saturday. As the night progressed the winds picked up and the rain continued on.

    Friday morning showed that the rain and wind were still continuing. My weather station indicated the rain had picked up around 2am and was maintaining a consistent heavy downpour. The radar showed the southern edge of Ernesto nearing the North Carolina border to the south. Even though the storm would clear our location by about 2pm reports from the roadways indicated things were a mess for motorists and we decided to move our departure to Saturday morning. It was at this time that I noticed the water out front was rising significantly. I could see the water level approaching the storage compartments underneath the RV. After shuffling the cars in the driveway, I splashed out to the RV parked on the street/canal, started it and did a loop around the block to position it to allow me to pull into the driveway. The short loop showed that a few other streets had flooded and small tree limbs and other debris was accumulating in the road – but nothing severe.

    Ernesto passed by about 3pm and the standing water drained quickly. We did a quick clean up of all the fallen leaves and small branches in the yard and then repositioned the RV in the driveway for easy loading. From all reports, we were wise to delay our departure as fallen trees and the rain had closed down section of I-64.

    Saturday morning arrived and we finished packing the RV and got on the road. Traffic was light and moved well. I kept the speed at about 55-60mph, still getting a feel for how the RV handled. After one break at a rest stop west of Richmond for lunch, we pressed on towards the Misty Mountain Campground in Crozet, VA. Enjoyed a nice QSO on a repeater in Charlottesville with Harry, W2HD. I later found out (according to that Harry was a former president of ARRL! He chatted a little about being in the Navy but never mentioned the fact of his involvement with The League.

    After checking in to the Misty Mountain Campgrounds HQ we arrived at our camp site. The hookups were pretty straight forward and soon enough we had the RV humming.

    On Sunday we took the truck to explore the first fifty miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway. What a beautiful area! I was able to hit one of the repeaters back in Hampton from the first overlook along the Parkway. Pretty good for a 150 mile path using 50 watts on FM.

    Sunday night I set up the ARSIB and tried to work both S9SS (Western Africa) and P43W (Aruba) but failed to break the pile ups.

    Monday morning I had a nice QSO on 40M with Jim, W2SY up in Syracuse, NY. After enlisting in 1940, Jim served in the Army during WWII and participated in the Africa, Italy, and European campaigns. Jim gave me a nice 59 report and am glad I was able to get at least one HF contact before it was time to pack up shop .

    The trip home encountered a little bit of rain, but traffic was also light and the trip was uneventful. Average speed on I-64 was probably about 65mph as I was feeling a little more comfortable driving by now.

    All in all, I enjoyed the RV DXpedition. Next time I will set up the rig earlier and try to do more operating.