Many thanks to Conrad (N2YCH) who shares the following field report:
New York City Park Rove, December 30, 2022
Conrad Trautmann, N2YCH
After being bitten by the Parks On The Air (POTA) bug, I became an activator in early 2022. I was hooked. Digital, and specifically FT8 & FT4, is the mode I prefer. A lot of experimentation ensued until I was able to refine my POTA setup to an Icom IC-7300 powered by a Bioenno 20ah battery mounted in a four rack unit Gator case and a Buddipole dipole antenna on a push up mast.
As a radio broadcast engineer by trade, I was very focused on maximizing performance and coverage and after much refinement and trying different things, I feel like my POTA kit performs well. I’ve made contacts as far away as Indonesia, Japan and Israel using the POTA setup in a park… so mission accomplished.
The POTA kit above is not something I can easily take with me on a business trip however, especially by air, so I turned my sites to a Xiegu G90 and various end fed half wave antennas and fiberglass masts and more Buddipole parts to pack into my carry-on luggage. Now I could activate parks wherever I could fly to and I’ve completed successful activations in Wisconsin and Georgia.
Still, I needed to pack a second bag and check the luggage to do these trips. What I really wanted was something I could carry on the plane with me.
I knew I had to change my point of view on what I could achieve using a portable kit. A small radio and antenna wasn’t going to get me contacts in Indonesia, but I could transmit far enough to have someone hear me and get my ten contacts to activate a park. Researching my options online constantly brought me to videos and blog posts here on QRPer.com. Thomas loves his Elecraft KX2 and in a few field report videos he demonstrates an Elecraft AX1 antenna connected directly to the radio for some fast CW POTA activations. This setup was appealing because of the size and he always has a successful activation.
I researched the Elecraft options and the KX3 seemed like the right radio for my digital activations. It has a DATA mode, it can run split operation, it’s got a wideband filter setting and while Elecraft only recommends 5 watts for data modes, it can do up to 10 watts. I managed to find and purchase one gently used on eBay.
I installed the Pro Audio Engineering Kx32 aftermarket heat sink to be sure I protected the final output transistors from overheating and use a Signalink model USB SLUSBKX3 as a sound card interface to the computer. The Signalink can key the radio using the audio keying feature, but I chose to use the Elecraft KXUSB cable to use CAT control and let WSJT-X key it instead. It also allows WSJT-X to read and control the radio’s frequency for easy band changes. I have a Bioenno BLF-1209A 9Ah battery to run it rather than use the internal batteries and I haven’t come close to running the battery out on an activation yet.
Then I bought the Elecraft AX1 antenna with the 40 meter AXE1 optional antenna extender and the AXT1 tripod adapter. It is tiny. There’s really no other way to describe it. It’s a little, baby antenna. Fully extended, it is about four feet tall. I was highly skeptical of how this might perform given its size. I’m using a 25’ Buddipole RG-58 A/U 50 ohm MILSPEC-17 cable terminated to BNC connectors to get the antenna away from my computer because I’ve found that RF and USB do not play well together. I typically try to get the antenna situated in a nearby spot, with a little distance between it and the computer. I bought the Maxpedition Fatty Pocket Organizer Thomas suggested on QRPer.com and a little Amazon Basics Lightweight Mini Tripod.
The AX1, the adapter and tripod all fit in the organizer with room to spare and it fits into a backpack with the radio, battery, cables and my Lenovo Thinkpad 3 laptop. I’m also able to fit in the the Bioenno battery and laptop chargers. At the urging of my XYL, I also have a printed copy of my license in the backpack, too. I haven’t had to show it to anyone yet, but I’m ready, just in case. The backpack is a Mindshift model 18L, designed for photographers, but is easily adapted to contain all of the components I need for a portable activation. Here’s a photo…
So now I’ve got a completely self contained POTA kit in a backpack that can be carried aboard a plane.
On a recent business trip to Detroit, I brought it along and my colleague there drove me to K-6823 William G. Milliken State Harbor and K-1522 William G. Milliken State Park to activate a POTA 2Fer. I put the AX1 on the roof of his SUV and draped the counterpoise wire down the front windshield and hood and the KX3 automatic tuner got me to 1.0:1 SWR.
Here’s a map of the contacts I made on 20 meters there.
I was stunned and amazed by the performance. I had no problem completing the QSO’s. This setup took me just minutes to deploy and was all in my backpack. It was much easier to setup than my home POTA kit and covered virtually the entire US. I was running low power here, not 50 or 60 watts like my home kit.
