POTA Field Report: Elecraft KX1 and two wires yield 1,100 miles per watt

Yesterday, my family decided to make an impromptu trip to one of our favorite spots on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Richland Balsam–the highest point on the BRP.

Of course, it was a good opportunity to fit in a Parks On The Air (POTA) activation, but I had also hoped to activate Richland Balsam for Summits On The Air (SOTA) simultaneously.

It being well beyond leaf-looking season, we had hoped the BRP would be relatively quiet, but we were wrong.

Trail heads were absolutely jam-packed and overflowing with visitors and hikers. We’ve noticed a sharp hiker uptick this year in western North Carolina due in no small part to the Covid-19 pandemic. People see hiking as a safe “social-distance” activity outdoors, but ironically, hiker density on our single-track trails is just through the roof.   One spends the bulk of a hike negotiating others on the trail.

The trail head to Richland Balsam was no exception. Typically, this time of year, we’d be the only people parked at the trail head but yesterday it was nearly parked full.

Being natives of western North Carolina, we know numerous side-trails and old logging/service roads along the parkway, so we picked one of our favorites very close to Richland Balsam.

We hiked to the summit of a nearby ridge line and I set up my POTA station with the “assistance” of Hazel who always seems to know how to get entangled in my antenna wires.

“I’m a helper dog!”

Taking a break from using the Icom IC-705, I brought my recently reacquired  KX1 field radio kit.

Gear:

I carried a minimal amount of gear on this outing knowing that there would be hiking involved. Everything easily fit in my GoRuck Bullet Ruck backpack (including the large arborist throw line) with room to spare.

I took a bit of a risk on this activation: I put faith in the wire antenna lengths supplied with my new-to-me Elecraft KX1 travel kit. I did not cut these wires myself, rather, they are the lengths a previous owner cut, wound, and labeled for the kit.

With my previous KX1, I knew the ATU was pretty darn good at finding matches for 40, 30, and 20 meters on short lengths of wire, so I threw caution to the wind and didn’t pack an additional antenna option (although I could have hiked back to the car where I had the CHA MPAS Lite–but that would have cut too much time from the activation).

I didn’t use internal batteries in the KX1, rather, I opted for my Bioenno 6 aH LiFePo battery which could have easily powered the KX1 the entire day.

I deployed the antenna wire in a nearby (rather short) tree, laid the counterpoise on the ground, then tried tuning up on the 40 meter band.

No dice.

The ATU was able to achieve a 2.7:1 match, but I don’t like pushing QRP radios above a 2:1 match if I don’t have to. I felt the radiator wire was pretty short (although I’ve yet to measure it), so clipping it would only make it less resonant on 40 meters.

Instead, I moved up to the 20 meter band where I easily obtained a 1:1 match.

I started calling CQ POTA and within a couple of minutes snagged two stations–then things went quiet.

Since I was a bit pressed for time, I moved to the 30 meter band where, once again, I got a 1:1 match.

I quickly logged one more station (trusty N3XLS!) then nothing for 10 minutes.

Those minutes felt like an eternity since I really wanted to make this a quick activation. I knew, too, that propagation was fickle; my buddy Mike told me the Bz numbers had gone below negative two only an hour before the activation. I felt like being stuck on the higher bands would not be to my advantage.

Still, I moved back up to 20 meters and try calling again.

Then some radio magic happened…

Somehow, a propagation path to the north west opened up and the first op to answer my call was VE6CCA in Alberta. That was surprising! Then I worked K3KYR in New York immediately after.

It was the next operator’s call that almost made me fall off my rock: NL7V in North Pole, Alaska.

In all of my years doing QRP field activations, I’ve never had the fortune of putting a station from Alaska in the logs. Alaska is a tough catch on the best of days here in North Carolina–it’s much easier for me to work stations further away in Europe than in AK.

Of all days, I would have never anticipated it happening during this particular activation as I was using the most simple, cheap antenna possible: two thin random lengths of (likely discarded) wire.

People ask why I love radio? “Exhibit A”, friends!

After working NL7V I had a nice bunch of POTA hunters call me. I logged them as quickly as I could.

