Category Archives: News

POTA Field Report: Activating the BRP with my new-to-me Icom IC-703 Plus

When my buddy Don told me he was selling his Icom IC-703 Plus a few weeks ago, he caught me in a (multi-year long)  moment of weakness. I asked his price and followed up with a PayPal transaction without giving it a lot of thought. It was a bit of an impulse purchase, if I’m being completely honest, but he definitely gave me a “friends and family” discount.  (FYI: Don is the same enabler that made this purchase happen.)

I’m thinking the IC-703 Plus might be a good first HF rig for my daughter (K4TLI) and, of course, it’ll be fun to take it to the field from time to time.

Of course, the best way to get to know a radio, in my opinion, is to take it to the field. So that’s exactly what I did last week (January 13, 2021).

Blue Ridge Parkway K-3378

Against my better judgement, I decided to make a video of the activation. I mean, what could possibly go wrong operating a radio for the first time in the field? Right–?

I picked out an “easy” park for this activation: the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Although most of the parkway around Asheville, NC, is closed to vehicle traffic, the Folk Art Center is open year round and a very convenient spot for POTA.

Gear:

I paired the IC-703 Plus with my Chameleon MPAS 2.0 vertical antenna. I was curious how easily the IC-703’s internal ATU could match the MPAS 2.0: turns out, pretty darn well!

I started the activation on 40 meters phone (SSB).

Almost immediately, I logged a few contacts and that quickly built my confidence that even the default voice settings were working well on the IC-703 Plus.

I then moved to 40 meters CW and used the CW memory keyer to call CQ (I pre-programmed this before leaving the QTH that day).

Then I experienced a problem: when someone answered my call, my keyer didn’t work properly. For some reason, it was sending “dit dash” strings from both sides of the paddle. I’m not entirely sure what happened but assume there was either a radio glitch or a small short in my paddle cable. After fiddling with the IC-703 for a bit, I pulled out my Elecraft KX2 and finished the CW portion of my activation. (Always carry a spare radio, I say!)

Actually, I assumed since I was using the IC-703 for the first time, there could be hiccups as I did not do a full rig reset prior to putting it on the air–settings were essentially what they were when Don had the radio.

Here’s one of my real-time, real-life no edit videos of the entire activation, if you’re interested:

Back home, I connected my CW Morse paddles up to the IC-703 and it worked perfectly. Even though I checked the connections in the field, I must assume one of the plugs simply wasn’t fully-inserted. It hasn’t repeated this since.

Despite the CW snafu, I’m very pleased with the IC-703 Plus so far. I like the size for tabletop operating and it’s actually surprisingly lightweight.

If you own or have owned the IC-703, please comment!

Mistakes and miscalculations might make us better field radio operators

I don’t know about you, but part of the fun of playing radio in the field are the inevitable frustrations.

It might not feel like it in the moment, but when I eventually overcome the challenges of a mistake, I feel like I’ve truly accomplished something.

That was my little epiphany this morning: making mistakes has perhaps made me a better radio operator. Less-than-efficient field deployments have honed my skills and had a major influence on the gear I pack.

If you’ve read some of my (rather rambling) field reports in the past, you’ll note that I rarely do field activations with the exact same gear combinations each time. I feel fortunate enough that I can pair different radios with different antennas and different accessories.  I get a small thrill out of not knowing exactly how well a combination will work, especially if I’m not activating a rare all-time new park or tough summit for that matter. In cases where getting to the site is a challenge in and of itself, I want to use a trusted combo of gear.

It’s that wee bit of mystery that attracts me to the field.

If I approached POTA more like a contest–where activation and contact numbers were my focus–I would have installed a mobile HF rig in my car a long time ago. I could rack up way more parks and contacts that way. It especially simplifies multi-site activation days since it effectively eliminates the time involved in setting up and later packing up gear.  Mobile operating is the most efficient way to hit number goals: drive up to a site, start calling CQ, work your stations, then move on.

