Tag Archives: K-3378

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!