Category Archives: POTA

POTA Field Report: Pairing the Icom IC-705 with the CHA MPAS Lite at Tuttle

Last week, we had a glorious break in the weather–it felt almost spring-like.

On my way back home after visiting my parents, I decided I would take in a quick afternoon hike. I originally planned to go to one of my favorite county parks, but I also had a hankering to get on the air and that park wasn’t a part of the POTA network.

Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)

I decided to stop by Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861) instead and make February 19, 2021 not only a hiking day, but a Parks On The Air day. Tuttle sports both excellent sites for POTA and a nice little trail system.

Gear:

I decided to play radio first then go on a hike, so I pulled out an antenna that I thought would give me quick deployment and pack-up: the CHA MPAS Lite.

I also remembered that a reader recently asked if I would include the deployment of the CHA MPAS Lite in one of my real-time, real-life activation videos. So I did just that!

Deployment was quick and the mAT-705 Plus ATU did a fine job finding matches on the CHA MPAS Lite.

I started calling CQ on 40 meters and worked quite a few stations in short order. When the first batch of eight chasers was worked, I moved up to the 20 meter band and started calling CQ. My hope was that I could work at least a couple of stations on 20 meters then pack up and go for a hike.

I started calling CQ on 20 meters and was quickly rewarded six additional contacts.

Without a doubt–if this wasn’t completely obvious in my video–the highlight was working my friend John Harper (AE5X) in Texas. I’ve known John for years now and have followed his excellent blog but we’ve never managed to catch each other on the air!

Turns out, John was using his recently unboxed Icom IC-705 as well. Click here to check out his post which includes a mention of this very activation. In addition, check out his thoughts after taking the IC-705 (all amped-up with the KPA-500) on the ARRL CW contest that weekend.

Another highlight was logging CU3BL in the Azores again. To me, it’s still mind blowing that 5 watts can reach out that far.  Here’s a QSOmap of the activation (click to enlarge):

In total, I logged 14 stations with 5 watts and a vertical in very short order, leaving me a full hour of hiking time! Mission accomplished!

Video

Here’s a real-time, real-life video of the entire activation:

The hike afterwards was just what the doctor ordered, too. I’ve mentioned before that my ankle has been healing nicely after twisting it badly in December. This hike was an easy one and gave me a chance to properly test my ankle before the (epic-to-me) SOTA activation I planned with my daughter, K4TLI the following week. (More on that in a future post!)

Here are a few photos from the Tuttle hike:

If you ever find yourself at Tuttle Educational State Forest doing a POTA activation, make time to take in a hike as well. It’s a gentle hike and even the long loop can be completed within an hour at a very leisurely pace.

Thanks for reading this field report and please comment with your experiences on the air and in the great outdoors!

Pairing the MFJ-1984LP EFHW with the Elecraft KX2 at South Mountains Game Land

Last week, I squeezed in two activations on the afternoon of February 17, 2021 to test out the MFJ-1984LP end fed half wave antenna that MFJ sent me to evaluate.

The first park was Lake James State Park where I paired the MFJ-1984LP with my Icom IC-705 (click here to read the report and watch the video). The second was South Mountains Game Land where I paired it with the Elecraft KX2.

Gear:

In both instances, I did not use an ATU because the EFHW is resonant on the bands where I operated. I bypassed the internal ATU in my KX2 and, of course, the IC-705 has no ATU.

I’ve got a very busy few days ahead including a presentation tomorrow at the Virtual Winter SWL Fest (the topic being QRP transceivers). In lieu of writing a full field report, I’ll simply share the (partial) video I made at the activation.

I’ll admit it, I was not on my “A Game” at that activation. Not only did I forgot to press the start button on the camera, but I also struggled copying CW more than I usually do. I had a lot on my mind that afternoon, though, and really felt pressed for time.

I don’t mind sharing this experience, however, because we all have days like these.

POTA Field Report: Reviewing the MFJ-1984LP EFHF with the Icom IC-705 at Lake James State Park

I’ve been a ham radio operator since 1997, but until 2016, I had never purchased a pre-made portable antenna–I had always built my own.

During the 2016 NPOTA (National Parks On The Air) program, however, I purchased the EFT Trail-Friendly end fed 40, 20, and 10 meter resonant antenna and it quickly became my favorite field antenna. I found that it was simply built better than I could have built a similar antenna at home.

Pre-made antennas, though, come at a cost. Most time-tested, trail-friendly, portable antennas will typically set you back $90 US or more. You can make similar antennas much cheaper especially if you already have some of the parts (wire, toroids, RF ports, enclosures, etc).