K-6937 & K-4510

(Photo credit: K4TLI)

Yesterday, I did a last minute “two-fer” activation of Pisgah National Forest and Pisgah Game Land. I had not planned to do an activation that day–temps never rose above 29F (-2C) at the QTH day and it also snowed and flurried all day long. Winds were very gusty as well, so it effectively felt much colder on the skin.

I wanted to hike up to the ridge line behind my QTH and do the activation but I knew up there temps would be lower and (worse) winds much stronger. Cold doesn’t really bother me, but strong winds do. This was also the first weekend my ankle felt almost normal after twisting it badly last month. It’s healing and I hope will be in shape for a long hike from my QTH to a six point SOTA summit next weekend with my daughter (K4TLI).

All of those factors combined pointed toward simply staying at home, drinking coffee, and reading a book.

Hazel was ready for some field radio fun, though. (Photo credit: K4TLI)

But I really wanted some outdoor time. And I really wanted to make an activation with my Elecraft KX1, so I decided that instead of hiking up in elevation 800 feet, I’d drive down about 900-1,000 feet to a forest trailhead. That would get me on the air in a protected valley with less wind,  less snow, possibly warmer temps, and much less hiking which would be easier on my ankle.

The Last-Minute Antenna

When I use the KX1 in the field, I typically pack a very simple antenna: one length of radiator wire and one length of counterpoise wire–connected to a BNC binding post adapter, I let the built-in ATU sort out the match.

When I owned my first KX1, I had a magic length of radiator wire (the length of which I can no longer remember) that seemed to work amazingly well  on 40, 30, and 20 meters.

My new-to-me KX1 came with two lengths of wire: one 23′ and one about 20′. Although I made a fun and successful activation with this setup, the radiator was simply too short for the KX1 to find a decent match on 40M.

On the way out the door, I decided to cut a new radiator and counterpoise out of scrap wire I use for antenna experiments.

Being a bit stubborn and also in a hurry to beat sunset, I did no Internet research to sort out the ideal lengths for 40 meters.  I simply cut a 17′ length for the counterpoise and about 27.5′ for the radiator.

In the Field

After arriving on site, I deployed the antenna and tried finding a match on 40 meters with the KX1’s internal ATU.

No go.

I tried a few times hoping maybe the ATU would find something even semi-reasonable in terms of a match, but there simply wasn’t enough radiator to make it work. That was a shame because forty meters would have been the ideal band for yielding quick contacts this time of the afternoon.

I had options, but I wanted to make what I had work.

The activation took time and patience. The 30 meter band was now my best bet and it’s where I logged all ten contacts for a valid activation. I tried 20 meters where I had a 1:1 match, but the band was dead.

At one point, I switched out the KX1 with my KX2 that I also packed. I tried to find a 40 meter match with the superior KX2 ATU, but physics got in the way again. 🙂

40 meters was an option

Let’s be clear here: I could have easily cut 4′ off of the counterpoise and attached it to the radiator and I bet I would have gotten a match on 40M. Since the counterpoise was lying on the ground, its length was less crucial.

The EFT Trail-Friendly end fed antenna was also in my pack.

I also had a perfectly capable 40/20/10 en-fed antenna in my pack. Switching out the antenna would have only taken four minutes.

I bet I could have easily yielded 20 additional contacts on 40 meters because the band was in great shape. Almost without fail, 40 meters is my most productive band.

Working with limitations

Thing is, I’m starting to understand that I like working with self-imposed limitations.

Perhaps this is why I love QRP and low-power radio so much: I get a little thrill out of doing more with less.

Yesterday, even after I realized it would be a struggle to log my final three contacts on 30 meters, I persisted. One motivation was I’ve never completed a full activation using only 30 meters. With a little patience, I knew I could snag my ten contacts.

The only things making it a challenge were the facts that temps were dropping rapidly, winds were picking up, and the sun was setting. Hazel (the POTA dog) who so eagerly jumped in the car when she saw me put on my hiking boots earlier, was also starting to shiver.

Fortunately, after trying another short stint on 20 meters, I returned to 30 and worked two more stations in quick succession giving me a total of nine contacts.

