Posts Tagged ‘DX operating’

April 2016 trip to American Sa’moa

May 17th, 2016

I had originally planned to make a maintenance and upgrade visit to my instrumentation in American Samoa in February 2016.  There are lots of advantages to February:  It’s cold here in W3, the ARRL DX CW contest is in February, and the phenomenon I’m studying is most active during the equinoxes.  I scheduled a 7-day trip that ended with the weekend of ARRL DX so I had the opportunity work through the weekend or play some radio if work went better than expected.

My flight had been booked out of Washington National (DCA) airport at 5:15 am Monday morning, which is the best possible time of day at the worst possible airport.  A snowstorm of unknown magnitude was bearing down on the mid-Atlantic.  And, around 4:00 pm on Sunday afternoon, I fell asleep on the couch.  When I awoke 90 minutes later, it rapidly became clear that I had a nasty stomach flu.  As my condition deteriorated further, I finally decided I didn’t want to be fighting that for the next 24 hours on 767s on my way to a foreign place where I wasn’t sure what kind of medical facilities I could access.  I cancelled the trip and spent the next 24 hours in bed instead.

The trip was rescheduled for three weeks later in March and I managed to get this itinerary out of BWI, which is much more convenient.  I loaded up my gear and went to the airport at 4:00 am.  My upgrade had cleared so I didn’t pay excess on my overweight and extra Pelican cases.  Hurray for small victories!  We sat at the end of the runway on the tarmac doing the preflight checks and the cabin lights started flickering intermittently.  And we sat, and we sat. And, we returned to the gate and sat some more.  I nervously refreshed the ETA on my phone finally watching the arrival in PHX slip past the departure to HNL.  I deplaned.

The agents tried to convince me that I could “just take the flight to Honolulu tomorrow.”  With some effort, I communicated to them that the HNL-PPG (Sa’moa) leg of my journey only goes on Mondays and Fridays and that I would rather be stuck at home for a week rather than a week in Honolulu.  So, I cancelled the trip for a second time.  My bags went to PHX and were delivered to my house the next day.  I rescheduled the trip for late April with a night in Honolulu on the outbound leg to avoid this bit of bad luck happening twice.

Two days before I left, my local contact called me on the phone to tell me that Tropical Cyclone Amos was bearing down on the island.  Fortunately, the hurricane dumped some rain and brought some winds but passed to the north of island.  The April trip went off without a hitch, although it was scheduled for four days (Monday night – Friday night) instead of the original seven.  So, I was hustling to get my work done and find time for radio.

I was vaguely aware that KC0W is also in KH8, but given my historical bad luck with this particular visit, I didn’t reach out to him.  In fact, he’s the one that contacted me once I arrived.  We met for breakfast at the McDonald’s in Tafuna one morning and had a nice long ragchew about radio and travel.  Typical hams.  I decided to focus on bands (especially 160) that Tom wasn’t on given my limited time on the island.

Fortunately, I had access to this mobile phone tower, which I use for my wireless networking for instruments as well.  So, I climbed up to check on the network equipment and put a pulley on the tower so I could raise and lower ham antennas safely after-hours when no one was around.


The tower is on the top of Cape Matatula, which sticks out of the northeast corner of Tutuila island.  It’s the bit of land jutting out in the middle of the photo below.  If you open the full-size photo, you can see the tower just at the edge of a rather precipitous drop-off toward the rocky shore about 1/3 of the way from the right-hand side of the frame.  Needless to say, it’s a great QTH with 270 degrees of saltwater view as I’ve mentioned before.  At sunrise and sunset, the middle and higher bands are open to EU, JA, and NA/SA all at once.  The pileups are thrilling but very challenging.


Here’s the radio setup from this trip:  K2/100, KPA500, WKUSB, and TRLinux running under VirtualBox on my Mac.  This worked OK, but the WKUSB would drop out every few QSOs and needed to be completely rebooted which meant that I had to unplug the USB cable and restart TRLinux.  Obviously, this worked when I tested it at home but I was not stressing it like I was in the field.  I’m not sure whether it was an RF issue or software/hardware.  In any case, I will probably be installing another Windows VM like I’ve used previously.


I only ended up making about 400 QSOs on this trip, which is way down from the approximately 3000 QSOs I made over the past two trips.  The combination of aggressive work schedule, glitchy keying, and poor 160-meter conditions (too late in the season, but I made a few guys happy), made it hard to get excited about operating a lot.  Furthermore, my operating position was located in a room with an air compressor nearby that would kick on every few minutes.  Even with the excellent Etymotic MC5 earbuds, it was still loud.  Enough complaining!  There will be at least one more trip out there under my present project and if KC0W hasn’t worked everybody, I’ll be there to give you all new counters again.  I just uploaded the log to LoTW before I posted this blog entry.  I have not responded to any direct QSL cards yet.

