Many thanks to Jonathan (KM4CFT) who shares the following guest field report and video:
Chatfield State Park (K-1212)
January 20, 2022
by Jonathan Kayne (KM4CFT)
The honorable Yaesu FT-817/818. You all know it and love it. I had been wanting to get myself one for a while but after just buying myself a shiny new ICOM IC-705, I had been planning on getting myself an 818 in the spring to play around with. December came and I find out that Yaesu was going to discontinue the 818, so I went and bit the bullet and bought one from Ham Radio Outlet.
I had been getting into CW for portable operations lately after wanting to learn CW for a while and my friend Zach Thompson (KM4BLG) had pushed me to learn it. I learned it over the course of two months through an app called “Morse Machine” and listening to Thomas’s YouTube videos while working so as to get used to the exchanges and pick up words. Then I activated and all the rest is history! (If you want to see my 3rd time activating see this video here.)
Why is this important? Because the FT-818ND does not have a narrow 500 Hz filter for CW operation by default, and since I consider myself to be still a newbie I wanted to install a Collins Filter before I take my new 818 into the field. Since these filters are hard to obtain, I went with the build your own route. The method I used has been outlined in this blog and I have made a video of it here.
Now that I had my radio all ready to go with a filter, side rails, and Windcamp Battery, I wanted to get it in the field as soon as possible. Unfortunately due to a snow storm, the temperature in the Denver area was quite cold.
Many thanks to Dan (W9SAU) who shares the following field report:
My first Straight Key POTA Activation
After 3 weeks of working Straight Key for SKCC, SST, and POTA QSOs, and a lot of practice, I wanted to try a Straight Key POTA Activation, using a Cootie paddle.
My Cootie/Sideswiper is a modified Vibroplex Single paddle, with a switch installed. Converting a paddle to a Cootie is done by jumpering the dot and dash wire connections. Then turn the Electronic Keyer off. The switch allows for Cootie or Keyer operation.
Pullman National Monument (K-7917) is only 10 minutes from my QTH. Pullman is unique, with the National Park borders surrounding a portion of the Pullman factory and neighborhood. You can operate from anywhere within these borders. I operated from the parking lot of the Pullman National Monument Exhibit Hall.
In this busy area in the City of Chicago, the noise floor was near S-Zero. There is occasional interference from a passing Illinois Central Electric Train, with QRN that obliterates everything. Not many trains on a Sunday morning.
With snow falling, my operating position was inside the vehicle, using a Yaesu FT-891 set to 5W for QRP, with a Shark 20 meter Hamstick on the roof.
Some anxiety, starting at 13wpm, but I quickly became comfortable with 15wpm. My goal was to complete the Activation with 13 or 14 contacts.
I finished with 22 in the log in 35 minutes. I appreciate the patience of all who slowed down for me.
I had plenty of protection from Chicago’s Finest! Across the street are the Pullman Horse Stables. All employee and visitor horses were housed and cared for here, in the late 1800’s.
Working the Cootie is a lot of fun! I find it easier than the traditional up/down key. But each character still has to be formed manually. I will be doing more of this type of POTA Activation.
A bonus is Ops who sometimes initiate a SKCC QSO when I work them for POTA. I was happy to accommodate them, but using a Keyer, I could not take SKCC credit. With the Cootie, I can use the credit to work towards the next SKCC achievement level. All while working Parks On The Air!
Field Report :POTA Activation K-0228, Stuart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, Great Meadows Unit
by Conrad (N2YCH)
January 21, 2023
Parks On the Air’s Support Your Parks weekend event for winter 2023 is the third full weekend in January and I found myself without my Jeep. I sold my ten-year-old Jeep Wrangler and my new Jeep wasn’t due to be delivered until the following week, leaving me without my “POTA activation vehicle”. I ended up borrowing my XYL’s MINI Countryman to activate K-0228, but let’s face it, a MINI is not a Jeep. It didn’t have all of my “stuff” in it. I needed to get creative about what to bring along with me that would fit easily in the MINI, yet work well enough to activate the park.
I started with my backpack kit which contains an Elecraft KX3, battery, Signalink and computer (for FT8 and logging).