Recently, while browsing the MFJ catalog, I stumbled upon the MFJ-1984LP End Fed Half Wave wire antenna designed for for field use and retailing for only $49.95 US.

That price point is very attractive because I believe if I built this antenna myself and needed to buy new parts, I might easily sink $20-25 in it.

Most MFJ products are manufactured in the USA and the company has an incredibly extensive and diverse selection of items in their catalog. Why I had forgotten they also sell antennas is a mystery to me.

MFJ is well-known for offering products that are basic,  affordable, and accessible (they’re available directly from the manufacturer and through most major radio retailers across the globe). I wouldn’t expect their antennas to be engineered like Chameleon Antenna, for example, but I would expect them to work well and get the job done.

I know the folks at MFJ and (in the spirit of full disclosure) they even sponsor QRPer.com, so I reached out to them and asked if I could evaluate their MFF-1984LP which is their most affordable field wire antenna.  They kindly sent one my way and I took it to the field last week.

I should add here that MFJ welcomes critical reviews, which is one of the reasons I asked them to be a sponsor. That and, well before they knew me, I was an anonymous customer and they repaired my MFJ roller inductor tuner for free a good two or three years after the warranty expired. My experience with MFJ has only been positive.

First impressions

The antenna looks exactly like the product photo in their catalog (see above).

For a field antenna, the coil enclosure is a little on the large side (especially compared with my EFT Trail-Friendly), but it’s still very backpack-able. Knowing MFJ, they kept costs at bay by using one of their standard enclosure boxes for this antenna.

The enclosure also has an open grill to allow the coil to dissipate heat (see above). I found that a bit surprising since the core is so large inside, but I assume some heat must be generated if you’re running 50% duty at a full 30 watts (the maximum rated power). The matching network impedance ratio is 49:1, so there will be loss and heat.

The 66 foot radiator wire has a dark jacket that glides nicely over tree limbs and doesn’t encourage tangling when unwinding.

The end insulator is made of a thin plastic/composite material that is lightweight and shaped so that it won’t snag on tree limbs.

To the field!

Hey–the proof is in the pudding, right? Let’s put this antenna on the air and make a real-time video of the activation!

Last Wednesday (February 17, 2021), there was a break in the weather so I made a detour to Lake James State Park (K-2739) en route to visit my parents for a few days. I left the house without deciding what park to activate, but picked Lake James because I knew I would have access to tall trees and my pick of operating locations.

Gear:

Deploying the MFJ-1984LP is no different than deploying any other wire antenna. It was super easy using my arborist throw line. That thin, rounded end insulator did certainly glide through the tree branches with ease. No hint of snagging.

On The Air

I connected the antenna directly to my IC-705 with no ATU in-line. Hypothetically, I knew this antenna should be resonant on 20 meters where I planned to start the activation.

Keep in mind that pre-made antennas are often designed to be a tad long and need to be trimmed so the operator can tweak the resonant point for their preferred spots on the band. Since I tend to use the lower part of the band for CW, I typically leave my antennas with a resonant point somewhere on the upper side of the CW portion of the bands. It’s not super critical for EFHW antennas because they tend to have ample bandwidth to give a full meter band good matches.

I had not trimmed the MFJ-1984LP, but decided it should be “resonant enough” for my purposes.

I found a clear frequency on 20 meters and checked the SWR. It was spot on at 1.3:1 on 14,031 kHz! Woo hoo!

I started calling CQ and collected several stations in short order despite the poor propagation that day.

I then moved to the 40 meter band and discovered the antenna also gave me an excellent match there. I started calling CQ POTA and was rewarded with a steady stream of contacts.

I imagine I could have racked up a lot of contacts at that activation, but I made up my mind that I wanted to fit in another quick activation afterwards, so cut it a bit short.

In the end, here’s a map of my 18 contacts made in 26 minutes of on-air time:

Not bad for five watts and a wire!

Video

I made a real-time, real-life, no edit video of this activation which starts shortly after I deployed the MFJ-1984LP and ends a few moments after my last QSO. Against my better judgement, it includes all of my mistakes (including my inability to form the number 4 that day!):

Click here to view on YouTube.

MFJ-1984LP summary

No antenna is perfect and each time I start a product review, I keep a list of pros and cons. Here’s my list for this EFHW antenna:

Pros:

  • Very affordable at $49.95
  • Effective: results so far have been excellent
  • EFHW is a proven field antenna design and resonant on several bands
  • No coil on the radiator to snag in trees (see con)
  • Backed by MFJ warranty
  • Purchase supports US manufacturing

Cons:

  • Bulkier than comparable low power field antennas
  • No built-in winder (MFJ should consider altering the design to include one!)
  • Radiator is 66 feet long since there is no in-line coil to electrically shorten the length (see pro)
  • End insulator is effective, but feels slightly flimsy

In the end, there’s no magic here: the end fed half wave is a time-tested, proven antenna design and the MFJ-1984LP delivers. In terms of performance, I couldn’t be more pleased with it right out of the box. This isn’t a military-grade antenna, but it should last for years with proper use.

