Tag Archives: Travel

Guest Post: Combining POTA with an FBLA national competition road trip!

Many thanks to Doug (KO4WDE) for sharing the following guest post:


by Doug (KO4WDE)

I have recently found myself fully immersed in the world of Future Business Leaders of America, as my wife is the chapter leader for the middle school where we teach.  She started the program with just a handful of kids, and they performed so well their first year that six students qualified for national competition in Atlanta, Georgia last year.

To save money, and help provide this experience, we loaded them in our camper and took to the road.  Fast forward to this year and they have continued to grow and develop to the point where they now have more than twenty four members!  Now here’s the cool part: they didn’t just grow, they have developed into a powerhouse of Kentucky’s FBLA. Of the twenty four members, fifteen placed either 1st, 2nd, or 3rd at the state level competitions and qualified for national competition in Orlando Florida this summer.  Of those fifteen, eleven went to Florida.

The costs for this trip were huge.  Fuel alone for the vehicles to get us there was nearly $1000, and lodging, registration fees, and food drove the cost per student to well above $1500 per student.   The students voted that they would not go unless they could all go.  So they hit their computers and applied for grants and scholarships.  They were successful in obtaining a local  grant for $3500 to cover their registration fees, and came up with a battle plan for fundraising as much as possible. They formed a team that would go out into the community and present to local business owners in efforts to gain sponsorships to help lower the cost of the trip.

Goal Achieved

To say that they were successful was an understatement.  The students were able to gain enough financial support to lower the cost of the trip to $300 each.  This includes opportunities for the kids, (some of whom have never been out of Kentucky) to see the ocean, and experience many attractions that Orlando has to offer including Universal Studios and downtown St. Augustine.

That Ocean experience is where POTA plays a part.  Our travel plan had us staying at Anastasia State Park (US-1832) for two nights.  A couple of the FBLA members attending are also members of the School’s radio club (KQ4CWT) and were looking forward to the club’s first POTA activation (although the ocean was far more fun for them).  I had not activated Florida  myself and was greatly looking  forward to the experience.

Traveling with fourteen people total, in two vehicles (a Nissan Armada, and a Honda Pilot) space is extremely limited so I started the process of streamlining several separate systems into one specific mission bag.

The Field Kit

The host radio was my Xiegu G90 kit seen here combined with a small folding camp table and a Wolf River Coils vertical antenna to use on the beach.  My G90 kit is designed to be as simple possible for voice and digital modes, but it is completely based on using trees and wire antennas to get on the air, and picnic tables to operate from, so a few changes needed to be planned.

The nature of the beach itself is the most important change to plan for: no trees… no wire antennas.  I don’t own a mast, so the WRC needed to be in the kit.  Secondly, we would be on the beach for our planned activation, so I would need a small portable table to keep the gear out of the sand.  I chose a cheap amazon table [QRPer affiliate link] that is small enough to fold up into my host backpack (a maxpedition Riftcore) and sturdy enough to hold the G90 and my Evolve III laptop.  Preliminary testing on this little table was promising.

Testing the Amazon table

The Bioenno battery can wedge under the table while also supports lowering the center of gravity and freeing up the table top. The radio itself has lost the cooling stand as it was just too big and clunky for my go kit.  It now rests on a small laptop stand [affiliate link] that is suspiciously similar to the radioddity version for a quarter of the price.  I planned on sitting in the sand, under an umbrella using this little table to activate the park.

The Merging of the Bags

The G90 bag consists of the radio, battery, laptop, coax, power cables and adapters, stand, Digirig and backup wire antennas and tree line kit.  The coax has been replaced with RG-316 to save weight but the kit is essentially the same as seen in the article linked.

The Wolf river coil bag is an old camelback hydration pack.  It contains the SB-1000 coil, three legs, three radials, a 25 foot run of RG8X, and the whip.

The Riftcore has two main compartments and two secondary compartments. The front the main compartments consist of a large deep area in the back, and a slightly smaller and thinner area directly in front of that.  The main compartment holds the table top, the table frame, and the WRC system with just enough room to zip up.  The zippered pouch opposite holds the coax.

The main rift core compartment

The second compartment holds the radio, battery, stand, and ground coverings that double as padding and chargers, as well as the evolve III POTApotamus laptop.

The secondary rift core compartment

The front compartments hold the backup wire antenna, tree kit, power cables and Digirig.

The small outer rift core compartment

The kit, as planned, was much larger and heavier than the Redrock outdoors bag I’m used to carrying, but I thought it to be better since I would only have to keep up with one bag.  Especially since I would be carrying other beach gear out to the beach, and would have the kids with me.

Success All-Around

So how did it go? Success, and major FBLA success!

