Adventures in ham radio

Archive for the ‘UHF antennas’ Category

WW7D/R’s 2014 September VHF Contest Rove

The ARRL September VHF contest comes with uncertainty. Will there be any residual sporadic E (Es) propagation left over from the summer? Will the weather in Western Washington be sunny, dry and beautiful, or cold, wet and dismal?

The weather question is a big one for the Pacific Northwest, as we are frequently transitioning between spectacular summer weather and gloomy fall weather. This year, the weather forecast was for spectacularly sunny and warm for the contest weekend. I made big plans to split my roving between driving and flying between grids, something I haven’t done for a couple of years now (except for a recent 6m Sprint).

But as the weekend of the contest rolled around, things at work were very busy and time consuming. Soon it became clear that I didn’t have the free time to realize both modes of roving. I had time to get the truck rover in order, but I needed a few more hours than were available to get the airplane rover in shape and do the planning for new routes.

I made only a few modifications to my June VHF Contest route. Specifically, I tried out a new CN88 spot that would get me away from the RF noise I experienced in my usual location at Lake Stevens High School. That changed the schedule a bit for Sunday.

The big picture is that the same grid intersections or lines were targeted:

General locations for stops on Saturday (blue) and Sunday (red)

Here were the scheduled stops (times in PDT):

GRID Location Elevation Start Time End Time
Saturday Start
CN76 Ocean Shores 16′ 11:00 AM 12:15 PM
CN77 Ocean Shores 15′ 12:30 PM 01:45 PM
CN86 Kalama, WA 1700′ 04:55 PM 05:55 PM
CN85 Kalama, WA 1785′ 06:25 PM 07:40 PM
CN95 Bonneville 100′ 09:05 PM 10:05 PM
Sunday Start
CN96 Carbonado 3200′ 07:30 AM 09:00 AM
CN86 Carbonado 3000′ 09:15 AM 10:15 AM
CN87 Carbonado 2050′ 10:30 AM 11:25 AM
CN97 Buckley (Mud Mtn) 1200′ 12:15 PM 01:45 PM
CN88 Marysville, WA 600′ 03:50 PM 05:05 PM
CN98 Mt. Pilchuck 3000′ 06:30 PM 08:00 PM

 

Station Installation

Again…pretty much the story from June. One major change since the June VHF contest was the addition of a dedicated rig (FT-857) for the Elecraft XV222 222 MHz transverter. Previously, a Kenwood TS-480SAT did dual duty as a 6m and 222 MHz rig, but the effort to change between the bands made it difficult to optimize either band.

The equipment rack included two FT-857Ds (2m, 432 MHz from one and 222 MHz from the other), one TS-480SAT (6m), a dual band Alinco FM rig, an Alinco 6m FM rig, and a Jetstream 222 MHz FM rig. That’s six separate microphones, something that requires severe discipline in systematically placing a microphone on the assigned hook.

The equipment rack.

Two rotor control boxes (rear and front) can be seen as well as a digital recorder, paddle, antenna relay switch box, and key switch box. Two FT-857D and the TS-480SAT heads were remotely mounted on the dashboard. Cell phones provided grid information and a 24 hour clock.

Other equipment.

The Contest

Early Saturday morning, I heard a news report that the intersection of I5 and US 101 was closed for an expansion joint repair, and that long delays were expected. Oh great! I had three passes through that intersection. The first was my trip to Ocean Shores for the start of the contest. The second one was simple to avoid, and the third one was very early in the morning on Sunday morning. In any case, I spent a few minutes re-programming the GPS with some alternatives to avoid that intersection. It meant I was late leaving home for Ocean Shores.

I arrived in Ocean Shores (CN76) with about 15 minutes to prepare for the start of the contest. Things started out pretty well. I first worked Mike, KD7TS, on Mt. Pilchuck in CN98. Next came John, KF7PCL, who lives nearby in CN76. We worked 6m, 2m, and 432 MHz. I caught a couple more stations on 432 MHz after that. The biggest surprise was working K7AWB in DN17 on 6m. Things worked pretty well on 2m and 432 MHz, but 6m and 222 MHz were a challenge for reasons I still cannot fully explain. Six meters just seemed very noisy.

Next was CN77 a couple of miles to the North. This was largely a bonanza of 2m QSOs with a few 432 MHz and 222 MHz QSOs and a handful of 6m QSOs thrown in.

I circled back in to CN76 to work Eric, N7EPD, on three bands, and even caught his neighbor Rick, N7EHP, on 2m. I planned a route out of Ocean Shores that took me through CN87 and CN86 very close to the CN76/CN77/CN86/CN87 intersection, with hopes of working John, KF7PCL, on three bands in two new grids. That worked exactly as planned! This burst of activity was followed by a long drive through CN86 to Kalama, WA that yielded only a few occasional QSOs—about 7 in two hours.

Checking the antenna load while in motion through CN86.

Things picked up when I arrived at my spot at 1,700′ in Kalama in the late afternoon. Six meters was still not working well, but I managed numerous QSOs into both CN85 and CN87 on all four bands. KB7ADO showed up from CN86 and we worked 2m, 222 MHz and 432 Mhz.

Set up near Green Mountain in CN86.

As evening approached I traveled about 5 miles south to CN85 where I worked many of the same stations in CN87 and CN85. From this location, I was able to work some other interesting stations, including KF7PCL in CN76 on 6m, KB7Q in CN93 (Bend, Oregon) on 2m and 432 MHz, WE7X way up in CN78 near Port Angeles, WA on 6m, and KD7HB north of Redmond, OR, in CN94.

Sunset from near Green Mountain in CN85.

The last stop of the day was an hour and twenty minutes away in Bonneville, WA, just over the CN95 border in the Columbia River Gorge. Upon arrival, I found Etienne, K7ATN, and Rachel, K7NIT (FM only category), Lou, WA7GCS, and a couple of other CN85 stations. The only non-CN85 station was Paul, K7CW, in CN87, who is still the only CN87 station to work me from this rather rock-enclosed location (this was his second time).

It is a long and lonely trip from CN95 to my hotel near Centralia. I sometimes work a station or two in CN85. This time, I was pleased to work Mike, KD7TS, on Mt. Pilchuck (CN96) on 2m from I5 while in CN85, and then we worked on 2m, 222 MHz, and 432 MHz after I crossed into CN86.

I hit the hotel and was in bed by 12:30 am, only to get up again at 5:30 am for a quick shower and to hit the road at 5:50 am. My destination was CN96 at 3,200′. On the hour and forty minute trip there, I worked the early-risers club, including Tom, KE7SW, on 4 bands, Jim, K7ND, on a number of bands, and Jim, W7FI, as well as a few others.

This spot near the CN86/CN87/CN96/CN97 intersection is always quite productive, even at 7:30 am. I wasn’t able to awaken anyone in CN85, but a number of interesting stations popped up elsewhere, including John, VE7DAY, in CO70, Rod, WE7X in CN76, Mike, KD7TS, in CN98, Michael, KB7W in CN93, and Michael, W7QH, in CN84.

Early morning in CN96.

From CN96, I made a brief stop at 3,000′ in CN86 (again). Considering that I had already spent hours in the grid the previous day, this stop provided a surprising number of new multipliers including VE7DAY in CO70 on 2m, WA7BBJ in CN97 on 6m and 432 MHz, KD7TS in CN98 on 6m, N6ZE/R in CN88 on 222 MHz, and WE7X in CN78 on 432 MHz.

The next stop, a few miles down the road, was a return to CN87, at about 2,000′ feet. This short stop provided plenty of QSOs into CN87, CN88 and CN98, but no new multipliers.

About 30 minutes away from there was the CN97 stop at the CN86/CN87/CN96/CN97 intersection, on Mud Mountain at 1,200′. This stop was remarkably productive with 55 QSOs into CN78 (WE7X), CN87, CN88, CN96 (N7BUS), CN97, CN98, and CO70 (VE7DAY).

Activating CN97 from Mud Mountain. The power lines go to a nearby hydroelectric generation facility.

From there, I had to travel 2 hours, mostly through CN87 and into CN88. The CN87 part of the trip produced 2 QSOs. Once I hit CN88, however, there was plenty of work to do. The CN88 stop was the only new location I tried this contest. It is on a small pull-over on a rural highway and gets me up to 600′. In all, CN88 produced 50 QSOs, with two new multipliers from VA7FC in CN79 on 6m and 2m.

The new CN88 stop.

The last stop of the day was Mt. Pilchuck at 3,000′ in CN98. The stop was at a location some distance from Mike, KD7TS, who spent the weekend on a shelf off the side of Mt. Pilchuck. We worked two bands while I was en route, winding my way up the mountain, and the other two shortly after I got there. Mike then stopped by for a visit on his way home. With less than 2 hours remaining, he had pretty much tapped out the region, and had a long drive home.

The grid was quite productive for me with 64 QSOs and three new multipliers: WE7X in CN78 on 222 MHz, and NL7B/R in CN77 on 6m and 2m.

Results

It was a good run. I stuck to the schedule throughout, but could be flexible when there was a benefit to it (like returning to CN77 from CN76). The station performed well and reliably, even if 6m didn’t seem to work a well as it should. The addition of a dedicated 222 MHz SSB rig seemed to work well, even at the expense of another mic in the “shack.”

Here are the QSO results:

Grid 6m 2m 1.25m 70cm
CN76 10 13 2 6
CN77 8 20 3 3
CN85 20 15 6 9
CN86 20 31 15 18
CN87 13 19 10 9
CN88 17 18 8 7
CN95 4 5 2 1
CN96 14 15 10 7
CN97 16 19 10 9
CN98 23 17 14 10
QSOs 145 172 80 79
Points 172 141 160 158
Mults 13 15 6 9

 

The total number of QSOs was 476, for 635 points.

And here are the grids worked for each band:


 Band Pts #Grids Grids
6m 145 13 CN76-79, CN84-88, CN97-98, CO70, DN17
2m 172 15 CN76-79, CN85-88, CN93-4, CN96-98, CO70
1.25m 160 6 CN78, CN85-88, CN98
70cm 158 8 CN76, CN78, CN85-88, CN93, CN97, CN98

 

That makes a total of 43 grid-band pairs.  To that we add ten multipliers for the grids activated for a total of 53 multipliers.

The final score was 33,655 (before checking by the ARRL).

