Category Archives: Amateur Radio

Activating Emmaville Mountain North W3/SV-019

SOTA LogoStats

  • When: 2016-11-11 from 18:04Z to 18:33Z
  • Where: Emmaville Mountain North – W3/SV-019
  • Who: Amanda KI4IWS, Harlan, Elise, and myself
  • Ascent: Drive up
  • Decent: Drive down
  • Equipment: Elecraft K1, SOTABEAMS Band Springer Midi, Navy Flameproof Key
  • APRS Coverage: Good coverage
  • T-Mobile Coverage: Good coverage
  • Contacts: 10

Overview

Picture of SOTA Antenna Deployed

SOTA Antenna Deployed

This was a good stop, about half way, on our way up to Ohio. The kids got a chance to get out and run around and I got a chance to put a few more contacts in the log.

The roadway going to the top is a single lane, gravel road that is in good condition. At the top of the summit is an open area that allows for parking and one could imagine lots of antennas and operating locations here. You are ringed with trees, however, so I’m not sure if this would make a good microwave location. Perhaps in the winter when the leaves are off the trees…

The Gear

Picture of Elecraft K1 on tree stump.

A convenient operating position.

After hiking across the field I began setting up my gear.  Just as I used at Sugarloaf Mountain a few weekends ago, I setup my Elecraft K1 (5 watts using 8 AA batteries), the SOTABEAMS Band Springer Midi antenna, 4.1m fiberglass pole, and Navy Flameproof key.  I was able to find a convenient tree stump in which to setup my station.  The antenna was setup nearby in the bushes and held well in spite of the stiff breeze that was blowing.

The Operating

Navy Flameproof key sitting on stone.Most stations were quite loud.  Unlike last time, the bands were stable enough that stations didn’t have to chase me around the bands trying to contact me (or at least if they did I couldn’t hear them like on Sugarloaf).

I continue to be surprised by how quiet the bands are once you get on top of the mountain.  The K1’s receiver continues to do a fantastic job.  I quickly put four contacts in the log on 40m before moving to and putting three contacts each on 30m and 20m.  I was planning on trying 17m but time was running out and my family was getting cold.  It was time to hit the road once again.  Next time I might try to start on the upper bands and work my way down.

Oh, there was one challenge.  When I first started working 40m I had my four year old son basically hanging all over me so my CW, both listening and sending, were negatively impacted.  Luckily I was able to tie him to a tree and get back to making contacts!  (I’m kidding!)

Furthest contact was with OK1DVM in the Czech Republic (~6895km)!  I was very surprised he could hear me while I was only running 5 watts.  I’ll take contacts like that any day!

Thanks to all the chasers that helped with my activation: W4DOW, K3JZD, KG3W, N1EU, N1GB, W4ALE, W4HBK, K4MF, OK1DVM, and W7CNL.

SOTA Awards Received

Yesterday I received, by way of U.K. Royal Mail and the U.S. Postal Service, two SOTA awards!  The first is my award for chasing 100 points-worth of summits:

WG3K's SOTA 100 Points Chaser AwardThe second award is the SOTA Mountain Hunter – Bronze award where I had to work at least two summits in at least five mountain associations:

WG3K's SOTA Mountain Hunter - Bronze AwardHopefully I’ll have some activator awards in the coming year!

Activating Sugarloaf Mountain (W3/CR-003) (a.k.a. Plan B)

Stats

  • When: 2016-10-30 from 18:25Z to 19:19Z
  • Where: Sugarloaf Mountain – W3/CR-003
  • Who: Amanda KI4IWS, Harlan, Elise, and myself
  • Ascent: 984 feet in 0.36 miles along the East View parking lot using the Sunrise Trail.
  • Decent: 0.93 miles along the Monadnock, Northern Peaks, and Mountain loop Trails.
  • Equipment: Elecraft K1, SOTABEAMS Band Springer Midi, Navy Flameproof Key
  • APRS Coverage: Good coverage with an active I-Gate nearby
  • T-Mobile Coverage: Decent; kept bouncing between LTE and Edge but was able to use the data without too much problem.

