Category Archives: Portable

POTA Field Report: Finally putting Toxaway State Game Land on the air

The C-Ruck loaded and ready for the field!

I woke up Saturday morning (October 24, 2020) with one goal in mind for that day: activate Toxaway State Game Land (K-6960).

This year, I’ve had a blast finding game lands to activate for the Parks On The Air (POTA) program as they are typically are less crowded, have open areas to hang long antennas, and sometimes even give me a chance to do a little off-roading.

I’ve had Toxaway on my list of game lands to activate since June, but it’s a good 1.5 hour drive from the QTH and not in a part of the state I routinely drive through these days. After some searching, via the excellent WRC interactive map, I was able to find one access point that even appeared to have parking for a trail head.

I checked with the family and they were all up for a  drive and picnic lunch.

It’s still “leaf-looking” season, so the roads were pretty crowded with tourists.  The closer we got to this relatively remote site, though, the less traffic. All a very good sign!

Gear:

Chameleon Antennas recently sent me their new CHA MPAS Lite vertical to evaluate and I had planned on deploying it for this activation, but once I arrived on site, I realized I should have checked a topo map first: it was deep in a valley near a creek and I questioned the wisdom of using a vertical in this situation. That and propagation wasn’t exactly stellar.

Fortunately, there were tall trees around, so I deployed the CHA Emcomm III Portable random wire antenna which has become on of my favorite field antennas.

Saturday was also the CQ WW SSB contest, so the phone portions of the bands were very busy with contest activity. I planned to make this primarily a CW activation.

After setting up the Icom IC-705, I attached my Elecraft T1 ATU to the rig and antenna. Since this turned out to be a parking area activation, I could have set up my portable table, but instead, I used my Red Oxx C-Ruck pack to support the IC-705 and ATU.

Using the C-Ruck as a mini field table saves time.

I started calling CQ POTA on 40 meters and within seconds the the POTA site auto-spotted me via the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN). I only called CQ POTA twice before I started working pile-ups.

The Emcomm III Portable antenna performed admirably as I pushed a full 10 watts of power.

Indeed, for me, this activation was a bit of a sprint to answer everyone calling me in the amount of time I had at the site. To make the activation work in our Saturday schedule, I only had one hour on the air.

Map courtesy of QSOMap.org Green=CW Red=Phone (Click to enlarge)

Not at all bad for 10 watts and a wire!

I could have worked many more stations had I moved to 20 meters CW and then back to 40 meters CW, but I did want to make a few SSB QSOs too and even attempt hunting other POTA parks.

Some highlights was working my buddies (and fellow SEORAT members) Eric (WD8RIF) in park-to-park contacts and Mike (K8RAT) who is one of the top hunters in POTA and a huge support in spotting Eric and me in the field.

I was also very pleased to work another local park activator Steve (KC5F) who is an excellent CW op–I believe this was our first SSB contact! Steve primarily operates CW with his Xiegu G90.  We typically struggle working each other because we’re too close!

All in all, it was amazing fun!

Once again, I was impressed with the IC-705’s capabilities, the T1’s excellent matching skills, and the Emcomm III portable’s performance.

I also find the CW Morse Pocket Paddle to be a very capable portable paddle. It’s slightly larger than my N0SA paddles, but still very portable. I’ve been carrying them in the top flap of my ruck sack.

If you would like to post a field report on QRPer, drop me a line!

The Elecraft KX1: Reunited and it feels so good.

The Elecraft KX1

A few weeks ago, I published a post about radios I’ve regretted selling or giving away.

Number one on that list was the Elecraft KX1.

Within a couple hours of posting that article, I had already purchased a KX1 I found on the QTH.com classifieds. It was, by any definition, an impulse purchase.

The seller, who lives about 2 hours from my QTH, described his KX1 as the full package: a complete 3 band (40/30/20M) KX1 with all of the items needed to get on the air (save batteries) in a Pelican 1060 Micro Case.

The KX1 I owned in the past was a four bander (80/40/30/20M) and I already double checked to make sure Elecraft still had a few of their 80/30 module kits available (they do!).  I do operate 80M in the field on occasion, but I really wanted the 80/30 module to get full use of the expanded HF receiver range which allows me to zero-beat broadcast stations and do a little SWLing while in the field.

The seller shipped the radio that same afternoon and I purchased it for $300 (plus shipping) based purely on his good word.