It started to get darker, so I hunted and found an operator calling CQ  on 30 and simply made contact with him. He wasn’t a POTA station, just a general CQ call. He kindly gave me his details for the logs.

Lessons learned

I made a video of most of this activation and will upload it when I have a little bandwidth to do so. I’ll embed it in a shorter field report here on QRPer since I’ve described so much already.

Even though it was a challenge making ten contacts to accomplish a valid field activation with my time constraints, I’ll admit that I really enjoyed the challenge.

Next time I head to the field with the KX1, I’ll actually test the antenna prior to leaving the QTH.

In fact, I’m planning to make two radiators: one at an ideal length for 40 meters and above, and another–much longer–for 80 meters and above. Any advice and personal experience from KX1 owners would be much appreciated.

Perhaps most importantly, it’s only now dawned on me how much I enjoy making the most with self-imposed limitations or “trying to make lemonade with lemons.”

Do you feel the same? I’d love to hear your comments.

Icom Firmware update will include “Smoother FT8 Mode Operation” and other improvements to the IC-705, IC-7300, and IC-9700

(Source: Icom Japan Press Release)

Smoother FT8 Mode Operation with Constantly Evolving Firmware (IC-705/IC-7300/IC-9700)

Firmware update for the IC-705, IC-7300 and IC-9700* offers smoother FT8 operation. One touch FT8 mode preset, Scroll mode and other updates for each model will be available.

Preset menu screen

* Firmware update for the IC-705 is around late in January, and for the IC-7300 and IC-9700 will be in near feature.

Click here to download a PDF announcing the update.

POTA Field Report: Pairing the Mission RGO One with the Chameleon Emcomm III Portable Antenna

While I tend to use small, field-portable transceivers on many of my Parks On The Air (POTA) activations, I also love using  tabletop transceivers when I have a picnic table available or decide to use my portable table. Tabletop radios often provide more power output when needed and better audio from their built-in speakers.

Although I have an Icom IC-756 Pro transceiver, and an Elecraft KXPA100 amplifier that I can pair with my KX2 and KX3 (or any QRP transceiver for that matter), my favorite tabletop fiel;d radio at present is the Mission RGO One 50 watt transceiver.

If you’re not familiar with the Mission RGO One, I’d encourage you to read my comprehensive review over on the SWLing Post.

In short: it’s a brilliant, simple, tabletop transceiver that’s very happy in the field and a pleasure to operate. My RGO One has the optional built-in antenna tuner (ATU). The rig designer is allowing me to keep this unit on extended loan as I help him evaluate and test updates and upgrades.

While I’ve used the RGO One on numerous POTA activations, I don’t believe I’ve ever made a video of it in use, so I decided to change that last week with another one of my real-time, real-life, unedited (lengthy!) videos of this activation (see video below).

Lake Norman State Park (K-2740)

As I’ve mentioned before, I love activating Lake Norman State Park because it has numerous spots for setting up my gear. While I actually prefer activations that require a bit of hiking, it’s nice from time-to-time to activate a state park that has so many widely-spaced picnic tables under tall trees.  That, and my right ankle is still healing after I twisted it in December, so I’m avoiding any proper trail hiking until it is better.

I made this activation of K-2740 on January 4, 2021.

Gear:

On the Air

This was my first activation of 2021!

Since I have Internet access at Lake Norman, I can check out the  POTA spots page on my phone or tablet and self-spot as well as see spots of other activators.

When I have Internet coverage like this–and I’m not pressed for time–I try to work as many Park-To-Park contacts as I can before I start calling CQ POTA myself.

As I mention in the video, one of my 2021 goals is to obtain a valid activation of each park with only five watts or less. This means that each time I start an activation, at least my first ten stations logged will be with a max of five watts of power. I would actually make the goal for all of my 2021 activations to be 100% QRP, but I evaluate gear regularly and part of that process is to push wattage limits so it’s simply not realistic.

This isn’t actually a crazy goal because a number of my transceivers max out at five watts or less, and I know it won’t be an impediment as I activate parks in CW.

In SSB, though? It makes it a bit more challenging, but certainly not impossible and I’m always up for a challenge!

