Category Archives: Amateur Radio

SOTA Activation: Snowy Mountain W3/PD-007

Eric holds up his SOTA flag while kneeling over his radio setup in the woods.

Hey look, a flag!

Stats

  • When: 2017-12-24 from 1543Z to 1625Z
  • Where:¬†Snowy Mountain – W3/PD-007
  • Who: Just me
  • Ascent: 148′ over 0.64mi
  • Equipment: Elecraft KX3, SOTABEAM MIDI antenna
  • APRS Coverage: Excellent
  • T-Mobile Coverage: Good. Had 4G (no LTE) coverage at the summit.

Oh what a difference a day makes! The family and I hiked up to the fire tower at the summit of Snowy Mountain. It was around 10 to 12 degrees colder than yesterday but it wasn’t raining and the sun was actually shining!

The walk up from our parking area wasn’t too bad. The dirt road has been maintained well so it was more of a leisurely walk up. I setup near the fire tower to stay away from the nearby power lines and other RF noise generators at the radio tower site that also inhabits the summit.

I chose the west-facing side and strung my antenna up in among some pine saplings. I was surprised to find a 4G cellular signal (T-Mobile) out here and took advantage of it to check for other summits that were also on the air at the time. I did see N3ICE up on W3/PH-004, of which I thought would have been an easy S2S contact, but could not hear her on 40m. My usual 60m channel was in use so I started on 40m and sent out my first spot.

Contacts

I thought I’d give my fingers a rest and do a little voice work today. The upper portion of forty meters is pretty busy but I managed to find an open spot to call CQ. I quickly put NP2EI, K1LIZ, NE4TN, W9MRH, and KI4TN into my log. I was informed that the Eastern Tennessee SOTA chaser contingent was listening and would be trying to work me. ūüôā

I switched over to CW and put AC1Z, KI4TN, K8HU, and WA2USA in the log. My ear seemed to handle the code much better today compared with yesterday. I tried twenty meters but for some reason the antenna wouldn’t tune-up. I moved down to seventeen meters but got no response even though the band seemed to be open.

I checked the spots, again, and saw I had a request for eighty meters or sixty meters. The MIDI antenna isn’t supposed to do 3MHz but I have had it work before; not today. Luckily I had Internet connectivity so I was able to lookup the channels for sixty meters. I finally found one that wasn’t in use, spotted myself, and started calling CQ. I picked up N2ESE, N2GBR, and K3JZD all on CW. Tried voice on the same channel but no joy.

Amanda and Elise are cold. Harlan is missing.

By this my fingers were getting cold and my family, all of whom had already abandoned me for the car, were waiting “patiently” for me at the bottom. It didn’t take me long to break camp and hike the .6 miles down.

The sky was clear enough that I was able to see other mountain summits in the distance. Just a beautiful sight.¬† I would highly recommend this summit to others as it’s fairly easy to get to and offers some very nice views once you get away from the summit itself.

Lessons Learned

From yesterday, I had the same problem of a wet, cold ground to sit on.¬† Because I’m still trying to figure out how to pack all my gear I still am carrying my KX3 with much of what it was packed in when it was shipped to me: lots of plastic, foam USPS envelopes.¬† I ended up sitting on one of these and it worked great!¬† My butt was warm and dry the entire time!¬† My friend Zach has suggested a, perhaps, more suitable solution: a Therm-a-Rest Z-Seat Pad.

I still need to figure out why the MIDI antenna will sometimes tune up on a band and other times not.

I also need to figure out an antenna to better support the lower bands (80m and 160m).

Summary

All in all, this is a great summit to activate.¬† It requires some hiking (I would have preferred a bit more), the views are nice on a clear day, and the RF noise isn’t so bad here.¬† I hope to come back to this summit and do it again some day!

SOTA Activation Report: Methodist Hill North W3/PD-006

An Elecraft KX3 HF transceiver on the ground with a SOTA flag.