POTA activators that have access to trees in the field will appreciate the MFJ-1984LP. I should think you could also make an effective “V” shaped antenna if you have a telescoping support that’s 29-33′ tall.

I’m not so sure the average SOTA operator would find this antenna design as convenient–especially on high summits where you’re near or above the tree line. It could be difficult deploying a 66′ wire. That and this antenna is bulkier than other designs. If you’re backpacking it in, you typically want the most compact solution possible (this is where the EFT Trail-Friendly, Packtenna, and QRPguys designs really shine).

I will certainly employ the MFF-1984LP regularly–especially on days with less-than-stellar propagation.  I think this might become a go-to antenna for the MTR-3B, LD-11, and IC-705 since all of them lack an internal ATU.

If you’re looking for an affordable, effective wire antenna, I can certainly recommend the MFJ-1984LP.

Do you have an MFJ end fed half wave antenna? What are your thoughts?

Click here to check out the MFJ-1984LP at MFJ’s website, and click here to download the PDF manual.

Poor propagation but impressive QRP DX with the CHA MPAS 2.0 vertical antenna

One of the funny things about doing field activations is you never know what to expect when you arrive on site, setup, and hop on the air. It’s part of the fun, really. There are certain things you can control, and then there’s propagation.

On Sunday, February 14, 2021 (yes, Valentine’s Day), we had a modest break in the weather and my wife and daughters encouraged me to hit the field to do a quick activation before an afternoon movie marathon. Sunday was the first day I had seen the sun at our house since the previous Wednesday when the cloud ceiling descended to the altitude of our house (3,300′ ASL) and stayed there. It also wasn’t raining incessantly on Sunday, which was a welcome change.

I checked with my go-to propagation friend Mike (K8RAT) before heading out the door and he informed me that things were dismal. I wasn’t surprised: earlier that morning I worked a couple CW stations calling CQ POTA on 40 meters who had very few takers.

Still…I wasn’t going to let propagation stop me.

“Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead.”

I chose the Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace (K-6856) as my POTA site because it’s the closest park to me that has a covered shelter. I fully expected rain to move in within an hour and really didn’t want that to cut my radio play short.

Once I arrived on site, I decided to deploy my  Chameleon MPAS 2.0 vertical antenna. Why would I use a multi-band vertical instead of a more efficient wire antenna on a day with dodgy prop?

Aren’t you a handsome antenna!

For one thing, I had a limited amount of time and the MPAS 2.0 can be deployed and packed up within a few minutes. Also, I could position the MPAS 2.0 close to the shelter so if heavy rain moved in, I could even keep the base of the antenna protected and pack it up under cover. That and I really didn’t want to fiddle with a wire antenna in the rain if I didn’t have to.

Gear:

On The Air

In short: I only made 12 contacts during this brief activation.

But what I lacked in quantity, I made up for in quality!

Let’s skip straight to the QSOmap of the activation. Keep in mind these are contacts made with a vertical antenna and only 5 watts of power (green poly lines are CW, red is SSB):

Click to enlarge.

Days like Sunday we can’t expect large pileups with five watts, but we can expect normal–albeit brief–openings that allow for some serious low-power DX.

My five watts and a vertical caught Raffaelle’s (IK4IDF) attention in Italy. Sure…he has good ears with a nine element HF Yagi, but I worked him with 5 watts over a distance of 7653 km / 4755.36 mi.

951 miles per watt? Yes, please! I’ll take that!

Parks On The Air isn’t really about working DX, but it’s so much fun when it does happen.

Video

I made a video of the full activation which includes setting up the Chameleon CHA MPAS 2.0. As I mention each time, this is a real-time, real-life video so keep expectations low. 🙂 It includes a number of mistakes on my part.

Click here to view on YouTube.

I’m hoping this odd pattern of bad weather will break soon. I shouldn’t complain: I feel pretty fortunate that we haven’t gotten hit hard with some of the heavy winter conditions affecting much of North America right now.

As soon as it dries up a bit, I’m ready to hike to a local summit for a little SOTA (Summits On The Air) fun! I can’t wait…

Pairing the Elecraft KX2 with the Chameleon MPAS 2.0 at Lake James State Park

For the past four days here at my mountain QTH in North Carolina, I haven’t seen the sun. The cloud ceiling has been low and our house has been in the middle of it. It’s been rainy and foggy with temps floating a few degrees above freezing.