We arrived in St. Augustine around 7:00pm.  The boys and I setup camp, three tents.  A boys tent dubbed “Brozone Zero”, a girls tent “The She Shack”, and “Smalls” a small tent for my youngest daughter, my wife and me. The girls took the Armada into town to get pizza for dinner on the beach.

I usually RV camp, but when I do tent camp it’s in a Kelty.  Our little tent wasn’t a Kelty. We stayed in a Walmart special 3 man tent while the ladies enjoyed the Kelty tent.

When they arrived back, my wife laughed at our little tent and asked if it was like the magic one in Harry Potter.  Bigger on the inside.

It wasn’t.

The boys blowing up floats to use as mattresses in “brozone zero”
Pizza on the beach

The kit worked out better than I had planned. I was able to snag eleven SSB contacts between rain storms on the beach.  I was unable to sit down and really do an activation because of a change in plans. We planned to stay two nights but we canceled one and moved to the local Hilton to avoid tent camping storms the second night, so it was more of a “set up as fast as you can and get ten” type deal.

The table worked perfectly, although the beach wind blew my WRC vertical over.  Propagation was fair on 20 meters and I was able to get my last couple contacts via P2P hunting.  I was excited to add Florida to my list of activated states.

Admittedly, it was a fun challenge to setup and get those contacts as fast as possible and repack. I need to pack some flags for the radials in the future.

The camp table was perfect
Even with the feet of the WRC dug into the compacted sand the wind still managed to knock the system over

Once we left the beach for the hotel, radio time was over and I dedicated myself to the FBLA mission at hand. We spent five days competing and exploring Orlando. Our FBLA chapter performed very well overall and my daughter placed 2nd in the nation for her performance in the learning strategies competition.

My lovely wife was named the middle school chapter advisor of the year!  We had many, many more successes across the event but we will learn final scores in August.

My daughter winning 2nd place
The entire chapter before the closing ceremony party

This adventure was so much fun. It was very tiring, but worth every second of work to make it happen, and of course it’s always okay to sneak a little radio wherever you go.


Doug (KO4WDE)

Friedrichshafen: Christian and Andrea’s Multi-Country POTA Rove

Many thanks to Christian (IX1CKN) who shares the following field report:

Friedrichshafen: POTA Across Borders

by Christian (IX1CKN)

The Friedricshafen fair is one of the most interesting events for its social aspects, where you can finally put a face to colleagues whose voices you’ve only ever heard. Among the various OM (radio amateurs) I met this year was Gabriele IT9RGY, a flagbearer of the Italian Contest Club. When he recognized Andrea IW0HK and me, he said, referring to our respective SOTA/POTA activities: “You two are the real deal.”

I found that to be a very powerful statement, and I am grateful to him for it. Personally, I try to document each outing to capture the sensations it gave me, but also in the hope of inspiring someone. Andrea is more succinct than I am (if we were all the same, the world would be boring), but his spirit is identical. Parks on the Air (POTA) is a state of mind. It was no coincidence that, being in Germany for the Hamradio Messe, we had planned a series of activations.

Our schedule was tight and ambitious, and just completing it was a source of happiness, but there’s more to tell. In Germany, dinner time isn’t synchronized with Roman schedules. So, on Friday evening, after leaving the restaurant (for dinner with the Summits On The Air group) at 20:23, I looked at Hotel-Kilo and said, “If I go to bed now, I’ll digest in a week; let’s go activate a reserve!”

The easiest option in the area (after a disastrous experience last year in DE-0156, the park in the town center hosting the fair) was DE-0766, the Seewald Landscape Reserve. It’s near the FRN airport (and thus not far from the fairgrounds), in a fully bucolic setting. A narrow road cuts through meadows, with footpaths and bike paths leading into a wooded area.

We parked the car in one of these spots. It took only a moment to set up the vertical antenna in the field, but the presence of a swarm of mosquitoes as big as F-18 Hornets advised us to operate from inside the car to save our skin (literally).

Andrea turned on the KX-3 (10 watts would be our fixed power for this trip), and the 14 MHz calls began. Right away, a very strong IZ3QFG Dario (just 380 km from us) answered, highlighting an unusually short skip.

We logged 20 QSOs in 30 minutes… Many were from Italy (Spartaco from Grosseto at full scale, Mauro I1JQJ always active, and Beppe I1WKN a constant), with two “park to park” contacts. A classic for many OMs in the area, but also a great mood booster and a tasty appetizer for the next day… Continue reading Friedrichshafen: Christian and Andrea’s Multi-Country POTA Rove

WN5C: Notes from a homebrew POTA adventure

Many thanks to Sam (WN5C) who shares the following guest post:

Notes from a homebrew POTA adventure

Sam (WN5C)

I recently wrote about the homebrew transceiver I built to operate on a month-long trip through the American Southwest. Upon arriving back in Oklahoma here’s the final outcome: 27 days, 40 parks, and 669 QSOs. I honestly can’t believe that the rig went the distance, or that I made so many contacts on 2 watts or less!