The KX1 package

I’ll admit, I was a bit nervous: I hadn’t asked all of the typical questions about dents/dings, if it smelled of cigarette smoke, and hadn’t even asked for photos. I just had a feeling it would all be good (but please, never follow my example here–I was drunk with excitement).

Here’s the photo I took after removing the Pelican case from the shipping box and opening it for the first time:

My jaw dropped.

The seller was right: everything I needed (and more!) was in the Pelican case with the KX1. Not only that, everything was labeled. An indication that the previous owner took pride in this little radio.

I don’t think the seller actually put this kit together. He bought it this way two years ago and I don’t think he ever even put it on the air based on his note to me. He sold the KX1 because he wasn’t using it.

I don’t know who the original owner was, but they did a fabulous job not only putting this field kit together, but also soldering/building the KX1. I hope the original owner reads this article sometime and steps forward.

You might note in the photo that there’s even a quick reference sheet, Morse Code reference sheet and QRP calling frequencies list attached to the Pelican’s lid inside. How clever!

I plan to replace the Morse Code sheet with a list of POTA and SOTA park/summit references and re-print the QRP calling frequencies sheet. But other than that, I’m leaving it all as-is. This might be the only time I’ve ever purchased a “package” transceiver and not modified it in some significant way.

Speaking of modifying: that 80/30 meter module? Glad I didn’t purchase one.

After putting the KX1 on a dummy load, I checked each band for output power. Band changes are made on the KX1 by pressing the “Band” button which cycles through the bands one-way. It started on 40 meters, then on to 30 meters, and 20 meters. All tested fine. Then I pressed the band button to return to 40 meters and the KX1 dived down to the 80 meter band!

Turns out, this is a four band KX1! Woo hoo! That saved me from having to purchase the $90 30/80M kit (although admittedly, I was looking forward to building it).

Photos

The only issue with the KX1 was that its paddles would only send “dit dah” from either side. I was able to fix this, though, by disassembling the paddles and fixing a short.

Although I’m currently in the process of testing the Icom IC-705, I’ve taken the KX1 along on a number of my park adventures and switched it out during band changes.

Indeed, my first two contacts were made using some nearly-depleted AA rechargeables on 30 meters: I worked a station in Iowa and one in Kansas with perhaps 1.5 watts of output power.

I’m super pleased to have the KX1 back in my field radio arsenal.

I name radios I plan to keep for the long-haul, so I dubbed this little KX1 “Ruby” after one of my favorite actresses, Barbara Stanwyck.

Look for Ruby and me on the air at a park or summit near you!

Parks On The Air 101: Some real-time, real-life videos of a typical POTA activation using the Icom IC-705

On Monday (October 19, 2020) I received an inquiry from Dale (KI5ARH) only an hour or so before packing up my radio gear to activate Lake Norman State Park (K-2740).

Dale is interested in using his recently acquired Icom IC-705 to get involved with Parks On The Air (POTA) and play radio in the field.

What’s in my field kit

Dale was curious about all of the components of the field kit I use with the IC-705, so I made this video:

Equipment links:

Since I had already set up my phone to record the video above, I decided to make a couple more.

I thought there might be some value in making real-time videos showing what it’s like operating CW and SSB during a POTA activation.  The videos have no edits and haven’t been trimmed.  It’s as if the viewer were there at the activation sitting next to me at the picnic table.

Operating CW with the IC-705

After setting up my station, I first started on the 40M band in CW. I meant to start the camera rolling during tune-up, but forgot to hit record. The video begins after I’d made a few CW contacts, but shows what it’s like changing bands and relying on the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) to pick me up then the POTA website to auto spot me.

Note: to be automatically spotted by the RBN, you must schedule your activation via the POTA website in advance, or have been already spotted by yourself or someone else, so the system will know to look for you.

My video cut off abruptly due to a low battery message. I had to give my iPhone a quick power charge to make the next video.

Operating SSB with the IC-705

After operating CW for a while, I plugged in the hand mic that ships with the IC-705 for a little SSB action. My main goal with this video was to show how I call CQ and use the voice keyer memories in order to manage the field “work flow” process.  I also speak to how important it is to either self-spot or have a friend spot you to the POTA network while operating phone.

I spent so much time setting up and running the camera, I wasn’t actually on the air for very long, but I easily managed to achieve a valid activation and had a lot of fun in the process.

