On September 20, 2021, I had a full day planned in town. It was one of those days where my few errands and appointments were spread out across the day in such a way that driving back home between appointments made no sense. I knew I might have a bit of time to kill.
The big appointment holding me in town was recall service work on my Subaru that would take most of the day. The dealership reserved a loaner car for me.
That morning, I cleaned out my car (removing a couple of radios and antennas) and I packed a backpack with the supplies I’d need for the day; water, sandwich, laptop, and (fortunately) my Elecraft KX2 and AX1 antenna.
I would take this pack with me in the loaner car as I ran my other errands. I remember thinking that there was likely no possibility of doing an activation–it was rainy and I knew even getting set up at the service center might take an hour. I packed the Elecraft gear nonetheless. (Never leave home without a radio, I say!)
The elastic straps inside the pouch keep the elements of the antenna organized and separated. They don’t hold the sections tightly in place, but they do the trick.
I store the two AX1 counterpoise wires (one for 40M, the other for 20/17) in its interior zipped pocket.
The Fatty pouch also stores a small Muji notepad and mechanical pencil (for logging).
I actually keep a logbook specifically for the AX1 because it’s so fun to see just how many miles per watt I’ve achieved with this pocket antenna.
I also like the clam shell opening.When I arrive on-site, I open the case and everything is arranged and prepared for assembly (which takes all of 2-3 minutes). Since every piece of the AX1 assembly has its own dedicated spot in the Fatty pouch, I can tell at a glance if I’ve forgotten something.
In the spirit of full discoure, you should know that besides being a radio enthusiast, I’m also a hopeless pack geek. I almost exclusively buy backpacks and travel gear from smaller manufacturers mostly located here in the USA. I support companies like Red Oxx, Tom Bihn, and Spec-Ops Brand to name a few. I have even helped pack companies with their designs and pre-production evaluations (much like I do for radio manufacturers).
Maxpedition is a US-based company that manufactures much of their gear in Taiwan (I believe). Although I originally purchased this Fatty pouch and two other Maxpedition pouches about six years ago, I can say their their quality and durability are superb. The zippers all work fluidly, seams are well-stitched, and I’ve never had one fail on me in any way. Their gear is more affordable than most of the packs I typically purchase.
I wish Maxpedition made a padded case that would fit my IC-705, Elecraft KX3, or even the Elecraft KX2 (although the Lowe Pro packs Elecraft sells seem to work well). I’ve never tested Maxpedition slings and backpacks, but I may give one a try soon. I would love input from any readers who are familiar with larger Maxpedition packs.
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!
Typically, there’s a trade off with field antennas:
High-performance antennastend to take more time to install. Some of my highest performance antennas are dipoles, doublets, delta loops, and end fed wire antennas. All of them require support from a tree if I want maximum height off the ground. Some (like the dipole) require multiple supports. While I actually enjoy installing wire antennas in trees, it typically takes me at least 10 minutes to install a wire antenna if it only needs one support and one counterpoise.
Compromised or low-profile antennas may lack performance and efficiency, but are often much quicker and easier to deploy.
In my opinion, field operators should keep both types of antennas in their arsenal because sometimes the site itself will dictate which antenna they use. I’ve activated many sites where wire antennas simply aren’t an option.
That was not the case last Tuesday, however.
Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)
On Tuesday, December 29, 2020, I stopped by Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)–one of my favorite local state parks–for a quick, impromptu activation.
I had no less than four antennas in my car that day and Tuttle is the type of site where I can install pretty much anything: they’ve a spacious picnic area with large tables, tall trees, and parking is close by. Tuttle is the perfect place to deploy not only a large wire antenna, but a large radio if you wish since you don’t have to lug it far from the car.
But en route to Tuttle I decided to take a completely different approach. One of the four antennas I had in the car that day was the Elecraft AX1 antenna.
Without a doubt, the AX1 is the most portable antenna I own. It’s so compact, I can carry it in my pocket if I wish.