After this experience, I began thinking about the possibilities of where I could go with just the backpack. I’ve worked in New York City for years and know my way around pretty well and thought, “What parks are there that I could activate?” It turns out there are eight in Manhattan and quite a few of those are National Parks.
I initially thought I could do all of them in one day but I quickly discovered that was too much ground to cover. They all have varying hours and access, so in order to be there during a day when they were all open, I picked a Friday. A weekend would have worked too, but be aware that not all of the parks are open every day. I had the route initially mapped out to do lower Manhattan and then travel uptown to the upper West Side, but I decided to do uptown first. The map below shows the route I ended up taking (click map to enlarge).
I started at K-0777, General Grant National Memorial, found a bench and set the AX1 on the low wall nearby.
My coverage here was great.
Next stop was K-2125, Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park. I could have walked to it but in the interest of time, I called for an Uber. The view from the park, which literally juts out into the Hudson River, was beautiful. Here’s the view from my park bench here.
After Riverbank, I Ubered to K-0778, Hamilton Grange National Memorial, and set up behind Alexander Hamilton’s house on a stone wall. Receiving and transmitting were more challenging here being surrounded by high rise buildings, but I was able to get the ten in I needed.
I walked a few blocks South of Hamilton Grange to the 135th Ave subway station and took the subway to the Southern tip of Manhattan with the intention to activate K-0913, Castle Clinton National Monument and K-0773, Federal Hall National Memorial. That would get me the five parks I needed for the POTA Rover award. Castle Clinton was a success but Federal Hall was a bust. I could barely receive any stations at Federal Hall and checking the pskreporter map, I was not getting a signal out of there for anyone to hear me. The photos below are Castle Clinton and the coverage map from there.
This was more than just a trip to activate parks, I had never been to any of these places as a tourist before. At each one, I wandered around and took in the sights. Activating parks is a great way to visit places you may not ever have had a reason to visit otherwise.
As for the POTA kit, the backpack kit is self contained and easy to carry on a plane or around New York. It’s truly amazing how well the kit performed, especially with the little AX1 antenna.
6 thoughts on “Conrad packs the Elecraft KX3 and AX1 for a New York City POTA Rove”
Thank you so much for sharing this field report with us, Conrad!
First of all, I appreciate the fact that you’re operating digital modes in the field. We need more digi mode representation here on QRPer.com!
Secondly, I love how you started with a big kit, but then realized you could whittle it down to a much, much smaller, portable package because the mode itself is so efficient, you can get away with minimal kit.
I love that backpack and it appears to have enough padding that it could easily survive crammed in an overhead compartment on an airplane.
I love how urban this rove is, too. We often forget that urban parks are as accessible (if not more so) than rural state/national parks. You must, for sure, accommodate lower profile gear in some of these settings and that’s exactly what you did. I bet no one on the subway knew you were carrying an entire HF field kit in your backpack!
Thanks again and we look forward to any future field reports you decide to share!
Great report Conrad!
I was in NYC in October. My XYL & I spent four days in Manhattan. Central Park was just across from us. But alas, the trip was for her, not me, so the QRP gear stayed home.
I would suggest looking at the QRP Labs QDX. I recently built a kit, and purchased an assembled unit.
So far I’ve barely dabbled into digital modes, but this rig is amazing. Paired directly to my Surface Pro, via one cable, utilizing the WSJT-X software, 12v 3aH Battery and a K6ARK end-fed half wave, flung into a tree… it’s small, very capable, and portable.
I hope to see you down the log! 72 de W7UDT (dit dit)
Great to read. I am zero experience operating in urban settings, and I am looking forward to trying it with CW on trips to Boston, DC and Montreal this year. I just got an AX1 and also have a Wolf River Coil SOTA special coming as an alternative.
Cheers, Douglas K1GC
This is exactly what I would like to do and have all the gear but lack the knowledge of how to connect the USB , Laptop, and KX3. Is there a place to see this?
The Signalink comes with instructions on how to configure it and you could use just that to interface the KX3 to the computer. Be sure you get the one for your specific radio so the cables will be correct. I added the Elecraft USB for the CAT control.
Nice report Conrad. You could make that kit even smaller by replacing the Signalink with an USB soundcard. I’ve been using one of these I picked up off of Amazon – $8.00, and it works pretty well. I run the KX2 with an EFHW, or a random wire with pretty good results. I have also used the AX1 on SOTA peaks out here in the west with good results.
Hope to work you P2P on the digital modes one of these days.
73, Todd KH2TJ