After returning from Canada this summer, I had a number of projects on the table including three radios to evaluate and a number of DIY projects on our investment house. The home projects took priority, so for the month of August, I did very little in terms of POTA activating.
In September, there was one radio in particular I was very eager to take to the field (besides the Penntek TR-45L). That was my Elecraft KX1, “Ruby.”
Before leaving for Canada, Ruby went into surgery once again under the care of my good friend “Dr.” Vlado (N3CZ).
I couldn’t figure out why she kept dropping power output to nil after being on the air for 20-25 minutes. I knew Vlado would sort out the issue.
Vlado discovered the source was a cold solder joint that was failing when the radio would become warm from operating. He fixed this and checked a number of other spots on the board.
He then tested the KX1 on a dummy load for and hour and she performed flawlessly after the surgery.
He fixed Ruby in early June and then we went to Canada for two months. I never put Ruby on the air in Canada.
After our return to the States, I was eager to take Ruby out to the field again and that’s exactly what I did on Sunday, September 11, 2022.
Lake James State Park (K-2739)
Lake James State Park–along with South Mountains State Park–are the easiest parks for me to hit during my nearly weekly travels on Interstate 40. I feel so fortunate that both are superb POTA sites with loads of spots to operate.
I arrived in the late afternoon and to my surprise there was hardly anyone at the park (I think it was a little too close to evening mealtime for families).
I set up my station at a table close to the parking area just to keep things simple. I was looking forward to enjoying at least 30 minutes on the air and seeing just how well Ruby might hold up.
I decided to use the Tufteln End-Fed Random Wire antenna knowing it would be a quick to deploy and frequency agile.
I tried to use the KX1 ATU to tune the random wire, but I wasn’t pleased with the SWR. Frankly, it was doable (1.9:1 on 20 meters), but I wanted something much closer to 1:1 since I was already only pushing 2.5-3 watts output.
Keep in mind, the KX1’s internal ATU is not in the same league as the ones in the Elecraft KX2, KX3, or T1–the KX1 ATU has a much smaller matching range.
Also, I suspect Ruby’s ATU wasn’t built for optimal performance by the original builder. I do plan to re-work her ATU as best I can at some point in the future.
I pulled out the Elecraft T1, put the KX1 ATU in bypass mode, and hooked it up to the antenna. The T1 had no problem at all finding 1:1 matches across 40, 30, and 20 meters, of course.
Long-time QRPer.com reader and supporter, Joshua (KO4AWH), runs an Etsy store with a wide range of products primarily designed for field operators. Over the past few months, Joshua has sent me various prototypes for feedback and also to test in the field. You’ll see some of his antennas in upcoming field reports and activation videos. I’m very impressed with his designs.
If you’re an Elecraft T1 owner, you should be especially interested in his T1 Protection Case.
Joshua sent me an early version of this clip-on case several months ago and it immediately replaced the simple cover I printed from a Thingiverse file. (To be clear, the Thingiverse case served me well for a couple years, but I prefer this one since it doesn’t require a rubber band to hold it on the T1.)
The Elecraft T1 is a hearty little ATU and I don’t worry about damaging it while tucked away in my SOTA pack, but the little buttons on the front are prone to be pushed with any amount of applied pressure. This can result in unintentional operation which can accidentally place it in bypass mode or at least shorten the life of your 9V cell.
The Elecraft T1 is not an inexpensive station accessory and, at the moment, they’re about as rare as hen’s teeth. The lead time on new T1s is counted in months rather than weeks (at time of posting, this is due to vendor board issues).
The Tufteln Protection Case simply snaps on the Elecraft T1 and protects the BNC connectors, ground point, and the front panel buttons.
The case material is durable and adds very little to the bulk of the T1.
Of course, you can’t operate the T1 with the case around it because the BNC connectors are covered, but I have propped up my T1 on the case while using it on rough concrete picnic tables. I’d rather the case be scratched than my T1!
If you own an Elecraft T1 and don’t have a protective cover, I’d encourage you to either print one, or buy Joshua’s T1 case. For years, I simply removed or reversed the 9V battery to keep the T1 from engaging while packed, but that doesn’t protect the buttons and (frankly) it’s a pain to pop the battery out and flip it for each use (then to remember to flip it back when packing away).
The Tufteln case is a simple and affordable ($16.50) solution!
Thanks for sending this to me, Joshua. I dropped my T1 while setting up my TX-500 for Field Day and it protected my favorite little ATU!
Maybe it’s just in the nature of those of us who love QRP.
We get a small thrill out of seeing what we can accomplish with less.