Portable HF setup on Methodist Hill North

Stats

  • When:¬†2017-12-23 from 1832Z to 1915Z
  • Where:¬†Methodist Hill North – W3/PD-006
  • Who:¬†Just me
  • Ascent: None (see below)
  • Equipment:¬†Elecraft KX3, SOTABEAM MIDI antenna
  • APRS Coverage:¬†Excellent
  • T-Mobile Coverage:¬†Nil

I arrived at the summit a little earlier than I had originally planned only because of the littlest one’s nap time. I also didn’t hike in due to the weather, which was and is a disappointment. Nonetheless, I did wander around the activation zone a bit trying to find that perfect place to setup. Unfortunately, I had to settle for a rotten log in an area that wasn’t as thick, brush-wise, as the rest of the area.

This is the first deployment of my Elecraft KX3 and, coupled with the SOTABEAM MIDI antenna, I have no complaints. Receive noise levels were low and signals were decent. Only problem I could find in the whole mix was me!

SOTABEAM MIDI deployed in the woods.

I mentioned the weather wasn’t great. Temperatures were in the 40Fs with a breeze. There was also rain. My CW likely ranks among the worst on the air and it gets worse when I’m sitting on the wet, cold ground being rained upon. For those that worked me, thank you. For those that worked me towards the end on 40m, as we say down in the South, “bless your heart”. I was going to try some PSK31 to give my fist a break but the USB connection for the keyboard seems to make a lot of RF hash noise. Switching to voice yielded no contacts so I just packed up and headed down the mountain.

Contacts

Thirteen contacts were had over two bands: sixty and forty meters. I started with sixty meters where I put K8HU, N2ESE, W2SE, KB9ILT, N3SW, and N2GBR in the log. I moved down to forty meters and found K3TCU, KI4TN, AC1Z, NE4TN, VE2JFM, AB9CA, and AA1CQ. All contacts were CW.

Lessons Learned

First, I need lightweight gloves that will keep my fingers warm but will still allow operation of a CW key.  Even at moderately cool temperatures, my fingers were getting too cold to not make mistakes when sending CW.  Not sure what to do about my brain getting too cold to not make mistakes when decoding CW.

Second, I need to find something lightweight and flexible to sit on that will insulate my butt and keep me dry while I sit on the ground.  It was not comfortable to absorb the dampness that was the ground while making contacts.

Summary

Thirteen contacts in the log and a new summit to boot.¬† Overall, I’m happy with the activation and can hardly wait to do it again!

Upcoming SOTA Activation(s) – Methodist Hill North and Snowy Mountain

Updated: 2017-12-20 @ 0315Z – Not doing Long Mountain, adding Snowy Mountain.


SOTA LogoLooking at taking a few days and going hiking up in Pennsylvania this upcoming weekend.¬† I have at least two summits in my sights: W3/PD-006 and W3/PD-013 W3/PD-007 that I’d like to activate for Summits on the Air (SOTA).

Methodist Hill North – W3/PD-006

The first, Methodist Hill North (W3/PD-006), appears to be a drive-up summit but I’m hoping to take advantage of some quiet and hike in the 4.57 miles from the parking area at Shippensburg Road along the Appalachian Trail.¬† The terrain doesn’t look too bad: up 700 feet, down 643 feet (gross).

Trail profile along to W3/PD-006

Trail profile along to W3/PD-006

Long Mountain – W3/PD-013

The second, Long Mountain (W3/PD-013), has never been activated before and I’m not sure if that’s because it’s such a low point summit (2 points) or if there are access restrictions.¬† Either way, I’ll find out as it appears to be an easy drive up to the summit along a roadway that has houses along side it.

Snowy Mountain – W3/PD-007

A little further away from base camp than I would have liked but the Long Mountain summit doesn’t look like it’s going to work out.¬† The SOTA community in the W3 area suggested that I try Snowy Mountain so I’m putting it on the list.

Other summits?

There is a very slim chance I may try to activate another summit during this trip but I’ll have to see what the family is up to doing first.