So I started this activation by trying to work a few Park-To-Park contacts but first cranked the RGO One power down to five watts. Trying to be heard over other hunters in SSB was difficult, but CW was much easier.

After working a few P2P stations, I started calling CQ on the 40 meter band in SSB. I worked about four stations, then switched to CW and worked seven more on 40 meters.

Since I’d snagged my ten contacts for a valid activation, I moved up to 20 meters phone (SSB), cranked up the power to over 40 watts, and started calling CQ POTA and racked up an additional 11 contacts for a total of 26 contacts logged at this activation.

Here’s my QSOmap:

Click to enlarge

Note that I left the callsign labels off the map this time to make it a little easier to see the geo location of the stations I worked.

Real-Time Video

I made a video of the entire activation and posted it on my YouTube channel. As with my other videos, there are no edits and no ads. It’s all real-time and includes my many goof-ups! But hey–mistakes are all a part of a real activation!

Again, if you’d like to know more about the Mission RGO One, you might check out my review on the SWLing Post.

Feel free to comment with your thoughts or questions and thank you for reading QRPer.com!

Henry directly pairs his lab599 Discovery TX-500 with the Elecraft KXPA100

Many thanks to Henry (K4TMC) who shares the following:

Thomas,

Rumor has it that you are considering selling your KXPA100. I offer for your consideration the following use – a solid support for a QRP radio. See the attached pictures. Something similar could be crafted for a KX3/KX2. Not exactly a good option for a long backpacking trip.

No…I did not use Alien Tape or Velcro to attach the TX500 to the KXPA100. I used longer Hex Key screws into a 1/8 inch aluminum plate.

Planning to use this during the upcoming Jan NA QSO Party SSB contest from Atlantic Beach, NC on Jan 16.

73,
Henry – K4TMC

This is brilliant, Henry! It’s as if you have a TX-500-100!

I have decided to keep the KXPA100 and, frankly, might even pair a TX-500 with it in the future!  Thank you so much for sharing! I’ll listen for you in the NA QSO Party!

Parks On The Air Pro Tip: Finding more park sites to activate

Many thanks to QRPer, Curt, who recently left the following comment on a recent post and noted:

I too was a NPOTA activator. My first HF contact ever was on 9/10/2016 and then I threw myself to the wolves so to speak activating my first park on 11/12/2016.

When NPOTA was over I went into withdrawal and I thought POTA was going to fill that void but here in Western PA there’s not much to pick from. We have a lot of parks but none that fall into the park list. One of the local parks I’ve been told not to bother because it’s in the middle of the city and the local police don’t seem to like any activations there for whatever reason.[…]

You’re right, Curt, and I totally understand.  Many local, county, and private parks are not included in the Parks On The Air (POTA) program. POTA tends to include parks that are on a state, provincial, or national level. Not always in every country, but it’s the general rule of thumb.

I don’t know the POTA scene in western PA well because I’ve never thoroughly researched it. With that said, I’m willing to bet there are more accessible parks in your neck of the woods than you might realize at first blush.

The only entry to this state park is very easy to find and marked well along the highway.

Historic sites and parks–both state and national ones–tend to have very defined borders with conspicuous entry points. They’re, in many senses, “low-hanging fruit” for POTA because they’re super easy to find and usually have picnic and camping areas.

You simply locate one on the POTA map, tell your smart phone to take you there, arrive, find a picnic table or parking area near trees, setup,…et voilá! You’re on the air and activating. Typically, a very straight-forward process.

I would suggest new POTA operators start with these types of parks to give their field radio kit a good shake-out.

Digging deeper…

There are so many other POTA entities out there, though, and the POTA map (while an excellent resource) can’t represent them well.

I should add here, that POTA is an international radio activity and I do not know the various types of parks and POTA entities in other countries. There’s a lot of variability.

Here in the States, aside from parks and historic sites, we have other POTA entities like:

  • Game Lands
  • Rivers
  • Trails
  • Wildlife Management Areas & Refuges
  • Recreation areas
  • Conservation areas
  • and Forests

These types of public lands can be vast with many possible parking areas and entry points. Some have multiple, disconnected tracts of land and the POTA map only typically represents them as one clickable geo point because it would be incredibly difficult to represent them otherwise.