On the morning of February 7, 2022, I received an email from a subscriber in South Carolina who had placed an order for a new Elecraft KX2 and an AX1 antenna package. He picked this particular combination because he wanted the most simple and easy-to-set-up field radio system for impromptu CW POTA activations and a little random QRP fun.
He mentioned that, at his age, mobility is a bit of an issue and even though he knew a wire antenna would be more effective, deploying it while walking on uneven ground just wasn’t in the cards. The AX1 was a much more manageable and packable system. Plus, as he said, “I’m not going out to work DX. I just want to play and have fun.”
Only a week after placing his order, he was having buyer’s remorse which prompted his message.
He explained that he had exchanged emails with a friend in his radio club who told him he’d made a foolish mistake and that the AX1 was completely ineffective as an antenna and would only lead to disappointment. His friend said [direct quote here], “I owned [an AX1] for a month and was never able to make a single contact. It is really good at being a dummy load and nothing more! This thing shouldn’t be marketed as an antenna. It doesn’t work.”
I pointed out that I’ve used the AX1 numerous times in the field and have yet to be disappointed.
Before I used the AX1, I too, was very skeptical but after actually using it (instead of simply theorizing about it) I found it’s one of my most valuable antennas for a quick and fruitful activation. I pointed him to this playlist that includes all of my AX1 activations on YouTube. In all of these activation, I’ve limited myself to 5 watts as well even though the antenna can handle a full 10 or 15 watts from the KX2 or KX3.
I told him I’d been planning to pair the AX1 with my Mountain Topper MTR-3B and, it turned out, that very day a small window of opportunity opened in the afternoon. I told him we could both see how the AX1 might perform with three watts of power, especially since he’d planned to use 10 watts with his KX2.
On Friday, January 28, 2022, after a total of six individual park activations during the previous two days (a POTA RaDAR run and my first 2020 Antenna Challenge activation) driving back to the QTH I thought, “surely I can skip doing an activation today.”
That quickly turned into, “Wait a minute…I’ve got enough time to fit in both an activation and a hike!”
So I made a quick detour off of I-40 to visit the Clear Creek access of South Mountains State Park.
South Mountains State Park (K-2753)
I pulled into an empty parking area; not really a surprise on an early Friday afternoon. In addition, I figured many were out grabbing bread and milk since winter weather was in the forecast.
I’ve always believed that the first day of the year should be symbolic of the whole year.
At least, that’s the excuse I was using to fit in a quick activation on New Year’s Day (Jan 1, 2022).
I have had the new Xiegu X6100 on loan and planned to take it to the field, but that afternoon waves of rain were moving into the area in advance of a weather front. Since I don’t own this X6100, I didn’t want to risk getting it wet.
In fact, I had almost talked myself out of going on an activation, but my wife encouraged me to head to the Blue Ridge Parkway, so we jumped into the car and hit the road.
Our options on the parkway were very limited as they often are in the winter. In advance of winter weather, the National Park Service closes off large sections of the BRP because they have no equipment to remove snow/ice. Plus, you’d never want to drive the BRP in slippery conditions. There are too many beautiful overlooks to slide off of.
Thankfully, the Folk Art Center access is always open and incredibly convenient.
Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378)
We arrived at the parking lot and I very quickly made my way to a picnic table while my wife and daughters took a walk.
I’ve now taken it on a few activations, but the very first outing was on Monday, December 7, 2021.
That afternoon, my daughters attended an afternoon art class that was only four miles from our QTH as the crow flies, but took 45+ minutes to drive. Gotta love the mountains!
I had no complaints whatsoever about the drive, though, because it was within five minutes of the Zebulon Vance Historic Birthplace; one of my favorite local POTA spots!
Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace (K-6856)
After dropping off the girls, I drove to Vance and was happy to see that no one was occupying their one picnic shelter. Even though the Vance site is relatively spacious and they’ve numerous trees along the periphery of the property, it’s a historic/archaeological site and as a rule of thumb I only set up at picnic areas in parks like these.
It was a breezy day and temps were hovering around 44F/7C. These are ideal conditions in my world.
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!
After completing a successful activation at Fort Dobbs State Historic Site on Wednesday, August 25, 2021, I decided to fit in one more activation that day. I thought about heading out to one of the game lands I hadn’t hit in a while, but frankly, I needed a park a little closer to home due to my time constraints that day, so Lake Norman State Park it was!
Lake Norman State Park (K-2740)
Lake Norman is such an effortless park to activate. Their main picnic area has numerous tables (including two large covered areas), and tall trees providing support for antennas and much needed shade from the NC summer sun!