Last year I had 36 grid-band pairs and ten grids activated for 46 multipliers, and 607 points for a raw score of 27,922.

There were fewer rovers this year. I found NL7B/R, AL1VE/R, N6ZE/R, KA7RAA/R and K7IP/R, although most of them were not on, or were out of range of western Washington for most of the contest. Last year there were eight rovers, most of them quite active throughout the contest.

The top stations in my log were:

  • 20 AC7T
  • 14 K7ATN
  • 14 K7ND
  • 14 KB7DQH
  • 28 KD7TS
  • 30 KE0CO
  • 31 KE7SW
  • 14 KF7PCL
  • 14 KG7P
  • 21 N6ZE/R
  • 36 N7EPD
  • 27 W7FI
  • 28 W7LUD
  • 19 WA7TZY
  • 16 WE7X

It was an enjoyable contest, where most everything worked well.

(Short link to this post.)

Advertisements

VHF+ Contesting in the Pacific Northwest

It seems to be a well kept secret in the ham community: VHF+ contesting is a blast.

If you live near a population center, like Western Washington or near Portland, OR, there is enough activity to make contesting easy and satisfying. The bottom line is that if you enjoy HF contesting, you should give VHF contesting a try. Try it, you’ll like it. You may end up loving it!

The VHF contest season goes from June through January and is preceded by a “Spring Training” season. And Spring Training is just around the corner. So now is an excellent time to think about trying out VHF contesting.

I’ve written this article so that it can be read from beginning to end, or used as a FAQ. Click on the links below to jump to a topic of interest. Or read it straight through.

WHAT ARE YOU SELLING?
WHY PARTICIPATE IN A VHF CONTEST?
HOW DO VHF+ CONTESTS WORK?
WHAT CATEGORY AND FREQUENCIES DO I USE?
WHAT IF I HAVE THE RIGS, BUT NO ANTENNA?
WHAT ANTENNA POLARIZATION SHOULD I USE?
WHEN ARE THE CONTESTS?
WHAT OTHER THINGS CAN I DO ON VHF+?
WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION?

WHAT ARE YOU SELLING?

The proliferation of HF rigs that include 6m (now almost ubiquitous) and 2m and 70cm (common), as well as the availability of inexpensive FM equipment means that almost every ham has the equipment necessary to join in on VHF+ contesting.

My objective in posting this article is to encourage you to give VHF+ contesting a try. This article focuses on the Pacific Northwest, as that is where I live and contest. I’ll try to persuade you to participate in at least one VHF+ contests this season and attempt to convince you that you can have fun in a VHF+ contest without making major financial, intellectual or emotional investments, and without the need to change your life for more than a few hours. I suspect that it only takes a bit of demystifying to make VHF+ contesting much more accessible to hams.

My motivations are very simple. I want more people to participate in VHF+ contests. You see, I do these contests in the Limited Rover class. That is, I am a mobile station traveling from Maidenhead grid to grid, activating them, much like activating counties in a QSO party. When I change grids, I am, essentially, a new station, and therefore a new QSO and possibly a new multiplier for other stations. More people means more activity in the contest, and that translates into more contacts and more fun for me and, really, everyone else. That, and I like to win contests. More activity means a higher score, so there is that rather less altruistic reason for this article….

Most of what follows is about operating from a fixed station. The photos, however, show rover or portable activity only because those are the photos I have.

WW7D/R (right) meets Steve, KE7IHG/R (left), on the road during the 2014 ARRL January VHF Contest

WHY PARTICIPATE IN A VHF CONTEST?

Radiosport. One motivation is, simply, competing in a contest. What is nice about VHF+ contests is that they don’t have to occupy your entire weekend or disrupt your sleep. The activity is less intense, with occasional bursts as new stations show up or as rovers reach new grids.

Emergency readiness. When I got started in VHF+ contesting one of my motivations was a desire to build and test my capacity for mobile and portable operations. You know…the same thing that motivates many thousands of us to go camping with our radios or operate from home by battery power during the last full weekend of June.

Many contests and operating events have a tradition in public service—specifically, practice in traffic handling (Sweepstakes) and emergency readiness (Field Day). Contests at VHF and above are frequently (but not always!) limited to local and regional communications. So, VHF+ contests effectively serve as a communications exercise for a local or regional disaster scenario.

Nearly every ham seems to have some VHF or UHF FM equipment buried in a drawer or perpetually sitting on a shelf, perhaps in a charging cradle. I’ll go out on a limb here and claim (without actually doing the research) that much our acquisition of VHF FM gear is motivated by emergency readiness. We know either explicitly or from early socialization that our access to valuable chunks of RF spectrum is, in part, “[r]ecognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications” (47 CFR 97.1(a)).

My point is that VHF+ contests can be thought of as an emergency readiness exercise. It’s the perfect opportunity to dust off underutilized equipment—recharge the batteries in that HT and put it on the air to see just far and how effectively you can make it work without using repeaters (which might not be available in the aftermath of a disaster).

In fact, as of January 2013 the ARRL has added a new “FM Only” category to the VHF contests. Entrants for this new category use up to four bands: 6 meters, 2 meters, 223 MHz, and 446 MHz. Power is limited to 100 watts or less.

The new “FM Only” category makes getting involved in VHF+ contests even more appealing. It removes any stigma—perceived or real—of using FM in a contest traditionally dominated by die hard weak signal operators. As a die hard (though relatively new) VHF+ contest participant, my impression is that the stigma is not real. I am just as happy to work someone FM as I am SSB or CW. In fact, I typically monitor, and occasionally call CQ on the “standard” FM simplex frequencies. I always end up with few FM contacts on 2m or 70 cm. Each one brings a smile to my face. On 222 MHz the only simple way of getting on the band is with FM equipment, so even diehard weak signal types usually use FM on the 222 MHz band. Even though I contest with all-mode capabilities on the band, most of my 1.25m contest QSOs are FM.

Dusting. Another motivation is simply to dust off that old FM or satellite equipment and get it on the air occasionally. Or make sure the 6m capabilities of your HF “daily driver” are in order.

Ocean Shores, WA (CN76) for the 2013 ARRL January VHF Contest

HOW DO VHF+ CONTESTS WORK?

“I’ll be busy that weekend trying to crack the pile-up for the Fernando de Noronha DXpedition.” Fine. But you can do both…and do ’em pretty much simultaneously. VHF contests are unlike most HF contests in a number of important ways.

First, contest activity tends to be quite patchy. At the start of the contest there will be a burst of activity as everyone tries to work everyone. Once that’s over (typically less than an hour or two), there will be smaller bursts of activity on account of new stations that pop up and rovers that change grids. The pattern of activity makes it easy to multi-task—work some DX, build that new Elecraft kit, or watch the ball game, all while participating in the VHF contest.

The exception to this burst model of activity can occur during summer VHF contests when sustained 6m openings occur. In that case, contest activity will switch almost entirely to 6m SSB and CW for the duration of the opening, which can last from a few minutes to many hours. When the magic happens, the 6m band sounds more like 10m during a contest with an opening. Six meter openings can be as thrilling as any HF contest. If nothing else, you can make great progress on your 6m Worked All States endorsement.

A second difference is that you will not have to pull an all-nighter. Contest activity is possible, but nearly non-existent, from 11 pm to about 8 am. This is almost true. The gonzo weak signal fanatics may be attempting to bounce signals off the moon when it is around, or off of ionized trails created by meteors late at night or early in the morning. Everyone else gets a good night’s rest.

Like almost all contests, the goal in VHF+ contests is to contact as many unique stations as possible on each band and get as many multipliers as you can. But unlike most contests, mode doesn’t matter. If you work a fixed station on 6m FM, you don’t get additional points for working that same station on 6m CW.

The multipliers in VHF+ contests are maidenhead grids. In fact, your four-character grid is the contest exchange; RST is optional and usually not sent.

Here is a list of the most accessible grids from the Puget Sound area in contests, in order of ease of contact (based on my impressions):

  • CN87 – To give you an idea of the size, the upper right-hand corner of CN87 is a few miles east of Lake Stevens and the lower right-hand corner is just west of Hoquiam. If you live in the greater metropolitan Seattle area, chances are you live in CN87.
  • CN88 – To the north, CN88 extends from the same spot near Lake Stevens, and goes north to the border. The upper left corner is just west of Ladysmith, B.C. on Vancouver Island.
  • CN97 – The upper left corner is that spot near Lake Stevens. The lower left corner is near Carbonado, WA near Mt. Rainier. Most of the grid is in the Cascades, extending as far east as Chelan. Mountain-top expeditions to CN97 are common during contests. The eastern-most portions of Redmond are in this grid.
  • CN98 – This grid is largely in the Cascades north of CN97 and east of CN88. Granite falls is the only nearby population center in the grid. Mount Pilchuck, and Green Mountain just to the north of Pilchuck, are popular mountain-top expeditions for CN98.
  • CN89 – This grid extends north of the Canadian border and includes the great Vancouver area as well as parts of Vancouver Island. An enthusiastic group of Canadian VHF contesters keep this grid on the air during contests. Perhaps because of surveying errors, the grid line between CN88 and CN89 is in Washington state. One can activate CN89 without leaving the U.S. by sitting in the parking lot of the Peace Arch Park in Blaine, WA.
  • CN86 – The upper right corner is near Carbonado and extends southwest down to Seaside, Oregon.
  • CN96 – This grid is mostly in the Cascades south and east of Mt. Rainier. But it is often activated for the Puget Sound region by rovers from a 3,000′ foot accessible gravel road from just northwest of Mt. Rainier.
  • CN85 – This grid is south of CN86 and includes Vancouver, WA, and the entire Portland metropolitan area.
  • CN76 and CN77 – These grids are mostly in the Pacific Ocean. But the western-most portions incorporate Ocean Shores. Both grids are usually activated by rovers from Ocean Shores during contests.

If you don’t know your own maidenhead grid, you should be able to find it on your QRZ page. One caution is that QRZ sometimes has the wrong grid listed. A better way of finding your grid is to find your QTH on this map. Zoom in on and click on your QTH. Jot down the first six characters. For example, clicking on my house gives CN87WQ. Most contests only require the first four characters, but it is useful to know the first six.

Grid intersections or lines worked during the 2013 ARRL September VHF Contest

WHAT CATEGORY AND FREQUENCIES DO I USE?