It requires the POTA activator to do a little planning and research.

One example

Here in North Carolina, we have a lot of state game lands and they’re some of my favorite spots to activate.

Some game lands may only be a couple hundred acres large, others may encompass hundreds of thousands of acres.

Case in Point: Nantahala Game Land is only one entity on the POTA map, but it is located in no less than six western North Carolina counties–dominating the majority of them, in fact.

Check out this map of Nantahala Game Land from the NC WRC website below:

Click to enlarge.

There are probably hundreds of spots where you can find public access to activate this particular POTA park.

Trails are another POTA entity that should not be overlooked. They often snake through areas and have multiple trailheads where you can easily find parking and ample room to activate.

Here’s how I find the more elusive POTA parks…

Being a bit of a map geek, I actually love this process!

1. Take a close look at the POTA list

The POTA map is amazing, but as I said, it simply can’t display the size and geographic shape of each park.

Start with the complete list of POTA entities in your location.

An example from Pennsylvania.

Click here to display a list of all POTA entities at your location.

If you have lived the majority of your life where you are now, you’ll likely recognize some of the names associated with the park entities in this list.

Regardless, comb through this long list carefully. Do an internet search on the park names and you’ll quickly discover roughly where the land is located

2. Make a spreadsheet of potential parks

A sample of my park spreadsheet from early last year.

On this sheet make column headers for at least:

  • The park name
  • The POTA designator for that park (K-6937, for example)
  • The travel time to the park
  • The geo coordinates of potential activation spots

I also added

  • How “rare” the park might be (how many times it’s been activated)
  • How easy access to the park might be
  • If it could potentially be a two-fer (meaning two POTA entities overlapping)

3.) Find an activation site with Google Maps satellite view

Now that you’re developing an activation plan (via your spreadsheet), and you’ve located all of the nearby parks, game lands, wildlife management areas, trails, refuges, etc. it’s time to research each entity and find activation sites.

Most states (and provinces, counties, regions) have sites that will help you find access points to public lands. Each state is different–some (like North Carolina) have amazing online resources, others may not.

If you can’t get the details you need online, don’t hesitate to call those public departments in charge of the lands and ask them about access points. They’re experts on the subject and often your taxes pay their salary. 🙂

To find game land activation sites in North Carolina, I first go to the WRC Map and click on a site. The WRC site will offer up maps and even indicate obvious parking and camping locations.

I then find public roads in/around the game lands and do a Google Map search (you can pick your favorite mapping tool).

I compare the WRC map with the Google map (side by side) and search for parking spots using a satellite view.

Here’s how to find the satellite view on Google Maps using a sample POTA site:

Find the park area based on public roads, then click on satellite view:

Now you’ll be able to see a bird’s eye view of the land:

When you zoom in, you often can identify a nice parking spot:

Using the satellite view I can zoom in and see that there’s a parking space with trees surrounding it. Score!

That’s how I do it.

Important note: of course, it’s incredibly important that you compare public land boundaries with your activation site and make sure you will, indeed, be on that POTA entity when you activate. While there are no POTA police–nor will there ever be–I personally want to be 100% sure I’m activating entirely within the boundaries of my chosen park. Google Maps can’t be trusted to indicate unit boundaries–one needs to compare the state or federal maps of the unit to be sure.

Next, I take those geo coordinates (map links) and embed them in my POTA spreadsheet.

Later on, when I decide to activate that park, all of my research is done! I simply grab my gear and go.

That’s it!

If you’re like me, you may be surprised how many potential activation sites there are in your region when you take a closer look at public land boundaries and access points.

I found at least five POTA sites within a 90 minute drive of my home that were ATNOs (All-Time New Ones) that no one had activated.

How do you research parks–?

I probably should not call this a “Pro Tip” because I’m not a professional!

There are many different ways you can find great POTA sites within your region. Please feel free to share your POTA procedure with us in the comments!