I eventually moved back to 30 meters to see if I could collect a couple more stations and easily added five more. I made one final CQ POTA call and when there was no answer, I quickly sent QRT de K4SWL and turned off the radio.

Here’s a map of my contacts from QSOmap.org:

I still can’t believe my three watts and a wire yielded a contact approximately 3,300 miles (5311 km) away as the crow flies.

This is what I love about field radio (and radio in general): although you do what you can to maximize the performance of your radio and your antenna, sometimes propagation gives you a boost when you least expect it. It’s this sense of wireless adventure and wonder that keeps me hooked!

QRP Labs projects QCX-Mini CW Transceiver Kit availability in December 2020

I’m not quite sure how Hans Summers at QRP Labs has the time to innovate at the pace he does–especially during a global pandemic–but he believes he will have the new QCX-Mini CW QRP transceiver available for purchase in December 2020.

Hans shared the following message via the QRP Labs Groups.io page (click here for the full message):

Hi all

Quite a lot of people have been asking about QCX-mini.

QCX-mini manufacturing has slipped a couple of weeks longer than my estimated “4 weeks”. But all is going well now…

[…]Latest problem is apparently my 5-in-1 top PCB design… normally PCBs are panelized and SMD’d in a set of 6 (or more) like that, then separated later. But the top PCB design is such that the amount of cut away material is too much to be able to break apart the boards without damage. So the factory had to come up with a different method for manufacturing it. I tried to understand what they are doing but I gave up, anyway in reliably assured all is well.

The 1000 enclosures are all finished, cut, CNC’ed, drilled, laser etch printed, packed.

Current estimate is that the PCB assembly (SMD soldering) will be completed on 17-Nov-2020. It’s the last step in the manufacturing process, everything else is done… then the boards will ship to me.

So, still on track for 1,000 Christmas stocking goodies.

73 Hans G0UPL
http://qrp-labs.com

Although I look at this kit and think, “yeah, like I need another portable QRP transceiver!” I’m nearly 100% certain I’ll buy it.

For one thing, I love building kits and am very happy to see that the surface mount components will be pre-populated.

I purchased the QCX+ and, indeed, plan to review the build and transceiver for RadCom. I’ve almost been “savoring” this build for a nice stretch of cold winter evenings.

Frankly I’ll buy and build the QCX-Mini because I love supporting mom and pop innovators here in our ham radio world.

Click here to check out QCX-Mini updates at QRP Labs. Of course, we’ll post an update when the QCX-Mini is available to order.

What external battery do I pair with the Icom IC-705?

I typically pair my IC-705 with a 6 aH Bioenno LiFEPo battery pack (the blue battery between the transceiver and tuner above).

Many thanks for QRPer reader, Ron, who writes:

Dear Thomas, thank you for the great videos and information on POTA and QRP work. I’m very inspired.

Thomas, I received an Icom 705 recently and I was wondering about power. In your videos, is your battery 12 volts? This works okay? I wonder because of the 13.8 volt requirement in the manual.

Thank you for your time. I’ve already picked out a park that I will try to activate one day when I’m up to speed on POTA. 72 Ron

Thanks for your question, Ron. I’m very happy to hear you find the videos useful.

I almost exclusively use Bioenno LiFePo 12V batteries which actually output closer to 13-13.5 volts in use and can even briefly be a bit higher immediately after charging.

Most amateur radio transceivers (including the IC-705) typically have a bit of voltage flexibility and will operate a below 12 volts and tad higher than 13.8 volts. QRP radios especially. You’re wise, though to always check (the MTR-3B is a notable exception as it prefers a max of 12V).

In fact, I just checked the IC-705 specs and its voltage requirements are 13.8 V DC ±15% (12V – 15.87 volts). The IC-705 can actually run on much lower power because the Lithium Ion pack that is supplied with the IC-705 (BP-272) is only 7.4 VDC when charged.

I would suggest you check out a 4.5 or 6 aH LiFePo battery like this one at Bioenno. Either would have the capacity to carry you through a few hours of heavy use.

Of course, there are many, many more battery options out there, but I’m a fan of LiFePo batteries for their longevity, capacity, and stability.