I’m not a pro “YouTuber” as I say in one of my videos. I much prefer blogging my experiences rather than “vlogging,” I suppose.

Still, I think I’ll do a few more “real-time” videos of POTA activations and speak to the various techniques I use to activate parks. Since these videos aren’t edited for time, they may not appeal to the seasoned POTA activator or QRPer–that’s okay, though. My goal is primarily to assist first-time POTA activators.

Have you been activating Parks or Summits lately?  Do you have any advice or suggestions I failed to mention? Or do you have suggestions for future topics? Please comment!

POTA Field Report: Pairing the Icom IC-705 with the Elecraft T1 and CW Morse Pocket Paddles

The new CW Morse “Pocket Paddle.”

On Wednesday, October, 14 2020, the weather was gorgeous so I decided to make an impromptu POTA activation of Pisgah National Forest and the Pisgah Game Land (K-4510 and K-6937). These sites are the closest to my QTH and only a 15 minute drive (in fact, I can even hike up to the same trail network from my back yard).

My canine companion, Hazel, jumped into the car before I could even invite her to come along.

We drove to the trailhead, parked, and hiked a short distance into one of my favorite spots where it’s relatively flat, with lots of tall trees and almost no foot traffic from other hikers.

This activation gave me an opportunity to use the Icom IC-705 in more of a “backpack” setting since I hiked in with only my pack, Hazel, and my folding three-leg stool. Up to this point, I’d only used the IC-705 on picnic tables and flat surfaces since it can’t easily fit on my clip board like my MTR-3B, KX2, and KX1 can.

The activation also gave me a chance to evaluate a new product sent to me by the CW Morse company: their “Pocket Paddle” designed specifically for portable operations.

After reaching the site, I easily deployed the EFT-MTR antenna using my arborist throw line.

I decided to set up the Icom IC-705 much like I did the lab599 Discover TX-500 when I took it on hikes: mount the radio above the front pocket of my Red Oxx C-Ruck backpack.

The arrangement works quite well–I simply sit on the stool in front of the pack and hold my simple logging notepad and paddles on a clipboard.

While this particular site is great because it’s so accessible to me, the negative is it’s deep down in a valley surrounded by high ridge lines. I feel like this does have some impact on how well my signal travels.

Wednesday, it took nearly 50 minutes to rack up a total of 12 contacts in CW mode.  I never bothered with SSB/phone because this site had no cell phone service and, thus, there was no way to spot myself on the POTA network.

That’s okay, I felt pretty chuffed about racking up 12 contacts with 5 watts and a wire! This is what field radio is all about, in my opinion.

Loving the Elecraft T1

The Elecraft T1 ATU pairs beautifully with the Icom IC-705.

After a little falling out with the mAT-705, I decided I wanted to try other ATUs with the IC-705. I used to own an Elecraft T1 ATU and loved it, but I eventually sold it for a song to a friend since all of my field rigs at that point had internal ATUs.

I reached out to Elecraft and they sent me a T1 on loan to give it a go.  I’d forgotten how much I love this simple, effective ATU.

Even though the EFT-MTR is resonant on 40, 30, and 20 meters, moving to the 30 meter band requires lowering the antenna, pulling off an SMA cap on the coil, then re-hanging it.  Not a big deal at all, really, but it’s so much easier to simply press the tune button on the T1 and have it match 30 meters without going through the normal process.

CW Morse Pocket Paddle

I also thoroughly enjoyed using the CW Morse “Pocket Paddles.” I’m not sure when they’ll be available to purchase (perhaps they are already?) but I can highly recommend them.

The paddle action is field-adjustable and even though there’s an Allen wrench built into the paddle base, the machined screws are easy to twist by hand.

They feel very sturdy, too, much like the other CW Morse paddles and keys I’ve used.

I believe the Pocket Paddles are going to permanently pack with my IC-705!

The Icom IC-705 might be a ‘Holy Grail’ portable QRP SSB transceiver

While visiting my parents this week in the Piedmont of North Carolina, I took some time Monday afternoon to take the new Icom IC-705 to field and activate Lake Norman State Park (K-2740) for the Parks On The Air (POTA) program.

So far, most of my time with the IC-705 has been in CW mode but a number of my readers have been asking about SSB operation and performance.

My goal for this park activation was to give the IC-705 a proper shake-out on SSB.

