Tag Archives: Blue Ridge Parkway

POTA Field Report: Picnic table activation with the FT-817ND, CHA UCM, and MPAS Lite

The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the easiest POTA sites for me to activate when I’m at the QTH.

Pretty much anytime I head into Asheville from home, I’m going to cross the parkway. The BRP is such a refuge, I often take it to avoid hitting the Interstate or a busy highways. It takes longer, but it’s orders of magnitude more peaceful and pleasant than, say, Interstate 40.

On Monday, September 13, 2021, I had a small opening in my schedule in the afternoon and decided to  pop by the Folk Art Center for a quick picnic table activation since I was passing by.

The Folk Art Center is a site where I typically deploy smaller, lower-profile antennas to keep from interfering with others who are enjoying the park.  I try to keep my antennas very close to my operating spot and my counterpoises on the ground in a space where others aren’t likely to tread.

In the past, I’ve used the Wolf River Coils TIA, the Elecraft AX1, Chameleon MPAS Lite & MPAS 2.0, and once, a Packtenna 9:1 UNUN random wire. I avoid anything that slopes so that I don’t inadvertently “clothesline” unsuspecting vacationers!

On this trip, I had the Chameleon MPAS Lite vertical and a new toy: the Chameleon Universal Clamp Mount (CHA UCM).

Continue reading POTA Field Report: Picnic table activation with the FT-817ND, CHA UCM, and MPAS Lite

New radio day! A shakeout activation on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I learn a lot about a radio the first time I take it to the field. I’m not sure if it’s because being out of the shack helps me give it my full attention, or if it’s because field conditions vary and this allows me to see how flexible and adaptable the radio is.

On Monday (May 17, 2021), I was eager to hit the field with a new-to-me radio.

The previous week I didn’t log even one park or summit activation. Typically I’d hit at least two. There were a couple of reasons for this…

First, we had a fuel shortage in western NC and I didn’t want to burn any extra fuel for activations knowing we had some important family errands that week.

Secondly, I needed to hunker down and finish a number of projects I’d been working on including a lengthy two-part field radio kit feature for The Spectrum Monitor magazine, and a new in-depth TX-500 review for RadCom.  FYI: Part one of my feature for TSM will appear as the cover article in the June 2021 issue.

We also had a number of family projects to sort out. So a week at home perfectly timed with the fuel shortage.

The new radio

I collect reader and viewer suggestions and when I see that there’s a radio or product, in particular, folks would like to see tested, I try to obtain one.

One of the most requested radios lately has been the Xiegu X5105.

A number of readers have asked me to obtain an X5105 and take it to the field. Many are considering purchasing this (incredibly) affordable full-featured QRP transceiver, others own it, love it, and want to see how I like it compared with my other radios.

Last year, I came very close to purchasing the X5105 for review, but opted for the Xiegu G90 instead (here’s my review of the G90).

Even though the X5105 is only $550 US, I really didn’t want to make a purchase at this point because I’m budgeting for a new MacBook, new video camera, and I just purchased the TX-500.

So I reached out to Radioddity who is a sponsor over at the SWLing Post. I’d been in touch with Radioddity a lot as of late because I’ve been evaluating and testing the Xiegu GSOC for the past few months. They lent me the GSOC (and a G90 because I sold after my review) and I was in the process of packing up both units to send back to them.

I asked if they could lend me an X5105 for a few weeks. They were quite happy to do so and dispatched one in short order.

A clear relationship

Side story…

Back when I decided to place ads on the SWLing Post and QRPer.com, I worried about any inherent conflicts of interest. I read magazines that review products and can tell that they’re being gentle in their criticism because there’s a two page ad of the product immediately following the review. I don’t like that.

This conflict is something that’s almost inevitable with any radio publication that grows to the point of needing monetization to support it.

I made a few Golden Rules up front:

1.) I would only place radio-relevant ads on my sites. Period.

2.) My ads and sponsorships would be hand-picked and by invite only. I choose who can be a sponsor.

3.) I’m up-front with sponsors that my reviews call it like it is. If they send me product to review, I will give it an honest evaluation based on real-life use. If I don’t like it or can’t recommend one of their products, I’ll let my community know.

I’ve lost a couple of sponsors over Golden Rule #3 over the years. I’m okay with that because I’d rather not allow an advertiser on my site that can’t take customer criticism.

I invited Radioddity to be a sponsor of the SWLing Post last year after I had some positive interactions with them.

The Xiegu GSOC

Radioddity sent me the new GSOC to review in November 2020. I discovered in short order that the GSOC had some major issues and, frankly, I didn’t like it and certainly couldn’t recommend it. I communicated my concerns about this product with detailed notes and suggestions for improvement. I was open and honest about the GSOC on the SWLing Post (read the thread here).