The frequencies used depend on whether you are using FM or SSB/CW. That will depend on the category you pick. Here are the categories to consider:

  • High Power (1500 W). Got QRO?
  • Low Power (200 W on 50 and 144 MHz, 100 W on 222 and 432 MHz, 50 W on 902+ MHz). This is the category used by many participants. Most stations will have SSB capabilities on 6m, 2m, and 432 MHz. Some stations have 222 MHz all-mode capabilities; even more will be on 223.5 MHz FM.
  • Portable (10 W or less, portable power source and antennas). For the Pacific Northwest, this class is ideal for hikers and people interested in SOTA. There are great opportunities for portable stations.
  • 3-Band (6m, 2m & 432 MHz only at 100 W, 100 W and 50 W respectively). This is ideal for people with HF rigs that also do 6m, 2m, and 70cm—like the FT-897, FT-857, IC-7000, IC-706mkII, and TS-2000. Folks with HF+6m rigs and a separate dual band FM transceiver can do this category, as well. This category seems underutilized, and is ripe for regional records and top scores nationally. If you enter in this category, you may well win some wall paper.
  • FM Only (6m, 2m, 222 MHz and 446 MHz, 100 W or less). This category is ideal for folks with a pile of FM rigs begging to be used. If you already have capabilities for 6m, 2m and 70cm FM, you can add 222 MHz FM for a bit over $100. And 223.5 MHz FM is quite active during contests. This category also seems underutilized and probably is ripe for picking off records and top finishes nationally.

With a category in mind, we can talk frequencies to use.

First, lets consider FM frequencies. The ARRL’s General Rules for Contests Above 50 MHz state:

1.8.Use of the national simplex frequency, 146.52 MHz, or immediately adjacent guard frequencies, is prohibited.

1.8.1.Contest entrants may not transmit on 146.52 for the purpose of making or soliciting QSOs.

1.8.2.The intent of this rule is to protect the national simplex frequency from contest monopolization.

1.8.3.There are no restrictions on the use of 52.525, 223.50 or 446.000 MHz.
Participants are, however, encouraged to not monopolize the calling frequencies throughout the contest period.

1.9.Only recognized FM simplex frequencies may be used, such as 144.90 to 145.00; 146.49, .55 and .58, and 147.42, .45, .48, .51, .54 and .57 MHz on the 2-meter band.

Mike, KD7TS, in a cloud on Mt. Pilchuck, WA (CN98) during the 2013 ARRL UHF Contest

In practice, the national FM simplex frequencies are used for contests on all bands except 2m, where it is prohibited. Alternative simplex frequencies on 2m differ by region, so I recommend going with the frequencies recommended locally. In the Pacific Northwest, the best plan is to use those recommended by the Pacific Northwest VHF Society:

  • 6m: 52.525 MHz FM
  • 2m: 146.58 MHz FM
  • 1.25m: 223.5 MHz FM
  • 70cm: 446.0 MHz FM

Don’t forget to set the rig(s) for simplex on these four frequencies.

If one of the frequencies gets too busy, it would be useful to have the capability to QSY to nearby frequencies. For two meters only, you would need to QSY to a “recognized FM simplex frequenc[y]” except for 146.52 MHz. In practice, this means programming a few alternative frequencies into your 2m rig. The Pacific Northwest uses 20 KHz spacing on 2m, so some potential nearby simplex frequencies include 146.42, 146.44, 146.46, 146.48, 146.50, 146.54, and 146.56 MHz. Also, in the Pacific Northwest, 147.54 MHz is a commonly used simplex frequency.

Finally, I recommend adding 144.90, 144.92, and 144.94 MHz if your antenna will let you work there. Here’s the reason. At times, you may work somebody on, say, 6m and ask them to QSY to 2m (“running the bands” is an acceptable and common practice during VHF contests). They may tell you that their 2m antenna doesn’t work up on 146.58 MHz. In that case, ask them to QSY to 144.90 MHz, which is a recognized simplex frequency written into the ARRL’s General Rules for Contests Above 50 MHz. Chances are their antenna will be able to handle that. This is rather theoretical…I know of no one who has actually worked stations this way, but it is a viable option for stations with 6m all-mode capabilities and FM only on higher bands.

One last thought on using FM in the FM Only category. In two years, I’ve only ever worked one station on 52.525 MHz FM, despite having a dedicated 6m FM rig on its own vertical antenna during every VHF contest. So it might be unrealistic trying to work a lot of stations on 6m FM on the calling frequency. The lack of activity on 6m FM likely discourages folks from entering as “FM Only”, particularly if they have 6m SSB capabilities.

Here’s an idea for such folks to boost 6m FM QSOs significantly. Lure SSB stations into a nearby 6m FM QSOs by going to the SSB calling frequency, 50.125 MHz, and making an SSB CQ: “CQ Contest from WW7D going up to 50.325 MHz FM.” That is, announce your nearby FM frequency on the SSB calling frequency, but do not make any SSB QSOs. This does not seem to violate the contest rules. I’ll bet one could easily break scoring records in the FM Only category by doing this. After working stations on 50.325 MHz FM, run the bands up to 432 MHz. And if you have SSB/CW capabilities on the 2m, 222 MHz, and 432 MHz, do the same thing on those bands. An alternative is to first work stations on 223.5 MHz FM and ask them to QSY to 50.325 MHz FM. After a few such QSO/QSY combinations, word will get around and you’ll find stations hunting for you.

I use 50.325 MHz as an example, and 50.3 MHz — 50.6 MHz is an acceptable place for FM according to the ARRL Band Plan. The band isn’t always used the way the ARRL Band Plan specifies, so make sure 50.325 MHz (or wherever you go) is not being used for something else. Watch out for digital work at 50.3 MHz.

For SSB and CW, the national “weak signal” calling frequencies are the place to start:

  • 6m: 50.125 MHz SSB and CW
  • 2m: 144.200 MHz SSB and CW
  • 1.25m: 222.100 MHz SSB and CW
  • 70cm: 432.100 MHz SSB and CW
A limited rover station being used in the 2014 ARRL January VHF Contest

Much of the contest activity takes place on these four frequencies for both CW and SSB. During 6m openings, however, stations will spread out much like they do during a 10 meter contest. The CW stations may move down to 50.080 to 50.100 MHz. SSB stations (and some CW stations) will work on frequencies from 50.125 MHz on up. (The spectrum from 50.100 to 50.125 MHz is left alone except for overseas contacts.)

When the calling frequency is in high demand, it’s good operating practice to move off frequency. For example, a rover station that has just landed in a new grid might do something like this, “CQ CQ contest from whiskey whiskey seven delta, Charlie November seventy six, moving to 50.140.” Or, a station that finds itself with a pile-up, might announce after a few calling-frequency QSOs, “…Whiskey seven charlie whiskey, QSL. QRZ from whiskey whiskey seven delta, now moving to 50.140.”

If the FM Only category catches on and activity levels warrant it, these same practices should be used.

WHAT IF I HAVE THE RIGS, BUT NO ANTENNA?

VHF and UHF antennas are easy to build and much easier to handle compared to most HF antennas. Small size means they can be built with a minimum of materials. Given the short wavelengths involved, you might get away with using an HF antenna. (I recently worked Hawaii on 6m using a five band, 20m-10m broadband hex beam and an antenna tuner.)

Wire antennas (dipoles or delta loops) can be built in an hour or two and can be saved as part of an emergency go-kit when not used for contesting. Directional antennas might require an evening or two to build. A two-element Moxon is an easily-built gain antenna for 6m. Remember the quagi? These are quite easy to construct for 2m and above. My favorite is the “cheap yagi” series of antennas. The WA5VJB recipes work very well and the antennas are truly inexpensive and easy to build.

A 6m hex beam and three WA5VJB “cheap yagis” being used in the 2014 ARRL January VHF Contest

WHAT ANTENNA POLARIZATION SHOULD I USE?

Weak signal operators usually use horizontal polarization, whereas, vertical polarization is more common in the FM portions (except, perhaps, on 223.5 MHz FM where horizontal polarization is commonly used). My advice is simple: Use what you can. Whatever it is, it will largely work.

Yes, I know there are many dBs of loss for stations using incompatible polarization—theoretically an infinite loss. In practice, the loss is much less. One thing for sure, staying off a band for want of the “correct” polarization is, effectively, infinity dBs of loss! When roving from my car, I’ve used vertical antennas for SSB while in motion. Contacts still happen. Sometimes I’ve had to pull over and work a pile-up on my vertical antennas before arriving at my destination where horizontally polarized antennas would be deployed.

Operating out of the Sekiu, WA (CN78) airport for the 2011 ARRL September VHF Contest

WHEN ARE THE CONTESTS?

There are four major VHF+ contests and one major UHF+ contest each year. Here are the major contests:

  • ARRL June VHF Contest. This occurs in the middle of June, a couple of weekends before Field Day. In 2014, the contest is from June 14-16. The contest is for all bands from 6m up.
  • CQ World Wide VHF Contest is for 6m and 2m only and is held on the 3rd weekend in July. For 2014 the contest is scheduled for July 19-20.
  • ARRL August UHF Contest. This contest covers 222 MHz and above and happens in early August. In 2014 it takes place on Aug. 2-3.
  • ARRL September VHF Contest occurs in mid-September. For 2014, this happens September 13-15. The contest is for all bands from 6m up
  • ARRL January VHF Contest. This occurs in the third weekend of January. The contest is for all bands from 6m up

There are two VHF+ Sprint series that occur—one in spring and one in the fall. These are, typically, 4-hour events on a single band from 6m to 432 MHz, as well as a longer microwave event. The fall schedule is not out yet (details well be published here), but here is the spring schedule for 2014:

  • 144 MHz: Monday, 7 Apr 2014, from 7 — 11 PM local
  • 222 MHz: Tuesday, 15 Apr 2014, from 7 — 11 PM local
  • 432 MHz: Wednesday, 4/23/14 from 7 — 11 PM local
  • 902 MHz and up: Saturday, 3 May 2014, from 6 AM — 1 PM local
  • 50 MHz: Saturday, 10 May 2014, from 2300z until 0300z Sunday, 11 May 2014

These events are a great way to test out changes to your station in preparation for upcoming contests. They are informal, friendly and can be used to get a bit of contesting experience before committing to a longer contest.

