Like a lot of QRPers, I love a good challenge.
Maybe it’s just in the nature of those of us who love QRP.
We get a small thrill out of seeing what we can accomplish with less.
On the morning of February 7, 2022, I received an email from a subscriber in South Carolina who had placed an order for a new Elecraft KX2 and an AX1 antenna package. He picked this particular combination because he wanted the most simple and easy-to-set-up field radio system for impromptu CW POTA activations and a little random QRP fun.
He mentioned that, at his age, mobility is a bit of an issue and even though he knew a wire antenna would be more effective, deploying it while walking on uneven ground just wasn’t in the cards. The AX1 was a much more manageable and packable system. Plus, as he said, “I’m not going out to work DX. I just want to play and have fun.”
Only a week after placing his order, he was having buyer’s remorse which prompted his message.
He explained that he had exchanged emails with a friend in his radio club who told him he’d made a foolish mistake and that the AX1 was completely ineffective as an antenna and would only lead to disappointment. His friend said [direct quote here], “I owned [an AX1] for a month and was never able to make a single contact. It is really good at being a dummy load and nothing more! This thing shouldn’t be marketed as an antenna. It doesn’t work.”
I pointed out that I’ve used the AX1 numerous times in the field and have yet to be disappointed.
Before I used the AX1, I too, was very skeptical but after actually using it (instead of simply theorizing about it) I found it’s one of my most valuable antennas for a quick and fruitful activation. I pointed him to this playlist that includes all of my AX1 activations on YouTube. In all of these activation, I’ve limited myself to 5 watts as well even though the antenna can handle a full 10 or 15 watts from the KX2 or KX3.
I told him I’d been planning to pair the AX1 with my Mountain Topper MTR-3B and, it turned out, that very day a small window of opportunity opened in the afternoon. I told him we could both see how the AX1 might perform with three watts of power, especially since he’d planned to use 10 watts with his KX2.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, my motto is less theory, more practice!
We’d put the “dummy load theory” to the test!
N6ARA TinyPaddle Jack
This impromptu activation also provided me with a convenient excuse to use my new N6ARA TinyPaddle Jack!
I wrote about this new product from my buddy Ara (N6ARA) last month (click here for details).
The TinyPaddle Jack is the perfect size for my MTR-3B Ultra-Compact Field kit.
I was really looking forward to using them in a proper activation so this was a perfect fit: Tiny Radio + Tiny Antenna + TinyPaddle = QRP Fun!
Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378)
This being a short activation on a day filled with errands, the logical site was the Blue Ridge Parkway Folk Art Center. In fact, on February 7, 2022, it was one of only a couple portions of the Blue Ridge Parkway that was even accessible; most sections were closed due to winter weather.
I was only able to squeeze in the activation because our weekly grocery pickup was delayed by an hour. One must take advantage of these openings!
Here’s the gear I brought along…
MTR-3B Ultra-Compact Field Kit:
- Tom Bihn Handy Little Thing (HLT) Size 2.
- A 5′ DC power cord. I also have a super short 9V alkaline battery connector (not pictured).
- Sennheiser earphones (not used)
- A PackTenna Mini 20M EFHW antenna (in kit, but not used for this activation)
- Koh-I-Noor .9 mm Mechanical Pencil
- Muji A6 Notepad
- N6ARA TinyPaddle & Jack
- The LNR Precision MTR-3B transceiver with a 3D-printed protective cover
- 20′ BNC to BNC RG-316 from PackTenna.
- 25 meters of Marlow KF1050 Excel 2mm Throwline, and an 8 oz Weaver throw weight (in kit, but not used here)
- A Bioenno 3 aH (9V) LiFePo Battery (Model BLF-0903W).
- Elecraft AX1 packed in a Maxpedition Fatty Pouch
- Spec-Ops Brand T.H.E. Pack EDC
- Sony SRS-XB12 portable wireless speaker (no longer produced–eBay search)
- Camera: OSMO Action Camera
By the way, I included the full station set up in my activation video below.
Feed line and ATU placement
Ideally–and especially in a setup like this where you’re running very low power into a compromised antenna–it’s best to use the shortest lengths of coaxial feed line as possible and also place the ATU at the antenna instead of the transceiver.