Pictures from KH8 (second trip)

March 1st, 2015

I made another trip to American Sa’moa (KH8 for the radio amateurs in the audience) to deploy instrumentation.  It was a tight timeframe but the instruments seem to work and I managed to make a few ham radio contacts as well.

Pictures from KH8/K8GU

October 8th, 2014

I don’t really have time to do a full write-up, but I made a “quick” trip to American Samoa over the weekend to plan a future scientific instrument installation and managed to get on the air for a few hours.  Here are some snapshots from my phone.


June 1st, 2014


An annually-recurring professional meeting has started to put me in interesting DX locales.  This year was no different: the meeting was held at UNIS (University Centre in Svalbard) in Longyearbyen, Svalbard.  My friend and colleague, Nathaniel, W2NAF, did a semester of his graduate studies at UNIS and was excited to return for the meeting.  He suggested that the JW5E clubstation “hut” (depicted below) might be both an attractive lodging option for cost, location, and of course, radio.  The hut is a bit rustic with no running water but we did manage to maintain a nearly professional level of appearance and personal hygene due to Nathaniel’s insider knowledge.


As is typical for the kind of travel I do, there was no straightforward way to get from A to B.  Nathaniel and my flight schedules put us into Longyearbyen (via London, Oslo, and Tromso, in my case) on Friday and Saturday, respectively, giving us a shot at the CQ WPX CW contest.  We elected to operate this under our own callsigns, which proved to be a bit of a limitation since for much of the contest 20 meters was the only band that produced rates.  So, we had to share 20m.  Nathaniel operated high power using the JW5E FT-1000MP mkV and Icom IC-2KL amplifier connected to the JW5E antenna system.  I operated low power with my K2/100 and the JW5E antennas.  He came out a little bit ahead on QSOs and pretty far ahead on points, mostly due to the day of head start and effectively exploiting 20m.  I also worked a lot of empty-calorie EU stations while he focused on 3-pt DX stations.  Despite our initial optimism, neither of us were particularly dedicated to a full effort in the contest.  We both had a bit of trouble adapting to polar day and slept through prime openings on Sunday.

40 meters and lower frequency bands were useless, as were 10 and 12 meters. Nathaniel and I did work each other on 160 with the power turned all the way down.  And, of course we worked each other in the contest for an easy prefix multiplier.  The 12m situation was a little disappointing since I know a lot of people needed JW there.  Had we been there in March, it probably would have been open.  I worked two CTs and that’s it.

During the week of the meetings, I only managed 1-2 of hours operating each day, and Nathaniel maybe a little more.  We developed a protocol of uploading to LoTW first thing in the morning when we got to the meeting (where we had free network access, versus roaming 3G on my phone at JW5E).  Since I don’t use ClubLog, this is a good way for DXers to see if they’re in the log and get a quick confirmation.  As I told a DXer who thanked me profusely for doing it, my employment covers the largest costs of my DX travel and my operating is secondary to my work.  Therefore, I feel no need to extract or solicit donations from DXers. I am ordering cards today and they will be ready to mail in a week or two.

On the last night, I put in a solid 6 hours of operating, making about 600 QSOs in one sitting.  30m was always a struggle with most signals right near the noise level.  The other bands (15/17/20) produced big signals and were pretty easy to work.  I’m always a bit slow to operate split because I don’t want to use more bandwidth than necessary.  With an amp, I could probably have operated simplex most of the time.  Usually once people stop coming back to my 599s or they start duping me mercilessly, I know it’s time to split the pile.

The pileups were generally very responsive to my instructions with only one station really raising my blood pressure to the point that I QRT’ed to cool off.  Based on his profile and how loud he was compared to all the stations he was obliterating, he was running as much as 4 kW on 30m.  Good show.

I heard that someone on a DX club e-mail list suggested that I go next to Jan Mayen (JX).  Please negotiate that with my wife and we can work something out. Don’t forget to include that Jan Mayen has one flight per month.  My Norwegian colleagues were amused by this and asked also about Bouvet (3Y).  Only scientists and hams know about Bouvet and Jan Mayen.  Seriously, if I didn’t have a young family, I would consider doing that sort of thing, but I miss them too much when I travel.  The next DX trip will be someplace warmer with regular commercial air service.


