One of the closest parks to my parents’ home in Hickory, North Carolina (where I travel most weeks) is South Mountains State Park.
Despite its convenient location, I haven’t activated South Mountains many times and, in fact, the times I have activated it, I’ve always found it a struggle to log the ten contacts needed for a valid park activation. I suspect it’s had less to do with the physical location of my operating spot (which has admittedly been in a bit of a “bowl” surrounded by hills) and much more to do with the fact that propagation has been crappy on the days I tried to activate.
Ironically, I’ve activated the adjoining South Mountains Game Land numerous times with wonderful success. It’s funny how that works.
South Mountains State Park (K-2753)
I had a good reason to hit South Mountains on September 9, 2021. My buddy Max (WG4Z) had just purchased an Elecraft KX3 at the Shelby Hamfest (at an incredible deal, I might add). He plans to pair it with a Chameleon CHA TDL (Tactical Delta Loop) he has on order.
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!
Yesterday, I started the day hoping I might fit in one afternoon activation at a local park. In the morning, however, my schedule opened up and I found I actually had a window of about six hours to play radio!
Instead of hitting a local park, I considered driving to parks I’d been planning to activate for months.
I may have mentioned before that, earlier this year, I created a spreadsheet where I listed of all of the parks I planned to activate in 2020.
Each park entry had the park name, POTA designator, priority (high/medium/low), difficulty level for access, and a link to the geo coordinates of where I could park and possibly hike to the site. I spent hours putting that list together as finding park access–especially for game lands–isn’t always easy.
Yesterday morning, I looked at that sheet and decided to knock two, or possibly three off the list.
I had already plotted the park run, driving to Perkins State Game Land (K-6935) near Mocksville, then to the NC Transportation Museum State Historic Site (K-6847) in Spencer, and finally Second Creek Game Land (K-6950) in Mt Ulla.
The circuit required about three hours of driving. Here’s the map: When I plan an activation run, I factor in the travel time, add ten minutes extra if it’s my first time at the site (assuming I’ll need to find a spot to operate) and then assume at least one hour to deploy my gear, work at least ten stations, and pack up.
Using this formula, I’d need to allow three hours for driving, plus an additional three hours of operating time, plus a few minutes to sort out an operating spot at Perkins Game Land. That would total six hours and some change.
Knowing things don’t always go to plan, I decided I’d quickly omit the NC Transportation museum if I was running behind after the Perkins activation. In fact, I felt like the NC Transportation Museum might be out of reach, so I didn’t even schedule the activation on the POTA site.
Perkins State Game Land (K-6935)
I arrived at K-6935 a little before noon (EST).
Since this is the week after Christmas, I had a hunch game lands could be quite busy with folks trying out their new hunting gear and I was correct. I passed by the first small parking area and it was packed with vehicles, so I drove on to the second parking area I identified via Google Maps satellite view.
The second parking area was also busy, but was larger. There was just enough room for my car to park between two trucks.
I donned my blaze orange vest–a necessity at any game land–and walked outside to asses the site. In short? It was a tough one. There were no easy trees to use for antenna support and I simply didn’t have the space. I knew folks would walk through the area where I set up my antenna so a wire antenna would have acted a lot like a spider’s web.
I pulled out my trust Chameleon MPAS Lite vertical antenna and deployed it next to the car. I rolled out the counterpoise into the woods paralleling a footpath so no one would trip on it.
Since I had no room to set up outside, I operated from the backseat of my car–it was actually very comfortable.
I pulled out the Elecraft KX3 and hooked it directly to the MPAS Lite–it easily tuned the antenna on both 40 meters, where I started, then later 20 meters.
I very quickly logged 13 stations on 40 and 20 meters.
While on the air, a number of other hunters discovered the parking area was nearly full–some turned around and left. I decided to cut the activation with 13 logged and skipped doing any SSB work. I accomplished what I set out to do here, was short on time, and I wasn’t actually using the game land for its intended purpose. Better to give others the parking space!
I quickly packed up and started the 30 minute drive to my next site.
NC Transportation Museum State Historic Site (K-6847)
I knew what to expect at the NC Transportation Museum because I’ve visited the museum in the past and, earlier this year, scoped out a spot to activate the park in their overflow parking area.
The museum is closed on Mondays. In general, I avoid activating parks and sites that are closed. I never want to give anyone at the park a bad impression of POTA activators.
In this case, however, the overflow parking area is wide open even when the park is closed and there was no one at the site. I felt very comfortable setting up the CHA MPAS Lite which is a pretty stealthy antenna. Indeed, as I was setting up, I’m guessing it was a museum employee that passed by in their car and waved–no doubt, POTA activators are a familiar site!
I set up my portable table behind the car under the hatchback so I took up the least amount of space.