The Gear

This will be my first activation using my Elecraft KX3.¬† My CW is rusty (it down right sucks, really), and SSB isn’t going to be fantastic, so I hope to make up for my lacking in both of these areas by offering up PSK-31 directly from the rig.¬† I’ve done this a little bit, and have been somewhat successful, but have never tried this in the field so if you hear me please give me a little latitude when trying to make a contact.

I’ll be using my SOTABEAMS Bandspringer Midi antenna which is supposed to be good 10m through 60m.¬† This antenna has worked really well with my Elecraft K1 (40m-17m) and I can hardly wait to see (hear) what it will do on the KX3.

The Operations Plan

Still working out the exact timing; I’m hoping to be on the summit early afternoon on Saturday, 23 December 2017.¬† As soon as I get the antenna up in the air I’ll start on 60m and try to work CW, then PSK-31, then voice.¬† I’ll repeat this pattern on every band, through 10m, I can tune up on until I get tired or run out of time.¬† I will also be monitoring 146.535MHz FM on my HT along with chirping on APRS (WG3K-7).¬† I’ve heard I won’t have cellular coverage at the summit so I’m hoping to have APRS coverage so I can self spot when I get started.

That’s the plan as of now.¬† I’ll update this if there are any changes before heading up (if I can).¬† 73!

APRS SATCOM base antennas

Years ago, Bob Bruninga, WB4APR, talked about a “good” antenna for APRS SATCOM applications.¬† It was a 19-inch vertical antenna that would function on both the 2m and 70cm bands, and had lobes that were up around the 30-degree mark.¬† Looking for information on that antenna last night I found a page Bob had written expanding on the idea.¬† This page provides designs for i-gate antennas on 2m and includes the 19-inch antenna as well as a new design, a 3/4-wave 2m antenna.

I’m seriously considering building one or both of these antennas this weekend to test out these antenna designs.

RNZ QSL card received

Spinning the dial on the HF radio, the other night, I ran across Radio New Zealand International broadcasting news and music.¬† A bit shocked to hear sounds coming from the opposite side of the globe at such a late hour I confirmed that they were, indeed, broadcasting from Rangitaiki!¬† (This is about the same time that I used to work a ZL2BLQ on 18MHz CW so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.)

Sent in my report of 45534 for 13840kHz using their web form and a few days later received this card via email:

RNZ QSL Card showing the RNZ logo
I also copied their broadcast on 11725kHz but with a report of 25511 it wasn’t worth mentioning.

Shortwave Radiogram for the weekend of 29 September 2017

This weekend’s reception of Shortwave Radiogram was cut off at the beginning due to an operator error.¬† I had left my computer up and listening to WRMI but had also left the automatic frequency control (AFC) feature turned on.¬† This meant that fldigi ended up surfing around the bandpass instead of locking onto the signal and decoding it.¬† Luckily I came up to the shack in the nick of time and was able to correct the problem.

Here is my download of this weekend’s Shortwave Radiogram:

deployments. The hams and their equipment will be sent to Red
Cross shelters extending from San Juan to the western end of the
island.

“This generous outpouring of response represents the finest
qualities of the Amateur Radio community,” ARRL CEO Tom
Gallagher, NY2RF, said. “These individuals are dropping whatever
they are doing now, heading off to an extended hardship-duty
assignment, and offering their special talents to Americans who
have been cut off from their families, living amid widespread
destruction and without electrical power since Hurricane Maria
struck the Caribbean region last week.”

ARRL’s Emergency Preparedness Manager Mike Corey, KI1U, said this
was the first time in the nearly 75-year relationship between
ARRL and the American Red Cross that such as request for
assistance had been made. “Hurricane Maria has devastated the
island’s communications infrastructure,” Corey said. “Without
electricity and telephone, and with most of the cell sites out of
service, millions of Americans are cut off from communicating.
Shelters are unable to reach local emergency services. And,
people cannot check on the welfare of their loved ones. The
situation is dire.”