POTA 2020: Taking a look at my stats

A few days ago, I checked out the leaderboard statistics on the POTA website to see exactly how many parks I activated and hunted in 2020.

This was one of the first times I’d checked my numbers in weeks. At the end of the day, I’m not a competitive guy, and perhaps one of the reasons I like POTA is it’s more an activity, less a contest.

National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) in 2016 was not a contest either, per the ARRL, but it felt more like one since it was a one year event. I definitely caught the NPOTA bug that year and mostly within the space of 5 months activated over 90 parks. It helped that my girls’ school bordered a national park.

One of my first NPOTA activations in 2016 with buddy Eric (WD8RIF).

Don’t get me wrong, NPOTA was AMAZING fun, but I had some serious withdrawal by the end of the event and even felt a touch of burn-out.

Turns out, so many NPOTA participants had withdrawal, that they formed POTA and even turned it into a non-profit organization.

POTA is a multi-year activity and is also international unlike NPOTA.

I do believe POTA has injected some much-needed life into amateur radio and has given operators a reason to take their radios to the field.

Back to the numbers

With all of that said, I was eager to see what my numbers looked like for 2020, so I checked out my entry on the leaderboard:

Activations

Here’s a breakdown of my activation numbers:

  • 86 Activations
  • 37 Unique Parks
  • 1721 total contacts:
    • 999 CW
    • 0 Data
    • 722 Phone

I found these numbers very interesting.

First of all, had I worked one more CW station, I would have made 1,000 contacts! Still: I like the ring of 999.

These numbers show me that CW has, indeed, become my favorite mode. I’ve only been activating in CW since July 2020 and it still overtook my total number of phone contacts.

The venerable Mountain Topper MTR-3B

To be clear, though: I love SSB and CW equally.

Thing is, I have come to appreciate how effective CW is when operating at QRP levels. Also, it’s much easier to find a clear spot on the dial to call CQ in CW–SSB, some weekends, it can be a real challenge

In addition, as long as I schedule my activation in advance, the POTA spots page will auto-spot me by pulling my details from the reverse beacon network (RBN). This is HUGE for me since a good 60% of the parks I activate have no mobile internet connectivity.

SSB, however, has much greater numbers in terms of operators. I’d be willing to bet there are seven SSB-only operators to every one operator who uses CW.

Phone activators sometimes amass DXpedition-like pile-ups. It’s pretty amazing.

No doubt, if you want to really pump up your POTA numbers, the best plan is to use both phone and CW.

Hunter Stats

I’m a very casual POTA hunter, still the numbers were less modest than I had assumed:

  • 281 Unique Parks
  • 337 Total Contacts
    • 203 CW
    • 1 Data
    • 133 Phone

POTA 2021

As with 2020, I won’t pay a lot of attention to my numbers. I do have a few goals, though:

  • Achieve all of my activations with five watts or less
  • Get my daughter K4TLI in on the POTA action (she’s close to taking her General test)
  • Make at least one data mode activation
  • Go to at least 20 new parks
  • Continue to have fun!
K4TLI logging for me like a champ

To be clear about my five watt challenge: I will use more than 5 watts in the field (indeed, I did yesterday). I often test transceivers and antennas during POTA activations, so need to push the power settings from time to time.

My goal is to work my first 10 contacts (thus achieving the required amount for a valid activation) of each activation with 5 watts or less.

How about you?

If you’re a POTA activator or hunter, have you looked at your numbers recently? What are your goals for 2020? If you’re new to POTA, do you plan to join in on the fun this year? If so, what equipment do you plan to use?

Please comment!

POTA Field Report: Pairing the Elecraft KX3 with the AX1 antenna and seeking distant stations

Although I’m a huge fan of wire antennas in the field, since I started using CW during my Parks On The Air (POTA) activations, I’ve really enjoyed experimenting with compromised portable antennas.

Typically, there’s a trade off with field antennas:

High-performance antennas tend to take more time to install. Some of my highest performance antennas are dipoles, doublets, delta loops, and end fed wire antennas. All of them require support from a tree if I want maximum height off the ground. Some (like the dipole) require multiple supports. While I actually enjoy installing wire antennas in trees, it typically takes me at least 10 minutes to install a wire antenna if it only needs one support and one counterpoise.