It includes everything I need to transmit and it’s easy to toss in the car. I just needed to decide on what antenna to use. Since it’s winter here in Connecticut and pretty cold outside, this would be an “in-the-car” activation and without the Jeep, my antenna options were limited. I could have brought my Sotabeams Tac-Mini which could fly my PackTenna EFHW up about 20’. However, anchoring the mast would be a challenge in the cold weather. In the end, I decided to bring my Buddipole tripod and nested mast, which are compact and fit in a small bag which fit right in the passenger seat. Continue reading MINI Portable: Conrad’s POTA field report from Stuart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge→
I often get asked “how hard is it to fly with ….”, or “what does TSA say about …” as my job has me flying a fair amount throughout the year. In fact, I’m writing this now while waiting to board my flight for a week in Georgia and Alabama, after having just gone through TSA.
In a recent QRPer post by Thomas, I posted a comment about my frequent travel with ham gear and Thomas gave me a gentle “hint hint” nudge to write up my experiences on the matter. I thought this trip would be a good time to share my experiences in traveling with ham gear in my check-on baggage, as well as my carry-on baggage and my process for each. I’m always interested in learning from other’s experiences, so if you have some ideas for the good of the community, please share them in the comments below!
Before starting this article, and out of curiosity, I checked my past calendar and figured out that I passed through TSA screening about 26 times in 2022. I would say that, since starting my current role four years ago, I have at a minimum hit that number each year.
To address the main question I get about ham gear (antennas, radios, batteries, etc.) and TSA, surprisingly TSA has very little interest in any of it.
In all of my trips through the x-ray machine, TSA has never once pulled my bag out to further investigate what was inside. They have asked about my thermal camera, but never my ham gear. Full disclosure, I am TSA Pre-Check which does exclude me from having to remove laptops, iPads, etc. However, on a recent non-business trip with my wife and kids to visit family in Mexico, I wasn’t pre-check and they still didn’t care about any of my radio gear.
Since I’m limited on the amount of stuff I can physically carry on the plane, and my work gear requires me to check a bag anyway, I have divided my radio gear between what I want with me on the plane, and what I’ll just pick up when I collect my bag at baggage claim.
I have settled on a hard sided suitcase after having to replace some of my work arc flash PPE (personal protective equipment) when baggage handlers cracked my arc flash face shield. After upgrading to a hard sided suitcase, I started adding more ham equipment I would otherwise worry about getting damaged. In the image below you can see what, at this point, I’ve included in my checked bag.
From top left to bottom right: Raspberry Pi kit (more photos on that below), CWMorse paddle in a dollar store container with cable, Buddipole PowerMini, charging cradle for HT, SignalStuff mag mount for HT in rental car, hand mic for HT for use in rental car, throw line and weight, AlexLoop w/ Amazon Basics tripod, US Road Atlas
The idea behind the Pi and AlexLoop antenna is I can work HF digital no matter where I am. This is more fun than watching TV in a hotel, but also gives me digital capabilities to send emails or texts over HF if I am stranded without service of any kind. The mag mount and HT hand mic allow me to use my HT in my rental car as a mobile radio. The same SignalStuff antenna on my HT can be transferred to the mag mount easily once I step into the car. Continue reading Flying With Ham Gear and Navigating TSA→
K-1716, Silver Sands State Park, Milford, Connecticut
January 13, 2023
By: Conrad Trautmann, N2YCH
A digital mode multiband transceiver for $69? Yes! QRP Labs has the QDX kit available for $69 US. Add $20 if you would like a very nice black anodized aluminum case to mount it in and if you want it assembled and tested add another $45. Visit the QRP Labs web site for all of the details (QDX 4-band 5W Digi transceiver (qrp-labs.com)
How well can a $69 digital transceiver work? Read on…
I ordered my QDX kit back in May 2022. It arrived in June, I assembled it and ran some tests at home. It worked well on FT8 into my home antennas. It interfaces nicely with WSJT-X and I liked the idea of using a low power transceiver to band hop on WSPR. My QDX is an early four band version, which does 20, 30, 40 & 80 meters. I set it to band hop on all four bands not remembering that my multiband offset center fed dipole is not resonant on 30 meters. Since the QDX does not have a tuner, it didn’t like the higher reflected power of a two minute long WSPR transmission into a bad load and smoke resulted. I was fortunate that the failure was isolated to the RF power amplifier transistors and replacing those got me running again. This was my own fault, not the transceiver. Now, it band hops on 20, 40 and 80 meters with no issues, I eliminated 30 meters from the hop schedule.