Set-up

The activation was very much impromptu–I only decided I could fit it into my day an hour before my start time. In addition, while it wasn’t raining per se, there was a very heavy mist/fog that, at times, felt like a light sprinkle/drizzle.

I packed and planned on using my IC-705, mAT-705 external ATU, and Vibroplex End-Fedz EFT-MTR wire antenna.

I had an issue with the mAT-705 ATU (read more here), so opted for my trusty and incredibly capable Emtech ZM-2.

I did begin the activation in CW and quickly racked up a dozen or more contacts in short order after spotting myself. One of the great things about Lake Norman State Park is it’s one of the few locations I activate these days with proper cell phone coverage for mobile internet so that I can update my own activation spots on the POTA site.

I also moved up to 20 meters and switched over to my recently (re)acquired Elecraft KX1 (FYI, I named her “Ruby” so no way will I sell her again).

I quickly snagged two states (Iowa and Kansas) with 1 watt of power from the KX1’s internal AA cells, then 20 meters fell silent, so I moved to 30 meters to work a few more stations.

SSB on 40 meters

I then moved to the 40 meter band and decided to record a quick video after spotting myself on 7197 kHz.  I wasn’t expecting such a productive mini pile-up.

As you can tell from the video, I had my hands full trying to hold my phone/camera, log, and manage the hand mic. Note, too, I prefer not hooking up the speaker portion of the microphone because audio from the IC-705 internal speaker is far superior:

I operated SSB for a good 30 or so minutes and was busy with contacts thanks to all of those excellent POTA hunters.

IC-705 Voice Memory Keyer

Before packing up, I remembered that my buddy Dave had asked me to make a video showing how I use the IC-705’s voice memory keyer, so I moved up to 20 meters (which you’ll see was pretty much dead) and recorded this.

Doh! I had the SSB position in LSB instead of USB! Thanks to one of my YouTube viewers who noticed this. I had been tinkering with mode settings earlier while evaluating the rig. No worries, though, this was more a demo of the memory keyer–check out SSB operation in the video above.

I was actually very relieved 20 meters was dead because I’m terrible at managing a camera, a tablet, and a microphone all at once!

The Icom IC-705 is an SSB champ

Photo taken at South Mountain Game Land last week.

Despite the fact that I was using the default microphone settings and had not even touched the TX EQ or compression, I received no less than three unsolicited compliments about my audio during this activation.  That is probably a personal record.

No doubt, the IC-705 is a very capable rig for QRP SSB where audio quality is essential.

On top of that, the eight voice keyer memories are incredibly useful when activating a park, a summit, or even running a contest where you could truly automate your exchanges.

Have you been using the IC-705 in the field? What are your thoughts? Do you have any questions? Please feel free to comment!

MAT-TUNER mAT-705 woes

Last week, I posted a review of the Mat-Tuner mAT-705 antenna tuner that is designed to pair with the new Icom IC-705 transceiver.

My initial assessment was very positive, but since then the shine has worn off. I’ll explain…

On Monday, I took the IC-705 and mAT-705 to the field for a little Parks On The Air (POTA) fun.

The Par EndFedz EFT-MTR triband (40/30/20M) antenna

Enroute to the site, I thought it would be a good test for the mAT-705 to attempt to tune the excellent EFT-MTR antenna (which is resonant on 40, 30, and 20 meters) on all bands above 40 meters.

After arriving on site, I very quickly deployed the EFT-MTR antenna using my throw line. I then hooked the EFT-MTR up to the mAT-705 ATU and connected the ATU to the IC-705.

After turning on the IC-705, I opened the menu screen and tried to engage the mAT-705 ATU. Unfortunately, the ‘705 didn’t recognize the tuner. I double-checked to make sure the control cable to the mAT-705 was secure–it was. After some head-scratching, I realized I must have left the ATU’s mechanical power switch in the “on” position while using it a few days prior.

This evidently depleted the mAT-705’s internal 9V battery. What a bummer!

I bragged about the mAT-705 in a previous post because, frankly, it is a very capable ATU–quickly finding matches from 160 to 6 meters on my random wire field antenna and horizontal loop antenna at home. It also has an incredibly sturdy aluminum enclosure.  It’s a very capable ATU in terms of quickly and efficiently finding matches and, superficially smacks of superb build quality.

Issues

But if I’m being honest, my love affaire with the mAT-705 ended Monday due to a number of discoveries.