I used the table primarily so I could shoot one of my real-time, real-life videos of a park activation. Readers have been asking for more of these and I’m happy to make them if they’re helpful to even one new ham.
In the end, I logged 13 stations and didn’t try to work more because I was still on track to activate one more park. I didn’t feel bad about only working 13 stations, because this site has been activated many times in the past–in other words, it wasn’t exactly rare.
Again, since I planned to make a video of the activation, I set up my portable table.
I decided en route to the site, that I’d use the Chameleon MPAS 2.0 vertical at Second Creek. Although I’ve used the more compact Chameleon MPAS Lite at a number of parks–including the two previous parks–I had a great spot to deploy the taller MPAS 2.0.
As with the MPAS Lite, deployment was very quick. the MPAS 2.0 vertical is made up of folding pole sections–much like tent poles. As with all Chameleon gear I’ve ever used, the quality is military grade. Full stop.
I started calling CQ on the 20 meter band in CW this time. Within a minute or so I logged my first contact, followed by five more.
I then moved to the 40 meter band and logged twelve more stations in twelve minutes.
I decided to then give SSB a go as well and logged two more stations for a total of twenty stations logged.
I would like to have stayed longer at Second Creek and even used the MPAS 2.0 on 80 meters, but frankly I was pushing my time limit to the edge.
All in all, it was a brilliant three park run!
These days, it’s difficult to pack more than three parks in my available time–in fact, I think this was the first three park run I’d done in months. During National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) in 2016, I’d been known to pack four or five parks in a day–it was so much fun.
Here’s my QSOmap for the day (click to enlarge):
Getting outside on such a beautiful day, driving through some picturesque rural parts of my home state, and playing radio? Yeah, that’s always going to be a formula for some amazing fun!
On Field Day 2020, I activated this park and learned later that it was an ATNO (All-Time New One). It was very hard to believe because the site is nearly ideal for a POTA activation.
The Vance Birthplace is my go-to site when I want to do some field radio work without travelling too far and when the weather is marginal. The site has a wonderful large covered picnic area we typically have all to ourselves, and I can set up knowing that if it rains it won’t stop the activation.
When we arrived at the Vance Birthplace on Sunday, November 29, we were the only guests at the park. Even though the visitor’s center is closed on Sundays, the park is still open to the public.
On this particular activation, I decided to give my Elecraft KX3 some field time. I think this was its first field outing in several months. I decided to pair it with the Chameleon Emcomm III Portable antenna to make the most of multi-band operation. I knew in advance that this activation would also coincide with the CQ Worldwide CW contest and I wanted some frequency agility–the Emcomm III Portable covers 160-6 with a good ATU.
On the Air
After deploying the CHA Emcomm III Portable random wire antenna in a similar configuration as I have in the past (see image above), I tuned to 17M CW to avoid the contest crowd.
I worked a few stations but, frankly, it was slow going. For POTA, I’ve found that 18 meters isn’t the most productive band at this point in the solar cycle, but a number of other POTA ops were there too as they didn’t want to compete with blowtorch contest stations on 40 and 20 meters.
I eventually moved down to 30 meters and worked a few station as well.
I knew in advance I’d want to log some stations in SSB, so I brought the Heil Proset-K2 Boom Headset along for the ride. I can’t recommend this boom headset enough if you own an Elecraft KX3 or KX2. I believe great audio is the best way to maximize your QRP SSB signal and this headset is custom made for Elecraft gear and certainly delivers. It’s a major upgrade over the KX3 hand mic and, I believe, must add two S units to your signal.
Holy cow! I had no idea what would be awaiting me on 40 meters phone.
I spotted myself on the POTA network and my daughter, Geneva (K4TLI), moved in to log for me on my Microsoft Surface Go tablet.
In all of my field activations, I’ve never had the pileups I had that day. It sounded like proper DXpedition pileups. In order to make the most of it, I had to note three or four calls at a time and work them in succession.
Had this not been POTA, I think I would have moved to split operation to break apart the pileup and work it more efficiently. But in truth, POTA hunters/chasers are not used to thinking in terms of split. With only a handful of exceptions (for example, when I activated rare parks during the 2016 NPOTA program) I’ve never had a pileup so large I considered operating split at a park.
I did work stations about as quickly as I could but didn’t go into full “contest” mode where I give a quick signal report then move on to the next person.
Frankly, POTA and SOTA are not contests and part of the fun of it for me is the community and bonds that are formed between activators and hunters. It’s like meeting people at an on-air family reunion.
My SSB exchanges are never long-winded. I do maintain a certain cadence and keep POTA exchanges relatively brief because that’s just my operating style. I see this as a courtesy to the hunters who may have a limited opening to work my park and I want them to have ample opportunity to put me in the logs. I only spend a bit of time rag-chewing if the bands are a bit dead.