Last Tuesday (February 9, 2021), however, we had one day with glorious weather and I’m so pleased I carved out 90 minutes to perform a park activation on my way back home from a short trip.

I picked Lake James State State Park (K-2739) because it’s such a short detour and has numerous spots where I could set up my gear.

The temperature was a truly balmy 60F/15.5C–possibly even a tad higher.

Lake James State State Park (K-2739)

On my way to Lake James, I knew I’d use my Elecraft KX2 (it was the only transceiver I had on this trip) but debated what antenna to deploy. I chose the Chameleon MPAS 2.0 vertical antenna because, to my knowledge, I had never paired it with the KX2 and I enjoy shaking up my transceiver and antenna combos.

Gear:

The brilliant thing about antennas like the CHA MPAS 2.0 is how quick they are to deploy: it takes me all of three minutes or so.

On the air

Since the Elecraft KX2 has a built-in battery and built-in ATU, I basically connected the radio directly to the antenna and was on the air in moments.

The CHA MPAS 2.0 is the vertical equivalent of a random wire antenna: it’s not resonant on any one frequency and requires an antenna tuner to achieve a good SWR.

As I mentioned in the video (below) I always keep my expectations low when deploying a vertical antenna in areas like western North Carolina where ground conductivity is poor.

Maybe the antenna decided to prove me wrong, because I hopped on 20 meters CW and logged a number of stations across the country including Washington state and British Columbia with a measly five watts.

It also happened that my buddy and fellow POTA activator, Steve (KC5F), was just down the road activating another site in the same county. It’s rare that Steve and I can work each other because, typically, we’re too close for skywave propagation and too far for ground wave. Not this time! We were close enough for ground wave on multiple bands–it was great fun working him park-to-park on every band I tuned.

I moved from 20 meters to 17 meters, to 30 meters, 40 meters and back up to 20 meters SSB.

The great thing about using the MPAS 2.0 is how incredibly easy it is to pick up and move from band-to-band–there’s no manually tuning a coil or changing links on a multi-band diplole. In fact, the MPAS 2.0 covers 160-6 meters, so I’ve lots of options if band conditions are wonky.

Video

Here’s an unedited video of the entire activation:

Click here to view on YouTube.

In the end, here’s how my QSOmap looked with 32 stations logged:

I look back at activations like this and am reminded of the magic of HF radio. It’s truly phenomenal, in my mind, that with less power than it takes to light an LED bulb, I can make contacts across the continent pretty effortlessly–CW or SSB–even during the solar doldrums! Good fun!

In other news, my ankle is healing nicely and once this cycle of nasty weather clears, I’m looking forward to putting some SOTA sites on the air!

How about you? Do you have any field radio plans? Has the weather or C-19 lockdowns gotten in the way? Please comment!

POTA Field Report: Activating Kerr Scott State Game Land with the Elecraft KX2, 5 watts, and a not-so-resonant wire

Some of my most enjoyable field activations are those involving the least amount of equipment and accessories. Maybe it’s my “less is more” mentality, but it is amazing when all I need to get on the air is one radio, a feedline, logging notebook, and a simple antenna.

That was my set-up earlier this week (February 8, 2021) when I activated Kerr Scott State Game Land–a site I hadn’t visited since last summer.

Kerr Scott State Game Land (K-6918)

I was the first person to activate Kerr Scott State Game Land back in June of 2020.

I vividly remember that activation because, as I noted in my field report on the SWLing Post, it was Kerr Scott that taught me an invaluable lesson:

“[I]f you don’t have a “spot” of your activation on the POTA site, it’s like you don’t exist.”

This was truly a tipping point that lead me down the path of doing CW activations in order to benefit from auto-spotting via the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN). Only a couple weeks after this activation, I made my first CW activation and the rest is history. While I still use SSB during activations, CW has become my favorite mode even though I’m still not that great of an operator.

I speak about this a bit more in my activation video below.

Gear:

Once I arrived on site, I deployed my EFT Trail-Friendly 40/20/10 meter end-fed resonant antenna.

The last few times I deployed this antenna in the field, it hasn’t been resonant on 40 meters and I suspect this is due to damage to the coil near the end of the radiator. I decided I’d give it one last test  by suspending it in an overhanging tree branch about 50 feet high so it would not touch other branches.

When I turned on the KX2, I set the internal ATU to “bypass” and tested SWR. Sadly, it was unacceptable, so I re-activated the ATU to get a good match.

My buddy and fellow POTA activator, Steve (KC5F), reminded me recently that the radiator on this antenna can be replaced with enough wire to make a simple end fed half wave. That’s probably what I’ll do because, frankly, this antenna has served me so well for five years and over 150 park activations I’m not ready to simply toss it. I will need to order some proper wire for the EFHW, though!