Hope this helps!

POTA Field Report: A Tale Of Two Parks (And Two Antennas)

Yesterday, I *finally* activated two parks that have been on my list for most of the year: Elk Knob State Game Land (K-6903) and Elk Knob State Park (K-2728).

The game land had never been activated which I found quite puzzling since it seemed to be accessible based on my maps and was only 1.5 miles from (actually adjoining!) a state park which has been activated a number times.

Turns out, there’s a good reason it hadn’t been activated.

Elk Knob State Game Land (K-6903)

Upon entering the game land parcel, you’re greeted by the sign above which states that while the game land is a public resource, it is private land and the owner only allows hunting and trapping on it. First time I’ve ever encountered this.

This meant that I really couldn’t cross the barb wire fence that lined the one lane dirt road to activate the park in the woods (which I would have preferred).

Fortunately, I found one pull-off in the middle of the game land road. It was just wide enough to fit my car so that others on the road could pass me without a problem. It was rather tight, though.

Since I didn’t want to use a tree on the game land to support my antenna, I employed the Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite 17′ vertical.

I pushed the MPAS Lite spike into the ditch of the road and ran the counterpoise along the ditch as well. All was within the road right-of-way, yet within the game land so I felt it a proper compromise respecting the land owner’s wishes while still being able to activate the park.

Gear:

For this activation, I chose the Elecraft KX2 since I had such a limited space in the back of my car to both operate the transceiver and log.

The great thing about the KX2 is it’s such a complete & compact package: it’s a transceiver, with an internal battery pack (that allows 10 watts of power), a built-in ATU, and attachable paddles. Everything easily fits on my clip board which then functions as an operating table.

I started calling CQ POTA and was quickly spotted to the POTA spots page via the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN).

I very quickly logged a number of stations in CW, but did eventually reach one road block when one of the contact posts in my KXPD paddles loosened. I’ve had this happen before. Thankfully, I keep precision screwdrivers in my EDC bag, so could make the fix. Unfortunately, it took me off the air for a good 5-10 minutes and I lost my pile-up.

I eventually changed modes and called CQ a few times on 40 meters phone.

In the end, I only logged 13 contacts. Certainly the smallest number I’ve ever had at an ATNO (All Time New One). I felt I had to cut it short, though, as cars/trucks had to slow down to pass me. Twice I was asked if I needed any help (assuming my car had broken down).

I was very grateful to have the CHA MPAS Lite antenna in my arsenal, though. I have few other antenna options that would have worked so effectively in such a tight space.

The MPAS Lite is also incredibly stealthy. I’m not sure many passersby even noticed it.

On to the next park!

Elk Knob State Park (K-2728)

Where Elk Knob Game Land was an incredibly challenging site, adjoining Elk Knob State Park was the complete opposite. A POTA activator’s dream site.

Gear:

This was my first visit to Elk Knob State Park and I was most impressed. Not only is the park gorgeous and quiet, but the picnic area is expansive, well-spaced, and there are numerous large, old-growth trees. Absolutely perfect for POTA purposes.

The CHA Emcomm III Portable

Since I had the luxury of these tall trees, I decided to employ the CHA Emcomm III Portable which has quickly become my favorite field antenna. When I have the space, I use it because it gives me 160-6 meters and is easily matched by all of my antenna tuners.

Since I had a great picnic table surface to operate, I also used my Icom IC-705 transceiver and Elecraft T1 antenna tuner.

So turns out, I didn’t take a lot of photos of my site because I used my iPhone to make a video of the activation.

On YouTube, I’ve been encouraged by viewers/followers to continue making real-time, real-life videos of some of my park activations. These videos have no edits and are what I would generously call “Ham Radio Slow TV.” 🙂 The idea is the viewer is simply joining me as I set up and operate at a park–as if they were there with me in person. I hope there’s some value in these videos for newcomers to Parks On The Air.

The video ended up capturing the whole activation from start to finish. If you need something to put you to sleep, check it out:

 

Video

All in all, it was a brilliant day and I’m pleased to have finally activated these two POTA sites.