There are numerous additional contests that use some or all of the VHF+ bands: There are EME (moonbounce) contests, a 10 GHz+ contest, a six meter (SMIRK) contest, and some regional VHF contests. Many state or regional QSO parties include VHF+ bands. In Washington State, the Salmon Run includes 2m and 6m, as does the 7th Call Area QSO Party, the CA QSO Party, and the Arizona QSO Party. The Montana QSO Party allows 6m, 2m and 432 MHz (but, apparently, not 222 MHz), and the Nevada QSO Party (Mustang Round-up) allows 6m. The RAC Canada Day Contest includes 6m and 2m.

Ray, W7GLF/R, comes down from Green Mountain (CN98) during the 2013 ARRL September VHF Contest

WHAT OTHER THINGS CAN I DO ON VHF+?

VHF contests offer a number of interesting possibilities beyond working from a home station.

Going portable: The Pacific Northwest offers numerous fascinating possibilities for doing this. The basic idea: Go to a high, easily accessible location that has an unobstructed view from Vancouver, B.C. to Vancouver, WA to Salem, OR. Of course, few locations that truly meet all three of these criteria (e.g. The top of Mt. Rainier almost works, but falls short on the “easily accessible” criteria), but do the best you can. Operations can be field-day like multi-band big-antenna efforts or QRP mountain top efforts. Or just drive to a high spot and work out of your car for part of a weekend.

Roving: This is another interesting activity that offers DX-like pile-ups and travels through some great scenery. A thorough discussion requires an article of its own. You can read lots of stories of roving the Pacific Northwest at my blog. Barry, K7BWH, has a wonderful web page full of rover locations worth considering.

I’ll just mention that the Limited Rover class (limited to the bottom 4 bands) is the great equalizer. One can put together a very competitive station with a modest investment of equipment and sweat equity. One key to a successful rover station is an ability to rapidly set-up and take-down a set of modest directional antennas. The other key is smart planning—success comes from a good route with great portable locations along the way.

Microwaves: I’ve mostly focused on 6m through 432 MHz in this article. But there are many bands above 432 MHz. The two most accessible are 33 cm (902 MHz) and 23 cm (1296 MHz). These bands see a fair amount of SSB/CW activity during contests, primarily on 903.1 MHz (or 902.1 MHz in some regions) and 1296.1 MHz CW and SSB.

There are a few rigs that do all modes on 23cm (e.g. TS-2000X, IC 1271, IC 910H with 1296 module, or the FT-736R with 1296 module). The other option for 1296 MHz and, really, the only practical option on 902 MHz, is a transverter. This obviously moves contesting up to a new level of complexity and commitment. It makes for an interesting technical challenge.

An option for these bands is FM, and FM can successfully be used in these contests. There are a number of ham rigs that do 23cm and 33cm FM. At 33cm, there are plenty of inexpensive commercial rigs that can be made to work in the ham band. A refurbished Kenwood TK-981 can be picked up on Ebay for ~$120 and is very easy to program for FM simplex frequencies. The TK-941 can be picked up even cheaper—unlike the TK-981, the TK-941s don’t work well for repeaters, but work very well as a simplex contest rig. Motorola and GE make commercial rigs that can be modified for 33cm with more effort. Most commercial gear can’t easily be made to work simplex at bottom of the band (i.e. near 903.1 MHz) without modifications. They can be programmed without modifications for the national simplex calling frequency of 927.5 MHz. I’ve found modest activity on this frequency during UHF contests and field day. Since QSOs on these bands are worth much more, even a few 927.5 MHz contacts really add up. At least one in-production ham rig, the Alinco DJ-G29T, can go somewhere near the SSB calling frequency of 903.1 MHz. A couple of regional hams have used 903.2 MHz FM to successfully work folks with transverters during contests. If people know you are there, they will find you.

There are a few mobile (e.g. Kenwood TM-531E) and a handful of hand held 23 cm FM rigs. I’ve had great success with the Alinco DJ-G7 (currently in production). Most of my QSOs have been with SSB stations that are willing to move to FM on nearby 1296.2 MHz, rather than the national FM simplex calling frequency 1294.5 MHz. That frequency is out of range for most transverters.

And beyond: VHF contesting is a gateway drug to other exotic ham radio activities like moon bounce or meteor scatter. How about going for a WAS endorsement on VHF? Or even VHF DXCC? One interesting activity on VHF is VUCC earned by working 100 maidenhead grids (or fewer on bands above 2m). The Pacific Northwest VHF Society offers the Lewis and Clark Grid Exploration series of awards for working or activating all of the grids each state or province—Washington, Oregon, Idaho or British Columbia.

The ultimate challenge is to work all 488 maidenhead grid in the Continental U.S. to earn the Fred Fish Memorial Award.

If wall paper isn’t your thing, how about DXpeditions? Go out and activate a rare grid for other hams to complete their awards and become a hero in the process. The possibilities are endless.

Activating CN86 near Kalama, WA during the 2013 ARRL June VHF Contest

WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION?

Pacific Northwest VHF Society
ARRL Contest Calendar
ARRL Contest Rules
Fred Fish Memorial Award
VUCC
North East Weak Signal Group VHF Calendar
CQ WW VHF Contest
SMIRK 6m Contest
KC9BQA’s VHF Contesting School Articles
K7BWH Rover Locations
WW7D Blog
Maidenhead Grid Mapping Tool
Maidenhead Grid Locator Map
VHF Real Time Propagation Maps
VHF Contesting Mailing List

Closing Thoughts: There are plenty of reasons to join the contest activities on VHF and above. Most importantly, it’s fun. Entry into the activity is quite easy—you probably already have the equipment. As a bonus, you meet a great group of hams who are encouraging and eager to help you out. And don’t forget to send in a log, no matter how few contacts you make—you might just earn a piece of paper. Say…like K1ZK, who earned a certificate in a VHF Contest with one QSO!

Even if you are not convinced to spend the weekend contesting, the next time a VHF+ contest rolls around, show up on 50.125 around mid-day on Sunday. Enjoy your pile-up!

Be careful, though. Once you start playing in VHF+ contests…you might not be able to stop!

Acknowledgments

Many members of the Pacific Northwest VHF Society have provided excellent advice and great insights. I thank Gabor, VE7JH, Eric, N7EPD, Paul, K7CW, and Mike, KD7TS for their helpful mentoring as I got started in VHF contesting. Etienne, K7ATN, provided a number of helpful comments and suggestions for a revised (3 Apr 2014) version of this post.

WW7D’s 2013 ARRL UHF contest adventure

Well…that was fun in a “struggle and overcome adversity” kind of way. Actually my adventure during the 2013 ARRL UHF Contest wasn’t quite that bad…ummm, most of the time.

My preparations for the contest essentially lasted a year. You see, last year I picked up a 1296 Mhz FM handheld transceiver just days before the UHF contest. It made the contest even more enjoyable and gave my score quite a boost. The final score of 5,136 produced a second place finish for the U.S., just 300 points behind JK, K9JK.

I was determined to add 903 MHz to the mix for 2013, and be capable of all modes on 1296 MHz. The only problem is that there is a shortage of 1296 MHz transverters on the market because Down East Microwave (DEM) has stopped producing them either assembled or in kit form (at least for 2 years now).

So over the past year, I watched Ebay closely. I checked out the QRZ swap meet ads almost daily. Whenever a ham mentioned they had a transverter during a QSO, I asked if they wanted to sell it (yeah…I was shameless about it). Occasionally a 1296 MHz transverter would show up on Ebay, but the good ones always sold for more money than I could part with.

For 33 cm, I was getting ready to order a DEM 903 MHz transverter kit in January when Jim, K7ND, offered a SSB Electronic 903 transverter for sale (similar to this one). I snapped it up.

In the following months I picked up from Ebay the elements + hardware (everything but the boom) for a 33 element (12′) 903 MHz loop yagi. I purchased locally a second-hand 24 element (6′) 1296 MHz loop yagi. I also found a 18 Watt 1296 MHz D.E.M. amplifier on Ebay. Oh…I also picked up a Kenwood TK-981 commercial 900 MHz FM rig. I figured it was a long shot that anyone would be on the FM portion of the band during a contest, but the radio was inexpensive, and satisfied my need to cover all bases.

Finally, it happened. An unassembled DEM 1296 MHz transverter kit was listed on Ebay. I received the virtually unopened kit at the end of June. As it happened, July was a busy month for me with the CQ contest and other obligations.

Days before the UHF contest began, the transverter was at the testing stage. Everything seemed to check except that the local oscillator would not oscillate. Ughhh! I had to give up on Friday at noon. My fruitless persistence made the rover installation a bit rushed. That is what led to some frustration during the contest.

So, I would be active on four bands, but not all mode on 1296 MHz. The up side is that I have clear objectives to achieve for next year….

Antennas

I did have antennas built and mounted on the Rover a few days in advance. Being an optimist, I counted on having all four bands (223 MHz, 432 MHz, 903 MHz, and 1296 MHz) both SSB/CW and FM on board.

The “antenna farm” included a (seemingly absurd) 12 yagis and two verticals for four bands (+ 2 meters for coordination)?!?

This photo shows the view out the front windshield of the front stack of yagis mounted on a rotatable mast. I took the photo on the way to my first roving location so, at this point, the mast is fully collapsed. During the ‘test, the antennas are better separated and extend up to about 10 feet. They are all WA5VJB “cheap yagis” that are short enough to rotate while in motion and still be street legal:

  • Top left: 8 element 432 MHz yagi
  • Top right: 6 element 222 MHz yagi
  • Bottom left: 10 element 903 MHz yagi
  • Bottom center left: 10 element 1296 MHz vertically polarized yagi
  • Bottom center right: 10 element 1296 MHz horizontally polarized yagi
  • Bottom right: 10 element 927 MHz vertically polarized yagi

Here is the rear antenna stack with the mast collapsed for travel:

  • 12 element 432 MHz LFA yagi
  • 8 element 222 MHz “cheap yagi”
  • 11 element vertically polarized 432 MHz “cheap yagi”
  • 33 element 903 MHz loop yagi
  • 24 element 1296 MHz loop yagi
  • 4 element 144 MHz “cheap yagi” (for coordination on 2 meters)

Verticals for 222 MHz and 432 MHz can be seen as well.

In retrospect, the 2 meter antenna was worthless. It got in the way and slowed me down. I never used it, if only because my 2 meter rig is also the transverter rig. That brings up….