On The Air

Since I have no mobile phone/Internet service at this site, I decided to make this a CW only activation, hopefully taking full advantage of auto-spotting to the POTA spots page.

I started on 40 meters because I had pre-arranged with my buddies Mike (K8RAT) and Eric (WD8RIF) to listen for me on 7063 kHz. I did this in case auto-spotting wasn’t working, which does happen from time-to-time. It’s always important to have a back-up if possible especially for sites (like this one) that carry significant travel time.

I hopped on 40 meters, called CQ POTA and within 29 minutes, I logged 26 stations. That’s about as much activity as I could possibly expect during a Monday morning activation!

Next, I moved to 20 meters and started calling CQ. The first station I worked was CU3BL in the Azores, then WD5GRW in Texas, AB6QM in California, then IK4IDF in Italy, and finally KH2TJ in California.

I then moved to 30 meters and worked N5GW in Mississippi before going QRT with a total of 32 stations logged.

Not at all bad using 5-10 watts!

Here’s a QSOmap of this activation (click to enlarge):

Activation Video

I made a real-time, real-life, no edit, no advertisements video of this activation. Feel free to check it out if you like:

Click here to view on YouTube.

One of the things I rarely mention in my videos and field reports is how much I love the trips to/from an activation site. I’m a traveler at heart and while I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to and live in some pretty amazing countries and cities, I still have a deep appreciation for simply driving through the countryside and taking in the scenery. I appreciate the mundane as much as I do the majestic. It’s a beautiful drive.

Kerr Scott Game Land is located in the little farming community of Boomer, NC which, I understand, was named after its first postmaster, Ed “Boomer” Matheson.

Warrior Creek, next to my activation site at Kerr Scott

Before it was called Boomer, the community was known as Warrior Creek–the very creek running through Kerr Scott Game Land.

Even though I know there’s no connection, when I hear the name Boomer I can’t help but think of the incredibly cute and cheeky red squirrel that we WNC natives call “Boomers.”

POTA Field Report: Activating South Mountains Game Land in gusty winds

Last week, I had a hankering to visit a site I hadn’t activated in a few months: South Mountains Game Land.

This game land is pretty vast and has a number of entry points, almost all of which are very accessible. When I re-visit a site multiple times, I like to try different entrances when I can because it gives me a chance to check out a site better and, frankly, even enjoy a little light off-roading.

I found a western road leading deep into South Mountains from the Wildlife Resource Commission map and decided to explore it and do a quick activation.

South Mountains Game Land (K-6952)

I avoid activating Game Lands on days when I suspect there will be a lot of hunting. Tuesday afternoon was *not* ideal for hunters. Besides being the middle of a work day, it was cold and very gusty.

As I drove about 4 miles into the site, I didn’t see a single car or truck parked in any of the parking areas. I could tell I had the place to myself.

A Few Precautions

It goes without saying that if you’re doing a POTA or SOTA activation in a rural/remote area that has no mobile phone coverage (quite common at the ones I activate), you really need to take a few precautions.

First of all, let someone else know where you’ll be and how long you plan to be there.  I always let a couple radio friends know where I’ll be so if I don’t show up on the air or they don’t hear from me, they could contact authorities to look for me.

Secondly, always take a proper first aid kit. If you get hurt, you need a way to apply first aid until you can get help.

Take a handheld radio with local repeater frequencies pre-loaded. Even though I might not have cell phone coverage, I can almost always hit at least one repeater.

Of course, carry a little food and water with you and make sure your vehicle has fuel as well.

Always wear a high-visibility vest, jacket, and/or cap. Many game lands require these. Besides, would you rather perform and activation or get shot? I don’t like getting shot. I also don’t like the idea of being bear food, so at least pack a little bear mace if you’re in bear country.

When I’m activating a game land I don’t hike deep into the woods. In fact, I try to stay on or very close to a parking area. Even though POTA is becoming a very popular radio activity, I can promise that you’ll likely be the first POTA activator most hunters will see. It’s a good idea to be near areas of activity like a parking spot or road where they’re much less likely to be hunting.

Finally, as I mentioned before, I personally do not activate game lands on busy hunting days.

Of course, check the weather forecast in advance.

On The Air

I found a great spot to set up my station near a ridge line deep in the game lands.

Normally, I’d set up right next to my car, but Tuesday the winds were very gusty so I found a semi-protected area maybe 10 yards off the road. I located a spot with the least amount of overhanging branches (always check for widowmakers and dead trees!).