At the same time, I endeavor to make my exchanges friendly. I always try to take a few seconds to thank the operator at the other end of the ether and and wish them a good day.
Because, at the end of the day? POTA is not a contest.
But I digress…
It was amazing fun getting a bit of that pileup “rush”–!
Geneva was logging about as quickly as she could as she heard me reply to stations with their callsigns. I would like to have used the speaker on my KX3 so she could follow the pileup but one of the weak points of the KX3 is the mediocre audio from the internal speaker.
You might see me logging in the photos above because I was also keeping a paper log to cross-reference with the N3FJP generated logs later.
I worked a total of 90 stations in about one hour and five minutes on the air.
I made 10 CW contacts on 17 and 30 meters, and 80 SSB contacts on 40 meters.
Of course, it was SSB where I really racked up the contacts in short order: 80 stations in 47 minutes. Whew!
I’m certain I could have logged 150-200 stations if I had more than about an hour or so of on-air time. By the time I left the air, I did eliminate the pileup.
Here’s the QSO Map from my logs (click to enlarge):
By the way: Geneva (K4TLI) is close to taking her General exam so you’ll soon be seeing her call on the POTA and SOTA spots page! I’m already piecing together components for her field pack! Of course, she’ll start by building her own resonant antennas! She can’t wait.
Note: this post was originally publish on my other radio blog, The SWLing Post.
I’ve owned my Elecraft KX3 for five years, and this little rig continues to amaze me.
In 2013, I gave the KX3 one of the most favorable reviews I’ve ever published–and it continues to hold its own. That’s why last year I recommended the KX3 to my buddy and newly minted ham radio operator, Sébastien (VA2SLW), who had already been eyeing the KX3 as his first HF transceiver.
A few weeks ago, Sébastien bit the bullet and is now the proud owner of a KX3 with built-in ATU. He purchased the KX3 with plans to do a lot of field operations including SOTA (Summits On The Air) and also use the KX3 at home.
Wednesday, I popped by Sébastien’s flat to help sort through some low-profile antenna options. I had suggested that he not invest in a factory made antenna just yet, but instead explore what he’s able to do with a simple wire antenna directly connected to the KX3 with a BNC Male to Stackable Binding Posts adapter. I’ve had excellent luck using this simple arrangement this in the past with the KX3, KX2 and even the KX1.
I did a quick QRM/RFI survey of his flat and balcony with my CC Skywave SSB. While there were the typical radio noises indoors, his balcony was pleasantly RFI quiet. At 14:00 local, I was able to receive the Voice of Greece (9,420 kHz), Radio Guinée (9,650 kHz) and WWV (both 10,000 and 15,000 kHz) with little difficulty. His building has incredibly thick concrete walls–I assume this does a fine job of keeping the RFI indoors. Lucky guy!
We popped by a wonderfully-stocked electronics shop in Québec City (Électromike–which I highly recommend) picked up some banana plugs and about 100′ of jacketed wire. We took these items back to the flat and cut a 35′ length of wire for the radiator and about 28′ for the ground. We added the banana plugs to the ends of each wire.
Sébastien temporarily attached one end of the antenna wire to the top of the fire escape and we simply deployed the ground wire off the side of the balcony. Neither of these wires interfere with his neighbors and neither are close to electric lines.
I had planned to cut both the radiator and ground until we found the “sweet spot”: where the ATU could find matches on 40, 30, 20 and 17 meters (at least).
Much to my amazement, the KX3 ATU got 1:1 matches on all of those bands save 80M where it still could achieve a 2.8:1 ratio. I couldn’t believe it!
Frankly, Elecraft ATUs are nothing short of amazing.
Even the ATU in my little KX2 once tuned a 20 meter hex beam to 40 meters and found a 1:1 match to boot. In contrast, the Icom IC-7300 sitting next to the KX2 wasn’t able to match that hex beam even though we performed a persistent ATU search. Not surprising as I wouldn’t expect a 40 meter match on a 20 meter antenna, but the Elecraft ATU did it with relative ease.
Sébastian did a quick scan of the ham radio bands where we heard a number of EU stations. I also took the opportunity to point out how well the KX3 operates as a broadcast receiver with the AM filter wide open and using headphones in the “delay” audio effects mode. The Voice of Greece sounded like a local station–absolutely gorgeous signal.
It was getting late in the day, so I couldn’t hang around to call CQ with Séb, but I left knowing that he is going to have a blast playing radio at home and, especially, in the field. Next, he plans to build a simple mag loop antenna, get a BioEnno LiFePo battery and eventually add other Elecraft accessories to his station. I’d say he’s off to a great start!