Full text:
http://www.arrl.org/news/amateur-radio-s-force-of-fifty-answers-the-red-cross-call-in-puerto-rico

See also:
https://www.voanews.com/a/puerto-rico-radio-station-hurricane-maria/4047762.html

Image: NOAA satellite images of Puerto Rico before and after
Hurricane Maria …

Sending Pic:437×101;

NOAA satellite images of Puerto Rico before and after Hurricane Maria

This is Shortwave Radiogram.

Please send reception reports to radiogram@verizon.net

From the BBC Media Centre:

BBC News launches Korean language service

25 September 2017

The new Korean language service announced in November 2016 by the
BBC World Service began broadcasting today. Audiences in the
Korean peninsula and Korean speakers around the world can now
hear radio broadcasts and access the latest news online at
BBC.com/korean .

BBC News Korean is one of 12 new language service launches now
underway as part of the biggest expansion of the BBC World
Service since the 1940s, funded through a £291 million grant in
aid from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Director of the BBC World Service Francesca Unsworth says: “BBC
News Korean will build on the long-standing reputation for
fairness and impartiality the BBC World Service has earned all
over the world.”

BBC News Korean features a daily 30-minute radio news programme
broadcast at 15.30 GMT on Shortwave (SW) and 16.30 GMT Medium
wave (MW). The service will also feature a digital offer with
written stories, videos and radio programmes which can be
downloaded and shared. The new service features a wide range of
news, sport, business, culture, in-depth reports and English
language learning.

BBC News Korean journalists will be based in Seoul, London and
Washington and will draw on the full extent of the BBC’s global
network of correspondents.

Notes:

Service launched Monday 25 September at 15.30 GMT (Tuesday 26
September in Korea):

Shortwave service to broadcast for three hours, 15.30 – 18.30
GMT

Medium wave service transmission for 1 hour 16.30 – 17.30 GMT

All transmissions to be 7 days a week

Medium wave (MW) Frequency: 1431KHz

Shortwave (SW) Frequencies: 5810 kHz & 9940 kHz (from launch
to 28 October 2017) then; 5810 kHz & 5830 kHz (from 29 October
2017 to 24 March 2018)

The BBC News Korean website will be available at BBC.com/korean

The BBC World Service is currently launching in 12 new languages
– Afaan Oromo, Amharic, Gujarati, Igbo, Korean, Marathi, Pidgin,
Punjabi, Serbian, Telugu, Tigrinya, and Yoruba.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2017/bbc-news-launches-korean-language-service

Image: From BBC video comparing North and South Korean usages of
the Korean language …

Sending Pic:230x103C;

From BBC video comparing North and South Korean usages of the Korean language
This is Shortwave Radiogram.

Please send reception reports to radiogram@verizon.net

From New Atlas:

Highest-capacity transatlantic data cable completed

David Szondy
25 September 2017

The highest-capacity data cable stretching across the Atlantic
has now been completed. A consortium including Microsoft,
Facebook and Telxius recently finished threading the complex
4,000-mi (6,400-km) cable across the ocean floor from Virginia
Beach, Virginia to Bilbao, Spain to produce a high-speed data
connection that will be more secure from disruption by natural
disasters.

Though modern telecommunications may conjure up images of lasers
skittering between communication satellites high above the Earth,
the backbone of today’s internet is heavily dependent on a giant
spider web of cables spanning between continents and along coast
lines carrying everything from tweets to high-definition live
streaming videos.

Unfortunately, these cables are vulnerable to natural and manmade
disasters. In the aftermath of the October 2012 Hurricane Sandy
that wreaked havoc on the east coast of the United States,
wireless, internet, and home telephone services were knocked out
for days. Therefore, it was decided by Microsoft and Facebook,
along with Telxius, to develop, design, build, and lay a new
cable farther south than existing transatlantic connections.