The priority of this trip wasn’t radio, though. I’m an archaeologist and I’m starting a new research project that marries my historical interests with my love of two-way communication. In short, I’m studying the effects of how communication technology aided the American colonization and transformation of the western United States around the turn of the twentieth century. This means I walked and mapped single-wire telephone lines strung up in pine trees in northern New Mexico (used to connect fire lookouts with Forest Service ranger stations), a fascinating story of dramatic changes in land management. I also visited heliograph (sun-mirror signaling) stations established in southeastern Arizona by the U.S. Army Signal Corps in 1886 to assist in apprehending Geronimo.

Working Fort Bowie NHS (US-0815) in Arizona. The peak in the distance, Helen’s Dome, had a heliograph station on top. From the fort telegraph lines would have connected remote operations to the rest of the Army’s 1880s communication network. Next time I’m climbing up on top!

I look forward to relocating and studying the artifacts from more of these heliograph sites (mostly on remote peaks) to reconstruct this communication network and understand the lives of both the soldiers and the Apache, and how this novel surveillance system altered the battlefield. Based on the artifacts I’ve seen so far there are many cans of Army-issued proto-Spam and beer bottles surrounding the signaling station where American Morse Code would have been sent and received via flashes of sunlight. The original Field Day?

But back to radio. I covered a lot of ground and activated parks in Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and Kansas.

The POTA sites that I activated (click image to enlarge).

At some locations I was camping so I was able to do multiple long activations and work the lower bands well into the evening. These were some of my favorite moments of the trip, being the only spot on the POTA app and leisurely working with no time or weather-based worries. It also gave me a chance to hear callsigns I was unfamiliar with, essentially exploring a new area of the country.

Working closer states after hours on 30 and 40 meters at Colorado NM (US-0918).

For other times, due to time constraints or weather (thunderstorms or that it was unbearably hot), I got my 10 contacts and moved on. Sometimes I packed the equipment for a long hike, often carried it from the car to a picnic table, and a few times deployed my antenna and operated from my vehicle.

Not every activation was a grand adventure. Sometimes, like here at Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR (US-0226) in Colorado, I worked from the passenger seat in the car.

Every activation was memorable in its own way. I worked folks from 44 states, five Canadian provinces, and an unforgettable contact from Italy.

A map of the contacts I made (not including those in northern British Columbia, Alaska, and Italy).

The radio held up surprisingly well. Aside from it looking like a Dalí painting as the 3D printed box continued to deform in the heat, and some hot glue remelting, the electronic components worked as they should. I look forward to printing a stronger case and making some upgrades going into the fall. I do now have a real respect for the engineering that goes into designing field radios, especially those that are thrown into a pack!

Setting up a portable shack on Vail Pass in the White River NF in Colorado (US-4410). This was near the end of the trip, the plastic case was looking pretty bad.

After I began feeling less anxious about the homebrew radio (it kept turning on!) I could start focusing on the trip itself: an amazing POTA adventure with an often-uncooperative sun. Here’s a few themes I noted. Continue reading WN5C: Notes from a homebrew POTA adventure

VO1DR Portable in Portugal: Coffee, Cobblestones and Contacts!

Many thanks to Scott (VO1DR) who shares the following guest post:

Coffee, Cobblestones and Contacts – Portable in Portugal

by Scott Schillereff, (VO1DR), St. John’s, NL, Canada

On a recent trip throughout Portugal (May 29 – June 12), I operated /P QRP CW at five locations, with varying success.  Here are some details and pictures that you might find interesting.

Portugal and /P sites

Figure 1 shows a map of Portugal and the five locations where I operated.  On this trip, we were on the move a lot, so radio was tucked in here and there when I found some free time.

Figure 1 – Portugal and operating locations. 1 Lisbon, 2 Faro (Algarve region), 3 Foz do Duoro (near Porto), 4 Funchal (Madeira island; off coast of Morocco), 5 Monte Estoril (coast west of Lisbon).