What brought us here

Picture of Sugarloaf Mountain

CC BY – Scott Robinson from Rockville, MD, USA

Well, we were going to get up early, pack all of our gear, and get on the road to go see the leaves changing color at Great Falls National Park.  Of course, with two kids, and I’m not the best morning person either, getting out the door at any hour before noon is asking for a miracle.  That and some of the roads we took to get there ended up being closed.  So, by the time we arrived at the park there was a line to get in that was so long we couldn’t actually see the gate.  It was time for plan B.

Plan B

Plan B was to head over to Sugarloaf Mountain (about 40 minutes away) and hike around and maybe even setup my radio and do a SOTA activation.  Luckily I had planned for this contingency and had my K1, SOTABeams Band Springer Midi antenna, batteries, a key, and expandable pole packed in my hiking pack.

The Hike Up

Picture of Eric and Harlan hiking up Sugarloaf Mountain

Eric and Harlan hiking up Sugarloaf Mountain

Our hike up from the East View parking area was pretty neat.  The red trail (a.k.a. The Sunrise Trail) gets pretty steep in sections.  My first harmonic, Harlan, was on his hands and feet trying to get up some of the rock scrambles that he encountered.  At four (almost five) years old he really did a good job making it up the mountain.  I’ll be very surprised if you don’t hear him activating some summits as soon as he gets that whole reading and licensing thing behind him!

There are many ways to get to the top of the summit.  With so many people on the mountain, today, we took the first parking spot we could find; I didn’t want to chance missing the only parking spot because I wanted to try to park closer.

At the summit

The summit area was very crowded today.  It’s a good thing that the summit is very wide.  I was able to move about 20 feet from the boulders that sit at the very highest point and setup my gear well away from everyone else.  I was actually able to “hide” behind some boulders that were in the wooded area and be completely hidden to keep the curiosity down from others.

This is the first time I have had this particular setup out in the field.  The SOTABEAMS Band Springer Midi antenna and mini telescopic fiberglass pole take only a few minutes to setup.  I’d say that within five minutes of arriving I was on the air.

What went well

Map of WG3K-7 on APRS at Sugarloaf Mountain

Map of WG3K-7

All the equipment performed well.  I picked up six stations on 40m and another three on 20m.  One of the stations I worked on 20m tried to work me on 30m but was unable to do so.  All-in-all, I’m quite happy with the performance of the station.  Honestly, the Elecraft K1 has a great receiver and the Band Springer Midi antenna performed well.  This is also the first time using the K1 with the AA battery pack installed.  No problems running the summit on eight 2800mAh AA batteries!

Also, APRS coverage was pretty good at the summit and along some of the trails.

What didn’t work so well

Me.  I haven’t been on the radio much as of late so my CW listening skills are horrific.  I would show you my log but I’m too embarrassed.  Another thing that needs improvement is my key.  I tossed my Navy Flameproof key in the bag since it already had the correct connector on it but what I should have used is my trusty J-37 with the KY-116/U bracket to hold it to my leg (if you’ve worked me /m this is probably what I was using).  Had I done that I wouldn’t have had to do a two-handed operation: one hand holding the key, the other using the key.

Disappointingly I heard K2JB on a nearby summit but couldn’t get through the pileup on 40m to make the contact.  There were a couple different summits on the air at the same time I was on the air but no S2S contacts today.

Oh, yeah, and I didn’t take any pictures of me, my station, or the perfect antenna installation.  I guess that’s the problem when setup takes hardly any time, you’re on the air and then you’re back to hiking!

QSOs

I put nine stations in the log today: 6 on 40m and 3 on 20m.  I also tried 30m but was unable to complete any contacts there.  I was going to try 17m but the family was ready to go.  All contacts made using five watts.

While putting the contacts in my official log I realized that I worked three stations that I had previously worked while they were activating a summit.  I’m happy they took the time to tune me in and work me (since, after all, I was worth only 1 point today).  The chaser has become the chased!

Overall

Overall, the trip was a success.  Everyone had fun, I had fun and made a few contacts along the way.  Hopefully my next summit activation will be even more smoothly executed.  Until next time…

2015 August UHF Contest Results

2015 August UHF Contest certificateOpened the mailbox today and was surprised to see an envelope from Newington waiting for me.  Looks like I placed third in the Atlantic Division (SOLP) and first (out of two) in the MDC section!