It was a particular treat to discover Elk Knob State Park. I can’t wait to go back there to camp and to hike their trails.

Perhaps this is one of my favorite side benefits of Parks On The Air: it gives me a reason to explore state parks I might have otherwise overlooked. We’re huge supporter of state and national parks, so it’s truly a win-win!

Yaesu FT-817: Getting reacquainted with an old friend

In a previous post, I mentioned that I had regretted selling quite a few radios.

Almost immediately after publishing that post, I purchased an Elecraft KX1. It was an impulse purchase, and I’m happy I made it.

Then, a couple weeks ago, my buddy Don discovered I was considering purchasing the Yaesu FT-818.

He mentioned that he had a very lightly used FT-817ND with a lot of extras he would appreciate selling me. I agreed without hesitation.

The package included:

  • Yaesu FT-817ND
  • Inrad SSB 2.0 kHz narrow filter
  • Massoft Mylar speaker (installed)
  • Anderson Powerpole adapter on rear of chassis
  • Yaesu PA – 48B Charger
  • Portable Zero FT-817 ESCORT bracket and side rails in black
  • Portable Zero Sherpa Backpack
  • Nifty Mini Manual
  • Yaesu FNB 85 1400ma
  • All original accessories and antennas

Don offered a fair price for the package, so how could I resist? (Hint: Don’t answer that!)

Besides completely trusting Don as a seller, I must admit that the FT-817 Escort side rails were a big selling point. I’d planned to purchase those regardless. Having owned the original FT-817–what, 20 years ago?–I knew I wanted something to protect this radio in the field. Not only that, but the FT-817 needs a proper bail in my opinion and the Escort delivers!

Blue Ridge National Parkway (K-3378)

Saturday, I had one goal in mind: split some firewood at my father-in-law’s house. But I had to pass the Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378) en route, so why not a quick activation too, right–?

Gear:

Packed the FT-817ND and, since I needed to fit in a quick deployment, the CHA MPAS Lite antenna.

Talk about getting reacquainted with an old friend: I haven’t operated an FT-817 in at least 18 years!

I was on the air perhaps 35 minutes or so. It was a lot of fun and some trial by fire as I quickly sorted out my CW and phone settings live on the air.

I very quickly made contact with my buddy Eric (WD8RIF) in a park to park contact (thanks, Eric!).

After that, a CW contest started up and I quickly realized how important it will be for me to get a narrow CW filter for the FT-817ND. It was as if 10 stations were sharing the frequency with me. (Any advice on filters would be much appreciated!)

I only managed to collected the 10 contacts needed for a valid activation and, for the first time, relied on my daughters (both licensed) to help snag my 10.

Propagation was poor on Saturday. Since I was in a hurry to get the wood split–and was running behind–I didn’t hang around to work more than 10 stations. Plus, no one “needs” the Blue Ridge Parkway these days since it’s activated so frequently.

This activation was a brilliant shake-out for the FT-817ND field kit. I created a few to-do items:

  • Perform some TX audio tests and tweak the mic settings at home–I feel like the mic gain might have been a bit low.
  • Sort out the AGC and sidetone settings in CW and decide if I want to run full or semi break-in. Between the relay clicks, AGC recovery and gain settings, I found full break-in a little distracting with the lower sidetone volume I had set Saturday. This can be easily adjusted and then it’ll sound great.
  • Dedicate a small external battery pack for the FT-817ND kit. I might purchase another 6aH Bioenno pack especially since it fits in the Sherpa pack side pocket so well.
  • I have the accompanying internal battery pack, but have yet determined how much capacity it still has.

I’m so happy the ‘817ND has re-joined my field radio family! I’ve missed this fine little rig!

Can you activate a park with the Elecraft AX1 portable vertical antenna–?

In my head, this was going to be a post talking about antenna compromise vs. convenience vs. performance. I set out to make a point and will do just that. But it’s not the point I intended to make.

The Elecraft AX1 Antenna

My Maxpedition Fatty Pouch has more than enough room for the AX1, tripod adapter, bipod, antenna, 40M section, and two counterpoises.

For those of you not familiar, Elecraft designed a super compact portable antenna for the KX3 and KX2 called the AX1 a couple years ago. It’s, by far, the most compact HF antenna I’ve ever owned or operated.

What makes it so unique is that no one section of it is longer than 6″, which means when disassembled, it’ll fit in a very small pouch or pocket.

I purchased the AX1 a couple months ago. I bought the antenna, (which handles 20/17 and 15 meters), the 40 meter extension, bipod, tripod mount, and both counterpoises were included.

It’s a cool piece of antenna kit for sure! And so compact!

But let’s face it: it’s a compromised antenna!

An antenna this small and compact is not as efficient as a longer resonant wire antenna. Not even close.

The AX1 wasn’t built for performance per se–although it’s as efficient as it can be for the size–it was built for convenience!

You can set the AX1 up anywhere, anytime.

A POTA Experiment

The AX1 is in the Maxpedition pack on the left, my KX2 in the Lowe pack on the right.

A few months ago, a reader who owns a KX3 asked me if I thought he could successfully activate a (Parks On The Air) park with the AX1.

My reply:

“Sure! Especially if you’re using CW and you have a whole lot of patience.”

Yesterday morning, I decided to test my theory.

I drove to the Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378) and parked at the Folk Arts Center. I found a picnic table (wasn’t hard at all considering it was hovering around freezing and incredibly breezy!) and set up my station.

It takes me maybe 3 minutes to set up the entire station.

The antenna fits together quickly (I was operating 40 meters, so used the optional extension and 31′ counterpoise).

Three minutes later, I’m ready to rock and roll!

On The Air

I had errands to run in town so didn’t want to spend all day doing this experiment, but I was determined to complete a valid POTA activation which requires 10 total contacts.

Before leaving the house, I scheduled my activation on the POTA site, so it would know to scrape my spot on the Reverse Beacon Network.

Keep in mind, this was taking place on a Monday morning around 10:15 AM and I was activating a park almost every POTA hunter has logged numerous times. The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most activated parks in the POTA network, so not exactly super desirable.

In addition, propagation number were pretty dismal.

I fired up the KX2, pressed the ATU button, and achieved a 1:1.1 match.

I called CQ POTA three times in CW.

Evidently, the RBN picked me up quickly, because I received a call.

Then another call.

Then a small pile-up of calls.

Next thing I know, I’ve logged five stations in five minutes.

I called CW again, and had another small pileup.

Short story short, I had achieve a valid activation in all of 12 minutes.

12 freaking minutes!

Seriously? My point was to prove it takes patience when using extremely compromised antennas.

After logging 12 stations, a received a phone call on my mobile and left the air (no other stations were calling me at that point and, again, this wasn’t a highly desirable or rare park). After my phone call, I decided to pack up and finish my errands in town.

After I returned home, I realized: this was easily my quickest field radio deployment and park activation.

The activation took me a total of 20 minutes: 3 minutes to deploy, 12 minutes on the air, and (generously) four minutes to pack up.

Let’s face it…

The stars were aligned Monday morning.

The AX1 is a compromised antenna but it’s obviously also quite effective.

The irony was en route to the activation, I was listening to the latest episode of Ham Radio Workbench. They were discussing wire antennas and how incredibly compromised shortened verticals are.

I was in complete agreement about compact antennas: sometimes, the compromise is worth it for the convenience.

Now, I would add: sometimes, it’s all convenience, performance, and no compromise whatsoever!

Next, I plan to attempt an SSB activation with the AX1. I do believe it’ll take quite a while to gather 10 stations for a valid activation. But who knows?

Stay tuned!

Guest Review: CW Morse Single-Lever Keyer Paddle

On October 10, I took delivery of a CW Morse (https://cwmorse.us/) “Red Single Paddle Morse Code Key With Base” (https://cwmorse.us/product/red-single-paddle-morse-code-key-with-base/) which Tom Witherspoon, K4SWL, had sent me to review for this website. CW Morse had sent Tom several keys to review and Tom, knowing I am a fan of single-lever paddles, sent me the CW Morse single-lever paddle to review.

CW Morse "Red Single Paddle Morse Code Key With Base"

CW Morse "Red Single Paddle Morse Code Key With Base", inside view

I will admit it: I wasn’t expecting much from a 3-D printed CW paddle, but I was very surprised by the quality of the build and the feel of the paddle.

The “Red Single Paddle Morse Code Key With Base” is a nice mix of 3-D printed frame, lever, fingerpiece, and cover with steel ball bearings, metal contacts, steel centering springs, and a heavy steel base. (See photos, above.)

The mailman delivered the paddle on October 10  and I started using it almost immediately as a cootie-key / sideswiper to hunt Parks on the Air (POTA) activations. (A cootie-key or sideswiper is a manual key in which the operator moves a paddle alternately side-to-side to manually create the dots and dashes of Morse Code.) The paddle worked very well as a cootie and I made six POTA QSOs using the paddle on the afternoon of the 10th. Unfortunately, when I tried to use the paddle for my nightly ragchew-QSO with K8RAT, the paddle stopped centering properly and I had to switch to another key to finish the QSO. A day or two later, I studied the CW Morse key and found that I was able to loosen the nut at the lever pivot-point a little bit to reduce drag. After this simple adjustment, the paddle has worked beautifully without further need for adjustment.

The “Red Single Paddle Morse Code Key With Base” features adjustable gaps on both sides of the lever. These gaps are easily adjusted using the supplied Allen wrench or with bare fingers. The spring tension is not adjustable and the paddle’s feel is pretty light.

The steel base, while small, is quite heavy and the four rubber feet provide excellent traction on my radio desk. I have a pretty heavy fist and this paddle is almost heavy enough that I can send with my right hand without holding the paddle with my left hand.

Now, a disclosure: I have been using semi-automatic bugs and fully-manual cootie keys so long now that my keyer fist is absolute rubbish. I did use the paddle to drive an electronic keyer for one ragchew-QSO and the paddle worked very well in that mode and it had a nice feel–any mistakes made in keying were not the fault of the paddle but of my own inability anymore to judge how long to hold the dash-paddle.

I’ve been using this paddle as my go-to cootie-key for over half a month now and as a cootie key the “Red Single Paddle Morse Code Key With Base” excels. The gaps were easily adjustable and the feel of the paddle as a cootie is just fantastic. This key has, at least for the moment, become my favorite hamshack cootie-key.

The “Red Single Paddle Morse Code Key” can be removed from the steel base for field or portable use and I did remove the key from the base to try it in this configuration. Unfortunately, I didn’t like the feel of the paddle in my left hand, primarily because the two mounting rails make the key feel awkward in my hand. CW Morse does offer a dual-lever field paddle (https://cwmorse.us/product/pocket-double-paddle-morse-code-key/) and I think a similar design with a single lever would make an excellent field paddle or cootie key. (Read about Tom Witherspoon’s experience with the dual-lever field paddle here: https://qrper.com/2020/10/pota-field-report-pairing-the-icom-ic-705-with-the-elecraft-t1-and-cw-morse-pocket-paddles/.)

Bottom Line: I have been very pleased with the “Red Single Paddle Morse Code Key With Base” and I can recommend it for any CW operator who needs an inexpensive but well-made single-lever paddle.

CHA MPAS Lite: A military-grade compact field antenna

Note: the following post was originally published on the SWLing Post

Chameleon Antenna recently sent me a prototype of their latest antenna: the CHA MPAS Lite.

The MPAS Lite is a compact version of their MPAS 2.0 modular antenna system and designed to be even more portable.

Chameleon Antenna is a specialist antenna manufacturer that makes military-grade, field portable antennas that are low-profile and stealthy. Chameleon products are 100% made in the USA and their customers range from amateur radio operators to the armed forces.

Their antennas are not cheap, but they are a prime example when we talk about “you pay for what you get.” In all of my years of evaluating radio products, I’ve never seen better quality field antennas–they’re absolutely top-shelf.

Zeta

I’m currently in my hometown doing a little caregiving for my parents. I’d only planned to be here for a couple of days, but when I saw that the remnants of Hurricane Zeta would pass directly over us with tropical storm force winds and rain, I stuck around to help the folks out.

