N2YCH’s “Fly-Away Kit” QRP POTA Activation

Many thanks to Conrad (N2YCH) who shares the following field report:

“Fly-Away Kit” QRP POTA Activation

by Conrad Trautmann, N2YCH


The National Association of Broadcasters convention is an annual event that takes place every April at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. This year, I traveled to the show for work and made some time to activate a park and get another state ticked off my “Activated US States” list. I also didn’t want to miss getting the Spring 2023 Support Your Parks Weekend activator award.

A colleague suggested I visit Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, K-7494. The park, which is operated by the US Bureau of Land Management, has a 13 mile scenic drive that has various parking areas you can stop at to get out and explore. Red Rock requires a reservation to visit and costs $20 to enter the scenic drive area. There are places within the park you could activate for free, but I took advantage of my military veteran benefit of free admission and drove the trail and activated at one of the scenic overlooks.

Before I traveled, I had to decide what radio and antenna to bring. I selected the Elecraft KX3 and the AX-1 antenna. Not having to check a bag was key to deciding what to take.

I packed the cables, battery and computer in my brief case and the radio and the AX-1 antenna went into my carry-on bag. I did get pulled out of line by the TSA at JFK airport, but the TSA agent was very nice and just asked a few questions and let me through with no issues.

Before I traveled, I took a look at the park page on the pota.app website and saw that Colin, AK7LV, was the park leader in QSO’s. I looked him up on qrz.com and sent an email asking if he had any good advice for me or could give me some pointers. He responded quickly with suggestions of his favorite locations, how to get to them and even a suggested location where I could pick up a twofer at a trail that crossed through the park. He said I should call him when I get into town.

Once I arrived in Las Vegas, I picked up a rental car and made my way to the park. When you make a park reservation, you’ll receive an email with a QR code that you’ll show at the entrance and in you go. I stopped at the visitor center for a look around and then began the drive up the trail.

I selected the High Point Overlook to set up. My GPS camera app showed the elevation here at 4,834 feet.

15Apr23 17:25 Ad-hoc
Scenic Loop Dr, Las Vegas NV 89124, US ◷ 15-Apr-23 17:25:35

My rental was a Volkswagen SUV, so I opened the rear hatch and set up on the tailgate. I set the AX-1 on the roof with the counterpoise wire draped down the hood. The KX3 ATU got the SWR to 1.0:1 on 20 meters with this setup.

The sun beaming down on the equipment in the photo above was hotter than I expected and it caused the laptop and the KX3 to heat up more than I’ve ever experienced before. If I had to do it again, I would have kept the car running and the air conditioning on and set everything up inside the car. I didn’t feel hot being outside, but the heat sink on the radio became almost too hot to touch. I moved it into the shade, but that didn’t help much. I lowered the power on the KX3 to 3 watts and spaced out my QSO’s to give it time to cool down.

I activate on digital and began on FT8. Cell service was spotty in the park, so I used JTSync to set the time on my computer, which had drifted nearly two seconds off from the last time I used it. Oh, and do you see that purple post-it note on the laptop? It says, “Update Grid Square.”  Do you think I did that? The first few QSO’s I did were from FN31 and I was in DM26. I’m sorry if that messed up anyone’s logs who chased me. POTA doesn’t use the grid square in their system but if someone uploaded to LOTW, it will not match what I sent over the air. I did correct it once I realized my mistake.

So this was my view while doing this park activation. Pretty amazing.

I was receiving great signals here and ultimately made 13 FT8 contacts and 4 FT4 in about an hour. One thing I didn’t realize when I started was that I was going to cross the UTC day. I was on site at 5:30 pacific time, and ended up with 11 QSO’s on April 15th and 6 QSO’s on April 16th. This is not something I ever deal with living and activating in the Eastern Time Zone. If I had hung in for 4 more QSO’s, I could have completed two activations. I was lucky to get 11 in before the day changed, otherwise I could have had two failed activations.