Equipment

A four-band set-up is quite complicated:

Not everything is visible, but here is the list:

  • On top of the rack is DEM 1218(?) 1296 MHz amplifier. SMA TR relays are used for switching it in and out. It is connected to…
  • An Alinco DJ-G7 (1296 MHz FM) hangs on the left side
  • Also on top is a Tascam DR-1 digital audio recorder that serves as my primary log
  • Below that is the SSB Electronic LT-33S 903 MHz transverter
  • Below the handheld, attached to the left side of the rack is an Elecraft XV222 222 MHz transverter
  • On the right side is a Jetstream 222 MHz FM rig
  • Also on the right side is the Kenwood TK-981 927 MHz FM rig
  • Mounted in the rack is an Alinco DR-590 for 440 MHz FM
  • Below that is a Yaesu FT-857D for 432 MHz and 903 MHz
  • Next is a TE Systems 2212G amplifier, 100 Watts on 222 MHz.
  • Then there is an RF Concepts 4-110 amplifier, 100 Watts on 432 MHz.
  • And below that is a Kenwood TS-480SAT used as an IF rig for 222 MHz.
  • Two rotors control boxes for Alliance HD-73 rotors can be seen
  • A Winkeyer is used for CW
  • Lots of antenna switches to switch between a mobile and fixed configurations.

The Plan

My plan was to start out north near the CN87/CN97/CN88/CN98 grid intersection and work my way south to the CN87/CN97/CN86/CN96 grid intersection for Saturday. I would stay in a motel in Centralia, WA for the night, and get up bright and early to head to the CN86/CN85 border for Sunday.

Here are the details:

Saturday

  • CN98, Mt. Pilchuck, Granite Falls, WA 2700′ 11:00am–12:15pm
  • CN88, Lake Stevens High School, Lake Stevens, WA 400′ 01:20pm–02:20pm
  • CN97, Peak near Wilkeson, WA 3100′ 04:40pm–05:55pm
  • CN96, Mowich Lake Road, Carbonado, WA 3200′ 07:05pm–08:20pm
  • CN86, Mowich Lake Road, Carbonado, WA 3080′ 08:35pm–09:35pm
  • CN87, Mowich Lake Road, Carbonado, WA 2050′ 10:05pm–11:05pm

Sunday

  • CN85 Green Mtn, Kalama, WA 1785′ 08:00am–09:25am
  • CN86 Near Green Mtn Kalama, WA 1700′ 10:00am–11:00am

What I didn’t like about this plan is that there is no visit to Ocean Shores, WA, where I would activate CN76 and CN77. I could have gone there instead of CN85/CN86 and that would have given me an extra grid. But, I thought my chances of maximizing 903 MHz and 1296 MHz QSOs would occur by going to CN85 near Portland and revisiting CN86 around the same place. As it happened, I made no 903 MHz or 1296 MHz QSOs on Sunday, although Sunday was modestly productive on 222 MHz and 432 MHz. Still, going to CN76/CN77 might produced a little better score.

The Contest
For once, I wasn’t rushing to get out of the house on Saturday morning.

The first thing I did was head to the airport in Snohomish to pick up a GPS system that I left in my plane. The stop was, more or less, on the way to Mt. Pilchuck.

CN98

I’d never been to Mt. Pilchuck before. I was aware that the “standard” rover/portable spot can be difficult to find, so I had a GPS route mapped right to the spot. The road got pretty bad in places, and I was very glad I wasn’t trying this in my econobox car.

As I rounded the corner to the The Spot, I caught sight of some long aluminum pieces up in the air! Somebody else was already here!

It was Mike, KD7TS, who was, unbeknownst to me, was going to spend the contest there:

Mike and I had briefly met before, but it was my first time interacting with him one-on-one. In the 20 minutes we chatted before getting down to business, I learned a lot of things, including the probable cause for the lack of oscillation from the 1296 MHz transverter. I was enjoying our conversation so much that I didn’t get started until 10 minutes into the contest.

I was feeling disoriented: a new location, a new set-up, and lots of little problems for the first couple of hours. But I managed a respectable 9 QSOs on 222 MHz and 6 QSOs on 432. Eric, N7EPD, was my first ever QSO on 903 MHz (not counting cordless phones). I also worked Mike, W7YOZ and K7MDL with the SSB Electronic transverter. Cool! On 1296 MHz, I only managed to work Eric and Mike. Unbeknownst to me, the amplifier power plug had come loose. So, I was putting out one watt instead of 15W or so.

I left only a few minutes behind schedule for Lake Stevens.

CN88

At the high school I got down to business until I started getting indicators of low voltage. The rough roads had caused my second battery to disconnect from the truck charging system.

Back at it, for some reason 222 MHz wasn’t working for me. There was a lot of noise on the band. Eventually I discovered that the front end of the Jetstream JT220M had gone RF deaf (or not…see the update below). Huh…that radio has been in much more hostile RF environments without even flinching. Why it decided to die at this point is a mystery.

No big loss, however, the Elecraft XV222 transverter would do double duty on 222.1 SSB/CW and 223.5 FM for the rest of the contest. That said, 222 MHz was still lousy in this spot using the transverter for SSB or FM. Mike, KD7TS, had suggested an alternative CN88 spot that I will try for the next contest.

I only managed 4 QSOs on 222 MHz. 432 MHz was much more productive with 9 QSOs. KD7TS was the only 903 MHz contact, and he and Gary, WA7BBJ/R, were my only 1296 MHz QSOs. Gary was in motion at the time, so kudos to him for making that contact!

The long drive through CN87

My next stop was a 3,100′ mountain peak near Wilkison, WA. Dale, KD7UO, had told me before the contest that he might go to this location. But during a QSO in the contest he mentioned that the gate to access the forest service road was locked (even though the web site said it was open!). So, instead, I headed for a 1300′ spot on Mud Mountain near Buckley, WA.

Most of the nearly 2 hour drive to this location is through CN87. I tried to maximize on this time by using the front antennas, and met with modest success.

I took a slightly longer route to the location, but one that kept me out of a large valley south of Seattle. This map shows three routes through the area south of Seattle, heading to point B. The central route on HWY 167 is through a deep valley and has rarely yielded any QSOs at all. The eastern-most route, HWY 169, is somewhat better, but there is still a long dead zone north of Maple Valley. The western-most route, which I’d never used before, kept me on Interstate 5 for most of the trip, and at higher altitudes on the southern part. I believe that helped out considerably.

I managed two 903.1 MHz SSB QSOs, but one of the great surprises and joys was catching Brian, KE0CO, on 927.5 MHz FM! Brian is in W. Seattle, and had I taken I-405 instead of I-5, this QSO wouldn’t have happened. In addition to those three 33 cm QSOs, I got four 222 MHz QSOs and seven 432 MHz QSOs.

CN97

Mud Mountain was somewhat productive. I didn’t work anyone on 1296 MHz (unknown to me, I was still only putting out 1 watt). I worked four 903.1 stations, and also Brian, KE0CO, and Tom, KE7SW, on 927.5 MHz FM! Nine 432 MHz and six 222 MHz QSOs happened as well.

In transit through CN87 and CN86

It is just shy of an hour to the next spot in CN96, but the route goes through some pretty “RF fertile” CN87 and CN86 territory. The station seemed to be working pretty well as I left CN97, so I was more aggressive about making QSOs in route. In CN87, I snagged two more 432 MHz and three more 222 MHZ QSOs.

The CN86 part of the trip is 15 minutes of rough gravel (and sometimes treacherous) road that is well elevated over the Puget Sound region. In that time, I worked a eight 432 MHz stations and three 222 MHz station. And then there was Brian, KE0CO, on 927.5 MHz FM!

CN96

The next hour in CN96 I worked scarcely more 432 MHz and 222 MHz stations than I did in 15 minutes through CN86. But this 3,200′ perch was excellent for the higher bands. I worked three people on 1296 MHz, including Mike, KD7TS, way up there in CN98. I made three QSOs on 903 MHz, and worked Brian, KE0CO, and Tom, KE7SW, on 927 MHz.

CN86

Because I had worked so many stations in transit through CN86 already, I limited my stay at this spot to just 25 minutes. I focused on the upper bands, and made two QSOs on 1296 MHz and one more 903 MHz QSO with Eric, N7EPD. And I picked up Tom, KE7SW on 927 MHz FM! I could hear Mike, KD7TS, quite clearly on 903 MHz, but he couldn’t hear me.

It was just after 10pm when N7BUS showed up on 432 MHz. I worked him, packed up my antennas, and then headed 1000′ back into CN96 to work him again.

CN87

About 30 minutes after that, I was set up in CN87 at the bottom of Mowich Lake Road. It was almost 11:00pm (local) and few people are on the air at that time. I did work Eric, N7EPD, on 903 MHz. That was my last QSO of the evening. I had an hour and a half of driving to my next stop—a Motel 6 in Centralia, WA.

The Motel was unbelievably crowded and busy for 1:00am. A crowd of young men were partying on a 2nd floor balcony and were curious about the antennas. “Are those linear antennas?” asked one partier. I figured they were volunteer security guards, so I took a minute to explain and told them I would return for more questions after checking-in.

The alarm sounded at 6:00am, and I was back on the road at 6:30am, for an hour trip to a spot in CN85. The only QSO I made en route was a difficult CW QSO on 432 MHz with Bruce, KI7JA. His signal went from S8 to S0 as I sped down the highway at 70 MPH and, apparently, my signal was doing the same. Bruce later mentioned that each time I sent my grid he got CN8… and I faded out. We eventually completed.

CN85

I was set-up just after 7:30am on Green Mountain, and chatted briefly with Larry, the property owner, who had stopped by (I’d called him before the contest to let him know I was stopping by). As I expected, I had excellent paths into both CN85 and CN87. I made nine QSOs into CN85, turned my antennas around and worked five people back in CN87 plus Mike, KD7TS back in CN98. The only disappointment was the lack of QSOs on 1296 and 903 MHz.

CN86

When things dried up in CN85, I headed to my last stop, about 20 minutes north and back into CN86. I arrived and got set up with an hour remaining in the contest. Oddly, I worked few stations in CN85. Most QSOs were back into CN87, and I worked VE7FYC in CN89 on 432 MHz and 222 MHz.