Compromised or low-profile antennas may lack performance and efficiency, but are often much quicker and easier to deploy.

In my opinion, field operators should keep both types of antennas in their arsenal because sometimes the site itself will dictate which antenna they use. I’ve activated many sites where wire antennas simply aren’t an option.

That was not the case last Tuesday, however.

Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)

On Tuesday, December 29, 2020, I stopped by Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)–one of my favorite local state parks–for a quick, impromptu activation.

I had no less than four antennas in my car that day and Tuttle is the type of site where I can install pretty much anything: they’ve a spacious picnic area with large tables, tall trees, and parking is close by. Tuttle is the perfect place to deploy not only a large wire antenna, but a large radio if you wish since you don’t have to lug it far from the car.

But en route to Tuttle I decided to take a completely different approach. One of the four antennas I had in the car that day was the Elecraft AX1 antenna.

Without a doubt, the AX1 is the most portable antenna I own. It’s so compact, I can carry it in my pocket if I wish.

When I first purchased the AX1, I was very skeptical and assumed it would only work when “the stars aligned”–days with better-than-average propagation and lots of POTA hunters/chasers looking for me.

The first time I used the AX1 in the field, it impressed me (understatement alert).

The second time, same thing.

In all of my AX1 activations, however, I had only operated on the 40 meter band where the antenna’s footprint looked more like a NVIS antenna than a vertical. Meaning, most of my contacts were in neighboring states like Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia (typically, those states are in my 40 meter skip zone).

The reason I hadn’t tried 20 or 17 meters with the AX1 is because I would start an activation on the 40 meter band and accumulate enough contacts to achieve a valid activation. Since I’m often pressed for time, I simply didn’t bother configuring the antenna for the higher bands.

Time for that to change!

The question I wanted answered at Tuttle: could the AX1 antenna work “DX” stations? By DX, I mean POTA DX, so distant states and provinces primarily–not necessarily other countries.

Gear:

On the air

I paired the Elecraft KX3 with the AX1 at Tuttle. This was the first time I’d ever tried this particular transceiver/antenna combo.

After setting up, I started on the 20 meter band and called CQ for a few minutes.

The first two stations I worked were in Texas (KF9RX and K5RX).

The third station (W6LEN) was in California.

California!?!

Honestly, it was/is hard for me to fathom how in the world 10 watts into a tabletop telescoping whip antenna could work a station exactly 2,083 miles (3,352 km)–and three time zones away–from my picnic table. I’m sure W6LEN has a great antenna on the other end, but I bet he would be surprised to learn that my 10 watt signal was being radiated by such a wee antenna.

 

 

I then worked stations in Florida (K2WO), Minnesota (N0UR), and New Hampshire (W2NR) and decided to move to 17 meters.

On 17 meters I worked W2NR in New Hampshire once again.

I should note here that each time you work a station on a different band or with a different mode, it counts as a separate contact in POTA. In other words, my contacts with W2NR on 20 meters and 17 meters counts as two logged contacts toward my overall QSO count. I’m very appreciative of hunters who go out of their way to work me on different bands and modes: those extra contacts help me achieve a valid activation in short order.

I then moved to 40 meters and worked stations from Tennessee, West Virginia, Ohio, and Michigan.

Video

Here’s a video of the entire activation. It’s a long video as it starts at set-up and continues until my last contact. There are no edits in this video–it’s a real-time, real-life deal and contains all of my bloopers:

Note that in the video I had the KX3’s volume maxed out so that it could be picked up by my iPhone microphone. The KX3’s wee internal speaker was vibrating the chassis ever so slightly. On the 40 meter band, it resonated enough that it moved the encoder slightly. Next time, I’ll plan to bring a portable external speaker (if you have any suggestions of good ones, let me know).

And here’s a QSOmap of the activation:

Click to enlarge.

Bioenno 3aH LiFePo battery

I should also add that I’m very pleased with my new Bioenno 3aH LiFePo 12V battery. You can see it in the photo above–it’s slim, lightweight, and very compact.