Gear:

It only took me five minutes to deploy the Chameleon Emcomm III Portable random wire antenna with my arborist throw line.

Random wire antennas require tuners, so I employed the Mat-Tuner mAT-705 Plus.

This site has no mobile phone coverage, so I had no easy way to spot myself to the POTA spots page had I decided to do a little phone/SSB operating. I decided to stick with CW as the POTA spots page will auto-spot me using my information from the Reverse Beacon Network (as long as that system is working).

It’s so rare that I do activations around noon or early in the afternoon, so I decided to start on 20 meters just to see if I could snag a European station.

I felt pretty chuffed to quickly snag the Azores (CU3BL) and a few west coast stations with my 5 watts and a wire. QRP rocks!

I then moved to 40 meters where I worked a number of stations in succession and topped off the activation with one 30 meter contact.

Here’s a QSOmap of this activation:

Not bad for about 40 minutes on the air.

Video

I also made one of my real-time, real-life videos of the activation. Note that my camera died on me perhaps five minutes before I completed the activation, so it will end abruptly. Sorry about that!

My ankle is healing nicely so I’m feeling more comfortable with the idea of hiking again. I’m plotting a SOTA activation with my daughter in the coming weeks.

POTA Field Report: Taking the LnR Precision LD-11 out for some fresh air

I mentioned in a previous post that I recently did a thorough clean-out of my shack and home office. It took two full days, and kept me out of the field during that time, but I’m very pleased with the results.

After re-arranging my grab-and-go QRP rigs on their dedicated shelf, one rig was very conspicuous: my LnR Precision LD-11.

Thinking back, it has been ages since I used it in the field–possibly more than a couple of years, in fact. As I packed my bags Sunday morning for a multi-day trip to my hometown, I grabbed the little red LD-11 and stuffed it in my main radio bag. It was time to take it to the field!

Lake James State Park (K-2739)

I didn’t have a lot of time to play radio Sunday afternoon, so Lake Jame State Park was a no-brainer. There, I know I have a number of picnic table options, mobile phone service, and it’s a modest detour off of Interstate 40. Low-hanging fruit in my POTA world.

There was snow on the ground Sunday afternoon, but it was 36F/2C so not terribly cold, just damp.

Due to snow melting in the trees, I set up my station in a picnic shelter where things were dry.

Gear:

Although I’d used the LD-11 recently at home to chase a few SOTA and POTA stations, I had not operated it intensively so it took a little time to reacquaint myself with this little rig.

It’s a gem of a transceiver and has a lot to offer in the field. If you’re interested to learn more about it, I’d encourage you to check out my original review of the LD-11 over at the SWLing Post.

Like the FT-817ND and G90, the LD-11 has no memory keying in CW or Phone. Memory keying is such a useful feature for park and summit activations because it frees up your fist and voice while calling CQ or sending 73s. With the LD-11, I’d be doing all of this “old school” which is absolutely fine for a short activation.

On the air

Although my EFT Trail-Friendly antenna should be resonant on 40, 20, and 10 meters, it was not Sunday because I’m almost certain I’ve finally damaged the radiator coil. I’ve deployed this antenna well over 150 times and yanked it out of countless trees when it got stuck. It’s lasted much longer than I would have ever guessed.

When I tried transmitting on 40 meters, I got a high SWR. Instead of replacing the antenna with another one, I simply hooked up the Elecraft T1 ATU and found a match. This is one good reason why you should always pack an antenna tuner. While employing an ATU might not be as efficient as using a resonant antenna, it can save your bacon in a situation like this and will certainly get the job done (especially if your only goal is a valid field activation).

After matching the antenna, I hopped on the 40M band and logged five CW stations in short order. Obviously, the antenna was working “well enough”–!

As I’ve done with a number of my recent activations, I started recording a video at this point.  I started it after my first five CW contacts due to a lack of space to record a 60 minute video (this one turned out to be 40 minutes and change).

I then moved up to the 20 meter band where I worked one CW station, then switched modes to SSB where I was surprised to work Jon (TI5JON) in Costa Rica, Steve (WA4TQS) in Texas, and Paul (NL7V) in North Pole, Alaska.

Video

This was one of those rare instances where my QRP SSB signal snagged more distant stations than my QRP CW signal.

I’m certain, however, had I spent more time on 20M CW, I would have logged a number of other distant contacts.  Here’s my QSOmap from the activation–not bad for 5 watts into an inefficient antenna:

All-in-all, I was very pleased with the activation. Even though I was making do with a faulty antenna and even though my CW was a little sloppy since I wasn’t quite used to the LD-11 keyer timing, it was so much fun!

I do love the little LD-11 and would certainly recommend grabbing a used one if you find a good deal.