Missed all the VHF+ contest this year but I’m hoping to get my antennas back up and figure out what to do with these transverters.  I had a slight point deduction due to a mis-copied grid when I contacted WB2JAY and a couple of duplicates.  I had fun participating and hope to do so again soon.

ARRL Contest Branch
==============================================================
Contest:    2015 ARRL AUGUST UHF CONTEST
Call:       WG3K
Category:   Single Operator, Low Power
Location:   MDC

************************** Summary ***************************

      15 Claimed QSO before checking (does not include duplicates)
      14 Final   QSO after  checking reductions

      54 Claimed QSO points
      51 Final   QSO points

       8 Claimed grids
       8 Final   grids

     432 Claimed score
     408 Final   score
   -5.6% Score reduction

    6.7% Error Rate based on claimed and final qso counts
       3 (16.7%) duplicates
       0 (0.0%) calls copied incorrectly
       1 (5.6%) exchanges copied incorrectly
       0 (0.0%) not in log
       0 (0.0%) calls unique to this log only (not removed)

********************** Results By Band ***********************

             Band   QSO  QPts  Grid

   Claimed    432    12    36     5
   Final      432    11    33     5

   Claimed   1.2G     3    18     3
   Final     1.2G     3    18     3

   Claimed    All    15    54     8  Score      432
   Final      All    14    51     8  Score      408

*************** Incorrect Exchange Information ***************

 432 CW 2015-08-02 1334 WG3K         FM18 WB2JAY       FN10 correct FN30

*******************  Multipliers by band  ********************

432 multiplier total 5

FM19  FM29  FN10  FN20  FN31

1.2G multiplier total 3

FN10  FN20  FN31

Activating Apple Orchard Mountain (W4V/RA-001)

On Saturday, 16 July 2016, Dave KB3RAN, Steve N3IPN, and I hiked up Apple Orchard Mountain (SOTA W4V/RA-001) to activate it for the Appalachian Trail Golden Packet event.  While we were there we took advantage of the altitude and activated the summit for Summits on the Air (SOTA), National Parks on the Air (NPOTA), and the CQ WW VHF Contest.

Getting to the summit

Steve N3IPN and Eric WG3K hauling their gear.

Steve N3IPN and Eric WG3K hauling their gear.  Photo by Dave Hardy KB3RAN

Wow, getting to the top isn’t easy.  First we took way too much stuff.  We were, however, prepared for most anything.  Suffice it to say we’ll be better prepared for hiking and less prepared for anything next time we activate a summit.

We were originally hoping that one of the existing tenants on the mountain could have allowed us access by vehicle to the top but everyone was otherwise engaged and so we were left to drag everything up the service road to the top on foot.

The service road is a nice, paved road of approximately six-tenths of a mile in length.  It is grueling carrying a bunch of stuff to the top, however, and it took us around 45 minutes to traverse the distance hauling our wagons.

Convenient vehicle parking is available just north of the service road along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Setting up the gear

Eric gets the APRS digipeater on the air.

Eric gets the APRS digipeater on the air. Photo by Steve Hempling N3IPN

Our first priority was setting up the APRS digipeater for the AT Golden Packet event (as AOMTN-5).  We were running late so we wasted no time putting the antenna up ~12 feet in the air and powering on the radio.  We were rewarded by hearing packets coming through from both Northern Virginia to our north and Comers Rock to our south.

Because we had setup the station quickly we didn’t get an opportunity to look around and determine if there was a better location for our station.  Turns out we were close to the summit but needed to continue a few hundred yards further to reach it.  After catching our breath and regaining a little strength we picked up the APRS digipeater, feedline, and antenna and moved it to the summit.  I don’t think the performance of our setup improved but the views certainly did!

Panaramic shot towards the northwest from Apple Orchard summit.

Panoramic shot towards the northwest from Apple Orchard summit.  Antennas are up and rain is approaching!  Photo by Eric Christensen WG3K

There isn’t much shade on the summit so it’s important to either bring some sort of shelter or move off the summit a bit.  Just to the north is a rock pile with several trees growing that could offer some shelter if needed.

Other users of the summit

There is no shortage of antennas on Apple Orchard Mountain.  As this is the highest summit in the area, at 4215 feet, so many people want their radio systems up there.

