POTA Field Report: Tinkering with the MPAS Lite at Lake Norman State Park

After completing a successful activation at Fort Dobbs State Historic Site on Wednesday, August 25, 2021, I decided to fit in one more activation that day. I thought about heading out to one of the game lands I hadn’t hit in a while, but frankly, I needed a park a little closer to home due to my time constraints that day, so Lake Norman State Park it was!

Lake Norman State Park (K-2740)

Lake Norman is such an effortless park to activate. Their main picnic area has numerous tables (including two large covered areas), and tall trees providing support for antennas and much needed shade from the NC summer sun!

One thing I had not decided upon was what antenna I’d use at Lake Norman. Earlier, I used my trusty speaker wire antenna at Fort Dobbs, but I like to shake things up. I checked the trunk of my car and found the Chameleon MPAS Lite. Seeing how propagation plummeted after my previous activation, I decided that I wanted a large wire antenna deployed rather than a vertical.

The MPAS Lite can be configured as a wire antenna, of course: instead of attaching the 17′ whip to the “Hybrid Micro” transformer, you attach the 60′ wire that might normally be used as a counterpoise.

Setting it up was quite easy, in fact. I used my arborist throw line to snag a tree branch about 45′ high, then attached the throw line to the floating dielectric ring on the Chameleon wire spool. I stretched the entire length of wire out, attached the end to a tree, then hoisted up the center, forming an inverted vee shape.

Wire antennas are so low-profile and simply disappear in trees.

Even thought the 50′ coax shield would act as a counterpoise, I really wanted another ground wire attached, so I pulled one of the wires off of my speaker wire antenna and attached it to the grounding post of the MPAS Lite’s stainless spike. I figured a little extra counterpoise wouldn’t hurt.

Gear:

On the air

Although I’d never used the CHA MPAS Lite quite like this, I was pretty confident my Elecraft T1 would find a match. The Chameleon transformer (the Hybrid Micro) brings most any (but not all) lengths of wire within reasonable matching range of an ATU.

I started on 40 meters and found that, without employing the ATU, I had a match that was slightly below 2:1. Not terribly surprising since I had a good 60′ of wire in the tree. Still, I hit the tune button on the T1 and easily achieved a 1:1 match.

I will add here, though, that perfect 1:1 matches are not that important–especially at QRP levels. I’m certain the TX-500 would plug along with a match of 2.5:1 or higher and still radiate perfectly fine. I’ve known hams that truly equate that 1:1 match with an antenna that’s performing efficiently, but that’s not always the case. Keep in mind a dummy load will give you a 1:1 match but is hardly efficient. The ATU’s job isn’t to make the antenna radiate better–it’s to match impedance.

The CHA MPAS Lite will get you within matching range across the HF bands and, many times, it’s close enough that an ATU isn’t really needed.

I started calling CQ POTA on 40 meters and within 28 minutes had logged the ten contacts needed for a valid park activation–all with 5 watts, of course. I was very pleased with these results because, as I had suspected, the bands were still pretty darn rough.

I then moved up to the 30 meter band where I worked a couple of stations and then, for fun, found a match on 80 meters and worked one NC station (possibly on ground wave!).

Here’s a screenshot of my logs from the POTA website:

I must say that I do love using the Discovery TX-500. It’s such a brilliant little field radio. I’m just itching to take it on another SOTA activation soon!

I’m also loving the TX-500 field kit that I built around a Red Oxx Micro Manager pack.

I used the same bag (different color) for my KX2 NPOTA field kit in 2016. It’s such a great size and can even easily hold my arborist throw line along with all of the station accessories and rig, of course. I’ve made a short video showing how I pack it and will upload that video when I have a little bandwidth!

Video

I did make a real-time, no-edit video of my entire Lake Norman activation. Feel free to check it out below or via this YouTube link. No need to worry about ads popping up–my videos have no YouTube ads!

A Brief Public Service Announcement…

If I have a little advice for you this week, it’s this: don’t wait to play radio because someone says you don’t have the right gear for the job.

I received an email this morning from a ham that’s new to field operation and just received an antenna he had ordered. He was upset because a YouTuber claimed his antenna was basically a dummy load. To add insult to injury, he also found a blogger or YouTuber was also highly critical of his recently-acquired Yaesu FT-818. [Note that the FT-817ND–the 818’s predecessor–is one of my favorite field rigs.]

Keep in mind that many of these YouTubers are trying to produce “click bait” videos that will stir up a reaction and, thus, increase their readership numbers which will have a direct and positive impact on their ad revenue.  It’s a red flag when someone doesn’t have real-world examples and comparisons proving their points and typically a sign that they’ve never even used the products in question.