Here’s a map of my contacts:

During my activation, I did call Colin, AK7LV, who invited me by his place nearby when I was done. I met him and his girlfriend Gina and had a wonderful conversation comparing notes about our POTA activations. We shared our experiences with various antennas and configurations we’ve tried and software we use, since we both activate digital. We also discovered that we had QSO’s with each other before.

Once again, the KX3 and AX-1 delivered. If it weren’t for Parks On The Air, I don’t know that I ever would have had a reason to visit Red Rock Canyon or would have made the time to do so. I also made a great connection and new friend meeting Colin. I would certainly recommend visiting (and activating) Red Rock Canyon if you ever have a reason to visit Las Vegas.

Equipment List

  • Elecraft KX3 transceiver with KXUSB-A cable for CAT control and audio cable kit
  • Sabrent USB External Stereo Sound Adapter
  • Elecraft AX-1 antenna with AXT1 Tripod adapter with an Amazon Basics Tripod
  • Buddipole MILSPEC-17 RG58 A/U 15’ Coaxial Cable
  • Bioenno BLF-1203AB 3ah 12v battery
  • Lenovo Ideapad 3

8 thoughts on “N2YCH’s “Fly-Away Kit” QRP POTA Activation”

    1. I honestly don’t know, since I haven’t ever run it out during an activation. I always put it on the charger when I return home. My activations are usually an hour or two.

  1. Curious if you find that you work some of the same stations when traveling as you do when closer to home and if so on what bands? Crazy question I know but just wondering if it feels like a completely different set of hunters when you’re on the other side of the country? I’m in Australia, hence the question. Curious minds and all that! Thanks.

    1. Hi John, it’s a good question, since when I’m home I do tend to see the same call signs often. This trip, all were new contacts except AK7LV who I gotten before. Running QRP into a small antenna like the AX-1 tends to limit my range, so flying clear across the US from the East Coast to the West did let me pick up some new contacts. I tend to stick with 20 meters with the small portable setup since it seems to perform the best. 73

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this, Conrad. You really prove a point here, too, in that it takes so very little in terms of gear to make for a successful activation while traveling!
    Like you, I’m not sure I would have thought about the heat on the radio, but that dry heat is so deceptive. That, and you were running a high duty cycle mode. Thanks for sharing those details. I always appreciate your reports!


    1. Hi Thomas,
      Yes, this is my fourth activation of a state I’ve flown to and I’ve reduced my initial setup down significantly from requiring a checked bag to what you see above. I did Detroit Michigan with the same kit and was amazed at how well it performed and how far I was able to reach. Reaching Canada from Las Vegas using QRP power with the AX1 shows just how far you can reach. You’d be interested to know that virtually all of my contacts on this trip have QSL’d on either LOTW or QRZ including the one from VE land.

  3. Nice field report, Conrad. Thank you.

    Question: I’ve been using a SignaLink sound card interface with my KX3. It works really well but is a bit bulky. Obviously your “Sabrent USB External Stereo Sound Adapter” seems to work well for you. If I’m looking at the right product on Amazon, it’s less than $8.

    Any thoughts or notes you care to share about it? Does it work as well as other sound card interfaces? It’s much smaller and cheaper than the SignaLink and looks like a good travel option.

    Thank you

    1. Larry,
      I also have the signalink for my KX3 and agree that it’s bulky. When I purchased it, I had assumed that in addition to the sound card feature it would also handle the CAT and I was mistaken. It can be set up to key the radio but it did so using the mic PTT not the CAT cable. I really wanted the CAT connection to control the frequency and the transmit. Once I did that, I had the external box and a ball of wires that was a pain to carry. Yes, the little USB sound card is inexpensive and uses the audio cables and is quiet and RF free and works great. As you can see it reduces the size of the kit considerably. Give it a try, I think it’s a good $8 investment. 73

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