I’m still sort of converging on the best equipment for portable DX operating. While I like the K3 a lot, the K2 is a bit smaller.  In its flight case, it fits under all airliner seats and not just some of them like the K3.  Although it is a stupendous performer, the K2 has some idiosyncrasies occasionally cause me to notice that it’s not as well integrated as the K3 and modern JA radios.  The diminutive size and negligible RF emissions from the MRF-4125 switching power supply are big pros, but I noticed the fan making a particularly awful noise on this trip.  Need to look into that.  The K1EL WKUSB continues to be a star performer for computer and hand keying.  While I love the action of the Palm Mini paddle, the lack of a solid base can be frustrating.  I brought the recently-mounted Schurr Einbau and it sang. Although, it produces the best reactions from security screeners: “What is it?  Is it an antique?”  And, my favorite from a screener in Longyearbyen: “Is that the new iPhone?”

The real stars of this operation were the Etymotic Research MC5 in-ear monitor earphones.  Wow.  I’ve been using them for a couple of months now at the recommendation of someone on the Elecraft reflector and they are my new favorite headphones for travel.  They do excellent with noise isolation on long-haul flights and in noisy QTHs; they reproduce music flawlessly; you don’t have to turn the volume up to 11 to hear with them; and they fit in a tiny little pouch that’s smaller than a deck of playing cards.  And the best part?  They only cost 60 USD.

The GU Special came along on this trip but was not needed since I had access to an OptiBeam for 20/17/15 meters, dipoles for 30/40/80, and a Cushcraft R7 vertical for 40-10 meters.  I was tempted to take my gear on the 8-hr boat trip we took up another fjord.  However, I decided against it for a variety of reasons including the desire to do some birdwatching and look for polar bears—we saw some seals and an artic fox but no bears.  The seals and the fox amounted to no more than a couple of pixels in the photos I tried to shoot of them, even with a modest 200mm telephoto lens.  OK, that’s a short lens by wildlife photo standards.  Please accept this puffin photo in place of a bear photo.


And the Tempelfjorden glacier and sea ice shot from my phone…


This photo is looking back up Adventfjorden toward Longyearbyen and shows the JW5E tower right near the water in the center.  (The heftier one on the right.) Also in the background are the dishes for the EISCAT Svalbard incoherent scatter radar.

And a photo from our visit to EISCAT in tracked vehicles.  It was practically June and there was a lot of snow on the ground.


Finally, here are two YouTube videos related to our operation.  The first was shot by W2NAF and has a tour of the JW5E station.  The second was shot by KB9UWU during the WPX contest and shows pretty much what 15m was like for me: the band was obviously open but I didn’t have many callers.


Thanks to everybody who stopped by to say hi.  I worked lots of friends on the air from all over the world and received SWL reports from a few more.

A Summer Trip to Greenland

August 3rd, 2013


A professional colleague who is the principal investigator of the Sondrestrom incoherent scatter radar facility announced at a conference that they no longer had a scientific high-rate GPS receiver at the site for making ionospheric measurements.  I enthusiastically volunteered to ship them one that I had on the shelf.  She suggested that instead I should come install it myself and I found some support to do it (the National Science Foundation heavily subsidizes U.S. Greenland and Antarctic scientific travel during their respective summers, making this trip possible).  Therefore unlike my previous trip in the winter, this trip did not involve travel with the most perverse of arrangements flying to Copenhagen only to hop on another plane and fly half-way back to the States.  I set off for my second trip to Greenland, leaving Scotia, NY, early on Monday and returning mid-day on Friday.

On the past trip, conditions were really awful for radio with plenty of visible Aurora.  I didn’t really mind that because the auroras were beautiful, but with only a small chance of NLC/PMC (noctilucent/polar mesospheric cloud) sighting in the summer, I was eager for some good radio conditions to sate my appetite for other nerdy activities.  I set up the radio equipment almost right away the first evening to make sure that everything tuned up and immediately made 10 or so QSOs on 20-meter CW before heading to bed.

Instrument installation is always a hairy business, especially when you can’t just run to a hardware store, let alone going to RadioShack or calling McMaster-Carr.  Sometimes, everything works smoothly; other times it doesn’t.  In any case a flexible attitude (and some good old ham practicality) goes a long way.  Wind gusts of 40-50 mph (18-22 m/s) on top of the hill made for exciting work, but having a couple of helpers made it go smoothly.  Here is a photograph of the installed instrument on its hilltop (the box and green antenna on the right-hand side of the pole, which also held a weather station).

Work, especially some recalcitrant Windows 7 issues (At one point, I was running Windows 7 in a VirtualBox virtual machine on a Linux machine and logging into the Linux machine from a Mac!), kept me pretty busy on Tuesday and Wednesday and I only managed a few minutes of operating on each of those days.  But, by Thursday, my schedule broke loose a little and I was able to operate for a few solid hours in the afternoon and evening.  I had no idea that Greenland would be so popular on 30 meters!  Wow.  That’s definitely the most intense pileup I’ve ever experienced.  Thanks for being patient.