Many antennas on Apple Orchard Mountain

Some of the antennas on Apple Orchard Mountain.  Photo by Eric Christensen WG3K

One user of concern for SOTA activators is the WA1ZMS 2m beacon on 144.285MHz.  Due to the proximity of this auxiliary station the weak-signal portion of the 2m band is likely unusable.  We were lucky that WA1ZMS was able to turn off the beacon for the AT Golden Packet event since the frequency used was close to the beacon’s frequency.

Contacts

AT Golden Packet Event

The mission was to link up the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.  Using fifteen digipeaters, we pass messages along the Trail to prove that we can setup an ad-hoc network on short notice.  We were successful in seeing sites 3 through 12 this year.  We also tested 9600 baud which also worked well.  Simplex voice communications were used to help coordinate the event on UHF.

SOTA/NPOTA/CQ WW VHF

We also activated for SOTA, NPOTA, and CQ WW VHF Contest.  Conditions weren’t great and most of my contacts on 6m and 2m were limited to a few grid squares around.  I did manage one contact out to the Midwest but most of my contacts were very much local.

It was fun giving out W4V/RA-001 for SOTA and TR01 for NPOTA.  I also worked a station that had 432MHz capabilities even though it wasn’t for the contest; I’m all about putting the contacts in the log.

The antennas used were a Buddipole 2-element 6m yagi and horizontal loops for 2m and 70cm.  The radio was a Yaesu FT-857D.

Contact Summary

  • Six Meters – 10 Contacts
  • Two Meters – 9 Contacts
  • 70 Centimeters – 1 Contact
  • Voice – 18 Contacts
  • CW – 2 Contacts

Other missions

Another mission that I was successful in was updating OpenStreetMap data for the area.  Updating this information will hopefully provide others wishing to activate the summit with better cartographic information.


View Larger Map

Summary

I haven’t talked about Dave and Steve’s attempts at activating the summit.  In spite of good radios and antennas the contact count wasn’t great.  Part of the problem was that we didn’t have any way of self-spotting on the SOTAwatch2 site meaning that their QRP signals just couldn’t be found easily.  Hopefully we won’t have this problem next time.

Oh, did I mention six meters was open?

Turning on the radio this morning I was surprised to hear Puerto Rico coming in loud and clear on 50.125MHz. Once I had KP4EIT and HI3TEJ (Dominican Republic) in the logs I checked the DX Cluster to check the activity. There appeared to be many other stations from the Southeastern United States working towards the Caribbean. A few hours later the Sporatic-E opening moved towards the west and soon I was working into the Midwest and into Eastern Canada.

I did check two-meters but never heard any activity.

Image represents contacts made from FM18rq.  Station locations represent grid locator (grid square) center.  C=CW, S=SSB, J=J65A or J9

The twenty-three contacts, representing twenty-one grids, I put in the log were made using mostly CW with SSB, JT65A, and JT9 rounding out the rest of the modes.

Beacons

During a lull in activity I rolled down to the bottom of the band to check for beacons:

DX de WG3K: 50007.7 VA2ZFN/B FM18<EM92 1845Z 2016-07-12 18:45:00
DX de WG3K: 50059.0 VE3UBL/B FM18<FN03 1839Z 2016-07-12 18:39:00
DX de WG3K: 50067.5 N8PUM/B FM18<EN66 1827Z 2016-07-12 18:27:00
DX de WG3K: 50073.0 K0KP/B FM18<EN36 1825Z 2016-07-12 18:25:00

Reverse Beacons

I also took a look at the Reverse Beacon Network and found that I had been heard a few times:

DX de K9IMM-#: 50098.0 WG3K CW 25 dB 16 WPM CQ 1717Z 2016-07-12 17:17:42
DX de WE7L-#: 50097.90 WG3K CW 16 dB 16 WPM CQ 1707Z 2016-07-12 17:07:47

Operating Portable from Apple Orchard Mountain

During the weekend of July 16th I plan on being atop Apple Orchard Mountain, in Virginia, operating in the AT Golden Packet event as well as doing some VHF+ work while I’m there.  I’ll be accompanied by Dave, KB3RAN, and Steve, N3IPN, who are planning to operate QRP HF voice and digital.  This should be a fun adventure…