One thing I had not decided upon was what antenna I’d use at Lake Norman. Earlier, I used my trusty speaker wire antenna at Fort Dobbs, but I like to shake things up. I checked the trunk of my car and found the Chameleon MPAS Lite. Seeing how propagation plummeted after my previous activation, I decided that I wanted a large wire antenna deployed rather than a vertical.
The MPAS Lite can be configured as a wire antenna, of course: instead of attaching the 17′ whip to the “Hybrid Micro” transformer, you attach the 60′ wire that might normally be used as a counterpoise.
Setting it up was quite easy, in fact. I used my arborist throw line to snag a tree branch about 45′ high, then attached the throw line to the floating dielectric ring on the Chameleon wire spool. I stretched the entire length of wire out, attached the end to a tree, then hoisted up the center, forming an inverted vee shape.
Even thought the 50′ coax shield would act as a counterpoise, I really wanted another ground wire attached, so I pulled one of the wires off of my speaker wire antenna and attached it to the grounding post of the MPAS Lite’s stainless spike. I figured a little extra counterpoise wouldn’t hurt.
Although I’d never used the CHA MPAS Lite quite like this, I was pretty confident my Elecraft T1 would find a match. The Chameleon transformer (the Hybrid Micro) brings most any (but not all) lengths of wire within reasonable matching range of an ATU.
I started on 40 meters and found that, without employing the ATU, I had a match that was slightly below 2:1. Not terribly surprising since I had a good 60′ of wire in the tree. Still, I hit the tune button on the T1 and easily achieved a 1:1 match.
I will add here, though, that perfect 1:1 matches are not that important–especially at QRP levels. I’m certain the TX-500 would plug along with a match of 2.5:1 or higher and still radiate perfectly fine. I’ve known hams that truly equate that 1:1 match with an antenna that’s performing efficiently, but that’s not always the case. Keep in mind a dummy load will give you a 1:1 match but is hardly efficient. The ATU’s job isn’t to make the antenna radiate better–it’s to match impedance.
The CHA MPAS Lite will get you within matching range across the HF bands and, many times, it’s close enough that an ATU isn’t really needed.
I started calling CQ POTA on 40 meters and within 28 minutes had logged the ten contacts needed for a valid park activation–all with 5 watts, of course. I was very pleased with these results because, as I had suspected, the bands were still pretty darn rough.
I then moved up to the 30 meter band where I worked a couple of stations and then, for fun, found a match on 80 meters and worked one NC station (possibly on ground wave!).
Here’s a screenshot of my logs from the POTA website:
I must say that I do love using the Discovery TX-500. It’s such a brilliant little field radio. I’m just itching to take it on another SOTA activation soon!
I’m also loving the TX-500 field kit that I built around a Red Oxx Micro Manager pack.
I used the same bag (different color) for my KX2 NPOTA field kit in 2016. It’s such a great size and can even easily hold my arborist throw line along with all of the station accessories and rig, of course. I’ve made a short video showing how I pack it and will upload that video when I have a little bandwidth!
I did make a real-time, no-edit video of my entire Lake Norman activation. Feel free to check it out below or via this YouTube link. No need to worry about ads popping up–my videos have no YouTube ads!
A Brief Public Service Announcement…
If I have a little advice for you this week, it’s this: don’t wait to play radio because someone says you don’t have the right gear for the job.
I received an email this morning from a ham that’s new to field operation and just received an antenna he had ordered. He was upset because a YouTuber claimed his antenna was basically a dummy load. To add insult to injury, he also found a blogger or YouTuber was also highly critical of his recently-acquired Yaesu FT-818. [Note that the FT-817ND–the 818’s predecessor–is one of my favorite field rigs.]
Keep in mind that many of these YouTubers are trying to produce “click bait” videos that will stir up a reaction and, thus, increase their readership numbers which will have a direct and positive impact on their ad revenue. It’s a red flag when someone doesn’t have real-world examples and comparisons proving their points and typically a sign that they’ve never even used the products in question.
I’ve been told antennas I use don’t work, yet I’ve snagged some incredible QRP DX with them. I’ve been told that some radios I use are junk, yet I’ve hundreds of successful field activations with them. And funniest of all are those who tell me that QRP is ineffective and–quoting from an actual message recently–“a complete waste of time.”
My advice is to simply ignore these folks. The proof is in the pudding! Get out there and play radio! In the words of Admiral Farragut, “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!” 🙂
As always, thank you for reading this field report and a special thanks to those of you who are supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement–my content is always free–I really appreciate the support.