I purchased it during Bioenno’s Black Friday sale. I was a little concerned it might not have enough capacity to carry me through multiple activations–my other LiFePo batteries re 4.5 and 15 aH–but that does not seem to be the case at all! Not only did it provide nearly an hour of intense use on this activation, but it also powered three activations the previous day–all four activations on one charge! Brilliant!

Radio magic

As I mentioned in a previous post, this was one of those activations that reminded me of the magic of low-power radio. It was incredibly fun!

For all of those phone/SSB operators out there, I will eventually see how successful I can be doing a phone-only activation with the AX1 antenna. I’ll plan to make a video of it as well. I’ll need to plan this for a day when I have more time to spend on the air and at a site where I know I’ll have internet access to spot myself to the POTA network.  SSB isn’t quite as effective as CW when operating with a setup this modest. Still–it can be done! It just requires a little more patience. Please let me know if this sort of thing would interest you.

Until then, Happy New Year and 73s to everyone!

Cheers,

Thomas (K4SWL)

My decision about the Elecraft KXPA100

First of all, thanks to all of you who weighed in after I asked for guidance about either selling or keeping my Elecraft KXPA100 100 watt amplifier.

In short: I’m taking your advice

Almost all of you encouraged me to hang onto the KXPA100, suggesting I would regret selling it.

Besides the advice left in the comments section, I received about the same amount of emails from readers.  Only a couple suggested selling.

I’m inclined to agree that I’ll regret selling the KXPA100 at this point.

I will take another look at this down the road, but I realize (as many of you pointed out) that the KXPA100 can be paired with so many of my QRP radios, it’s a pretty versatile, quality piece of radio gear. That and, frankly, if I sold it, then regretted it, and re-purchased one later (as I have with so many other radios) I’m not sure I could get one in such great shape. My KXPA100 and ATU work flawlessly.

I do believe I would consider selling the KXPA100 if it would help fund a piece of gear that could effectively replace it. I simply can’t afford something like the K4, but if I could, I’d thin the herd to make that happen.

Thanks again for your advice!

Should I sell my Elecraft KXPA100?

Although I’m at heart a QRPer, I do occasionally serve up more than 5 watts. It’s rare, though.

A few years ago, I purchased an Elecraft KXPA100 amplifier with the optional built-in ATU. I did this in lieu of considering a 100 watt rig since, at the time, I had no 100 watt transceivers.

My thinking was the KXPA100 could serve both my Elecraft KX3 and KX2–pushing them into 100 watts of service when needed. The KXPA100 is also super portable and operates quietly (no fans).

I purchased the KXPA100, connected it to my KX3 in the shack, and then barely used it.

Last year, I realized the KXPA100 could serve me well during Parks On The Air (POTA) activations when conditions were poor for SSB (they were very poor at times in the spring and summer) so I took it to the field a few times. That was before I started using CW during my activations, though.

Since I’ve started using CW, I haven’t taken the KXPA100 to the field once. I also haven’t used it in the shack since then.

I do now have other QRO radios at my disposal: the Icom IC-756 Pro my buddy Matt so kindly gave me in 2019, and the Mission RGO One transceiver I continue to test and evaluate for the manufacturer.

The KXPA100 is unique in that it can pair with almost any QRP radio. I do like that fact because I’ve a lot of QRP transceivers.

These days, about the only time I run anything north of 10 watts is to possibly chase weak signal DX or participate in contests like the 13 Colonies event where I’m up against blowtorch stations in SSB.  I tend to do that at the QTH, not in the field.

Should it stay or should it go?

The only reasons I feel I should keep the KXPA100 is because, in my mind, I feel like it essentially turns my KX3 into a poor man’s K3. It can also directly connect to my KX2 and even the FT-817ND via a command cable for seamless control. That and, occasionally, there may be a good reason to take it to the field.

Still: I feel like if I’m not using it, I should sell it to someone who can. It would also free up $900 or so to re-invest into my gear. That would certainly come in handy!

I would appreciate your thoughts and comments.