I’ve been told antennas I use don’t work, yet I’ve snagged some incredible QRP DX with them. I’ve been told that some radios I use are junk, yet I’ve hundreds of successful field activations with them. And funniest of all are those who tell me that QRP is ineffective and–quoting from an actual message recently–“a complete waste of time.

My advice is to simply ignore these folks. The proof is in the pudding! Get out there and play radio!  In the words of Admiral Farragut, “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!” 🙂

Thank you!

As always, thank you for reading this field report and a special thanks to those of you who are supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement–my content is always free–I really appreciate the support.

Cheers & 73,

Thomas (K4SWL)

12 thoughts on “POTA Field Report: Tinkering with the MPAS Lite at Lake Norman State Park”

  1. So true. Just because you heard it on the internet does not mean it’s true or that the person you are listening to actually has enough knowledge to even comment on the subject. Grab your gear and get out there. Become the expert!

    1. “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet just because there’s a picture with a quote next to it.” – Abraham Lincoln
      😉

  2. This is more a comment to your PSA epilogue. I got my General in 2007 and immediately bought a Yaesu FT-817ND…just as we were nearing a solar minimum. Having an elmer would have helped me avoid falling down that mine shaft, but I digress. I (half) jokingly refer to my first years on QRP HF as “my years wandering in the desert, starving” but the reality is that it forced me to optimize my kit and perfect my game. In short, it made me a better operator.

    Even now that I have a 100W radio, I seldom run it at full power. “Use the minimum power required to make contact.” Isn’t that the rule? And isn’t it funny, now that I can pretty much make contacts on demand anywhere in the CONUS with my 891, I still love and use my 817 frequently. I don’t make as many contacts at 5 watts, but I feel each one is earned. QRP is a lot like fishing with ultralight tackle; a lot of days you go home hungry, but when you do land a big one, it’s extra tasty.

    To those who bash QRP; “Life is too short…”, “It’s a waste of time…”, I would respond that maybe those who think they need a full Kw could learn a thing or two from QRP operators. It sure taught me a bunch.

    1. “Use the minimum power required to make the contact”

      This. A thousand times this.

      I like to remember that the difference between 5 watts and 100 watts is about 2 S-units, or approximately 13 dB. (where 1 S-unit is about 6 dB).

      Impactful perhaps on SSB, but often much less so with CW.

      Life is too short. It is too short not to challenge ourselves to grow in every aspect of it – including our hobbies. 🙂

  3. I’ve been licensed for 15 years but I have been in the hobby since the ’70s. I know enough to see through the B.S. and know if a Youtuber has been compromised by all the free stuff they recieve. It must be rough on those just starting out in the hobby.

    I subscribed to a lot of youtube channels but there are on 4 or 5 that I trust. Your is one of those and the rest shall remain anonymous.

  4. re: PSA. Sorry, gotta vent – “I used that till THIS arrived! It’s so amazing, came with a full can of ‘Propagation Spray’. FT8 all the way!” Don’t forget the “look” on the video thumbnail.

    The 817/818 is proven and has been around forever, so the “influencers” want to showcase something new and shiny, that they (most likely) did not buy and got on loan from the manufacturer. Dropped almost all on my YT sub list.

    How many in-the-shack vids of the G90 do we need? Same with all the HT “reviews” – checking RF output using a non-calibrated wattmeter into a questionable dummy load (“9 watts straight into yer head! Affliliate link below…”).

    Yeesh. And yes, I have an 817nd. It’s “amazing!” 🙂

    1. Yes, there is a very good reason the FT-817/818 have been on the market for two decades. It’s a solid design! 🙂

  5. I think everyone should start out qrp, this will help them build ediqute and operating procedures that will last a lifetime. Ive been licensed for 9 years and over that 9 years I have made close to 9 thousand contacts with a 3rd of those being this past year for POTA. I have watched your Youtube page for a while now and every-time I see you with a different antenna still knocking it out of the park with your dits and dahs, it makes me want to do some qrp activations. I borrowed a friends 705 and did an activation and loved it.. so much that I purchased my own qrp rig and will be doing lots more. Thank you for the videos and these reports and most of all for being an example to the rest of us.

  6. QRP POTA activations are packed with learning. Want to become a better op? Do just ten activations and you will have a different view on operating.

    I have been using QRP POTA activations to sharpen up as a CW contester. Very good live drill for dealing with all sorts of things,

    There are other aspects to portable that do not get as much press as POTA. Roving HF contest ops, RV ops who dig a good CW rag chew, VHF and up rovers, ops who just need to get out of the city to escape RF noise.

    Jim KF9VV

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