9 volt batteries

The mAT-705 next to the IC-705

According to Mat-Tuner’s product description, the mAT-705:

“[I]s powered by an internal standard 9 volt alkaline battery. Power saving technology inside the tuner allows the use of the unit for months without replacement. No battery power is consumed by the unit when powered off.”

Turns out, they mean it saves power only with the mechanical power switch turned “off.”

This, in turn, means that the user must remember each time they use the mAT-705 to flip the mAT-705 mechanical switch off.  If left in the “on” position by accident, even with no connection to the IC-705 and while not in use, it will deplete a 9V cell in a matter of a few days.

This is a significant issue, in my opinion, and is compounded by a few other design choices:

Complicated battery removal

There is no “easy access” to the mAT-705 battery. The user must use a supplied (standard) Allen wrench and unscrew the rear panel from the chassis.

As we mentioned in our previous post, Mat-Tuner actually has a procedure for opening the case and replacing the 9V battery in order to prevent the LED illuminators from falling out. I followed this procedure to the letter, yet the illuminators still fell out. They simply aren’t secured properly and would be very easy to lose if replacing a battery in the field.

The LED illuminators

Once open, you discover that the 9V battery’s holder is a piece of double-sided tape. Seriously:

The mAT-705’s 9V battery holder

In addition, the ATU board essentially “floats” in the chassis secured in slide-in slots. The problem is the back panel–which you pull to remove the board–is only secured to the ATU board with three wired solder points.

Even when I lay the board down carefully, gravity will bend those BNC connections.

I can’t imagine this holding up with multiple battery replacements.

No external power port

Given that battery removal will take a user at least 5 minutes, I find it a little surprising that there’s no external power port.

It would be no problem at all for me, if the 9V battery died, to simply hook the mAT-705 up to my portable DC distribution panel like I can do with other external ATUs. But since this isn’t an option, you’re simply out of luck in the field. Better carry spare 9V batteries!

Where the lack of an external power port is really an issue, though, is for mAT-705 users in the shack. If the IC-705 becomes one of your main radios, you’ll have to be very disciplined to turn it on and off each time you use it, else you’re going to be replacing a lot of 9V cells.

Command connection to the IC-705 is basic

It seems to me that if you build an antenna tuner specifically to pair with a radio via a dedicated control cable, the tuner could potentially:

  • derive power from the transceiver
  • or at least be told by the transceiver to turn completely off when not actively in use. Especially since once a match is found, it’s locked into position even if the mAT-705 has no power.

The mAT-705 can’t do either.

Is it a good ATU? Yes. But inside it could be better.

As I said above, my original review stands in terms of the mAT-705’s ability to match antennas, I think it’s brilliant.

But I can no longer recommend the mAT-705 until some of these design shortcomings are addressed.

I’ve never owned a portable ATU that required so much discipline from the user in order to preserve the battery. I’ve also never owned one that was so fragile internally. Most portable ATUs *only* turn on when finding a match and then either “sleep” or turn off when not in use.

And portable ATUs like the Elecraft T1, for example? Even have a convenient battery compartment for easy removal. (And, oh yeah, the T1 will run ages on a 9V!)

The Elecraft T1 ATU 9V battery compartment

To add insult to injury, it’s one thing to discover that your mAT-705 ATU eats 9V batteries if left on but not in use, but it’s quite something else to discover your $220 ATU’s 9V battery is held in with a piece of double-sided sticky tape.

How long could this possibly function if you’re replacing batteries frequently in the field?

My hope is that Mat-Tuner will sort out this design and re-introduce the mAT-705 to the market. I’ve heard so many positive things about other Mat-Tuner models which is why I wanted to try one out with the IC-705.

Mat-Tuner ATUs are sold by respected retailers in the ham radio world (like Vibroplex, who loaned this model for review) so I expect they’ll address these concerns in the coming months. I’ll certainly post all updates here on QRPer.

Until then, I have to recommend skipping the $220 mAT-705 and instead purchasing the excellent ($160 kit/$190 assembled) Elecraft T1.

Operating the Icom IC-705 QRP transceiver in CW with full break-in QSK

Readers have been asking me about operating the new Icom IC-705 in CW; specifically if the T/R relay is noisy and how full break-in QSK sounds.

Here’s a quick video that should answer a few of those questions:

I made this video yesterday while testing the new mAT-705 ATU.