Work on the new cable, called Marea or “Tide” in Spanish, began
less than two years ago and Microsoft says the project was
completed three times faster than a typical undersea cable
project. The route for the cable required the surveying of the
seabed to depths of up to 11,000 ft (3,300 m) to avoid hazards
that include active volcanoes, earthquake zones, and coral reefs.

Marea consists of eight pairs of fiber optic cables encased in
copper, a hard-plastic protective layer, and a waterproof
coating. The whole thing measures 1.5 times the diameter of a
garden hose and is buried in a set of trenches close to shore to
protect it from fishing nets and anchors, but lies open on the
seabed in the mid-ocean.

Marea is expected to go operational early next year when it will
carry up to 160 terabits of data per second, which is 16 million
times faster than the average home internet connection. This is
the equivalent to 71 million high-definition videos streaming
simultaneously and will allow the cable to serve hubs in Africa,
the Middle East, and Asia. In addition, its open design will
allow it to be upgraded as demand grows.

“Marea comes at a critical time,” says Brad Smith, president of
Microsoft. “Submarine cables in the Atlantic already carry 55
percent more data than trans-Pacific routes and 40 percent more
data than between the US and Latin America. There is no question
that the demand for data flows across the Atlantic will continue
to increase and Marea will provide a critical connection for the
United States, Spain, and beyond.”

http://newatlas.com/highest-capacity-transatlantic-cable/51488/

Image: Route of the Marea cable between Spain and Virginia …

Sending Pic:228x71C;


Route of the Marea cable between Spain and Virginia
Finally, this photo of a young Anatoly Karpov, Soviet chess
grandmaster, includes his multiband portable radio — probably
capable of receiving shortwave …

Sending Pic:346×254;

Photo of a young Anatoly Karpov, Soviet chess grandmaster, includes his multiband portable radio -- probably capable of receiving shortwave
Photo from:

Transmission of Shortwave Radiogram is provided by:

WRMI, Radio Miami International, http://wrmi.net

and

Space Line, Bulgaria, http://spaceline.bg

Please send reception reports to radiogram@verizon.net

And visit http://swradiogram.net

Twitter: @SWRadiogram

I’m Kim Elliott. Please join us for the next Shortwave
Radiogram.

Sending Pic:192x151C;

Apple Orchard Mountain in July 2017

Success! That’s the word I’m using to describe my latest battle up a summit. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t without some failure, but I’m willing to give this trip a grade of B. Luckily I had some help…

Stats

  • When: 2017-07-15 from 14:00Z to 20:00Z
  • Where: Apple Orchard Mountain – W4V/RA-001
  • Who: Dave KB3RAN, Ed KC3EN, Steve N3IPN, and myself
  • Ascent: 280ft in .58mi (3928ft to 4208ft)
  • Equipment: Lots (See below)
  • APRS Coverage: Excellent with nearby I-Gate
  • T-Mobile Coverage: Poor.  Could receive text messages and voicemail notifications but couldn’t make calls or send messages.  Seemed common among all carriers.  There is one spot at the northwest corner of the FAA fence that seems to get okay coverage that may work.

Getting There and Staying There

Picture of Ed KC3EN, Steve N3IPN, and Eric WG3K.

Ed KC3EN, Steve N3IPN, and Eric WG3K. – Photo by Dave KB3RAN.

This is a fun event made even more enjoyable by the addition of a few friends. This year, like last year, I was joined by Dave KB3RAN and Steve N3IPN. A new member of the group, Ed KC3EN, also joined us this year, and I hope will continue to be part of the team.

Since we’re so far away (about a 5 hour drive) we camped at the Peaks of the Otter Campground, the night before, which is a few miles south of Apple Orchard Mountain.  The campground is nice and wasn’t crowded.  We were able to get two sites that were adjacent allowing us to put up two tents and have the RV all together.

Steve, and his excellent fire-building skills, had a roaring fire going in no time, and pork chops were our first meal of the trip.

Overnight rain kept me in a tent and out of my hammock that I’ve been sleeping in as of late, so that was kind of a bummer.  At least we missed the torrential rainfall that hit the area earlier in the day.