When I first purchased the AX1, I was very skeptical and assumed it would only work when “the stars aligned”–days with better-than-average propagation and lots of POTA hunters/chasers looking for me.
The first time I used the AX1 in the field, it impressed me (understatement alert).
In all of my AX1 activations, however, I had only operated on the 40 meter band where the antenna’s footprint looked more like a NVIS antenna than a vertical. Meaning, most of my contacts were in neighboring states like Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia (typically, those states are in my 40 meter skip zone).
The reason I hadn’t tried 20 or 17 meters with the AX1 is because I would start an activation on the 40 meter band and accumulate enough contacts to achieve a valid activation. Since I’m often pressed for time, I simply didn’t bother configuring the antenna for the higher bands.
Time for that to change!
The question I wanted answered at Tuttle: could the AX1 antenna work “DX” stations? By DX, I mean POTA DX, so distant states and provinces primarily–not necessarily other countries.
I paired the Elecraft KX3 with the AX1 at Tuttle. This was the first time I’d ever tried this particular transceiver/antenna combo.
After setting up, I started on the 20 meter band and called CQ for a few minutes.
The first two stations I worked were in Texas (KF9RX and K5RX).
The third station (W6LEN) was in California.
Honestly, it was/is hard for me to fathom how in the world 10 watts into a tabletop telescoping whip antenna could work a station exactly 2,083 miles (3,352 km)–and three time zones away–from my picnic table. I’m sure W6LEN has a great antenna on the other end, but I bet he would be surprised to learn that my 10 watt signal was being radiated by such a wee antenna.
I then worked stations in Florida (K2WO), Minnesota (N0UR), and New Hampshire (W2NR) and decided to move to 17 meters.
On 17 meters I worked W2NR in New Hampshire once again.
I should note here that each time you work a station on a different band or with a different mode, it counts as a separate contact in POTA. In other words, my contacts with W2NR on 20 meters and 17 meters counts as two logged contacts toward my overall QSO count. I’m very appreciative of hunters who go out of their way to work me on different bands and modes: those extra contacts help me achieve a valid activation in short order.
I then moved to 40 meters and worked stations from Tennessee, West Virginia, Ohio, and Michigan.
Here’s a video of the entire activation. It’s a long video as it starts at set-up and continues until my last contact. There are no edits in this video–it’s a real-time, real-life deal and contains all of my bloopers:
Note that in the video I had the KX3’s volume maxed out so that it could be picked up by my iPhone microphone. The KX3’s wee internal speaker was vibrating the chassis ever so slightly. On the 40 meter band, it resonated enough that it moved the encoder slightly. Next time, I’ll plan to bring a portable external speaker (if you have any suggestions of good ones, let me know).
I should also add that I’m very pleased with my new Bioenno 3aH LiFePo 12V battery. You can see it in the photo above–it’s slim, lightweight, and very compact.
I purchased it during Bioenno’s Black Friday sale. I was a little concerned it might not have enough capacity to carry me through multiple activations–my other LiFePo batteries re 4.5 and 15 aH–but that does not seem to be the case at all! Not only did it provide nearly an hour of intense use on this activation, but it also powered three activations the previous day–all four activations on one charge! Brilliant!
As I mentioned in a previous post, this was one of those activations that reminded me of the magic of low-power radio. It was incredibly fun!
For all of those phone/SSB operators out there, I will eventually see how successful I can be doing a phone-only activation with the AX1 antenna. I’ll plan to make a video of it as well. I’ll need to plan this for a day when I have more time to spend on the air and at a site where I know I’ll have internet access to spot myself to the POTA network. SSB isn’t quite as effective as CW when operating with a setup this modest. Still–it can be done! It just requires a little more patience. Please let me know if this sort of thing would interest you.
I’ll keep this post short and sweet because I plan to write up a full field report with video sometime next week.