QRP gear

I was packing the following gear in a small compartmented zip bag:

  • ATS-V5 CW transceiver for 15, 12, and 10 m (small-run kit from Steve Weber, KD1JV; fits into lid-less Altoids tin).  My max P(out) was 1.7 W on 15 m rising to 2.3 W on 10 m.
  • Homebrew whip antenna system.  2.54 m telescoping whip on top of a 2 m camera monopod; raised radial (coiled up to preset lengths to resonate on each band); no ATU; directly wired via 5 m of RG174 coax to choke at rig.
  • Homebrew common mode choke – RG174 coax threaded through five FT37-43 toroids and coiled around a larger unknown ferrite core (scavenged from TV).
  • Homebrew resistive SWR bridge – common design to null out an LED at low SWR; max tuning SWR 2:1; switchable in and out of Tx circuit; direct BNC connector to rig
  • 30,000 mA-hr Lithium-ion battery– car jump-starter; lightweight (284 g); 15V and 5V no-load outputs; 15V output through voltage controller to rig.  One charge did entire trip.
  • Homebrew Voltage Controller – simple design based on LM317T regulator and small V-A display (see article in SPRAT #195, p.24).  Vin max 40V; Vout 1.2-37V; Iout up to 1.5A.
  • Homebrew single paddle key, made with popsicle stick inside a plastic screw-top vial.

I chose a whip- versus a wire-based antenna system because I anticipated setups on hotel balconies, beaches or in city parks, not “off in the woods”.  Wire antennas are certainly more portable and could be taken in carry-on without worry, but might be more noticeable during setups in city parks.  Wire antennas are also not much good on beaches or balconies (without distant anchor points).  I wanted to be less conspicuous, and didn’t need to worry about weight.

Air travel with radio gear

I put all my QRP gear and antenna in my checked bag and had no trouble anywhere.  I added a note in English and Portuguese stating that this was amateur radio gear for hobby use, and included a copy of my Canadian licence. I probably could have taken the works in carry-on, but I was a bit uncertain about the metal monopod and whip (might be perceived as a weapon) so I just checked it all.

1. Lisbon Old Town

Due to a *two-day* travel disruption on the way to Portugal (thanks to Air Canada at Toronto Pearson airport; another story), we only had one night in Lisbon. Our hotel was a four-storey concrete and steel building in a narrow street. Our 3rd storey room had two little balconies about 3 m apart, with metal rails. To test the waters, I mounted the monopod and whip on one balcony and tied off the radial to the other balcony. The antenna impedance match was fine but, either due to band conditions, night time, or metal in the buildings, all three bands (15-10 m) were dead. Not a single signal; not even the ghoulish drone of digital signals; a total bust. Not a great start, but things improved later – read on!

Figure 2- Tram on steep street in Lisbon Old Town, close to our hotel

2. Faro (Algarve Region)

We travelled by wonderful inter-city Portuguese train to Faro in the Algarve.  Faro is a hub city in this sun-drenched and slow-moving southern region of Portugal; a region where everyone seems to be in second gear, and quite content there. Being a coastal city, I had hopes of good propagation.  Our schedule meant I could only play radio at our hotel late one afternoon. I set up in a quiet corner of a concrete-walled, 2nd storey courtyard with an open roof.  The top of the whip extended ~1 m above the concrete wall, but the radial was deployed entirely within the courtyard.  An improvement on the air – I could hear a number of stations, mainly on 15 m, and worked LY2NK (Lithuania, 3,119 km).  I was amazed at what 1.7 W and a whip antenna with a single raised radial could do!

Figure 3 – Walking street in Faro, 5 min from our hotel.
Figure 4 – Boats at Ilha da Culatra, on day trip out of Faro

3. Porto and Foz do Duoro (“mouth of the Duoro”)

We travelled on a delightful high-speed train (complete with coffee and snacks trolley down the aisle!) up to Porto in the north of Portugal.  Porto has a much different vibe than the Algarve.  A more working-class, energetic, commercial feel, and steeped in the wine- and port-making industry along the picturesque Duoro River. The Duoro Valley is a huge viticulture region and, yes, they still stomp grapes with bare feet on harvest day (don’t worry – in the making of port, fortification with 60% alcohol (aguardente) abruptly stops sugar fermentation and kills every living microbe in the batch!).

One afternoon, we took a clattering electric tram from downtown Porto west to Foz do Duoro, a seaport town 6 km away where the Duoro R. empties into the Atlantic.  After an espresso in an outdoor café, I set up the radio in a city park adjacent to the ocean – monopod lashed to a park bench and a radial tied off to a palm tree.  Figure 5 shows my park bench set up with a sea wall and Atlantic in the distance.  In QRP radio, as in real estate, “localização, localização, localização”!  Conditions were great here and I worked these stations on 15 m:  TM56JO (France; 1,087 km); HA0DD (Hungary; 2,476 km); OU5U (Denmark; 2,146 km); LY2PX (Lithuania, 2,903 km); and 9A2N (Croatia, 2,119 km).  Very exciting! And, again, passers-by  took no notice.