Please comment if you have other IC-705 questions.

Hiking to a POTA “two-fer” site from home

I feel pretty lucky that my QTH borders tens of thousands of acres of protected lands: a watershed, Pisgah National Forest, and Pisgah Game Land WRC. Our family enjoys hiking, so we often venture into the forest around our house  and explore the ridge lines, peaks, and views.

This year, while exploring all of the public lands available to activate in the Parks On The Air (POTA) program, I realized there were no less than two sites within a 30-35 minute hike of my home! Quite literally, in my back yard.

In fact, there’s a large area where two POTA entities overlap–Pisgah National Forest and Pisgah Game Land–giving me the opportunity to activate both sites simultaneously as a “two-fer.”

If it’s so close, you may wonder why I haven’t activated it yet–? Well, by the time I realized the park boundary overlap was within hiking distance of the house, we were well into spring, thus the forest was lush with vegetation and the hike to the site requires proper trail-blazing with an elevation change of 600′ (183M). It’s a much easier hike in fall and winter when you can actually see where you’re going through the trees.

Still: Saturday morning, the weather was so perfect for hiking I floated the idea by my teenage daughter, Geneva: “I’ve got a hankering to hike up the mountain today and do a POTA activation.” She replied, “I’ll need to pack my daypack and take the HT.” She was eager to see if she could communicate back to the house simplex with her mom and sis with her new FT-60R handheld.

My wife gave me her blessing, so I packed my trusty Red Oxx C-Ruck with my Elecraft KX2 kit, CHA Emcomm III Portable antenna, water, snacks, logbook and tablet, and used the ruck top flap to secure my three leg folding stool.

Pisgah Game Land WRC (K-6937) & Pisgah National Forest (K-4510)

We arrived at a suitable site about 40 minutes after leaving the QTH. My Garmin GPS and topo maps confirmed we were well within park boundaries. I found a rock outcropping and set up my station.

Even though the area was pretty dense with trees, Rhododendrons, and Mountain Laurel, I had no difficulty deploying the Emcomm III Portable antenna using my throw line.

That’s not a flying squirrel, it’s the winder/balun of the Emcomm III.

The Elecraft KX2 had no trouble at all matching the Emcomm III on all bands.

Even though Geneva was busy communicating with her sister (back at “Mission Control” via simplex) on the FT-60R, she actively logged all of my contact on the Surface Go tablet using N3FJP’s excellent contact log.

I quickly logged eleven contacts on 80 and 40 meters and my daughter suggested we cut the activation a bit short to take in more hiking.

We both wanted to follow a trail we found and see if it lead to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Hazel has that “Seriously? You want to continue hiking?” look.

I packed up the station and hit the trail!

It turned out to be a good 45 minute trek along a ridge line increasing our elevation about 1,000′ (305M) ASL compared with home. The trail to the BRP was what I would call a moderately difficult trail (much easier than trail-blazing up the mountain!).

In the end, we found the Blue Ridge Parkway and the trail head to ascend Lane Pinnacle which is an excellent SOTA site. We decided to save Lane for another day this fall/winter with a very early departure from home.

Neva also discovered she could easily chat with her sister back at the QTH via 2 meter simplex at the parkway. This means I can definitely chat with the family back home when I eventually make that Lane Pinnacle SOTA activation.

The hike back to the POTA site was mostly downhill so only took about 40 minutes. I then veered off the path to trail-blaze our way back to the house. I did get a little off course which added about 25 minutes (!!) to our descent and requiring us to mitigate the steepest part of the ridge. Next time, I’ll pay more attention to my GPS map (although, in the winter, it’ll be much easier).

Still, it was a very enjoyable hike and certainly one of the more challenging I’ve been on in ages mainly due to the steep part at the end.

All-in-all: I discovered that there are no less than three POTA sites and one SOTA site within hiking distance of the QTH. The best part, by far, was the father/daughter time. Geneva is always up for an adventure (including currently studying for her General class license!).

642 Miles Per Watt with the new Icom IC-705 QRP transceiver

Thursday, I set out to test how long the Icom IC-705 could operate during a Parks On The Air (POTA) activation with one fully-charged Icom BP-272 Li-ion battery pack. This, following my listening endurance test.