Supported Events

Expected Operating Frequencies

AT Golden Packet

  • 144.340MHz – AT APRS
  • 444.925MHz – Coordination
  • 144.390MHz – US APRS

General Operating

  • 50.185MHz USB +/- or 50.096MHz CW +/-
  • 144.285MHz USB +/- or 144.060MHz CW +/-
  • 432.100MHz and up
  • 14.060MHz PSK? +/- (KB3RAN)
  • Another HF frequency (N3IPN)
  • 144.390MHz – APRS (WG3K or WG3K-6 and/or WG3K-7)

 

Managing resources during Public Service events using APRS

Picture of Mark Freeze shadowing Zoe during 2016 Raleigh Tour de Cure

Mark, WD4KSE, shadowing Zoe during the 2016 Raleigh Tour de Cure. – photo by MotoPhotoMe.

Over the weekend I helped support the American Diabetes Association‘s Raleigh Tour de Cure – a two-day charity bicycle ride that allows riders to choose between 80 and 100-mile courses each day.  I’ve been supporting this ride for many years, and, thankfully, we’ve been using the same route for the last few years which makes it easier to come up with a communications plan each year.

Over the years I’ve watched other people’s techniques for managing resources.  One guy kept his notes on a knee board and used some sort of shorthand notation that no one could figure out during the brief glances we were allowed.  In years past I’ve enjoyed using a small whiteboard to keep track of where my Support and Gear (SAG) vehicles were.  This year, however, I decided to do something a little different.

The Goal

2016 Raleigh Tour de Cure course map with rest stop objects.

Raleigh Tour de Cure course map with rest stop objects.

The goal of my madness is to make sure I had SAG vehicles “patrolling” between rest stops where we knew bicyclists were located.  The Raleigh Tour de Cure has six rest stops with those doing 100 miles doing a loop that takes them back through rest stops five and six before heading to the finish.  Altogether, there are eight segments of race course that need to be covered.  Each SAG is assigned a segment to run in a particular direction.  In this way, it is hoped that a SAG will go past a certain point every ten to fifteen minutes (we don’t want a rider to have to wait a long time for a SAG).  Luckily not all eight segments are occupied at the same time which reduces the overall need.  This year we managed to do it with five SAGs, one doctor, one motorcycle SAG (who also had a photographer riding backwards taking pictures of the riders for MotoPhotoMe), and two shadows.  We could have used more but this is a great crew, and everyone worked together as a team flawlessly.

Past Management Tool

Like I pointed out earlier, I used to use a whiteboard to keep track of who was where and to make assignments when a SAG made it to their next rest stop.  My chart looked something like this:

 RS  | SAG
--------
S->1 | 1↑, 2↓, Last Rider
1->2 | 3↓
2->3 | 4↓, First Rider

This means that between the Start and Rest Stop 1 I have SAGs 1 (running backwards from 1 to the Start) and 2 (running forwards from the Start to 1), between Rest Stops 1 and 2 I have SAG 3, and between Rest Stops 2 and 3 I have SAG 4.  I try to stagger SAGs going between the same rest stops to add patrol coverage.  When SAG 1 reaches Rest Stop 1 the expectation is that they will call me on the radio and let me know they’ve arrived.  I will then give them a new assignment (it could be patrolling back towards the Start line or moving on to Rest Stop 2).  A whiteboard makes it easy to make these updates and keep everything in order.

The benefits of using such a system is that it’s simple and easy to manage, allows a quick look to see your needs for coverage, and allows you to make other notes (e.g. who has already had lunch, special assignments, where is the lead and last riders).  The drawback is that there is no record keeping with this system.  You can’t go back and see who was where when.  Keeping up with this information would require a completely separate form and would likely slow you down.  Also, because all this information lives locally on a whiteboard there is no way to share this information with anyone else if, for example, you need to step away from the radio for a few minutes.

Using APRS to manage the resources

This year I decided to use my APRS client, Xastir, to manage my resources.  Some of the SAGs ran APRS trackers (thanks to the Raleigh Amateur Radio Society (RARS) for letting us use their trackers!) in their vehicles which meant I didn’t have to update their locations and I always knew where they were.  The other resources I had I simply used objects on the map to track where they were located (approximately) and moved those objects when they provided an update.  It looked something like this:

APRS map showing SAG objects

APRS map showing SAG objects in motion between rest stops.