Even knowing this, I somehow ignored both of those best practices!
I’m so used to directly pairing my AX1 on the side of radios like the KX2, KX3, and X6100–radios with built-in ATUs–I didn’t think to bring a short feed line to connect the AX1 to the T1 ATU. I grabbed my gear at the last minute as I left the QTH that day and simply forgot.
Fortunately, my MTR-3B field kit contains a BNC to BNC RG-316 feed line, but it’s far from short. In fact, it’s 20 feet long! And it’s RG-316 which is lossier than heavier coax. You see, I carry a longish length of RG-316 in the MTR-3B kit because I like giving my EFHW antennas a bit of extra counterpoise (via the coax shield) when I deploy them. I’m willing to absorb a bit of line loss to gain the extra counterpoise. In my head, that makes sense (disclaimer: this is merely a gut feeling and not based on science or even science-fiction).
Since I only had a 20′ length of RG-316, that’s what I used.
Fortunately, I keep a 2 foot RG-316 BNC to BNC jumper in the pouch where I store my Elecraft T1 ATU.
Also, without realizing it at the time, I actually made the AX1/MTR-3B system even less efficient by placing the T1 antenna tuner at the radio end of the feed line instead of at the antenna end. Doh!
As I rewatched this video I realized why I made that mistake. I rolled out the 20′ of RG-316, connected it to the antenna, then connected the other end directly to the MTR-3B. When I pulled out the T1 ATU kit and saw the 2′ section of RG-316, I felt pretty silly having forgotten it, and simply connected the antenna line to the ATU and the short jumper to the MTR-3B. This is what I’d normally do with a random wire antenna. It was a bit of muscle memory working against me.
Post activation, it hit me what I had done.
But, hey! RF must go somewhere, right?
So I’m willing to bet I’m one of the few POTA activators that day using an AX1 antenna with 3 watts of power, coursing through a full 22 feet of RG-316.
Could I have made this field kit any less efficient? (Don’t answer that.)
On The Air
I had not scheduled this activation in advance, so I spotted myself via the POTA spots page on-site.
I started calling CQ POTA and began working stations in fairly short order despite all of the inefficiencies I’d built into this particular kit!
Within 16 minutes, I had already logged the 10 stations necessary for a valid POTA activation on 20 meters.
For fun (and since I had a few extra minutes) I added the 40 meter extension and 40 meter counterpoise to the AX1 and called CQ a bit longer. I managed to work one more station (good ole’ WB1LLY in Georgia)!
Forty meters was very quite and although I’m sure I could have logged a few more stations, I ran out of time. I was happy to add one 40 meter contact in this brief activation!
Here’s my log sheet from K-3378 (NC):
So here’s what 3 watts into the AX1 with 22′ of RG-316 feed line can still do!
Of course, I made a real-time, real life video of the entire activation including setup. As always, my videos are commercial-free.
Click here to view on YouTube.
Is the AX1 a dummy load?
Based on all of my previous activations using the AX1, and this one in particular, I conclude that the Elecraft AX1 is a horrible dummy load.
Turns out, it’s a very capable POTA/WWFF/SOTA field antenna, though!
Despite my best efforts to undermine the AX1’s performance by 1.) only using 2.5 to 3 watts of power, 2.) using 22′ combined feet of RG-316 coax, and 3.) placing the ATU at the transceiver instead of the antenna base, the AX1 still managed to validate this activation in 16 minutes on the air. Those are great stats!
This little pairing also managed to accomplish about 400 miles/650 km per watt during this activation.
Thanks for joining me on this quick activation!
I’d like to send a special thanks to those of you who have been supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement as my content will always be free, I really appreciate the support.
I hope you get a chance to play radio in the coming days. As it warms up here in North America, I’m noticing an uptick in POTA activations. It’s so difficult to stay indoors in front of a computer when it’s beautiful outside. In fact, hitting the field and activating a park is what I’m going to do as soon as I press the “publish” button on this post. I just need to decide what antenna and radio to use.
Again, thank you for joining me and have a wonderful week, friends!