Up the mountain we go

Ed, Eric, and Steve arriving at the summit with wagon #2 loaded with radio equipment.

Final push for wagon #2 as we arrive at the summit. – Photo by Dave KB3RAN

I don’t think I touched on this subject last year, probably because I was still sore (physically and emotionally) about the situation.  For this year’s readers I’ll do a recap.

Last year was our first year supporting the APRS Golden Packet event.  It was also our first time ever going atop Apple Orchard Mountain.  While we had looked at maps and measured distances and altitude changes we really hadn’t grasped the energy it would take to get two overloaded wagons up the mountain.  For the record, the distance up the road is .6 mi and the elevation change is just over 300 feet.  But last year the two wagons of gear were likely weighing in excess of 2 tons each (metric, imperial, royal… your pick).

This year we scaled back enormously.  Batteries and antenna masts were reduced and lightened.  Radio and antennas were lessened.  Oh, and we added another mule to the team (thanks Ed!).  This year we made it up to the summit much faster than last year.

The Primary Mission

Image of Eric WG3K setting up the APRS digipeater on a boulder.

Eric WG3K setting up the APRS digipeater. – Photo by Dave KB3RAN

The primary mission of this trip was to activate an APRS digipeater on Apple Orchard Mountain in support of the APRS Golden Packet event. The event takes place annually and takes fifteen teams from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Katahdyn in Maine to build and maintain a network of VHF digipeaters so that a golden packet may be passed from Georgia to Maine and back.

Last year we completed our portion of the mission but there were problems along the link (equipment and personnel) that caused a failure.  What parts we did get active worked well and we tested both 1200 and 9600 baud links.

This year we decided to do only 9600 baud links.  Unfortunately I didn’t realize that the link between us (AOMTN-5) and Hawksbill (HAWKBL-6) is quite fragile and a change in antenna made the path between us unusable for 9600 baud.  Even 2m FM voice was tough going.  Fortunately 1200 baud packet was able to get through, and everyone switching to 1200 baud allowed the entire network to connect and function.  It wasn’t too long after everyone switched to 1200 baud that news went out that the Golden Packet had been passed from Maine to Georgia and back so we were successful!  Mission complete.

Hind sight

In hind sight I should have probably walked our antenna around a bit to see if I could have found a better location while I had Hawksbill on VHF voice.  Next year I want to bring a 2m/70cm yagi to direct my power to where I want it to go instead of just having it fly all over the place.

I’m also hoping to venture back out to Apple Orchard Mountain, before next July, and test comms with Hawksbill if I can get time and another team on the distant end.

Other Activities (SOTA)

Image of the SOTA flag flying from an antenna mast.It’s a haul to get up to the top of Apple Orchard Mountain. At least the road is paved, though. Of course we’re not going to go up there with only a TM-D700 and call it a day; no, we brought stuff! I believe there were five HF/VHF+ transceivers that made the trip with several antennas, batteries, poles, tents, and other accouterments. Like last year, we also decided to activate the summit for SOTA!

We were much more successful this year than last. We did have some failures, but overall I think everyone enjoyed themselves. Last year Dave had issues with his portable HF digital station but had this to say this year:

I had 15 contacts, 13 states, have 4 eQsl confirmations already and maybe picked up VT as my 49th state. Dang, could have had DE and had a WAS but couldn’t hear Bob Balint [KF3AA].

Steve also had problems last year but was busy scratching contacts onto his log while working a pile-up on 40m. He wanted to work 2m SSB but heard no one, which is unfortunate.

Image of Steve N3IPN with his 2m loop antenna in the air.

Steve N3IPN with his 2m loop antenna.

I, too, tried listening on the lower portion of 2m and didn’t hear squat which I found amazing from ~4200 feet. No beacons or chit chat of any kind. What was worse was the neighborhood RF seemed to be overloading the front end of my K1 making my Plan A QRP station completely inoperable. Thankfully I was able to borrow a 40m dipole for a few minutes and put a few contacts in the log using my FT-857D.