Radioddity not only embraced my criticisms but sent them to the manufacturer and thanked me.

Impressive.

Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378)

But back to the activation!

So on Monday, May 17, I had an errand in town that took me right past the Blue Ridge Parkway Folk Arts Center. The detour to do an activation was maybe two minutes, so there was no “fuel-shortage” guilt! 🙂

Also, I had a good hour to burn before I needed to go home and pack for a quick trip to visit my folks.

Equipment list:

I deployed the PackTenna 9:1 random wire antenna specifically because I wanted to see how easily the X5105’s internal ATU could match it.

I hopped on 40 meters first, hit the ATU button and it quickly found a 1:1 match–good sign!

This turned out to be a pretty easy and simple activation.

I started calling CQ and within 12 minutes I logged 11 stations.

I moved up to 20 meters knowing it would be a tougher band, but worked one more station–KG5OWB at K-0756–pretty quickly.

I was quite happy with  logging 12 stations in short order. A nice contrast to recent activations where conditions were so poor it’s been a struggle to get even 10 contacts within an hour.

I would have stayed on the air longer but (as I mention in the video) I wasted a good 20-25 minutes waiting on the landscape crew to finish mowing on/around the site before I set up my station. I didn’t want to be in their way.

Here’s my log sheet from the POTA website:

Video

Of course, I made one of my real-time, real-life videos of the entire activation. I’ve quite a long preamble in this one, so if you’re interested in skipping straight to the on-the-air time, go to 16:24.

X5105 initial thoughts?

So far, I like the X5105. It certainly accomplishes its goal of being an all-in-one “shack in a box.”

I performed this activation only using the X5105 internal battery. In addition, the ATU worked perfectly with the random wire antenna.

I like the size–it’s much smaller than I imagined. It’s also fairly lightweight.

It feels rugged, too–I wouldn’t be concerned about it getting easily damaged in the field.

The speaker works pretty well, but if the volume level is pushed too hard, it starts to splatter. I wish it could handle a little more volume before the splattering kicks in.

The ergonomics are pretty good. It didn’t take long to sort out how to use most of the functions.

One area for improvement? The owner’s manual. It’s poorly written and (frankly) reads as if it was rushed to print.

For example, I wanted to set up CW memory keying prior to hitting the field. Unfortunately, the owner’s manual was no help.

There’s actually a dedicated page regarding CW memory keying, but the first thing it does is reference a different section of the manual (without giving a page number). I followed the procedure, but it didn’t work. In fact, it didn’t make sense as it seemed lead me down the path of digital mode macros. I think the manual may be referencing a procedure before the last firmware update (which, it appears, changed the menu structure significantly).

If you can help guide me through setting up CW memory keying, please comment! I’m sure it’s a simple process, but I haven’t sorted it out yet.

Overall, though? I see why the X5105 is so popular. It appears to compete with a loaded Elecraft KX2. It’s a bit larger, heavier, and less “refined” but it’s also half the price of a loaded KX2.

I also think it’s a great radio for CW operators. The keying feels natural and responsive. It uses relays instead of pin diode switching, so QSK includes a little relay clicking. I don’t find it to be too loud, though.

I’ll be taking the X5105 out again very soon.  I’ve got it for 6 weeks, so it will get plenty of park and summit time. If you own the X5105, I’d love to hear your comments on this portable rig.

Thanks for reading!

Pairing the TX-500 and MPAS 2.0 on a beautiful morning activation of the Blue Ridge Parkway

On the morning of May 10, 2021, I had a hankering to head to the Blue Ridge Parkway for a quick park activation.

I had a particular spot in mind–one that’s only two miles or so from my QTH as the crow flies. The only wrinkle in my plan was that we were expecting rain all morning and at our house we were in thick fog and light, steady rain.

Normally when I have these conditions, I look for a sheltered site, but I thought it might be a great time to take out the TX-500 since it’s weather-resistant. Why not, right?

I packed the lab599 Discovery TX-500, my Chameleon MPAS 2.0 vertical, and my Elecraft T1 antenna tuner to pair the two. I also brought along some rain gear.

Although the activation site is close to home as the crow flies, it actually takes about 30 minutes to drive there. By the time I reached the site, the skies were mostly clear and the sun was shining! This time of year, it reminds me of living in the UK: if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.

Gear:

On The Air

This was very much a road side activation. The spot I chose isn’t an overlook–although it did provide amazing views–it was simple a pull-off.

This is where antennas like the MPAS 2.0 are so useful: they are self-supporting and very quick to deploy. Since I was set up right off the road, I also appreciate using verticals rather than wire antennas since the antenna and throw line aren’t in the way of others who might choose to park in the same pull-off.  I can easily deploy the counterpoise and feedline so that it’s out of the way.