I could also put requests for service on the map (e.g. bicyclists that had contacted us via phone or SMS to say they needed assistance) and be reasonably sure I was sending the closest SAG to them.

Because I was the only consumer of this data (this year) none of the objects I created were actually sent over the air or to the Internet.  I could have easily shared this information over the air or the Internet to others and I hope to do so in the future.

Oh, I should point out that one of the SAGs, Moto 1, used APRSDroid on his cellphone to provide his location.  This was problematic as there were many places along the route that didn’t have any cellular connectivity much less sufficient data connectivity.

We also didn’t have sufficient APRS infrastructure to cover the entire route.  This was mostly remedied by the addition of a tactical digipeater.  I’m hoping to establish a new permanent digipeater along the route in the future.

What other benefits can APRS bring to the table?

Beyond keeping track of everyone’s location, either in semi-real-time or by moving objects around the map, APRS can provide information sharing to other stations that need to know what’s happening.  By pushing objects to the network, one can inform all participants of resources and needs (this requires some sort of display to consume this information).  Also, the voice frequency can be kept clear of routine requests by using the text messaging capabilities of APRS.

Record keeping can be done in a not-so-detailed way by having the APRS client record all traffic to disk.  This means that every movement, addition or deletion of an object, and every message would be recorded.  While not as detailed as formal messages, or even keeping a detailed log, it does provide some tracking that, if needed, might be helpful.

Conclusion

Using APRS to manage public service events could prove to be helpful.  It doesn’t necessarily require buy-in from everyone involved but would benefit from others participating.  I didn’t go into all the features that APRS could bring to the table but, rather, touched on the ones that I felt were important.  I’m hoping to extend this article in the coming months to bring more thoughts on the subject.

Thanks

I’d like to thank the volunteer hams that came out and participated in this two-day event:

  • Photo of Doctor Playford roaming the rest stops.

    Doctor Playford, KM4NWC, roaming the rest stops.

    John Snellen, AI4RT – SAG 1 (RARS Public Service Coordinator)

  • Wallace Smith, KJ4UKV – SAG 2
  • David Krum, NW3U – SAG 3
  • Joe Sheets, KJ4LZM – SAG 4
  • Bruce Buck, KC4UQN – SAG 5
  • Tom Byrum, N3TCB – Moto 1
  • Lubov Byrum, N3BOV – Photo 1
  • Dr. Scott Playford, KM4NWC – Doc
  • Bill Cole, KG4CXY – “Jim” (founder of Carolina Helping Hams)
  • Mark Freeze, WD4KSE – “Zoe”

Notes

  • Yes, I realize all the maps used in this article don’t contain roads and such.  While this information was available to me I really didn’t need it as I had the route and rest stop data staring at me.  If I needed the road-level maps they were just a couple of clicks away.
  • The APRS network frequency, 144.390MHz, is quite busy and I wonder if building a separate network on a different frequency would benefit the event.  Think ALOHA.
Photo of SAG vehicle at finish line

FIN

The oddest thing happened today… Analysis of an APRS replay "attack"

The other day a fellow amateur radio operator, WJ3K, caught me on the Annapolis repeater and asked me whether I was seeing odd things happening on the APRS network.  Specifically, whether or not I was seeing station tracks getting bounced around as if an old packet had been injected into the network out of sync with the rest.  As soon as he said it I knew exactly what he was talking about.  Not only had I seen such things in recent days but I remember the Mic-E packet expansion “attack” from over a decade ago (sorry, can’t find the discussion that was held on the APRSSIG mailing list).

Anyway, I had some time to look at some recent packets and realized that something very odd was happening.  I was seeing packets from my HT (WG3K-7) coming through a digipeater across the Bay when the HT was safely off and sitting next to me.  I turned up the volume on the transceiver hosting APRS and was very surprised to hear two things: 1) packets being received but not being passed to my client and 2) packets received at my client that I hadn’t heard come across the radio!  It would seem that the problem plaguing the local network was my problem!  For some reason, my TNC was caching the packets and then, after several minutes was releasing them to my client who had no choice but to accept them with the thought they were real-time and send them to the APRS-IS.

The culprit seems to be a SCS PTC-IIusb modem in KISS mode.  Still investigating why it’s happening and I’ll update this article when I can.