Battery Anker Astro Pro2 20000mAh Multi-Voltage (5V 12V 16V 19V)
Portable Charger External Battery Power Bank
Avoid look alike batteries and the next generation model from Anker. The newer Anker
battery is only capable of delivering 1.5A from the 12V supply. Two look alike batteries
I tried did not have the auto-off feature that the Anker does.
ACC2 and I/Q Jacks 2 x 2.5mm Stereo Jack Panel Mount (PH-666J-B)
Phone, Key, and ACC1 3 x 3.5mm Stereo Jack Panel Mount (High Quality) (PH-504KB)
Mic Jack 1 x 3.5mm 4 Conductor Jack Panel Mount (PH-70-088B)
12V IN and CHG IN 2 x 2.1mm DC Power Panel Mount Jack (PH-2112)
12V OUT 1 x 2.5mm DC Power Panel Mount Jack (PH-2512)
You also need plugs and wire for interconnects. I bought some 2.5mm (CES-11-5502)
and 3.5mm (PH-44-468 for stereo, PH-44-470 for 4-conductor) audio cables with right
angle plugs and just cut them to use for the signal lines going to the KX3. I did the same
thing for the 2.5mm (PH-TC250) and 2.1mm (PH-TC210) power cables. A couple of
caveats are in order. The Phone, Key, and ACC1 interconnects require low profile
right angle connectors. The cables I listed above won’t work. Vetco part number VUPN10338 will work. The power cables I’ve listed above use 24 gauge wire. This
is a little light, but the runs are small so I think it is OK. You can use higher gauge
cables if you can find a source.
USB OUT USB 2.0 Right Angle Extension Cable (RR-AAR04P-20G)
L Brackets 8 x Bracket Rt Ang Mount 4-40 Steel (612K-ND)
These L brackets are used to mount the KX3 to the panel and the panel to the case.
For mounting the KX3, I use a little piece of stick on felt on the bracket to protect the
KX3’s cabinet from damage. Replace the KX3’s screws with #4-40 Thread Size, 1/4”
Length Steel Pan Head Machine Screw, Black Oxide Finish (see below). For the panel
mounting, use #6-32 Thread Size, 3/16” Length self tapping sheet metal screw. You
may need to cut the tip off in order to not puncture the outside of the case.
RG316 BNC Male Angle to BNC Female SM Bulkhead Coaxial RF Pigtail Cable (6”)
This is not the original interconnect I used for connecting the KX3’s antenna output to
the panel. However, I think it is a better option for new designs. The caveat is that you
will need to verify the hole in the panel matches the bulkhead connector on this cable.
There will be a little loop in the cable when you are done, but that is fine.
This is optional if you want a built-in sound card interface for a waterfall display using iSDR. Make sure to eliminate the holes in the upper left corner of the panel if you are not installing. You will also need 2.5mm x 10mm screws to mount this to the bottom of the panel (see below).
In my opinion, the KX3’s noise reduction is totally ineffective for SSB communications. This external noise reducing DSP is one solution, albeit an expensive one, to that problem. It is only for SSB, not CW or digital modes. It is also available from GAP Antenna Products.
Scott: you have done a beautiful job here and have spared no expense to make a wonderfully-engineered and rugged go-box. No doubt, you’re ready to take your KX3 to the field and enjoy world-class performance on a moment’s notice.
Though I’ve never used them personally, I’ve noticed others who have taken advantage of the Front Panel Express engraving service–certainly makes for a polished and professional front panel.
Again, many thanks for not only sharing your photos, but also your bill of materials which will make it much easier for others to draw inspiration from your design!
Speaking of designs, when I looked up Scott on QRZ.com, I noticed that he also sports a QSL card (above) designed by my good friend, Jeff Murray (K1NSS). Obviously, Scott is a man with good taste!
“An app specifically made for the Elecraft KX3 is KX3Companion (www.kx3companion.com). There are free and paid versions on Google Play (does not work on Kindle Fire).
The same author has created KX3 KeyApp to give a virtual set of keys for KX3 users. It comes with two predefined templates (CW, and default) with KX3 macros setup for use.
Finally, he created QRSS Beacon – A fully featured QRSS (Slow CW) Beacon on Android. You can select a DIT duration from 1 to 60 seconds and choose one of the 3 supported modes: QRSS, FSK/CW and DFCW. This works on any radio, connect the audio out of your Android device to the audio in of your radio and an enable VOX.
Also, HamLog is available on iOS & Android (there’s even a MAC version).”
I recently built an Elecraft KX3 kit and took photographs of the process as I went along. Your host of QRPer.com, K4SWL, thought others would benefit from seeing how simple the process of building a KX3 really is. My thoughts and the photos of the process can be seen here on my website: