Last Tuesday (March 2, 2021), I needed to make a quick trip to south Asheville and pick up some gear I had ordered from REI. Of course, I had a hankering to fit in a Parks On The Air activation. I contacted my buddies Eric (WD8RIF) and Mike (K8RAT) and mentioned I might make a visit to the Blue Ridge Parkway [it’s always a good idea to have others look for you in case your unable to spot yourself on the bands].
By the time I jumped in the car, though, I talked myself out of doing the activation. Propagation was poor and I had a maximum of 30 minutes to fit in a valid activation.
After picking up my gear at REI, I realized, though, that a 30 minute limit made for an awfully fun challenge.
I had to pass by the parkway to go home, so why not? Right?
I did a quick check and, yes(!) I had the Elecraft KX2 and CHA MPAS Lite antenna in the car.
Before leaving REI, I scheduled my activation on the POTA website so that the site would know to auto-spot me if the Reverse Beacon Network picked me up.
Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378)
I arrived at the parkway in very short order. I decided to do the activation at the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor’s Center and Headquarters. Normally, I avoid this location because it’s busy and the best spots to set up a radio are in the path of visitors walking around the perimeter of the grounds.
It was a cold, overcast Tuesday morning so, as I expected, I almost had the place to myself.
I deployed the CHA MPAS Lite vertical in very short order–perhaps 3 minutes. Since I had also packed my Pixel 3 camera/phone and tripod in the car, I even recorded a video of the full activation (see below).
In short? I snagged my 10 contacts in about 19 minutes on the air–all on 40 meters CW. Not too bad for a Tuesday morning with five watts and a vertical.
Here’s a QSOmap of the contacts I made:
I also had a first at this activation! I worked ND9M/MM. To my knowledge, I’ve never worked a maritime mobile station at a park activation–certainly not in CW! The map above omits this contact since the location was unknown.
When I submitted my log to Bill DeLoach (our regional contact for POTA logs) said I really need a “Wham Bam!” award for this quick activation. Ha ha!
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’tdo.
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…
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.
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.
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!
A few weeks ago, I posted a report about doing my first park activation with the Elecraft AX1 super compact antenna. If anything, I felt the activation almost went *too* well using such a small antenna. I didn’t want to give others the impression this is all the antenna you’ll ever need–it’s just a brilliant compact antenna designed for convenience and accessibility. It’s a fun field companion and can be used pretty much anywhere.
Yesterday morning, I had a number of errands to run on the south side of Asheville and had not planned to do a POTA activation. While I was waiting on a curbside delivery, however, I was admiring the nice weather and thinking that I might venture out later in the day to do a Parks On The Air (POTA) activation. Part of me knew, though, that if I returned home, I’d get involved with projects and never make it back out to the field.
I always carry a transceiver and antenna in my car, so I opened the trunk and found my Elecraft KX2 transceiver field kit which included the Elecraft AX1 antenna. Technically, that’s a whole station! Why not give it a go–? I’m always up for a challenge.
Since I would be passing by the Blue Ridge Parkway on the way home, I quickly scheduled an activation on the POTA website via my phone so that the spotting system would know to grab my information from the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) when I started calling CQ.
Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378)
I knew this might not be an “easy” activation: I would be using a super compact field antenna that’s quite a compromise in terms of performance, propagation wasn’t exactly stellar, and I was activating a popular (hence somewhat stagnant) park on a Monday morning. Not necessarily ideal ingredients for a successful activation.
I also discovered my phone tripod in the trunk of the car, so decided to make one of my real-time, real-life, no edit videos of the entire successful or failed activation. (Hint: It turned out to be a success.)
At the end of the day, the AX1 continues to impress me. It is a compromise? Yes. Does it perform as well as a resonant wire antenna? No. Can it activate a park as well as my other antennas? Yes.
AX1 QSO Map
No doubt, part of my success with the AX1 is because I’m primarily using CW instead of SSB to complete activations. I’ve made SSB contacts with the AX1, but I’ve never completed full park activations with it yet–in truth, though, I’ve never tried.
In fact, perhaps it’s just a lucky streak, but so far the AX1 has been as effective as many of my wire antennas in terms of simply completing valid park activations in less than an hour. My signal reports aren’t as strong as they would be with, say, my EFT-MTR resonant antenna or Emcomm III Portable random wire antenna, but it’s enough to get the job done.
If nothing else, I’ll admit that the AX1 reminds me of the magic of low-power radio each time I use it. When I log stations hundreds of miles away, with such a modest station, I feel like I’ve accomplished something.
In short? It’s fun to use.
Black Friday Sale
FYI: I just received Elecraft’s latest Black Friday 2020 ad and noticed that the AX1 antenna package (which doesn’t include the 40M extension) is on sale. Click here to check it out.
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.
Taking a break from using the Icom IC-705, I brought my recently reacquired KX1 field radio kit.
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.
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.
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!
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:
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–?
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!
[This post was originally published on my other radio blog, The SWLing Post]
As I mentioned in a previous post, what I love about the National Parks On The Air program is that it combines two of my favorite things: national parks and ham radio. My family visits national parks regularly, so it’s easy for me to pack a small radio, do a quick NPOTA activation all while incorporating non-radio activities that the family loves.
Normally, I would set up my station somewhere close to the Museum of North Carolina Minerals which is situated at the junction of these two National Park entities. Saturday, however, was a special event at the museum: a Revolutionary War Encampment.
The Museum is located at Gillespie Gap, an important stop for Revolutionary War fighters on their way to the Battle of Kings Mountain. Each September the Museum hosts an encampment of re-enactors who assume the role of the Overmountain Men, primarily Scots-Irish settlers from Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina who came “over the mountains” and ultimately defeated the left wing of Cornwallis’ army at Kings Mountain, South Carolina. Many historians mark this victory as the turning point in the Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War.
My family loves living history events.
The Park Ranger kindly gave me permission to do the NPOTA activation, but not at the museum itself. She was trying to keep the site set in the Revolutionary War period–a ham radio operator using a portable transceiver doesn’t exactly fit that description. Instead, around 15:30 UTC, I hiked up the Overmountain Victory Trail in search of an operation site near the Blue Ridge Parkway road.
The trailhead was a little rough and overgrown. I didn’t have to trail-blaze, but I did have to wade through a lot of weeds with my gear and my canine companion, Hazel, on leash. It’s times like this I truly appreciate such a compact, lightweight, and packable station.
Once we entered the woods, though, the trail improved. I found a fantastic spot to operate between the museum and the parkway.
Hazel the dog is a welcome companion does a wonderful job keeping my site free of black bears. She’s patient, too. I typically tie her leash to a small stake or tree next to me and she promptly takes a nap. Here she is admiring my new REI Camping Stool:
Setup was quick. I managed to raise the EFT Trail-Friendly antenna in record time. I connected the antenna to the Elecraft KX2 and was on the air, calling CQ on 20 meters in a matter of minutes. In the space of 15-20 minutes, I only managed to work a few stations on the 20 meter band even though I had been spotted several times on the DX Cluster.
I moved to the 40 meter band and logged contacts quickly, however.
Hazel, as I mentioned, is a great companion that’s sweet to everyone she meets. She’s happy to hang with me even if I’m just sitting there operating radio for an hour. She’s quiet and doesn’t bark unless she notices a true disturbance.
Still, Hazel does get bored. After I had logged about 20 stations, I heard her gnawing on something. I turned around and discovered that she found the reel of fishing line I use to hang my antennas.
She didn’t even look apologetic or guilty! Oh well…fishing line is pretty cheap to replace and I’m sure she assumed it was a chew toy I had placed there for her.
All in all, it was a very successful activation. In less than one hour, I put 22 stations in the log. The weather was perfect and the whole family had a blast.
What a wonderful day to play radio, take in our national parks and re-live some of our history!