I share this important story at the beginning of my field report as a warning to anyone considering using a QDX to be very careful when connecting an antenna to it. Since the QDX does not have an internal antenna tuner, you either need a resonant antenna or must use an external tuner to provide a 50 ohm load with low SWR to the QDX. The QRP Labs groups.io site has a number of posts from users with different tuner suggestions.
Now comes the fun part. I visited Silver Sands State Park, K-1716, located on Long Island sound in Milford, CT on January 13, 2023 in the afternoon. While it was Friday the 13th, I had nothing but good luck. Knowing I would be running QRP power, I decided to use what I consider to be my best 20 meter antenna. It’s a modified version of a Buddipole, which I call my “no coil” Buddipole dipole. I use a Buddipole VersaTee mounted to a WILL-BURT Hurry Up mast, which is a push up mast that extends to about 25’ high. The dipole consists of two Buddipole 32” accessory arms, one for each side of the VersaTee and two MFJ 17’ telescoping whips, extended to just about 17.5’. This provides a very broad bandwidth and low SWR on 20 meters. See the screen shot of my antenna sweep from the RigExpert analyzer below.
Here’s a photo of the antenna in the air.
The temperature on this January day was a mild 55 degrees so I was able to set up my equipment in the back of my Jeep. Here’s everything I needed to do the activation. Since the antenna is resonant, I did not use a tuner.
My iPhone gives you an idea of just how big the QDX is, which is sitting just to the right of it. There are only three connections needed, the antenna cable, a 12V power cable and the USB cable. I was using my Bioenno 9ah battery for power. I brought the Bird Model 43 with a 25 watt element in it to monitor the output power and also to measure the reflected power, which barely even nudged the meter. It was effectively zero watts reflected. In the photo above, I was in a transmit cycle and you can see the power meter just a touch above 5 watts. On the computer, you can see a mini pile-up of six hunters in the queue. One thing to note about the QDX is that you can’t adjust the power by lowering the PWR slider in WSJT-X. It’s recommended to leave that at maximum. The way to adjust output power is to adjust the power supply voltage. In this case, the Bioenno had a full charge, so the radio was running full power.
I began the activation without spotting myself, just to see who’d hear me. Here’s a map of the pskreporter showing my spots.
I eventually spotted myself so hunters would know what park I was at. I was amazed that during my activation, I never ran dry or had to call CQ POTA, there was a steady stream of hunters the entire time. The QDX does a fine job receiving, here’s a screenshot of WSJT-X including the waterfall to show what it was receiving.
So, how did the $69 radio do? In a one hour and 17 minute activation, I completed 46 FT8 QSO’s. Here’s my coverage map.
I managed to complete three park to park QSO’s, too. One park called me and I called the other two who heard me and answered. I use JTAlert which helps me keep track of the order of who called. I always try to answer the hunters in the order they called me. I’ve set up a Directed CQ alert in JTAlert for anyone calling “CQ POTA” which helps me to see who else is at a park while I’m activating. If I’m able to contact them, I use the POTA spot list to include their park number in the SIG_INFO field of my log, which is N3FJP. N3FJP is handy to use since I start a new log for each activation and I’ve configured it to upload to LOTW and QRZ when I’m done for the day.
Another thing worth noting is that there is no speaker on the QDX. I’m one of those digital operators who actually listens to the cycles while I’m on the air. It provides a certain cadence to hear each cycle go by so you know what to be looking at or clicking on and when. With no sound coming out of the QDX, it forces you to find that cadence by looking at the computer screen. For me, it means watching the receive audio levels and the progress bar to see if I’m transmitting or receiving. The QDX does have a single red LED on the front panel that will flash during transmit cycles, which is also a helpful indicator.
I’d say the results shown here speak for themselves. I had a steady stream of hunters, I had just one or two QSO’s that needed a second RR73 to confirm and the coverage was as good as most activations I’ve done with more expensive radios and more power. Despite the self-inflicted hiccup I experienced at the beginning, I’d say that If you’re looking to try activating digital for Parks On The Air or even for your home, the QDX certainly works very well and provides a lot of value for the money.