As I mention in the video, the LD-11 is no longer manufactured and it never will be again. The main engineer behind the LD-11, SKY-SDR, and ALT-512–Dobri Hristov (LZ2TU)–passed away in 2020. Dobri was a well-respected fellow and distinguished ham radio operator/DXer. I corresponded with him quite a few times in the past. Sadly, when Dobri passed away, he took the design of all of these rigs with him. His brief period of sickness leading to his death all happened within a year.

So if you find one of these fine transceivers, keep in mind that some internal components (LCD screens, ICs, etc.) might be hard to replace if they fail. These radios are built well, however, so I wouldn’t expect something like that to happen for a very long time.

It was a lot of fun using the LD-11 during this activation and I certainly plan to put it in rotation from now on. Wherever Dobri is now, I like to think he’ll feel those LD-11 signals running through the ether!

Any other LD-11, SKY-SDR, or ALT-512 owners out there?  Please comment!

POTA Field Report: Pairing the Icom IC-705 with the Elecraft AX1 pocket antenna

I think I’ve said before that I don’t like doing things the easy way. At least, I’m coming to that conclusion.

This Saturday (Jan 30, 2021), I had a small window of opportunity to perform a Parks On The Air (POTA) activation.  My park options were limited because I needed to stay near my home and a store where I was scheduled to do a curbside pickup.

The only viable option–since time was a factor–was my reliable quick hit park.

The Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378)

I plotted a quick trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway Folk Art Center which is centrally-located and, this time of year, there are few visitors.

But what radio take? It had been a couple of weeks since I used the IC-705 in the field, so I decided to take it and rely only on its supplied BP-272 battery pack.

My buddy Mike (K8RAT) had warned me only a few minutes before my departure that propagation was pretty much in the dumps. I’d also read numerous posts from QRPers trying to participate in the Winter Field Day event and finding conditions quite challenging.

Saturday was the sort of day that I should’ve deployed a resonant wire antenna and made the most of my meager five watts thus collect my required 10 contacts in short order.

And that’s exactly what I didn’t do.

You see, a really bad idea popped into my head that morning: I had a hankering to pair the IC-705 with my Elecraft AX1 super compact vertical antenna.

This made absolutely no sense.

I tried to get the idea out of my head, but the idea won. I suppose, at the end of the day, I’m not about taking the easy path (and I’m obviously a glutton for punishment).

I was also very curious if the mAT-705 Plus external ATU could tune the AX1 on 40 meters. More on that later…

Gear:

I arrived on site a few minutes before noon. Setup was fast–that’s the big positive about using the AX1.

Normally, I deploy the AX1 antenna with my KX2 or KX3 and simply attach it to the BNC connector on the side of the transceiver. The AX1 Bipod gives the antenna acceptable stability during operation.

The IC-705 also has a side-mounted BNC connector, but it’s much higher than that of the KX3 or KX2. I’m not entirely sure I could manipulate the Bipod legs to support the antenna without modification.

That and the AX1 needs an ATU to match 40 meters (where I planned to spend most of the activation). Since the IC-705 doesn’t have an internal ATU, mounting it to the side of the transceiver really wasn’t an option.

I employed my AX1 tripod mount for the first time. On the way out the door, I grabbed an old (heavy) tripod my father-in-law gave me some time ago and knew it would easily accommodate the super lightweight AX1.

On The Air

I first tried using the Mat-Tuner mAT-705 Plus ATU to tune the AX1 on 40 meters.

No go.

I tried both the phone and CW portions of the 40 meter band, but the mAT-705 Plus simply couldn’t find a match. SWR was north of 7:1 – 9:1.

Instead of grabbing the Chameleon MPAS Lite or 2.0 from the car, I decided instead to see if the Elecraft T1 ATU could tune 40 meters.

It did.

In short, I logged my ten contacts to have a valid activation, but it was slow-going. All but two of my contacts were on 40 meters CW. The last two logged were on 20 meters CW.

It was a challenge, but I really enjoyed it! And, frankly, considering the propagation, 5 watts of power only using the IC-705 battery pack, and the inherent inefficiencies using a loaded compact vertical antenna and ATU? I was impressed.

Here’s a QSOmap of my 10 contacts:

I bet my effective radiated power was closer to 2-3 watts.

Typically, the AX1 antenna acts almost like an NVIS antenna on 40 meters, but Saturday it favored Mid-Atlantic and the states of IN, OH, and PA. Normally, I would expect more of a showing from the states surrounding North Carolina.

My last two contacts on 20 meters were with KE5XV in Texas and KB0VXN in Minnesota. Not a bad hop!