I was actually talking with W2SE on 40m when I had a duh moment and grabbed the microphone on the D700 and called Comers Mountain and worked their crew for summit-to-summit (S2S) credit. Hawksbill had already closed down so I missed my opportunity there, unfortunately. In the end I managed 10 SOTA contacts which isn’t too shabby.

What worked well

APRS worked really well from up on the summit.  There was plenty of digipeater coverage below and that allowed us to send spots and communicate with others well.

Dave KB3RAN sitting on a up-turned milk crate working PSK31 using a tablet.

Dave KB3RAN sitting on a up-turned milk crate working PSK31 using a tablet.

APRS2SOTA worked spectacularly!  Being able to let the chasers know what frequencies were were operating on in real time via RF was priceless.  It’s easy to use, and I was able to interact with the service using only my D72 portable radio.

PSK31.  Dave left his tablet and phone home last year but was ready this year and boy did he put some contacts in the log.  Of course you never really knew when he was working stations or just goofing off because he was always just sitting on the up-turned milk crate with the tablet in his hand looking around and chatting.

LifePo4 batteries. I purchased one of these batteries days before the expedition so I hadn’t had a chance to do anything except rig it with Anderson Power Poles and charge it up.  Turns out, the battery lasted for around five or so hours being hooked to the D700 being run on high power for the digipeater, high power on UHF for coordination with Comers, and on the FT-857D running 25-watts on HF.  When it stopped working (and boy did it stop) the voltage was a little over 8V.  It had recovered a bit by the time I had gotten home but I’ll call it a good day.

What didn’t work well

K1.  The K1’s front end seemed to be overloaded from the high-RF environment that is Apple Orchard Mountain.  Unfortunately, I had planned on this being my primary operating radio and so the antenna I had brought was specifically for this transceiver.

Cellular phones. Up on top of the summit there is either too much competition for cellular signals or weird multipath happening.  Sitting in one spot I could watch my phone go from no signal to get a 3G signal to a 4G signal to nothing all within the time-span of a minute or two.  Walking to one specific location on the summit would yield a usable signal for text messaging and maybe a phone call where the rest of the summit was useless.  This problem seemed to be common to all carriers.

2m weak signal. Not sure what was going on as last year that’s pretty much all I worked.

Ideas for next year

I’ve got a couple of ideas for next year including a better antenna to point at Hawksbill.

One thought is to attempt a microwave link to Comers (2.4GHz, 3GHz, or 5GHz).  We’ll have to coordinate some on this one.

Speaking of coordinating, others were apparently active on HF from their summits.  It would have been nice to know what summits were active and coordinate with them (maybe using our freshly-built APRS network) to make some SOTA contacts.

Anyway, I’m excited about what 2018 will bring.

Heading up to Apple Orchard Mountain this weekend.

Like last year, I’ll be heading over to Apple Orchard Mountain to support the annual APRS Golden Packet Event.¬† My friends Dave KB3RAN and Steve N3IPN are once again part of the team with the addition of Ed KC3EN joining us for the long slog up the mountain.

In addition to operating APRS, we’ll also be active on HF and VHF+.¬† You can watch for spots from us on the SOTAwatch2 site.

Changes from last year

Last year we didn’t quite know what to expect; we ended up bringing way too much stuff and it was all way too heavy.¬† This year weight is a primary concern and we don’t plan on making the same mistake again.

My friendly postal carrier dropped off a box just yesterday which contained the new heart of my station.¬† I’ve heard good things about these new LifePO batteries so I figured I’d get one to try it out for myself.¬† So far I’m impressed.¬† I’ve not really put it under a load test, yet, but if it really gives me the watt-hours that it says it will at ~3 lbs, I’ll be ecstatic!

Another change is that I’ll be bringing my Elecraft K1 with SOTABEAMS Band Springer Midi antenna.¬† This is an extremely lightweight HF setup and has proven itself to work quite well (you can read about my adventure activating Emmaville Mountain North up in Pennsylvania with this setup).