Many thanks to Vince (VE6LK) who shares the following POTA field report:
#POTAThon1231 – The RAC Portable Operating Challenge
by Vince (VE6LK)
It’s the final day of December 2022 and I find myself, a non-hiking non-climbing city kid, trudging around in the snow on a nature preserve not far from my home. I’m in shape -round- and it’s not helping me much. I’m not really dressed for this but I’m not far from the warmth of my truck. My goal is to do an activation and move on, for I’m in the middle of the final day this month of a set of #POTAThons and I still have one more park to get to.
But, before I tell you the story of how I happened to be trudging through the snow, let me tell you that someone said something to me that set me off on the journey that had me trudging through snow on that day and hefting a wire into a tree.
I do public service events throughout the year, and in December I travelled from my home in Alberta one province westwards to Kelowna B.C. to the Big White Winter Rally. RallySport is fun to get involved with as a ham radio operator, and is especially trying -for all the right reasons, as you’ll see in this clip from 2015– in Net Control where we run logistics for the event. You’ll be able to read that story in the March-April edition of The Canadian Amateur magazine.
Anyway, I’m to the point in my life where a long one day drive is no longer enjoyable, thus along the way to BWWR, I planned to activate parks and take two days to make the trip each way. A week off to play radio sounds like a great vacation to me at any time! Thus, the plan was struck to do this and have fun. This means that multiple #POTAThons would be required! Continue reading VE6LK’s #POTAThon1231: The RAC Portable Operating Challenge→
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…
Okay, to be totally frank with you and as not to lose your trust, I have to admit that the title, however technically 100% true, may be slightly misleading. If you’re wondering to what extent, I suggest you keep reading 😉
I live in Krakow, the second-biggest city in Poland, and I’ve always complained about not having enough green areas there. But starting my QRP outdoor adventure and joining the POTA program helped me realize that I couldn’t be more wrong. I live in the city center (20 minutes walking distance from the Main Square) and as it turns out, there are 11 POTA parks within a 20-minute drive (outside rush hours, of course), and around 30 if you decide to drive 40 minutes.
That’s just crazy, especially compared to the places where some POTA Brave Souls live, giving Thomas (K4SWL) as an example – a few dozen activated parks, but only a couple of them in close range. Mine I could reach by foot or bike! I don’t like to waste anything (not only tangible goods, but also opportunities or this great potential that a lot of nearby POTA parks give), so I rolled up my sleeves and started activating one by one in May 2022.
But when December 31 comes, it tends to provoke reflections of the happenings in the last year. This happened to me as well. I asked myself: “Hey, isn’t it also a waste if you have a few parks clustered and never try to do them all in one day?” As you read this, you already know what the answer was. I decided not to hesitate and do it as soon as possible, on January 2nd, 2023.
Since I’ve never tried to do more than one activation per day, I felt quite insecure. What I do like during an activation is to practice quick antenna deployments (this may be useful one day), then experiment with different antenna configurations (such as sloper angles, heights, azimuths, counterpoise placement), and finally make as many contacts as possible during a given time limit. This time limit is usually set by my family schedule or other errands I need to run.
As you can see, that’s the complete opposite to the requirements that RaDAR or POTA Rover awards make: proficient antenna deployment, gathering 10+ QSOs for a valid activation, collecting the equipment, and speedy drive to a next spot. Sounds challenging? But isn’t it what the New Year usually brings? It’s just a matter of making proper adjustments in one’s procedures and attitude. At least, that’s what I thought.
I picked three park entities 20-25 minute car drive from my home, which in total would give me 5 POTA references:
SP-0997 Kowadza Protected Area (3-fer)
SP-0994 Skołczanka Nature Reserve (3-fer)
SP-2274 Skawiński Obszar Łąkowy Natura 2000 (2-fer)
They are all located on the territory of Bielańsko-Tyniecki Lanscape Park (SP-0993) and/or Dębnicko-Tyniecki Obszar Łąkowy Natura 2000 (SP-2122). So now you know why the title might be a bit misleading – I actually planned to take advantage of having 2- and 3-fers around and work 5 entities in total from only 3 different spots.