There was some about S3 hash on 20 and 30 meters that the K3’s NR function would take care of but the NB function wouldn’t.  NR is not good for running pileups, so I often had to get the caller isolated to use NR.  On the receiving end, there was a lot of fast QSB, with a period of a few seconds (this is consistent with magnetospheric and plasmaspheric waves that impinge upon the auroral and subauroral regions.)  In any case, callers were up and down, often in the span of a call.  You all on the other end may or may not have observed the same from me.

Per usual, the setup was an Elecraft K3 and the GU Special vertical with 2x 1/4-wavelength radials for each of 20 and 15 meters.  Everything else was tuned by adjusting the length of the radiating section.  This is a substantial improvement in performance-to-size ratio over the previous station I carried in January 2012, which was a Yaesu FT-840, DK9SQ 10-meter telescoping pole, and a variety of wire antennas.  Below is a photograph of the GU Special deployed (it’s in the center, unceremoniously ty-wrapped to a wooden sign post sticking out of a barrel).  The diesel Toyota HiLux pickups are the most popular vehicle in town.  We gave a visiting graduate student lessons in driving a manual transmission.  Great vehicle to teach/learn on with lots of torque and low gearing!


Although I was unable to connect with them, we did drive past the OX2A/XP1AB site on Black Ridge that overlooks downtown Kangerlussuaq:

Thanks for the QSOs.  The log has been uploaded to LoTW this morning and QSL cards are ordered.  I never ordered cards after the last trip, so it will be a shared card with a photograph of the aurora.

Review: Array of Light (3rd Edition)

July 9th, 2013

My friend Matt, KB9UWU, eggs me on to buy things.  Sometimes I listen.  Sometimes I don’t.  But, eventually he wins me over and I’m usually happy with the purchase (e.g., K3 and Hex beam, although I built the Hex from scratch, which reminds me that I owe the blog a discussion of that).  I like to think that I let Matt be the early adopter and then pick and choose based on his experience.  He convinced me to buy a copy of N6BT’s book Array of Light.  Here’s my review.

If there’s anybody that knows antennas in the amateur community, it’s Tom Schiller, N6BT, the founder of Force12 and now owner of N6BT Next Generation Antennas.  He’s also a member of the very successful Team Vertical contest team, who have revolutionized DXpedition and contest expedition antenna systems by replacing trapped tri-band Yagis like the TH-3jr(s), TA-33jr, and A3S, with arrays of verticals located at the water line.  Schiller’s work has been nothing short of revolutionary so I had high hopes for the book.

My copy, like every other copy, is signed by the author.  It’s a good-quality laser print and has the same spiral binding as the Elecraft manuals.  The book is a loosely-edited collection of articles and clippings that read pretty well in series.  But, it’s bear to skim or go back to find specific things unless you’ve read the whole thing cover-to-cover a couple of times.  But, that’s pretty easy to do because Tom is a good storyteller.  My only other complaint is that there are a couple of places where I think Tom has drunk his own Kool-Aid regarding the efficiency of his antennas, especially “linear loading.”  This is a topic that I need to revisit with a pencil and paper study at some point because there is a lot of misinformation floating around about traps, linear loading, and “multi-monoband” antennas.  It’s not clear to me that anyone has sat down and really examined this in a methodical way.  It was disappointing that he quoted numbers like “greater than 99% efficiency” without going into more detail about the efficiency of a full-size antenna versus the linear-loaded one, etc.  Of course, this is difficult, but it’s something that always makes me a bit skeptical.

Array of Light is worth the price of admission for a couple of reasons—the first is the stories and the second is the antenna designs.  I’m a big proponent of not reinventing the wheel on most of my homebrew projects and this book is sure to provide some proven designs to work with.  Especially if you want a good discussion of practical antennas for DXpeditioning and contesting I think it’s a real winner.

New Radio Thoughts

November 19th, 2012

As I mentioned in a previous post about my trip to the Aleutians, I am the owner of a new radio.  The reasons for the purchase were manifold, but driven by a fundamental shift in the way I view my operating (and living) philosophy.  I had long (at least 10 years) been collecting gear for a two- (or three-) tower contest station.  In this philosophy, the emphasis was on collecting antennas and towers as they became available on attractive terms.  It also meant keeping the inexpensive but well-performing pair of TS-930S HF transceivers for my SO2R setup and the FT-840 for my portable operations.  You can imagine from those past few sentences of description alone that this consumed a non-trivial amount of space and time.