As with most park activations, I started on 40 meters CW and only operated 5 watts.

I quickly racked up five contacts on 40 meters, then the band fell silent.

I moved up to 30, then 20, down to 80, back to 60 and 40 again.

About 30 minutes had passed since I was last on 40 meters, so new hunters were checking the bands. I snagged a total of seven more contacts in about eleven minutes.

Obviously, 40 meters was the only band open that morning!

A quick note about 80 meters

I get a lot of questions from readers and YouTube subscribers about my use of the 80 meter band during the daytime.

I go into more detail about this in the video, but contrary to what many think, 80 meters can be a very useful daytime band for POTA activators.

While it’s true that you’re not going to work DX on 80 meters during the daylight hours (else, highly unlikely), you can still work local and regional stations.

Keep in mind that POTA, WWFF, and SOTA activations aren’t about working DX. DX is fun and perhaps a personal goal, but it has nothing to do with success in achieving a valid activation.

Basically, any contacts–DX or local–will get you what is needed for a valid activation.

If, like me, you live in a part of the country where there are a concentration of park and summit hunters/chasers within a daytime 80 meter footprint, then hop on that band and give it a go!

I’m not sure how useful this might be for activations in sparsely populated areas like Montana or the Dakotas, for example, but along the east and west coast, 80 meters is your friend.

At this particular activation, I didn’t didn’t employ an efficient antenna for 80 meters. While I’ve made numerous 80 meter contacts on the CHA MPAS 2.0 in the past, it’s just not physically large enough to be efficient on that band.  The CHA Emcomm III Portable or another long wire antenna would have provided better results. But I knew that 40 meters and possibly 30 meters would be my best bet that day, so the MPAS 2.0 was a great choice.

Again: don’t forget about 80 meters. It’s helped me snag many an activation!

Video

Here’s my real-time, leal-life, no-edit video of the entire activation:

Click here to view on YouTube.

You might hear an audio pop when I’m keying on the TX-500. This is happening because I have the audio gain cranked up all the way for the video. While the speaker/mic can get quite loud, when I’ve got it located so far from the camera mic, I run it at 100% volume to be heard. I recently changed my CW T/R recovery time from 100ms to 400s which eliminated most of the audio popping.

Thank you for reading this field report! I hope you’re getting an opportunity to take your radios outdoors this week!


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The Blue Ridge Parkway and some POTA with the TX-500 and MFJ-1984LP EFHW

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a massive national park.

This stretch of scenic road spans 469 miles (755 km) from North Carolina into Virginia and crossing 29 counties along the way.

I could activate the BRP every day for the rest of my life and find a new activation spot every single day.

But at the end of the day, I return to reliable spots that I love in particular because of the solitude, the access to trails, and of course the trees.

There are trees along the parkway I know so well, I should name them. They’re always there when I’m ready to deploy a wire antenna.

On Wednesday, May 5, 2021, I visited one of my favorite BRP activations sites that I used during the year-long National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) program in 2016.

This particular site is simply a small hill on the side of the road and at the top, there some excellent trees. There’s also a short path leading to the for the Mountains To Sea trail.

This particular spot also overlooks a valley and has a wee bit of altitude. I’m not sure how meaningful that is for an HF op, but it always seems to help.

Blue Ridge Parkway, NC (K-3378)

Of course, since the lab599 Discovery TX-500 was still so new to me, it had to come out to play.

I decided to skip using an ATU, keep things simple, and pair the TX-500 with my MFJ-1984LP EFHW (above).

Gear:

 

I started on 40 meters where I very quickly snagged my good friend, Eric (WD8RIF) who most likely saw my callsign on the RBN and kindly took a break from work to hop on the air work me 5 watts both ways. I’m willing to bet Eric was even a bit envious and wished he could have been outdoors putting parks on the air that morning. It’s fair play, though, because he’s often out doing multi-park runs while I’m working from home.

We must live vicariously through each other, right? Right.

Where was I?

Oh yes, the contacts started rolling in on 40 meters.

I worked K4NAN, KD8IE, K8RAT, N4EX, NE4TN, N9UNX, KB4PY, KC5F, KN3A, and NS4J on 40 meters in the span of about eleven minutes. I really enjoy that kind of cadence.

Next, I moved to 20 meters knowing it might not be an ideal band. I called CQ for nearly 10 minutes, then logged N6GR in New Mexico.

This activation reminded me that POTA often feels like a little impromptu family reunion as so many of the ops I logged that day were POTA friends and also enthusiastic activators.

I decided that 12 logged was a great number, so I called QRT and packed up. I most enjoyable activation!

The TX-500, clipboard, and my logging pads all tuck away nicely in the GR1’s slip-in rucking plate pocket.