Scoring

It took a couple of days to enter all the QSOs into a digital log. I was pretty pleased with the results. Here are the number of QSOs by grid and band:

Grid 222 MHz 432 MHz 903 MHz 1296 MHz
CN85 7 8 0 0
CN86 8 14 3 2
CN87 7 8 4 0
CN88 4 9 1 1
CN96 5 8 5 3
CN97 6 9 4 0
CN98 8 6 4 2
Total 45 62 21 9

And here are the grids worked for each band:

 Band Pts Grids
222 MHz 135 5 CN85 CN87 CN88 CN89 CN98
432 MHz 186 6 CN85 CN87 CN88 CN89 CN97 CN98
903 MHz 126 2 CN87 CN98
1296 MHz 54 2 CN87 CN98

That makes a total of 15 grid-band pairs.  To that we add  seven multipliers for the grids activated for a total of 22 multipliers.

The final score is 11,022.

Conclusions

It was one hell of a run, really. I, essentially, doubled last year’s score of 5,136. I struggled a bit with equipment–particularly 903 MHz and 1296 MHz, and lost one radio (dedicated 223.5 MHz FM rig). But making a bunch of easy QSOs with Brian, KE0CO, and Tom, KE7SW, on 927.5 MHz FM made up for it all. I started out with low expectations for the 927 MHz rig.

The other pleasant surprise was the excellent results I felt was obtained from the 432 MHz LFA antenna that was built a week before the contest.

Clearly, there are several improvements that can be made for next year:

  • Get the 1296 MHz transverter completed and working.
  • More power on 903 MHz. The ~5 watts just didn’t cut it.
  • Better transverter management. I have nearly completed a PICAXE-controlled sequencer that will allow for better switching between 2m, 432 MHz, 903 MHz and 1296 MHz.
  • More reliable cabling. The rough gravel roads can shake loose Anderson Powerpole connectors from my homemade junction boxes. Something must be done!.
  • Ditch the 2m yagi. It got in the way, and I didn’t use it.
  • Better headset. RF was getting into and distorting my audio on 222 MHz and, perhaps, 432 MHz. Something must be done.

It was quite an adventure….I can’t wait to do it again!

(Short link)

Update (13 Aug 2013): The Jetstream radio is not dead! Here is what happened. I tuned it for 223.5 and set the frequency lock. Despite the lock, the frequency drifted anyway. I am not sure why it does this, but it isn’t the first time. The way the radio was installed, the frequency display was not easy to see, and I didn’t think to check it.

Roving the 2013 June ARRL VHF Contest

The June ARRL VHF contest is awesome. Summer is happening, the weather is frequently nice, and I am right at the tail end of the academic school year. The contest is my first taste of “vacation.”

This year, I did a lot of improvements to my roving station. Contest preparation began months in advance, but it seems like everything ended up being compressed into the last week. I found myself soldering up the last couple of coax connectors late Friday night.

Last year’s June VHF contest was simply incredible–a long sporadic E (Es) 6 meter opening on Sunday allowed me to activate three relatively rare grids (CN76, CN77 and CN78) out of may airplane rover for 19 states, as well as Canada and Mexico. I ended up with 210 QSOs and 69 grids for 6 meters, and a total of 358 QSOs. The final score of 38,950 was good enough for first place Limited Rover in the Western Washington Section, the Northwestern Division, and the West Coast Section. It set a new Limited Rover record for the Northwestern Division. Overall it was 6th place for U.S. Limited Rover.

Plans:

This year, the weather leading up to the contest looked excellent for roving out of the car and airplane. I began with the following plan:

Saturday:

  • CN85 1,785′ Kalama, WA 11:00 am – 12:15 pm
  • CN86 1,700’ Kalama, WA 12:45 pm – 2:00 pm
  • CN97 3,100’ Mountain near Wilkison, WA 5:00 pm – 6:15 pm
  • CN96 3,200’ Mowich Lake Rd, Carbonado, WA 7:15 pm – 8:45 pm
  • CN86 3,150’ Mowich Lake Rd, Carbonado, WA 9:00 pm – 9:30
  • CN87 2,100’ Mowich Lake Rd, Carbonado, WA 9:45 pm – 11:00 pm

Sunday:

  • CN98 2,700′ Mt. Pilchuck, Granite Falls, WA 7:30 am – 9:00 am
  • CN88 400’ High School, Lake Stevens, WA 10:00 am – 11:15 am
  • CN76* 16’ Ocean Shores, WA 2:00 pm – 3:30 pm
  • CN77* 15’ Ocean Shores, WA 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm
  • CN78* 320’ Sekiu, WA 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm

The * denotes grids that would be activated out of the airplane.

When I checked the weather forecast on Friday night, everything looked spectacular except for one thing: The weather in Ocean Shores called for 20 knot gusty winds on Sunday. The 20 knot winds don’t bother the airplane. But the portable antennas and mast system I use are relatively lightweight and a bit on the frail side. Twenty knots is pushing it. I would have to drive instead.

The forecast had been so good leading up to the contest—and I had been so busy—that I didn’t bother creating alternative plans. If I had, I might have flown to Ocean Shores on Saturday morning, then on to Sekiu and a switch to the car on Saturday evening for CN88 and CN98. But I didn’t. So on Saturday morning, I got an early start to Kalama, WA. On the long drive there, I went through the timing calculations and came up with this revised plan:

Saturday:

  • CN85 1,785′ Kalama, WA
  • CN86 1,700’ Kalama, WA
  • CN76 16’ Ocean Shores, WA
  • CN77 15’ Ocean Shores, WA

Sunday:

  • CN96 3,200’ Mowich Lake Rd, Carbonado, WA
  • CN86 3,150’ Mowich Lake Rd, Carbonado, WA
  • CN87 2,100’ Mowich Lake Rd, Carbonado, WA
  • CN97 3,100’ Mountain near Wilkison, WA
  • CN88 400’ High School, Lake Stevens, WA
  • CN98 2,700′ Mt. Pilchuck, Granite Falls, WA

The disadvantages of this plan are (1) I don’t activate CN79, and (2) there is a long drive from Woodland to Ocean Shores on a route that isn’t conducive to VHF or UHF contacts. Things went, more or less, according to plan. On Sunday, I had to go to an alternative location at 1,300′ for CN97 because a forest service gate was closed. Also, I ran out of time for Mt. Pilchuck and went to a 600′ alternative location instead.

Platform and Equipment:

For the January (2013) VHF contest, I was roving out of my econobox car. It worked well, but was tough going on some dirt and gravel roads. In February, Kathy and I acquired a 1988 Toyota 4WD pickup truck. It got its first workout as a HF mobile platform during the Idaho QSO party, and I tested it out, one band at a time, during the VHF+ Spring Sprints.

Essentially, I transferred the bracket holding an HD-73 rotor and mast from the rear of my Hyundai to the bed of the pickup truck….

The antennas visible here are:

  • 50 MHz: Homebuilt 3-element Yagi (bottom–note that the element ends are missing in this installation photo)
  • 144 MHz: A 6 element WA5VJB “Cheap Yagi” (middle)
  • 222 MHz: A 7 element WA5VJB “Cheap Yagi” (top)
  • 432 MHz: An 11 element WA5VJB “Cheap Yagi” (top)
  • 54 MHz: 6 meter mag-mount vertical (modified 11 meter antenna)
  • 146/440 MHz: Hustler whip

In addition to these antennas for stationary use, I wanted a second set of gain antennas that I could rotate and use while in motion. I had purchased a second HD-73 rotor and control box on Ebay a few weeks before the contest. Of course both components needed rebuilding—something I was doing the week before the contest. A home built bolt-on bracket for a front-mounted rotatable mast was needed:

In Washington state, the maximum front overhang is 3 feet beyond the front bumper. This is an easy limitation to work with for 2 meters and up. But six meters is a bigger challenge. Many VHFers swear by a 6 meter Moxon for their rover. But this antenna has a turning radius of 3.58 feet, making it not street legal for my installation. My first thought was to build a 6 meter broadband hex beam, but even that has a turning radius of 2.9 feet. With the mast already sitting a little forward of the front bumper, the antenna would not qualify as street legal.

The “classic” Hex Beam was the answer. It has a turning radius of 2.64″, or slightly more, since the elements don’t go exactly to the center of the antenna. This still puts the antenna a little over the 3′ limit, but I built the bracket to lean slightly toward the rear of the vehicle, so that, at about 8′ up on the mast, the antenna easily falls within the street limits.

My aim was to build a lightweight Hex Beam with low wind loading. I ordered some lightweight filament wound epoxy tubing (three 0.298″ x 32.5″ and three 0.392″ x 34″) from Goodwinds. These were cut in half and “telescoped”. I made the hub out of two 6.5″ disks fly-cut from 1/8″ marine grade Okoume plywood (they were, in fact, scraps from rib lightening holes on an airplane project). Small 0.395″ radial stiffiners were cut from spruce. Here are the structural components before being glued together.

To this, I added mounting brackets, wire elements (through the tubing) and a SO-239 connector:

The rest of the front mast was populated with additional bands. Here is the stack, looking out the windshield, while underway:

  • 50 MHz: Two element classic hex beam (top)
  • 144 MHz: A 4 element WA5VJB “Cheap Yagi” (middle)
  • 222 MHz: A 6 element WA5VJB “Cheap Yagi” (bottom right)
  • 432 MHz: An 8 element WA5VJB “Cheap Yagi” (bottom left)

And, here is a view inside the “shack”.
(more…)

Roving the 2012 ARRL UHF contest

WW7D/R was on the air for most of the 2012 ARRL UHF contest. I mentioned in the previous post that my goal was to double my score of 2,790 from last year. And I came very close to doing that.

I received my new Alinco DJ-G7 handheld radio on Thursday before the contest. This was a ticket to some 23 cm QSOs, although it is FM only. The helpful advice from other VHF weak signal people in the Pacific Northwest was that I should operate on 1296.2 MHz for the contest, and even make some quick calls on the SSB calling frequency of 1296.1. I spent part of Friday building a couple of 10 element Yagis, one for the car and one for the airplane.

I only managed to get two of the three antenna stacks done for 432 MHz and 223.5 MHz. I had a bad phasing cable for 432 MHz and couldn’t build a new one in time for the contest.