I knew conditions were pretty terrible Thursday in terms of propagation, but that didn’t really matter. I intended to call “CQ POTA” in CW until the ‘705 finally shut down due to low voltage. In my head, I imagined this wouldn’t take much longer than 1.5 to 2 hours and during that time, despite propagation, surely I’d work 10 stations to validate the activation, right–?

Sandy Mush Game Lands (K-6949)

I picked Sandy Mush Game Lands as my test site. Since I’d been there before, I knew there were ample trees to hang the Vibroplex EFT-MTR end-fed antenna, and I knew I’d likely be the only one in the parking area as this site is secluded and this was not a designated hunting day.

The Vibroplex/End-Fedz EFT-MTR antenna

Setup at the site was pretty straight-forward. I quickly deployed the EFT-MTR antenna–using my arborist throw line–in a “V” shape hanging over a high tree branch.

I picked the EFT-MTR because it’s resonant on my three favorite POTA bands: 40, 30, and 20 meters. Note that the IC-705 does not have an internal ATU.

Although I have an mAT-705 external ATU on loan to test, I didn’t take it to this first activation–I wanted to keep the set up simple for testing battery endurance.

On the Air

I started calling CQ at 16:30 UTC on the 40 meter band and set the IC-705 to beacon mode call “CQ POTA K4SWL.” No replies for 10 minutes. At that point, I discovered the POTA spots website was down for a scheduled upgrade (I have impeccable timing!), so I posted my spot on the POTA Facebook page.

Then my buddy Mike (K8RAT) sent a text message stating that the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) had spotted me, but with a very low signal report. Hmmm….why would that be?

Turns out, I still had the IC-705 power level set to “0” watts (this story might sound familiar). Doh!

Note to IC-705 owners: zero watts is not zero watts!

I turned up the power to 5 watts (the max the IC-705 will achieve on a 7.4V battery pack) and was greeted by an instant CW pile-up.

What a blast! I started on 40 meters in CW, but eventually worked both 40 and 20 meters in SSB and CW. I then lowered the antenna, removed the SMA cap on the EFT-MTR coil, and worked 30 meters CW for the remainder of my time.

I logged my first contact at 16:28, my last at 18:18 UTC. So 1 hour 50 minutes of near constant operating.

Remaining battery capacity after 1:50 of operating.

The IC-705 battery pack was still going strong and had about 40% capacity left, but I simply ran out of time as I needed to run an errand in town, so had to shut down the radio and pack up.

I must admit: the IC-705 is doing a much better job managing battery usage than I would have expected. I’m guessing I could have operated for 3 hours or so at 5 watts without needing to recharge the BP-272 1880 mAh Li-ion battery pack.

I do believe I’ll invest in the larger BP-307 battery pack which has a capacity of 3100 mAh. It’s a pricey battery, though, at $130 US.

How does the IC-705’s battery endurance compare with the Elecraft KX2? I’m not sure yet, but I’m guessing the KX2 will have even better longevity as its current drain is less than half that of the IC-705. The KX2 will operate at 10 watts output for about 1 hour 15 minutes with the internal battery pack, before decreasing to 5 watts output. I’ve never tried a battery endurance test with the KX2 at only 5 watts.

Of course, with an external 12 volt battery, the IC-705 will pump out a full 10 watts of power as well.

Five watts and a wire–wow!

The biggest surprise of the day?

I worked stations from Oregon, and Saskatchewan to the Azores…in single sideband!

Here’s a map of my contacts–red signal paths are SSB, CW in green (click to enlarge):

This was one activation where 5 watts SSB actually snagged more DX than CW. Great fun!

While I’d like to think it was a little IC-705 “mojo” on its first field outing, in truth it had everything to do with the EFT-MTR antenna and what must have been a moment of propagation stability.

This was also my maiden voyage with the CW Morse Single Lever paddle. CW Morse sent this paddle, along with their double lever paddle and a selection of straight keys, for me to evaluate. If you’ve been considering an affordable, portable single-lever paddle, this is a brilliant one. I really enjoyed using it and the action is very easy to adjust.

I’m already regretting the decision to send it to my buddy Eric (WD8RIF) for a proper evaluation. (Just kidding, Eric! (Maybe.)) He only uses a single lever paddle for his numerous field radio adventures.

Eric will give this single-lever paddle a proper workout and give us a full report.

I must admit, I had a lot of fun with the IC-705/EFT-MTR antenna combo.

Of course, I’ll be taking the IC-705 to the field a lot in the coming weeks.