Zeta struck quite a blow, in fact. No injuries reported, but over 23,000 of us have been without power for over 34+ hours in Catawba county. With saturated grounds, the winds toppled a lot of trees and damaged power lines.

Yesterday, I wanted to take advantage of the power outage and get on the air. I couldn’t really do a POTA activation because I needed to manage things here at my parents’ house. Plus, why not profit from the grid being down and bathe in a noise-free RF space–?

I decided to set it up in their front yard.

CHA MPAS Lite

I had never deployed the MPAS Lite before, so I did a quick scan through the owner’s manual. Although the MPAS Lite (like the MPAS 2.0) can be configured a number of ways, I deployed it as a simple vertical antenna.

Assembly was simple:

  1. Insert the stainless steel spike in the ground,
  2. Attach the counterpoise wire (I unraveled about 25′) to the spike
  3. Screw on the CHA Micro-Hybrid
  4. Screw the 17′ telescoping whip onto the Hybrid-Micro
  5. Extend the whip antenna fully
  6. Connect the supplied coax (with in-line choke) to the Hybrid-Micro
  7. Connect the antenna to the rig

Although I had the Icom IC-705 packed, I wanted to keep things simple by using the Elecraft KX2 I’d also packed since it has a built-in ATU.

Important: the CHA MPAS Lite requires an ATU to get a good match across the bands.

I wasn’t in the mood to ragchew yesterday, but I thought it might be fun to see how easily I could tune the MPAS Lite from 80 meters up.

I checked the Parks On The Air spots page and saw NK8O activating a park in Minnesota in CW:

He was working a bit of a pile-up, but after three calls, he worked me and reported a 559 signal report. Not bad at 5 watts!

I then moved to 40, 18, and 20 meter and called CQ a couple times to see if the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) could spot me. I like using the RBN to give me a “quick and dirty” signal report. I was very pleased with the bands I tested:

Those dB numbers are quite good for an op running 5 watts into a vertical compromised antenna.

The KX2 very effortlessly got near 1:1 matches on every band I tested.

Of course, after working a few stations in CW and SSB, I tuned to the broadcast bands and enjoyed a little RFI-free SWLing. Noting 13dka’s recent article, I’m thinking on the coast, the MPAS Lite will make for a superb amateur radio and SWLing antenna.

Durability

Although the remnants of Zeta had effectively passed through the area three hours prior, it was still very blustery outside. I was concerned gusts might even be a little too strong for the 17′ whip, but I was wrong. The whip handled the wind gusts with ease and the spike held it in place with no problem.

One of the things I have to watch with my Wolf River Coils TIA vertical is the fact it’s prone to fall in windy conditions and many ops have noted that this can permanently damage the telescoping whip (the weak point in that system).

I’m pretty certain this wouldn’t happen with the Chameleon 17′ whip–it feels very substantial and solid.

Ready to hit the field with the CHA MPAS Lite!

I’m a huge fan of wire antennas because I believe they give me the most “bang-for-buck” in the field, but they’re not always practical to deploy. I like having a good self-supporting antenna option in my tool belt when there are no trees around or when parks don’t allow me to hang antennas in their trees.

I’ve got a park in mind that will make for a good test of the CHA MPAS Lite: it’s a remote game land with no real parking option. I’ll have to activate it on the roadside–an ideal application for the MPAS Lite.

Click here to check out the CHA MPAS Lite.

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 April, 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 here in the mountains of western North Carolina, so the roads were pretty crowded with tourists.  The closer we got to this relatively remote site, though, the less traffic. A very good sign!

Our location

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 short 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 one 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 the Red Oxx C-Ruck pack to support the IC-705 and ATU.

Using the C-Ruck as a mini field table saves time. I discovered how useful this pack was while evaluating the lab599 Discovery TX-500 in August.

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 allowed for one hour on the air.

QSO Map and logs:

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 and even attempt hunting other POTA parks.

Some highlights: 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 also huge support to 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–indeed, 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 simply too close geographically!

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 brilliant 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.

I will plan to return to Toxaway, perhaps this winter, and spend more time at the site.


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!