It took longer to collect my ten contacts than I had hoped and I ran nearly 25 minutes late to my curbside appointment. I’m a punctual guy, but there was no way I was leaving without my ten! 🙂

Here’s a video of the entire activation. Hint: it’s the perfect remedy for insomnia:

Next time I try to pair the IC-705 with the AX1 antenna, I think I’ll try adding a couple more ground radials and see if the mAT-705 Plus can more easily find a match.

One thing I know for sure: the T1 is a brilliant little ATU. While the mAT-705 Plus was never designed to do this sort of match, it’s comforting to know the T1 can.

I’m very curious if anyone else has paired the Elecraft AX1 with the Icom IC-705 or other QRP transceivers. If so, what was your experience? Please comment!

Unofficial POTA & SOTA Etiquette

I recently saw a post in the POTA Facebook page that reminded me of a question I received from a reader last summer.

This reader asked:

Thomas, I’m new to POTA [Parks On The Air] and also plan to participate in SOTA [Summits On The Air] on vacation later this year. I’m a DXer and avid contester so portable operation is new to me. Can you give me tips about etiquette when chasing and, especially, activating a park or summit? In contesting and DXing there are codes of conduct which I try to always try to follow. 

I though I might post some of the tips I sent him. I also asked for input from some other activators/hunters and they independently confirmed these. I’d welcome any additions you might have in the comments section.

Unofficial POTA/WWFF/SOTA etiquette tips:

  • POTA and SOTA are not timed contests, so it’s okay to slow down and and be patient with hunters and activators.
  • When you hear a Park To Park (P2P) or Summit To Summit (S2S) call:
    • If you’re a hunter, step out of the way in a pile-up and let them through. If the activator asks for your call instead of the site-to-site station, work them but also let them know at the end of your exchange that there’s a P2P or S2S contact in the pileup. Those ops are usually operating in tougher conditions with less power than other hunters. Activators especially appreciate site-to-site contacts.
    • As an activator, give site-to-site stations priority for the same reason.
  • In general, follow the DX Code of Conduct. Most importantly:
    • Never tune up on or immediately next to a POTA activator
    • Wait for an activator to completely end a contact before calling them.
    • Send your full call sign and only send it once.
  • Chasers should note that activators need a certain amount of logged contacts in order to complete a valid activation. In SOTA and activator needs 4 contacts, in POTA, they need 10 for example. With this in mind:
    • Post spots to the SOTA or POTA network if you notice an activator hasn’t been spotted for some time. This will help more chasers find them.
    • If you notice that an activator changes modes or bands, try to work them again especially if you hear that they’re struggling for contacts. Each time you work an activator on a different mode or band, in POTA (not SOTA) it counts as a unique contact for a valid activation.
  • Check scheduled activation plans and frequencies. Not all operators have internet coverage to self-spot and phone operators, especially, rely on hunters looking out for and spotting them.
  • Some notes specifically for CW operators:
    • If chasing a CW activator and you hear a large pile-up, don’t zero-beat the activator’s signal. Rather, move slightly off frequency so the tone of your signal is higher or lower than that of the operator.  On the activator’s side, if every one has a perfect zero beat, it sounds like one continuous carrier as opposed to individual signals.
    • Don’t operate at contest CW speeds as you’ll have a more difficult time making contacts. It’s rare to hear even experienced CW operators in POTA and/or SOTA going faster than 20 WPM.
    • Don’t send a “K” after your callsign when chasing activators–just send your callsign. This is especially confusing to an activator if you have a 2×2 or 1×2 callsign. They may recognize you as W1AWK instead of “W1AW, for example.
  • Unfortunately, you will eventually hear someone intentionally tuning up on an active frequency or deliberately trying to cause harmful interference to an activation. As an activator and hunter, it is important not to “feed the trolls.” Simply ignore them and use it as an opportunity to hone your skills at mitigating QRM and harmful interference. If no one acknowledges a troll, they will abandon frequency much quicker.  Sadly, complaining or asking them to leave tends to egg them on.
  • While it’s actually encouraged to send kind comments and compliments as you chase or activate, keep in mind that activators often have a limited amount of time on site and on the air. As mentioned above, they also need a minimum number of contacts in order to achieve a valid activation. This is not the best time to start a long conversation or rag-chew with an activator. Quite often, there are others who are waiting for you to finish your contact so they can call the station and the activator doesn’t want to offend you by asking you to move on.
  • In general, be patient, courteous, and kind to all chasers and activators. POTA, SOTA, WWFF, and other similar field radio activities feel more like a family or community gathering than a contest.

I’m sure there are other points I’ve missed here. Please comment if you have something to add!

Update: Click here to read Mikel’s (EA2CW) Spanish translation of this article.