Figure 5 – Radio set up on park bench, Foz do Duoro, Portugal. View west to Atlantic Ocean in distance.
Figure 6 – Detail of my radio set up. Clockwise from L to R: paddle key in clear plastic vial; blue floss container with volume control for ear buds; ATS-V5 rig (green cover) in bottom of Altoids tin; oltage controller in bright blue Altoids tin; Li-ion battery pack (black rectangle); common mode choke (red sleeve); resistive SWR bridge (silver top with LED). Zippered back for this gear is immediately to right. The whip collapses to about 14 in and fits inside the camera monopod for transport.

4. Madeira

Air travel is fairly cheap within Portugal, so we detoured to Madeira, an autonomous Portuguese island in the Atlantic ocean ~1,000 km southwest of Lisbon.  The main city (Funchal) is about even with Casablanca on the Moroccan coast.  Madeira is a very rugged volcanic island with its highest point (Pico Ruivo) 1,862 m (6,109 ft) above sea level.  We were based in Funchal and toured around to see the sweeping vistas, mountain-scapes, and steep coastal cliffs. Continue reading VO1DR Portable in Portugal: Coffee, Cobblestones and Contacts!

UK POTA Rain and Shine

by Matt (W6CSN)

Bletchley Park

Most readers of this blog are probably familiar with Bletchley Park and the significance of this place in breaking the codes used by the axis military forces during the second world war.

The electromechanical systems developed and used here to aid the codebreakers in their daily work led directly to the electronic digital computers of the mid-twentieth century, and then to the modern world as we know it.

After boarding the London Northwestern Railway at Euston station, the hour long train journey took us from central London, through the suburbs, then the pastoral English countryside to the station at Bletchley, just south of Milton Keynes.

Bletchley Park is a five minute walk from the train station at Bletchley, the town of the same name. In keeping with the formerly clandestine nature of the work at Bletchley Park, there are no loud signs to welcome you, just the Union Jack flying over the nondescript visitor center in Block C.

Exiting the visitor center, any ham will quickly spot the three-element SteppIR Yagi perched atop a roof-mounted tower. Also from the tower, a folded dipole extends over the the Block B building which houses the Alan Turing museum exhibits. The other end of this antenna farm is plugged into GB3RS, the amateur radio station for the National Radio Centre of the RSGB.

The friendly and helpful staff of amateurs at the NRC played a crucial role in my hoped-for plan of activating Bletchley Park for Parks On The Air.

Surprisingly, the POTA page for GB-0507 showed only a handful of activations of this iconic location. Seeing as this is a heritage site, I sent an email to the NRC about week before my visit asking for advice on how to be a welcome guest POTA operator.

Note, the NRC is colocated on the grounds of the museum but they are not a part of Bletchley Park. The NRC is a separate organization.

Martyn G0GMB, the Director of the NRC, kindly responded to my enquiry and informed me that individual amateur radio activity is not generally permitted on the grounds of Bletchley Park due to the number of visitors they receive and concerns about RF safety. This could explain the low number of activations.

The sharp eyed will spot the GB3RS beam across the pond.

Martyn suggested I could set up in the overflow car park few minutes walk down the road from the visitor center. While not on the grounds of Bletchley Park proper, the parking lot operation would still be in the spirit of POTA and would reasonably count as a valid activation location.

When I arrived at Bletchley Park on Friday afternoon, I was met by Mervyn G4KLE who was expecting me thanks to a note left by OM G0GMB. Mervyn asked where all my equipment was and I motioned to the pack on my back.

Because my radio and antenna was a low impact, minimal footprint QRP setup, I was told that I could make use of the picnic table just out the side door of the GB3RS shack, with my antenna setup just beside it. This dead-end spot was not on any of the paths frequented by park visitors and my antenna would not be easily visible.

The antenna is low profile

This was a much better arrangement than trying to activate from a car park without a car! I quickly deployed a GRA-GNT micro tripod with center spike pushed easily into the soft ground. The GRA-7350T loaded vertical and a set of short radials provided an SWR of 1.05 to 1.

I chose the QMX as a travel radio while in Britain because with it, the overall kit is very lightweight and compact. With the exception of the tripod the whole kit fits in my carry-on. The GRA-GNT antenna mounting kit has to fly in checked baggage due to several aggressive looking spikes that would certainly be flagged by airport security. Continue reading UK POTA Rain and Shine

QRP in Thailand: Drew’s Journey to Get Licensed and On the Air

Many thanks to Drew (W8MHV) who shares the following guest post:

QRP in Thailand

by Drew (W8MHV)

I travel to Southeast Asia each year and usually have a few weeks in Thailand, but this year we planned on a longer stay. My XYL (N8MHV) has family in Thailand and we own a condo in downtown Bangkok. This year I was intent on getting my Thai ham license; I have never previously been licensed there.