Video

Of course, I recorded one of my real-life, real-time activation videos. Hazel and some very irritating flora are also featured.

Click here to view on YouTube.

Here’s a QSO Map of the activation as well:

I remember during National Parks On The Air, a hunter who worked me daily asked, “Do you ever get tired of activating the Blue Ridge Parkway?”

I told him that the BRP is so large, so diverse, and so beautiful, there’s simply no way I could ever get tired of it.


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Field Report: Pairing the LDG Z-100 Plus, Icom IC-705, and Chameleon Emcomm III Portable

Last Tuesday (April 27, 2020), I grabbed my radio gear and my boots then headed to the Blue Ridge Parkway for a quick morning activation.

There were three factors motivating me: 1.) the weather was amazing 2.) I had three free hours in my schedule and 3.) I was eager to pair the LDG Z-100 ATU with the Icom IC-705 for the first time.

Hazel–my canine companion–was as eager to hit the field as I was.

“Let’s go, Dad!”

When she heard me grab my boots, she met me at the door with tail wagging.

I did plan to hit the Blue Ridge Parkway, but had not decided on an actual site. The lowest hanging fruit (easiest sites to reach from the QTH) are the Folk Arts Center and the Blue Ridge Parkway Headquarters. I wanted more altitude, though, so we drove to the Craggy Gardens Picnic Area.

This is a favorite spot for our family, but this time of year can be quite busy–especially around noon. I hoped that I could beat the crowds by arriving early.  We pulled into the parking lot around 9:00 AM and were one of the only cars there (score!).

Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378 NC)

Hazel and I found a concrete picnic table overlooking the parking area and I quickly deployed the CHA Emcomm III Portable over a short tree with my arborist throw line. (Have I mentioned before how AMAZING an arborist throw line is? Why yes, I have!)

Gear:

On The Air

I made a video of the entire activation including pairing the Z-100 Plus ATU with the IC-705 via the supplied command cable.  In true K4SWL style, I didn’t read the Z-100 Plus owner’s manual or connect the Z-100 Plus to the IC-705 prior to recording.

Frankly, I forgot to read the manual I wanted to show what it was like pairing the Z-100 Plus and IC-705 for the first time without having even referenced the manual.  Fortunately, it couldn’t have been an easier process: connect the command cable, and go into the ATU function menu to activate the tuner.

I started my activation on 80 meters and–although the band was dead quiet–I worked K8RAT, WD8RIF, K4JAZ and ND1J in about six minutes.

Next, I moved up to 40 meters where I worked nine more stations in about thirteen minutes.

Finally, I moved to the 30 meter band where I worked two more stations in about five minutes.

One first for this activation was working K8RAT in north central Ohio on all three bands! His signal was incredibly weak on 30 meters, but I recognized his sideswiper “fist” or operating style.

At the end of the activation, I tested the Z-100 Plus by having it match the Emcomm III Portable random wire all the way up the band to 6 meters. It did a fine job.

No surprise here as the Z-100 Plus is a well-loved ATU that’s been on the market for quite some time already. At $150 it’s a proper bargain of an ATU. Unlike the mAT-705 Plus which only pairs with the IC-705, the Z-100 Plus is RF-sensing and can pair with any transceiver on the market.

Video

Here’s a video of the entire activation including pairing the Z-100 Plus with the IC-705 for the first time:

QSOmap

Here’s a QSO map of the entire activation:

This was a very enjoyable activation at one of my favorite Blue Ridge Parkway picnic areas. It was especially pleasant to have the place all to ourselves–a true rarity! I think Hazel was a bit bummed that our local red squirrels (we call them “Boomers”) weren’t out in full force. They’re proper “Squirrel TV” for her since she must be on a leash on the parkway and can’t chase them as she does at home.

If you’re ever travelling the Blue Ridge Parkway, this is a great area. As I mention in the video, the Craggy Gardens Picnic Area also borders a vast tract of land–accessible by a forest service road on the site’s driveway–where the Pisgah National Forest and Pisgah Game Land overlap for a POTA two-fer (here’s a previous report including this two-fer).

Craggy Dome–a SOTA summit–is also very close by. In addition, Mount Mitchell State Park is only 20-25 north on the parkway and offers up both a POTA site and SOTA summit. So many possibilities on this part of the BRP! One could easily activate four parks and two summits in the space of a few hours.

I hope you enjoyed this field report!

Thomas (K4SWL)

POTA Field Report: “Wham Bam!” Blue Ridge Parkway activation

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.

Gear:

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!

Video

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

Thank you for reading this field report!

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!

Impromptu POTA activation using the Elecraft AX1 Antenna

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.)

Gear:

If you’d like to accompany me on this park activation, check out my video on YouTube:

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

Click to enlarge

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.

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!

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!