Kowadza Protected Area (SP-0997)
I hopped into the car just after I left home (yes, some of us have work or school duties… and some of us have a day-off to play radio!). I’ve never been to the Kowadza Protected Area, so even after researching it on Google Maps, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Besides my standard set, I also packed my fiberglass 6m fishing rod in case there was no convenient place to mount the antenna, and my portable PV panels in case the LiPo 5Ah battery died. Continue reading POTA in Poland: Damian activates five parks in five hours→
Many thanks to Brian (K3ES) who shares the following field report:
Recipe for a Failed Activation at K-0619?
by Brian (K3ES)
A couple of days before Christmas, high winds came, temperatures dropped, and 3 inches of snow made a real nuisance of itself by blowing around and re-covering anything that was swept or shoveled. With daily high temperatures below zero (Fahrenheit) and wind gusts over 40 miles per hour, the weather just didn’t make for much fun outdoors. In fact, we hunkered down and didn’t get beyond the end of the driveway for four days. So when the winds calmed and temperatures rose, I really needed to get out of the house for a bit. What better way than to walk up the road and activate K-0619? Even with temperatures in the low 20s, I should be able to finish a quick activation. And so it was planned…
Of course just before walking out the door, it is always prudent to check on band conditions…
Alright, I really need my outdoor time. Even if it means that I fail to activate the park this time, I’m going for it!!!
Product Review: Chelegance MC-750 Portable Ground Plane Antenna, Part 1
by Charles Ahlgren, KW6G
I recently purchased a Chelegance MC-750 portable ground plane antenna from DX Engineering. Essentially, the antenna system provides a ¼ wave portable vertical antenna with 4 counterpoise wires that operates on 20 through 10 meters. The antenna will also operate on 40 meters with the provided loading coil. The manual states the antenna will support 6 meter operation, but no instructions are provided on how to do so. 30 meter operation is not supported. It appears from our initial testing that no ATU is required.
Here are some of my thoughts on the antenna.
The MC-750 comes with the following components:
GROUND ROD / ANT BASE
50 CM ANT ARM
5.2 M WHIP
7 MHZ COIL
4 COUNTERPOISE WIRES (radials)
COUNTERPOISE WIRE COLLECTOR BOARD
As provided, it is designed to operate on the 40, 20, 17, 15, 12, and 10 meter bands without any modifications. Six meters is also supported per the manufacturers manual, but no guidance on how to do that is offered in that document. However, finding the proper length of radiator for 6 meters should be straightforward using a tape measure to set the proper whip length.
[Update: Chelegance notes that to operate 6 meters, simply extend the last segment only of the whip (see photo) and for 30 meters extend the last four segments of the whip and 15cm on the 5th segment (see photo).]
I checked the ground rod / antenna base with a magnet and confirmed it is made from stainless steel as both components are not magnetic; a characteristic of stainless. Both the ground rod/ antenna base and the 50 cm antenna arm (which was also non-magnetic) had a hefty feel (together, they weigh about 2 pounds), therefore I think it safe to assume that these components are made of stainless steel. Since most ops will undoubtedly use the antenna arm as an aid to inserting / extracting the ground rod into / from the ground, it seems a prudent decision by the manufacturer to have this piece fabricated from a strong, stiff material such as steel. The machine work used to fabricate these parts appears to be quite good – the fit and feel were excellent, with no sharp or ragged edges to cause problems in the field.
I measured the whip while set at the various position marks for 20 through 10 meters. The band markings on the whip were accurate – giving a 1/4 wavelength radiator when combined with the 50 CM ant arm length…On 40 meters, the whip and rod measured about 1/8 wavelength. The required the loading coil needs to be inserted between the whip and the rod (at approximately 1/10 the total 40 meter whip height above the base). If you want to operate this antenna on 30 meters, it appears that you need to provide an extra 1.4 meter of additional rod as a quarter wavelength ground plane at 10.1 MHz requires a 7.1 meter radiator. Six meter operation would require a whip of around 4.7 feet. With the whip fully collapsed, the length of the rod and antenna arm measures 40-1/4”. Therefore, if 6 meter operation is contemplated, extending the whip about 16 inches from fully collapsed should suffice. However, I don’t think that an antenna configuration such as that would be a very good performer unless it were elevated from ground level; or maybe it would be good for a SOTA activation? Continue reading Guest Post: Reviewing the Chelegance MC-750 (Part 1)→