You might be surprised to know that Thailand doesn’t make it easy for a casual American visitor to be awarded a ham license, even though the country has a bilateral agreement with the US on licensing.

For starters, you must have a visa for a long stay. A visitor can stay in Thailand for 30 days without a visa, and I have always limited my stay accordingly. But this year we stayed for of two months and getting a visa was necessary. That wasn’t especially difficult once my Thai-speaking wife helped figure out the necessary paperwork. In Thailand my wife’s calls to government offices led to a contact with the Radio Amateur Society of Thailand (RAST). Once I joined the organization, they helped push through the application and award of the license.

The RAST Secretary whose nickname is Top was a very great help. I felt like this was a big achievement as there are fewer than 1,000 ham licensees with HF privileges in a country of about 70-million.

QRP operating from anywhere in Southeast Asia requires great patience. This is because if you operate in a DX location, then everyone you work is DX to you, as by definition there are few if any local stations!

I brought my newly-acquired Elecraft KH1 for on-air use. Its tiny size made it easy to pack for overseas travel. It worked flawlessly, but the built-in whip antenna was far less useful than a 20.5 foot random wire with counterpoise I included in my kit.

Operating the KH1 from my condo.

In my 12th floor condo noise levels were terrible—typically S7, but at the top of the building on the 24th floor there is a garden where the noise levels were a manageable S3. See the photo above.

I also operated from an island in the Gulf of Thailand at a resort and noise levels there were even more quiet, as you would expect. Also, this was a comfortable operating location as the photo shows.

During my stay propagation conditions were poor mostly and I struggled to work any stations. A typical example is my final night in Bangkok I repeatedly called a station in Hong Kong whose signal was about S5, but I never got an answer. It was about the closest station I heard, but the signal path was about the same as the distance between New York City and Caracas, Venezuela.

I have operated from other Asian locations with QRP radios many times and the results have varied, chiefly depending on the kinds of antenna I could erect. Sometimes it has been lonely, other times control of a big pileup has been a challenge.

Finally, a few thoughts about the KH1.

It is an unparalleled performer for its size. It has most features you would want and its ergonomics are good. The weakest point was the paddle set, and since returning, I have replaced them with the KM4CFT aftermarket set. That said, in my travel to Thailand next year, I think I will take a KX2. It offers a few more features at a small increase in packing size.

Thanks for listening es 73 de W8MHV

Sam’s Thunderbird Mk 1 Takes Flight: A Homebrew Radio Field Report from the American Southwest

Many thanks to Sam (WN5C) for sharing the following guest post:

Homebrew in the Field

by Sam (WN5C)

What a week it’s been!

I have the opportunity to spend a month traveling through and camping in the American Southwest (specifically, New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado) doing archaeological work. And of course, that means the prospect to operate portable at weird times and in lots of places.

I’ve been planning for this trip for a couple of months, about the same length of time that I’ve been trying to achieve my amateur radio dream: to build a complete transceiver. So why not try to do both things at once?

This is just a quick note of my experiences in the first quarter of my trip of taking a homebrew rig into the field.

First off, I have absolutely no background in RF engineering, or electronics at all. But the literature is good and Elmers are priceless (thanks Kenn KA5KXW!). I started small, with kit projects, and then very basic transmitters.

I’ve always appreciated how much satisfaction my father gets by building things by hand, and finally I have a similar hobby. I called the radio I designed the Thunderbird Mk 1 based off the fact that I cut my CW and POTA teeth at Lake Thunderbird State Park in Oklahoma and will probably continue to work there the most. It’s a 6-band (40, 30, 20, 17, 15, 10) CW QRP transceiver with SSB receive.

The receiver is direct conversion and is an amalgamation of VU2ESE’s DC40, KK7B’s Classic 40, and W7EL’s Optimized QRP Transceiver. The VFO is an Arduino/si5351 combo based on the schematics and code written by VK3HN (who has helped me from afar, thanks Paul!). It’s crude, but I use a 6-position rotary switch to manually switch between the band-pass filters.

The transmitter is based on W7ZOI’s Updated Universal QRP Transmitter, married with VK3HN’s Arduino code that acts as the oscillator, keyer, and side tone generator. I get about 3 watts output for 40, 30, 20, a little less for 17 and 15, and about a watt on 10 meters. Like the receiver, I manually switch the low-pass filters.

Here’s a picture of the digital parts (ignore the second Arduino Nano, I thought I would need it but did not), the power board, and the filters. It’s on the bottom:

On top is the main board with the receiver, the transmitter, and T/R switching. Also, you’ll notice the green PCB. I *really* wanted to build NM0S’s Hi-Per-Mite from scratch but I couldn’t get the circuit to run right before my trip so I opted to install one that I built from a kit. It’s a fantastic CW audio filter that I can switch in and out (everyone should have at least one!).