IC-705 Questions?

Feel free to comment and ask any questions you may have about the IC-705. I’ll do my best to answer them.

POTA Portable, Picnic, Paddles, and Unpredictable Propagation

Practicing left hand lunching, right hand keying/logging!

It seems like lately I’ve had to work hard to log 10-15 contacts during my Parks On The Air (POTA) activations.  Propagation has been so flaky, I use every trick in the book to snag at least my ten contacts for a valid activation: change antenna configuration, run up to 40-50 watts output, employ both CW and SSB, have friends spot me on the network, and try every band possible (typically from 80-17).

Note that the majority of my activations are proper QRP and rarely do I spend longer than 60 to 90 minutes actually on the air. Indeed, many of my activations are only 60 minutes long including set-up and take-down. That may seem short to most POTA folks, but that’s what works in my schedule and family life: quick hits. It’s one of the reasons I’m not more active in Summits On The Air (SOTA)–I need more time for those sites as they’re not as accessible as our numerous POTA entities.

Still, our local star has been misbehaving, and I had not planned to do an activation on Sunday (September 28) because I saw the propagation forecast and it was rather discouraging (A index 26, SW 505, Bz -2).

From home that morning, I chased a few parks but found it challenging to hear most of them. QSB was incredibly deep–strong stations gone in an instant.

Still, my wife suggested we take a picnic to one of our favorite local spots and how could I possibly visit a park without activating it? Right–?

Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace (K-6856)

What we, as a family, love about this site is the large covered picnic area and historic log cabins. Also, the site receives very few visitors on Sundays when the main museum is closed.

Each time we visit the Vance site, we bring my MSR liquid fuel stove and make lunch/dinner.

I set up the stove, got lunch started and my wife took over food prep.

Knowing propagation was unstable, I opted for more than QRP power this time–at least, at first–so I chose the Mission RGO One transceiver (capable of 55 W output) and CHA Emcomm III Portable antenna for this activation.

I deployed the Emcomm III in a sloping configuration with the end of the 73′ radiator high in a nearby (dead) tree and the counterpoise on the ground. I also suspended the winder/balun from the corner of one of the shelter’s rafter’s with paracord.

Since it’s difficult to see a wire antenna in photos, I’ve labeled the components in the following image (click to enlarge):

I didn’t know if this configuration would prove useful, but I knew it would be better than attempting this activation with my Wolf River Coils TIA vertical antenna.

I hopped on the air starting on 80M CW (at the request of my buddy WD8RIF), worked him and three stations in rapid succession. After a few minutes of silence, I moved up to the 40 meter band and worked 16 stations. I then moved to 30 meters and worked 11 stations.

I was working more stations than I would have ever guessed beforehand.

Since I only had about 10 minutes to spare after working 30 meters, I decided to plug in the microphone and work some park-to-park contacts. While I always intend to hunt for other parks while I’m in the field, more times than not, I don’t have the luxury of an Internet connection to check the POTA spots page like I did at Vance on Sunday.

I worked 5 parks: 3 in SSB and 2 in CW.

Speaking of CW, this was my first field activation using CW Morse Double Paddles.

CW Morse recently surprised me by sending a few of their products to evaluate in the field (guessing they saw my previous post asking about keys–?).

I must say, I really love the CW Morse double paddles. They’re fully (and easily) adjustable, the action is responsive and smooth, and with the base, they’re incredibly stable on a hard surface. I highly recommend them.

At a setting like we had at Vance, I love the heavy base plate, but if I planned to hike into a site, I believe I’d remove the base to save on weight.

Unpredictable Propagation?

Perhaps there was a brief window of stability between solar events and I was able to take advantage of that while I was on the air? I’m not sure.

I never expected to log 37 contacts in the space of a little over an hour (with some of that time being off the air to help with picnic prep). Not on that Sunday when the solar numbers were in the dumps.

I’d like to believe it was a combination of things:

  • A large wire field antenna with decent gain and the ability to work multiple bands
  • 40 watts of power (at first, I backed down to QRP on 30 meters)
  • Using CW for 34 of the 37 contacts
  • Perhaps unintentionally good timing

All I know is, I had a blast! It’s hard to beat a combination of good radio, good food, good scenery, and good weather!

I suppose this was also a lesson in simply hitting the field and ignoring the propagation.

Or as Rear Admiral David G. Farragut once famously said, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”