25 thoughts on ““The Elecraft AX1 antenna is just a dummy load!” Really? Let’s test that!”
On higher bands it will be ok, because of the wavelenght but 30m down will be possible but nothing to compare with more wire in the air. For me, it has to much loss 30m down. Throw some feet of wire and your T1 would be much better at all. But, yes, if you really have no space, might be a choice.
I have a AX1, used only once at a POTA event, also had my 40m OCFD 65 ft antenna. Did see lots of difference between AX1 and OCFD as would be expected, 7-8 S-units less on AX1. But have to admit did not do much with the AX1 on 20m.
But I do want to make use of the AX1. I have been told as you kinda said, need more counterpoise wire for it. Have seen suggested to add another wire along with the one that came with it.
I mounted my AX1 on a 4ft high camera tripod. So what might you think how to get some reasonable results with AX1, how should it be mounted???
73, ron, n9ee
Although it can be difficult using it for SSB contacts (I don’t know CW yet, busy studying for the extra class license) I would hardly call it a dummy load. I have used it in the field for listening and have found it to be great. I have not made an SSB contact on it yet for a variety of reasons, one of which is I have been experimenting with other antennas and have simply not been using it that much lately. But I certainly plan on using it much more so in the future!
Thanks Thomas for this quick activation, and again, showing us that the AX1 works. My KX2 finally got here and I’m attempting to learn the bells and whistles and knobs etc.
I’ve been using it in the shack at 5-10w, into my EFHW wire out in my back yard (in an HOA).
It has done great so far, all cw (don’t have mic yet), but I normally do cw anyways. Soon it will head out the field, and with my AX1 too, though I haven’t combined them yet, but will soon.
Great article and video, one I read all the way thru, watched most of the video.
I have AX1, have tried it once with not much success although did not try for long.
The AX1 is very well made, good construction as most EleCraft gear is.
I want to make use of my AX1 for quick build at the site. I would like to know more about how to erect it.
73, ron, n9ee
72? Have I missed something? 72 instead of 73? Had to ask… 🙂 Tnx.
72 is like a QRP version of 73. 🙂 It’s a way you can convey to the other op you were running QRP without having to actually tell them you’re QRP.
I have noticed when you use an antenna such as the AX1 you have on a small tripod on the table next to your rig. Most of my POTA is in a shelter with metal roof, the way they build them here in Florida. So I have mounted the one time I work with the AX1 on a camera tripod out away in the opening.
I wonder if this mount degrades the performance???
I will be doing a POTA this Saturday and will be working with the AX1 on 20m.
73, ron, n9ee/r
Great post Thomas. I want to get an AX1 but I will probably have to wait a while before I can buy anymore ham radio equipment.
Do you ever do POTA activations with other hams? I will be in Black Mountain staying at the Red Rocker Inn the week of May 8 and would love to meet up with you or do an activation.
I will have my X6100 with the Spark Plug EFHW as well as a couple of Shark hamsticks with me.
Off now to watch the video.
It would be great to meet up, but that is Mother’s Day weekend and we have some (top secret) plans in play that might take into mid week. It’s possible the latter part of that week might work. Just keep in touch.
The Red Rocker is great–extraordinary food, too! Make sure you pick up some coffee from Dynamite Roasting and some brew from Pisgah Brewing.
Thanks Thomas. I’ll touch base with you later that week. Maybe we can do coffee or lunch if you don’t have time for an activation.
The first week in May we will be in Mars Hill the the third week down in the Flat Rock area before either heading home or over towards Rock Hill SC.
The first week is a small family vacation with our girls as they will be between college terms. After that it is just the wife and me and we want to explore and get outdoors while hopefully getting in some activations. I’ve never activated a park so it will be go big or go home.
Hello, I made with my KX3 and this antenna a ssb qso between Switzerland and Brasil….. Not to bad for this little BIG antenna.. 73 qro HB9GUR
Great article as always Thomas. I love the AX1 and AX2. I am always amazed at how well they work. I’ve used them both on 20 Meters and have done 2 POTA Activations and several portable OPs, all on CW. I’ve used them attached to my KX2 and on a camera tripod with 10 Ft of RG-316. I’ve even used the AX1 on a little mag mount on my car with my KX2 and had a 20 minute QSO from Florida with a friend in Indiana. Solid copy the entire time. It’s a great compromise antenna the I always carry with me when operating portable.