I can switch in a little speaker and added a straight key jack. I printed the box on a 3D printer at the local library. It works great for the shack. In the sun, it’s starting to warp in the heat, so I’ll have to address this, but things still work!

Getting out the door on time with a finished radio was tough! I had finished right before I left on my trip (end of May 2024) and had no time to field test. The best I got was taking the rig to the table in the back yard and firing it up during the WPX contest.

I made amazing DX contacts on all the contest bands I had and called it good. But working superstations isn’t real life, and over the next week I’ve had to MacGyver the radio (rigging a car jump pack, an inverter, and a soldering station together at a picnic table to replace a bad transistor, for example). I think I’ve finally shaken out (literally) all of the loose solder joints and bad grounding. Continue reading Sam’s Thunderbird Mk 1 Takes Flight: A Homebrew Radio Field Report from the American Southwest

From Hamvention to History: A POTA Excursion with friends through Indiana’s Past

You might recall that my friends Eric (WD8RIF), Miles (KD8KNC), Brian (K3ES), Kyle (AA0Z), Charlie (NJ7V), and Joshua (N5FY) all played hooky on the final day of the 2024 Hamvention (Sunday, May 19) and instead activated a couple of POTA sites.

I wrote a short field report about our first activation at Pater State Wildlife Area (US-9492). It was a lot of fun despite the rough bands.

Our next stop was Whitewater Canal State Historic Site in Metamora, Indiana, about an hour’s drive from the first park.

Only four of us continued to the next park; Kyle and Charlie needed to head to the airport, and Joshua needed to start his drive back to Georgia.

Whitewater Canal State Historic Site (US-6977)

I was excited about visiting Whitewater Canal because it would be my first official POTA activation in Indiana.

We arrived around 1:00 PM and opted to grab lunch at a nearby pizzeria before activating.

Around 2:00 PM, we grabbed our gear from the car and walked across the road to the park grounds.

The Whitewater Canal State Historic Site offers a glimpse into the 19th-century canal era.

Built between 1836 and 1847, the Whitewater Canal was a 76-mile waterway that connected the Ohio River to Hagerstown, facilitating the transport of goods and agricultural products.

This engineering feat played a vital role in the economic development of the region, contributing to the growth of towns and industries along its path.

Today, the preserved section of the canal, along with the historic grist mill and other structures, stands as a testament to Indiana’s rich industrial and transportation heritage.

I’ve always been fond of railroads and canals, so this site was brilliant as it featured both running parallel to each other!

Eric, Brian, and I (Miles didn’t activate) were careful to set up within the actual park boundaries.

In this case, it was a little difficult to determine the exact boundaries because the town and park blend together.

I used the Parceled app on my phone to confirm our location.

Eric set up his Elecraft KH1 station at a picnic table under a large tree.

Brian set up his KX2 on a covered bench next to Eric, using his Elecraft AX1 antenna mounted on a clamp secured to the bench.

Brian’s site was super stealthy behind the sign–since he operated with earphones, you couldn’t hear him and barely could see him!

Can you spot K3ES in this photo?

I wanted to put some space between my station and theirs, so I set up under the shade of a tree (it was blazing hot that Sunday) and deployed my Helinox camping chair.

Local ducks enjoying the shade–I picked a different tree.

I then deployed my Chelegance MC-750 vertical for 20-meter operation since Brian and Eric were on other bands.

I connected the MC-750 to my Elecraft KX2, which I mounted on my kneeboard, and was ready to play radio! My hope was that band conditions would be decent. Continue reading From Hamvention to History: A POTA Excursion with friends through Indiana’s Past

Overcoming Band Conditions: A Challenging (But Rewarding) POTA Activation at Scioto Trail State Park!

On the morning of Wednesday, May 15, 2024, I woke up, grabbed breakfast, and headed to Strouds Run State Park in Athens, Ohio. (You can read about that activation in my previous field report.)

Once I returned to Eric’s (WD8RIF) QTH, Eric, his son Miles (KD8KNC), and I packed up the car for the drive to Dayton—roughly 2.5 hours from Athens. En route, we decided on an activation of Scioto Trail State Park (US-1990) which also happens to be a two-fer with Scioto Trail State Forest (US-5448).

I’d hoped band conditions would remain as favorable as they were in the morning, but the sun had other plans! (Indeed, this would become a recurring theme throughout the following week.)

Scioto Trail State Park (US-1990) and Forest (US-5448)

We arrived at Scioto Trail around 2:00 PM, under scattered clouds and after passing through some rain. We hoped the weather would hold!