My schedule for the weekend went like this (using local time):

Saturday:

  • CN96    Carbanado      3200′    11:00 AM    12:10 PM
  • CN86    Carbanado      2800′    12:25 PM    01:35 PM
  • CN87    Carbanado       2050′    01:55 PM    02:55 PM
  • CN88    Lake Stevens    400′    05:05 PM    06:05 PM
  • CN98    Granite Falls    430′    06:35 PM    07:35 PM
  • CN97    Redmond           600′    08:55 PM    09:55 PM
  • CN87    Redmond           320′    10:30 PM    11:00 PM

Sunday:

  • CN76    Ocean Shores    16′    08:30 AM    09:40 AM
  • CN77    Ocean Shores    15′    09:50 AM    11:00 AM

Saturday morning I was up bright and early to head out to one of my favorite roving spots, on Mowich Lake Road (or highway 165) near Carbonado, WA. The starting point is about 15 miles Northwest of Mt. Rainier, and covers CN96 at 3,200′, CN86 at 2,800′ (a mile away), and CN87 a few miles further down the road and lower.

Here I am driving through CN86 on the way to CN96 with Mt. Rainier in the background:

Once on my perch in CN96, the mast was extended.    The “antenna farm”  consists of two six-element Yagis for 223.5 MHz, two 11-element yagis for 432 MHz, and, in the center, a 10-element 1296 MHz yagi built the day before the contest.

The contest began at 1800 UTC.  This CN96 location was reasonably productive, yielding 8 QSOs on 223.5 MHz (FM) 12 QSOs on 432 MHz, and 4 QSOs on 1296 MHz (FM).  Eric, N7EPD, gave me my very first 1296 MHz QSO ever!

The next stop was a couple kilometers down the road in CN86.   I was set up and ready to rumble five minutes ahead of schedule.  Despite being more closed in and a few hundred feet lower, this location rewarded me with 8 QSOs on 223.5 MHz, 10 QSOs on 432 MHz, and 5 QSOs on 1296 MHz.

After a brief return to CN96 for a few new stations, I headed a few miles down the road to a so-so spot in CN87.  I didn’t spend a lot of time here, because much of my travel was through the grid, and I intended to set-up in my backyard in the grid on Saturday evening.  By the end of the contest, I had made six 223.5 MHz QSOs, ten 432 MHz QSOs, and two 1296 MHz QSOs from CN87.

I left CN87 a little early.  It was a very hot, sunny day, and I wanted to stop someplace for something ice cold and flavored to drink.   When I stopped, I noticed the lower set of stacked antennas was slightly skewed.  Thinking one of the hose clamps preventing the mast from rotating was loose, I grabbed an antenna boom to rotate it back into place.  Alas, there was not rotation at the mast.  I heard a snap near the joint of the antenna and cross-boom.   Oops.

Twenty minutes later I had the lower pair disassembled and stowed in the car, and a drink in my hand.  I headed off to the next grid.

I arrived at Lake Stevens High School, in CN88, about 20 minutes late.   By this time it was dinner time for the casual contesters.  QSOs were a little tough to come by.   I didn’t spend the whole hour there which put me back on track time-wise.   I made a couple more QSOs driving through the grid.   In the end I had four QSOs on 223.5 MHz, five 432 MHz QSOs, and one 1296 MHz QSO in the grid.

It was onward to Mountain View Elementary school in Granite Falls in CN98.  I made my first QSO one minute before the scheduled time.   This is not a great location at 400 feet but surrounded by hills and mountains in several directions.  That, combined with the fact that few people were on, meant I didn’t exactly burn through the log sheets.   After 30 minutes I left for greener pastures with three 223.5 MHz QSOs and four 432 MHz QSOs.

The next stop was CN97 on Redmond Ridge in my own city of Redmond.   I arrived 25 minutes early and had already worked most of the strong stations while mobile.   The grid gave me three 223.5 MHz QSOs, six 432 MHz QSOs, and two 1296 MHz QSOs.

The final stop was my own back yard back in CN87, where I could finally crack a cold beer to belatedly fight a sweltering day and make a couple of QSOs.

The next morning I woke up bright and early for a trip to Ocean Shores, where the airplane parking ramp has a line of latitude running through it.     The south end of the ramp is CN76 and the north end is CN77.  The ramp is 125 meters north to south, so one can quite easily activate two grids from the ramp.

But when I checked the weather, Ocean Shores was buried in a coastal fog!  That sucks.

No problem, though.  My Plan-B was to fly to Valley View airport in Estacada, Oregon. The airport sits at some 700 feet in the southwest foothills of Portland. I’ve never roved from there, but it looked promising. But in doing my weather and flight briefing, I learned that the airport was closed that Sunday.

Ummm…okay. I had two choices for a Plan C. Plan C-1 was flying to another Portland-area airport. The problem is that most of these airports are quite low. For example, I’ve Roved from the Scappoose, OR airport with limited success. The airport is at 58′ above sea level.

Plan C-2 was to fly to Eastern Washington and land at an airport near Spokane. I haven’t roved out of an airport in Eastern Washington, so I settled on a trip to Davenport, WA, to an airport that sits at 2,400′ feet and 60 miles west of Spokane.

The weather was HOT. In fact, it was so hot that the automated weather stations at airports were giving out “density altitude” warnings. In other words, pilots were being warned that their planes might preform as if taking off at a higher altitude airport.

I decide that the longer field at Wilbur, WA would be a safer bet. The only potential problem is that Wilbur is 100 miles east of Spokane and a couple hundred feet lower.

Here is the APRS track for the trip.

I got set up with a little more than an hour left in the contest.

“CQ Contest from Whiskey Whiskey Seven Delta, Rover, Delta November Oh Seven”

Nothing.

And that’s how it was for the rest of the hour.

I left Wilbur empty handed…except for the flying enjoyment part of the adventure.

Here’s the trip home crossing the Cascade Mountains looking north toward Mt. Baker. The southeastern tip of Lake Chelan is visible behind the wing:

Results:

My impression is that participation was down in the Pacific Northwest this year. In fact, my score is just slightly improved over last year if we only consider the bands I had last year—222 MHz and 432 MHz. But the addition of 1296 MHz, even if FM only, really made a difference.

The final tally was 32 QSOs and 3 multipliers on 222 MHz, 47 QSOs and 4 multipliers on 432, and 14 QSOs and 3 multipliers on 1296 MHz. Plus, I received 6 multipliers for activating 6 grids.

The final score was 5,136–almost double my score last year.

Clearly, a different decision on Sunday would have been a big help; a trip to Portland or Ocean Shores, even if by car, on Sunday would have substantially improved my score. Nevertheless, it was definitely worth the experience of trying to rove to Eastern Washington by airplane.

(This is a shortcut to this post.)

2012 ARRL UHF contest prep

This weekend is the annual ARRL UHF contest. And wouldn’t you know it, I got something related in the mail from the ARRL today—a certificate from last year’s UHF contest:

Ooohhhh….Shiiiiiny!!!

Last year was my first ever try in this contest. I guess 3rd place in the limited rover is more than I could have hoped for! I did much of the contest out of my plane—and got a picture in QST for the effort! The most interesting part of last year’s contest was activating CN89 from the U.S. exclave of Point Roberts, WA. As I wrote last year:

The dividing line between CN88 and CN89 is 49° lattitude. But, perhaps because of errors of early surveying, the Canadian border begins at about 49° 0′ 8″ in both Point Roberts and along the U.S. border north of Bellingham. At 100 feet per second of latitude, there is plenty of 49° on the U.S. side, which makes activating CN89 too interesting to pass up. I decided to fly to the grass strip on Point Roberts and then hike the 1.5 miles to the CN88/CN89 boundary. This challenged me to make the radio and antenna set-up portable (backpackable) in addition to usable from the car and airplane (while on the ground, of course).

That was an incredible rush. Alas, it wasn’t overly productive QSO-wise.

This year, my aim is to double last year’s score of 2,790. Here is how I’ll do it:

  • Better locations. I’ll start the contest out of my car at 3,200′ in the relatively rare grid of CN96. This strategy has worked well for me in various VHF contests and sprints over the past 12 months
  • Better time management. I’ve learned a lot about time management from VHF contests and the Fall and Spring Sprints. This year I should be able to work an extra grid or two, and most will be activated from better locations.
  • More bands. As a limited rover, I can use 4 bands (222 MHz, 432 MHz, 902 MHz, and 1.2 GHz). Last year I only had equipment for 432 MHz (all modes) and 222 MHz FM. This year, I’ll add a 1.2 GHz transceiver. It’s an FM-only, one watt Alinco DJ-G7 handheld. I’ll pair it up with a Yagi, and, before the contest, I’ll beg the local VHFers to have mercy on me and switch to the FM simplex frequency of 1294.5 MHz.
  • More power. Last year I was limited to 25 watts on 432 MHz from my Yaesu FT-857. This year, I’ll have a 100 watt amp to supplement the signal.
  • Better antennas set-up. Last year I used my airplane set-up out of the car (like this). It was slow to set up, and a little error prone. This year, I’ll use the outboard rotor and telescoping mast I used during the past few contests.
  • More antenna gain. Last year I had a single quagi for 223.5 MHz and a pair of quagis for 432 MHz. This year, I will have three stacked yagis for each of those bands, antennas I tried out during the Spring sprints. I’ll also have a single yagi for 1.2 GHz on the car. If I use the plane, I’ll probably have a pair of yagis for 223.5 MHz and 432 MHz, and a yagi for 1.2 GHz. We’ll see if I have time to get all these things finished in the next four days!
  • Better antennas while driving the car. I’ll have significantly better vertical antennas for 432 MHz and 223.5 MHz while in motion. I should also have a 1/4 wave whip for a 5 watt HT monitoring 446.5 MHz full time (that netted a few QSOs for me last year).

So, if I actually pull everything together in the next few days, I should have a pretty competitive set-up for the 2012 ARRL UHF contest.

WW7D’s 2012 Field Day

Because of other obligations, I couldn’t really do a full-scale Field Day in 2011. I was determined to make up for it in 2012.

I had a mission for this year’s Field Day, motivated by the operating event’s roots as an exercise in emergency preparedness. My mission was to activate a one person HF through UHF portable station that could be rapidly deployed. Beyond that, I wanted to push myself to have something of a “big signal,” even as a low power solo station.

One way of realizing this was to operate from a high-elevation setting (i.e. a road-accessible mountain peak), using directional antennas on all bands from 20 meters up to 432 MHz. (Directional antennas on 40 and 80 will have to wait….)

Oh…and I wanted to do this out of my little econobox car.

FIELD SITE

Part of the plan to do this was easy—Washington state is rich with mountain peaks, a few of which have roads that are accessible at least part of the year by low-clearance consumer-quality stock urban commuter automobiles.