Thanks for all the great articles and videos.
I think you have to differentiate between POTA/SOTA activations, Hunting, and other uses. As an activator using CW, for example, you are often spotted, and hunted by stations with high permanent wires and higher wattage, so a less capable antenna is less of a hindrance. As a hunter or for general use, the AX1 and AX2 can be disappointing, though certainly not a dummy load.
Exactly. “Being the DX” gives the SOTA/POTA a serious advantage.
Thanks for the article. I too have a few examples of someone providing the theory as to why something will never work. Then you go do it and it works fine. Sometimes they still insist. Just get one the air!! I have a qrpguys ds1 antenna – the diy version of the ax1 and have had great success with it. Thanks for what you do. Jim
Many many thanks Jim. I was unfamiliar with the DS1. I think I will buy that and build it here in the next month or so.
Is there a convenient way to attach it directly to the radio like the AX1? Something like the little tripod that supports the antenna when attached direct to the BNC on the radio.
MFJ makes some small telescoping antennas for QRP but they are all single band antennas and I I have to go single band then I might as well use my hamsticks.
I’ve not explored that since I use it with a few radios, and the mechanics/connector height are a bit different for each. I have a tiny $9.00 tripod from Amazon that does the trick. I also find my logging tablet appreciates being at least an few feet away from the antenna.
Hi again Jim.
I’ve looked at the DS1 as well as the construction manual and it all makes sense to me except for one part. I can only see the top of the antenna mount pcb in the pictures but it doesn’t look like the counterpoise has an electrical connection to the antenna in any way.
Is there a copper trace on the underside of the board or how does it make the connection?
You guessed it
That’s great to know, because I just ordered the DS1 from the QRPguys. I like to build, and this was less expensive than the AX-1 . I will be pairing it with both a QCX and a (tr)uSDX. Maybe even my FT-817. I’m looking forward to trying it.
I just ordered the AX1 and the AXE1 40m extension as well as the Bipod and the tripod adapter mount. I spoke with a very nice lady at Elecraft yesterday and she said everything should ship by the end of the week (usually in 2 business days).
With the AX1, my hamsticks , and my EFHW wires I am in good shape with antennas. So I will be selling my Wolf River Coil as soon as I find a buyer.
I am done buying ham gear for a while. I have my QRP field kit the way I want it and I will be blogging about it as soon as the “AX1 dummy load” comes in.
Love the activation and the small tripod…would you know the brand and model number of the tripod?
IMHO, our big problem as hams is the “less theory” part. Probably if more of us understood how antennas work we would not end up with unreasonable expectations that result in frustration.
Of course, the AX1 is not a dummy load. Theory tells us this. But it is only a marginally capable antenna. Theory also tells us this. Fortunately, even marginally capable antennas can make contacts successfully when conditions are right and you are on the right band. Unfortunately, conditions aren’t always good enough for marginal antennas to really be effective.
But the antenna you can employ is always better than one you can’t. Try, yes, of course. If you’re going on a SOTA/POTA activation with 5 watts and an AX1 and are willing to accept making perhaps 5 to 10 contacts, knock yourself out. I am sure for many the outdoors/hike part is the important thing and the radio part the cherry on the sundae.
But if your intention is to make the park or summit QSO available to as many of your fellow hams as possible, a better setup will help that intention along. Ultimately, that all comes down to Db’s and propagation.
73, Kevin K3OX
I think much has to do with one’s goals too.
I have an active family and work life, so my activations rarely exceed one hour on the air (most are close to 30 minutes). The little AX1 provides me with as many contacts as I can handle some days in the amount of time I have. If I opened up my site to even more hunters, I wouldn’t be able to work them all.
I told someone recently it’s like going out on a boat to catch fish for a family dinner. If a hand net catches enough for one or two meals, why deploy a large net to catch hundreds or thousands of fish? It’s more than I can handle for one meal. 🙂