I’d never been to Scioto before and was pleased to see a small island on the lake accessible by a footbridge.  It had a gazebo, perfect for a POTA station.


A highlight of this trip was giving Eric a chance to operate my Index Labs QRP Plus. Eric had owned one for 13 years as his first field radio. In fact, as I’ve mentioned before, when I first met Eric in 1997, it was while he was operating a QRP Plus during FYBO!

Since the QRP Plus is better suited for tabletop use, I recommended Eric set up in the gazebo.

I provided my Chelegance MC-750 for him to operate on 20M.

POTA in the Shade

I set up under a tree at the edge of the island—as far from Eric as possible to minimize interference. In reality, the island is small, so I was only about 15 meters away—not ideal!

The tree offered some shade and potential rain protection. I deployed my Helinox Chair, my “no-transformer, no feedline” Tufteln random wire antenna, the Elecraft KX2, and my Tufteln/N0RNM kneeboard.

When I turned on the radio, I could hear Eric’s signal bleeding through on 30 meters (a band I chose to avoid harmonic interference with 20M).

The KX2 is sensitive, so this wasn’t unexpected. Eric never experienced interference from my station, likely due to the QRP Plus’s less sensitive receiver.


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On the air

This turned out to be an activation where I’d really put my KX2 ATU to work! Continue reading Overcoming Band Conditions: A Challenging (But Rewarding) POTA Activation at Scioto Trail State Park!

POTA Activation at Strouds Run State Park: A Rainy Morning and Ham Radio Memories!

On Tuesday morning, May 14, 2024, I hopped in my car and headed north to Athens, Ohio. It was in Athens, back in 1997, that my ham radio journey truly began, and where I met my friends Eric (WD8RIF) and Mike (K8RAT).

For over 14 years, Eric, his son Miles (KD8KNC), and I have made the annual pilgrimage to Hamvention and FDIM, with few interruptions. My routine is to drive to Athens, catch up with Eric and his wife, Vickie, stay overnight, and then head to Dayton the next day with Eric and Miles. I enjoy this because it breaks up my travels and usually allows for some POTA activating along the way.

This Wednesday morning, Eric had an appointment and a meeting, so our plan was to leave for Dayton around noon. This gave me the morning free to play radio!

Breakfast at Miller’s Chicken

I left the house around 8:00 AM with the goal of activating Strouds Run State Park, conveniently located near downtown Athens. But first, breakfast!

I try to avoid chain restaurants when traveling, preferring local spots. I was delighted to discover that Miller’s Chicken, an Athens institution, served breakfast. I had no idea!

Miller’s Chicken holds fond memories for me. When my wife was a graduate student at Ohio University, for a brief period of time, she lived within walking distance and we often ate there. She even acted in a student film shot at the restaurant!

Walking in, I realized it had been 23+ years since my last visit. I ordered a bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit with coffee as a group of students left, leaving me with the place almost to myself.

POTA at Strouds Run State Park (US-1994)

I arrived at the park around 9:15 AM. It had been raining all morning, so I sought cover under a picnic Shelter.  Eric, a frequent activator of Strouds Run, had told me where to find all of Strouds’ shelters.

Check out Eric’s standing on the park’s POTA page:

You can also read all of Eric’s hundreds of field reports on his website.

I found an empty shelter by the lakeshore (no surprise given the weather). I brought several radios with me on the Dayton trip: my Elecraft KX2, KH1, Index Labs QRP Plus, Venus SW-3B (always in the car), and my Yaesu FT-818.

Propagation has been a hot mess lately. I figured 40 meters and 20 meters would be the best bands to try, and the EFHW is resonant on both, eliminating the need for an antenna tuner.

Setup was easy, with trees near the shelter providing ideal suspension points for the EFHW.

(Note about audio: As I prepared this activation video, I discovered that my wireless mic wasn’t connected, so you won’t hear me when I walk away from the camera. My apologies! There’s also more wind noise than usual. However, you’ll hear plenty of waterfowl and other birds enjoying the park.)

Jeweler’s Bench Block

Only a couple of days prior, I received a Jeweler’s Bench Block that I purchased on Amazon.com (affiliate link). Several friends had recommended I pick up one to pair with my lightweight, portable keys that have embedded rare-earth magnets.

The key I paired with it was my BamaKey TP-III. You’ll hear me rave about this combo in the activation video.

It weighs 13.7 ounces and has a silicon base: I found that with the TP-III (which has a light action), it was rock-solid on the picnic table.

I wish I would have purchased one of these ages ago!


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On The Air

I started calling CQ and, fortunately, hunters started replying! Continue reading POTA Activation at Strouds Run State Park: A Rainy Morning and Ham Radio Memories!