Listen for us!

We’ll be on the air from the summit starting Saturday, 15 July 2017, morning (likely around 1400Z) and will stay on the air until early to mid afternoon.¬† I’ll be chirping on APRS (WG3K-7) if you need to get a message to me while we’re up on mountain!

73!

J-Pole antennas for SAR

Image of fibreglass mast with two VHF j-pole antennas affixed.

Fiberglass mast with two VHF j-pole antennas affixed.

I recently started working with Calvert K9 Search, a local SAR team that specializes in using dogs to search for people.  In an effort to improve communications between the command post (base) and teams in the field I embarked on a mission to find a simple solution to the problem of limited comms.

There were several requirements that prevented the use of a repeater (added complexity, weight, setup time), using a higher power base station (may damage dog collar transmitters and GPSr receivers1 and only amplifies one side of the communication), or a portable tower (see repeater above).

The solution was happened upon almost by accident and the improvements were immediately noticeable.  Digging through the back of my car I came up with a VHF j-pole and fiberglass expandable pole to put it up in the air.  A few adapters later and we were on the air!

The performance improvement was immediate!  Suddenly communications were possible at a much further distance and, when connected to the Garmin Astro 320, dog collars could be received from a much further distance away.

Anyone who has examined the efficiency of a “rubber duck” antenna will know that these stock antennas aren’t great and that almost anything is better.¬† Stepping up to a j-pole antenna is a significant improvement and then putting that antenna up in the air has a lot of wow-factor to a non-radio person.

Image of collapsed fibreglass pole, used as mast, straps, and two VHF j-pole antennas rolled up and ready for deployment.

Two VHF antennas, straps, and mast ready for activation.

With the tests complete I built two j-pole antennas: one centered on 155.160MHz, our primary operational frequency, and one centered on the average of all the MURS frequencies.¬† The latter is used as a receive-only antenna for the dog collars and hangs below the VHF “ops” antenna.¬† Both of these antennas are hung onto a fiberglass expandable pole that holds the antennas up in the air around 20 feet or so.¬† This pole can be attached to a fence post, command trailer, tent pole, or laid into a tree branch to keep it upright.

The most expensive part of the project was the LMR-240 feedline2 that we used.¬† The antennas were made out of 300-ohm ladderline with shrink wrap at each end to help keep the elements out.¬† The pole is actually made for pulling cable and wires and is made by PushPullRods.com.¬† It’s really strong but isn’t crush resistant so you have to be careful not to step on it when it’s laying on the ground.

For about the price of a good commercial antenna we were able to get a working antenna system that is completely portable/pack-able and lightweight and takes only a few minutes to setup and take down.¬† It also doesn’t take up much space for storage meaning it fits into the existing infrastructure without having to make changes.

We’ve deployed this antenna system several times this spring and summer and have noted improvements over a variety of terrain.¬† This project would have cost around $350 for parts if not for donations of parts and pieces along the way.

Footnotes

1. Calvert K9 Search uses the Garmin Astro 320 GPSr units that, when coupled with the dog collars, allow the user to track the location of the dogs on the screen.¬† These units are very sensitive to RF energy and the manufacturer recommends not using any more than 5 watts near these devices. (Although they don’t specify what frequency band they are most sensitive, the units use MURS for communicating between the dog collars and receiver units so I’m assuming VHF is the most sensitive.)
2. LMR-240 feedline was utilized as it was small, lightweight, and reasonably low-loss at VHF frequencies.

Updated Maryland DMR Codeplugs

I just updated my Mid-Atlantic (now called Maryland) codeplugs and have made them available on my Maryland DMR project page.  Right now the codeplugs only contain repeaters in Maryland but I will be working on them over the next few days to include Washington DC and Virginia repeaters that are nearby.

Codeplugs are available for the CS-700, CS-750, and CS-800.¬† Please let me know if you’re using them and if there are any errors I need to fix (I know of one already).