One of the best spots near the Seattle area is Lion Rock Spring Campground at 6,200′ on Table Mountain in the Wenatchee National Forest. This is a primitive campground, but one with good vehicle accessibility. A paved national forest road gets one pretty close to a number of camp sites.

I learned about Lion Rock from N7CFOs rover web site. My uncertainty about it was its accessibility in late June. I called the ranger station. A friendly person told me that the road conditions to Lion Rock were uncertain—campers had recently reported some snow on the roads near the site. He also mentioned that there were other hams who had contacted him as well, so I might expect company.

Indeed, when I arrived with a stack of VHF antennas on my car, the main camp site was populated with campers, trucks, and antennas sprouting all around. The first person to greet me was Lynn, N7CFO, who told me there were several other hams from the east suburbs of Seattle setting up as well.

Given the density of antennas already at the “prime” spot, I opted for a slightly lower site about 1/3 mile away (here) at 6,150′ that had a bit better exposure to the west. I had the entire campground to myself for the weekend, which allowed me to “spread out” with radials running all over the place.

This was the view to the south when I arrived:

The meadow area in front of me had no snow, but the wooded area directly behind me still had a lot of snow.

VHF+ SET-UP

One of my objectives was to include VHF and UHF capabilities. I had spent the past year improving my VHF+ roving station, and had a nice rotatable antenna platform for 6, 2, 1.25 and 0.7 meters…

…and a good portable multi-band radio platform that included a Kenwood TS-480, Yaesu FT-857, a Jetstream JT220M for 1.25 meters, and amplifiers for 6, 2, and 0.7 meters:

I also had a Winkeyer, a N8XJK Super Booster, and a home-built 10-port Anderson Powerpole power distribution box stuffed into the rack.

This set-up served me well during the ARRL June VHF QSO party. All I needed to add for a Field Day station was some HF antennas.

80 & 40 METER SET-UP

For 80 meters and 40 meters, the choice was pretty simple: I would use my homebuilt screwdriver antennas with my “portable radial” kit.

The radials are, essentially a series of four 100′ and six 33′ thin (3/8″) tape measures. The Stanley 34-106 100 ft long tape measure can be picked up for under $15 online or from Walmart. The 33 footers are Keson ST1833Y that I found for $4 each online. They connect to the base of the screwdriver on a home built hub like this:

Here is the 40 meter vertical (with the peak of Mt. Rainier in the background):

20 to 10 METER SET-UP

For 20, 15, and 10 meters, the solution was more involved. I wanted to build a field-deployable, fold-up hex beam. The target beam is the broadband version designed by G3TXQ, and with extensive construction notes by K4KIO. I built a hex beam of this type for home, and it is a wonderful antenna. To make it fold, a little design work and manufacturing was in order.

Months before Field Day, I ordered six 14 foot crappie telescoping fishing poles off of Ebay. Only the first 12 feet or so of the poles are used. They are so thin near the end, I got them extra long and just used the first 12 feet.

The hub is the heart of the hex beam. I wanted the spreaders to fold downward when not under tension, so that the whole antenna is no more than 8.5 feet long—the maximum length I could stuff into my car—with the spreaders folded down below the hub and the RF distribution post above the hub.

Ideally, I would do the hub in aluminum, but I don’t have aluminum welding capabilities. So, I welded up a hub using a thin-wall 4130 steel tube for the center and mild steel angle and hinges for the rest. Essentially, I used six 3-inch pieces of 1″ steel angle welded around the tub, with the apex pointing “up”. Then, I made spreader supports of six 6″ lengths of 1″ angle steel and welded a small steel hinge on the bottom. The other end of the hinge was welded to the steel tube. The hinge allowed the spreader supports to fold down against the tube, and fold out to be perpendicular to the tube, stopped and held in place by the 3″ pieces.

Two stainless steel hose clamps held each spreader to the spreader support. A third hose clamp held the 3″ and 6″ angles together when deployed. The rope webbing was pretty conventional and made of 0.075″ Dacron-covered Kevlar cord with small stainless steel S-hooks on the ends.

Attaching the wires to the spreaders was another trick. I essentially used 1/4 inch cable clamps for the wire to pass through. Through the screw hole, a tie-wrap held the clamp to the pole. The tie-wrap was sized to fit snuggly at the correct place on the tapered pole. During set-up, I wrapped one turn of electrician’s tape around the tie-wrap to ensure it didn’t slip. A 1/4″ over lap on one end of the tape made it easy to rip off.

For wire, I used 14 gauge Flexweave™. The center RF distribution was a fiberglass pole with with the same type of Euro-terminal connectors recommended for the non-portable version. I connected the terminal connector to hose clamps so that each could be positioned as required.

The big trick to making this work is to carefully bundle the wires. I used red tie wraps for all the ones that were to be “removed prior to flight.” This worked pretty well at keeping the wires from getting tangled.

Here is the top portion (RF feed post) of the antenna nestled in the car the day before Field Day:

And the entire antenna can be seen through the rear hatch:

Setting up the hex beam was pretty simple, but required care to avoid tangling wires and creating a mess.

It took about 30 minutes to get to this point:

The next trick was mounting the hex beam onto the mast. The antenna was light enough that, at home, I could lift it into the top of the un-extended mast without a ladder. In the field, a tree stump made the operation much easier. After the hex beam was mounted, I un-nested the bundle of VHF and UHF antennas. Notice the flex in the mast—that was part from the wind, part from the car not being perfectly level:

Here we are with the screwdriver verticals added and just about ready to go….

ON THE AIR

The contest began at 18:00 UTC, but I didn’t get on the air until 19:30 UTC. The first couple of hours were only mildly productive, as I got comfortable with the operating position and fiddled with things. The hex beam was perfect, and needed nothing. I was unable to get my generator started (forgot the ether!) so, throughout the contest, I occasionally starting up the car to recharge the battery (and warm my feet).

Six meters was strangely noisy, but the SWR was good. I later learned that the gamma match connection to the SO-239 connector had failed. Apparently, I had just the right length of coax to fool me into thinking everything was fine. This is a shame as I understand there was an opening on 6 meters for Field Day.

It took me awhile to get comfortable with the operating set-up. Operating in the driver’s seat is fine with paper logging, but using computer logging makes it very difficult to log quickly unless the computer sits on my lap. The problem is that I was attempting to operate with the laptop on the passenger seat. The day before the contest, I was testing out the equipment set-up and the connector on a USB hub broke off. “No big deal,” I though, “I’ll plug the three USB connections directly into the three ports on the computer.” Bad idea. The laptop was difficult to manipulate with three USB cables plus a power cord.

At some point I bundled them together, and adjusted the slack so that the laptop could be moved around more easily. Working with the laptop on my lap top upped the QSO rate significantly and, as it happened, made it easier to use the paddle when needed from where the laptop use to sit.

I spent the first two hours doing CW search-and-pounce on 15 and 20 meters accumulating only 33 QSOs. I turned to VHF and quickly worked three Seattle-area stations on 2 meters SSB. I also worked Lynn, N7CFO, on 6 meters—my only 6 meter QSO of the weekend.

Back to HF, I searched and pounced productively on 20 and 15 meters both CW and phone for many more hours. I occasionally dabbled on 40 meters as well. It wasn’t until the nineth hour that I felt comfortable enough to do a serious CQ run. Even then, I was doing a lot of hand-keying. Using N1MM on a tiny netbook with a track pad instead of a mouse can be tough. Over the course of the contest, I gradually replaced mouse strokes with the keystroke equivalences, and gained the confidence to do everything via computer.

The weather during the day had gone from partly cloudy to in-the-soup cloudy, with occasional bouts of thunderstorms accompanied by pea-sized hail…

…with a big swing to spectacularly clear by sunset:

Twenty meters was going strong at least until midnight (PDT), about the time I switched back to 40 meters, for a excellent search-and-pounce session that lasted until 08:30 UTC (1:30 am local). At this point, I opted for sleep over QSOs.

My 3.5 hours of sleep was interrupted by additional hail showers and wind that had me concerned about the antenna farm. Alas, the wind sounded worse than it was from in the tent.

I was back on the air by 12:15 UTC for a whole new batch of 40 meter stations to talk to. Thirty minutes later, I found 20 meters bursting with activity, and spent the rest of the contest splitting my time between 20 and 15 meters.

On Sunday morning new thunderstorms brought enough hail to completely coat the ground with white for a spell, but things cleared up by the end of the contest.

Conventional wisdom is that operating Field Day past 18:00 UTC Sunday isn’t worthwhile. I had until 19:38 to operate, and made the best of it. I ended up with an excellent 30 minute CQ run on 14,041 MHz at 18:42 UTC that brought in 30 new QSOs. After picking a few more scraps off the bones of 20 meters CW and phone, I finally called it a day (an “event”?) at 19:42 UTC.

RESULTS

I ended up with 480 QSOs, or an average of 20 QSOs/hour for the 24 hours operating time I was allowed. That’s a QSO every 3 minutes. I contacted 68 ARRL sections, plus a bit of DX. All in all, not bad for my first serious field effort for Field Day since sometime in the late 1970s.

VHF+ was disappointing, with only one 6 meter QSO (because of a broken antenna) and four 2-meter QSOs. It hardly seemed worth the effort on 2 meters and above—the time spent on these bands probably would have generated more HF QSOs. The trade-off is the ability to operate SO2R on HF versus using the same equipment as separate HF and VHF stations.

Six meters would have been okay with a functioning antenna. Perhaps next year I’ll add 6 meters to the hex beam and leave the VHF yagis at home. Or, I’ll try a new location that provides better line-of-site into the Puget Sound area. So many choices!

CONCLUSION

This was a very satisfying experience. The HF set-up on 15, 20 and 40 meters (the only HF bands I ended up using) was terrific. The hex beam worked better than I imagined—essentially I could work everyone I could hear well enough to get a call sign for. Indeed, I almost felt like a “big gun” even running only 100 watts.

After a bit of reorganization of the operating position, I felt the radio stack/computer set-up worked very well. Indeed, operating out of the driver’s seat could be quite comfortable with reasonable climate control. And the windows offered a view of the weather, wildlife and a couple of spectacular hours of the view of Mt. Rainier to my right and the Kittitas Valley straight ahead:

…can’t wait to do it again!

(Short cut to this post.)

Tag Cloud