Tuesday (December 29, 2020), I fit in an impromptu Parks On The Air (POTA) activation in the afternoon. The station was very modest: basically, my Elecraft KX3 paired with the super compact Elecraft AX1 antenna.
Here’s what I did with 10 watts and a wee telescoping whip during mediocre propagation:
I got a huge thrill out of this.
Honestly, this hobby never gets old and I honestly believe there’s magic in QRP!
Here’s wishing everyone a safe, healthy and happy New Year!
I’m currently taking a little vacation time with the family on the coast of South Carolina and Saturday, December 5, 2020, we decided to explore a nearby park and activate it. I happened upon the ACE Basin Project on the POTA website and thought it sounded intriguing. Our plan was to go to the park, perform a quick activation, perhaps hike a bit, then go to the coast for a beach walk.
I’ve been to wildlife management areas and game lands that have been very basic perhaps only featuring a parking area and a trail or two– which is fine, frankly.
But sometimes you happen upon gems like the Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge that are so much more!
The visitor’s center and the main gates to the house were closed, but the grounds were still open to the public. We parked in the area just outside the main gates.
Since I had no idea what to expect on site, I grabbed my Red Oxx Micro Manager field kit that had the Elecraft KX2 and AX1 antenna packed inside.
On this vacation, space in the family car was extremely limited, so I only packed the AX1 and the Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite vertical antennas to pair with the KX2. I left the CHA MPAS Lite vertical in the car assuming I might actually perform the activation back at the parking area once we walked around the main house.
The KX2/AX1 travel kit is incredibly portable and lightweight. That’s the whole kit in the bag in the photo above.
On the air
Turns out, we pretty much had the entire campus to ourselves that day and, as a bonus, there was even an excellent picnic area where I could easily set up the KX2 and AX1 antenna.
I hopped on the air around noon and started calling CQ. I had no internet access on site, but could tell the Reverse Beacon Network and POTA spots page had auto-spotted me because I worked about three stations on CW within the first few minutes.
I started on 40 meters CW, but quickly moved over to phone before converting the AX1 antenna for 20 and 17 meters.
A friend spotted me on the POTA site and I worked a couple more stations on SSB.
After only 15 or 20 minutes on the air, my wife suggested we stay put for a couple of hours. We were all loving the gorgeous weather, wildlife, and beautiful scenery by the pond. She asked our daughters to hike back to the car and grab our picnic lunch. I decided to accompany them and grab the CHA MPAS Lite vertical knowing it would be a much more effective antenna for a longer activation.
The hike was about 30 minutes round-trip (that’s a long plantation driveway!).
After I got back to the site, I installed the MPAS Lite which took all of four minutes. A friend, once again, spotted me on the POTA network and I started calling CQ on 20 meters phone.
I quickly worked stations from Texas, Missouri, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Ontario.
I wanted to hop back to CW mode though, because I discovered K-0520 (this park) had never been activated in CW before and wanted to give CW hunters a chance to put it in the logs.
I worked stations across the US on 20 meters CW from Tennessee to Kansas, from Arizona, to Alaska, and from Iowa to Ontario. Major fun!
I also decided to head further up the band and work AD1C in Colorado on 15 meters (there were no takers on 12 and 10 meters, but I tried–!).
I started around 17:00 UTC and wrapped things up around 19:15 UTC with 34 logged. That may seem like a low QSO count for over two hours, but a good 45-50 minutes of that time I was off air while hiking back to the car and grabbing the MPAS Lite, setting it up, and enjoying a quick picnic with the family.
All in all it was a very memorable day at the ACE Basic WMA. If you’re ever in the low country of South Carolina, I highly recommend a visit. It’s a stunning site with lots of flora, fauna, hikes, and, of course, a great spot for a little field radio fun!
Note: If I worked you during this activation, it may not show up on the POTA website until I’m home from vacation and can create an ADIF file to submit the logs!
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.
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
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
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.
“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?