Sarah began subtly hinting that “wouldn’t it be nice if we could clean up that pile of tower on the patio so we could have people over?”  My parents have been slowly migrating my junkbox from their place to ours.  It became increasingly clear to me that as long as we lived in this area it would be unlikely that I would put up the towers.  I started contemplating how to remedy this situation.  I identified a large collection of gear (including the Rohn 45 on the patio) that 1) could be replaced by a new radio, 2) I was not using, or 3) for which I simply did not have a plan.  So, I set out with the following theme to find a new rig:

Excellence in portable operation and competence at home.

I considered four radios:  Ten-Tec Eagle, Kenwood TS-590S, Elecraft K2/100, Elecraft K3/100.

I was strongly considering the K2/100 initially.  Its size and price seemed attractive.  However, when I did the math on what configuration I wanted, it basically ended up a draw with the Kenwood and the Ten-Tec with only a small bump more to the K3/100.  Plus, I’ve built enough kits to know that many of life’s most rewarding tasks tend to look better in the past than they do in the future.  Personal preference, of course!

The Kenwood TS-590S is acclaimed by a number of contesters as “the poor man’s K3.”  It has very similar features and performance numbers at a very attractive price.  I have always enjoyed Kenwoods as well.  But, the one thing that ultimately killed the TS-590S and the Ten-Tec Eagle was their lack of BCD band-data outputs.  The K3 also offered the 2-meter option, IF output (for panadapters), and very easy transverter interfacing.  It was really a no-brainer for me at that point since I had sold off enough gear to cover the cost entirely.

I bought the K3 kit and assembled it.  Anomalies notwithstanding, it amuses me greatly when people announce to the Elecraft e-mail list that “K3 #7777 is on the air”…it’s hard to keep from responding, “Congratulations on assembling your first LEGO kit.”  Unlike the K2, these “modular-kit” radios are very easy to assemble if you have a few hand tools and can follow basic directions.

My friend Oli, DJ9AO, informally asked me to compare the K3 to the TS-930S.  I’ve tested (subjectively) the K3 in a couple of demanding environments and I’m pleased to say that the K3 performed well, even with essentially “factory default” settings.

The K3 wins hands-down the strong-signal handling contest, even with the Inrad roofing filter in the TS-930S.  40 meters in ARRL Sweepstakes CW is a good test for this.  The FT-840 used to have severe mixing products (“beeps and bloops”).  These are not common with the TS-930S, but severe AGC pumping from nearby signals often covered up weaker signals.  Neither of these are problems with the K3.  In fact, the K3 is so good that you can tell just exactly who has key clicks because it’s possible to find two signals of otherwise identical strength on the S-meter and one will be inaudible within a few hundred Hz and the other will continue to bleed through and pump the AGC.  Well-done, Elecraft.

One thing that surprised me about the K3 was its apparently poor performance on the pileups from NA-039.  With the BW cranked down to 400 Hz, the filters rang like a bell in a pileup.  I have the 400-Hz 8-pole and 2.7-kHz 5-pole filters.  Widening the DSP bandwidth out to 700 Hz or so (which switches to the 2.7-kHz roofing filter) alleviated the problem with occasional AGC pumping from louder signals in the pileup.  In a post to the PVRC e-mail list recently, Frank, W3LPL, also confirmed that he prefers the 1-kHz 8-pole filter for CW operation.  Because I had the opportunity, I recently sprung for the special-order 700-Hz roofing filter.  It should arrive in March 2013.  I suspect there is considerable tailoring that could be done to the AGC system but I’m not there yet.  Once I realized that the bandwidth of 700 Hz was a sweet spot, the radio worked great in the pileups.  I have a feeling that I’ll also end up with the 1-kHz filter eventually.  But, I rarely open up beyond 700 Hz on CW so it will be interesting to see what is best.

A few other bright spots:

  1. CW-to-Digital:  This is just plain cool.  Send with the built-in keyer and the radio modulates PSK31 or RTTY for you.  Decode it right on the screen.
  2. Multifunction knobs:  The entire industrial design of the K3 is really unmatched in my opinion.  It has just the right number of knobs and menus.
  3. Options:  They are plentiful and easy to install.  Keeps the initial cost low(er).

I’m extremely delighted with the K3 so far and my shack is getting more compact.  It’s also nice to have a radio with a built-in keyer for once…

The Birthplace of the Wind

September 4th, 2012

I recently had the good fortune (Sarah and some Alaskan friends might question the use of the adjective “good”) to spend about 10 days on the Aleutian island of Adak for work.  In the midst of preparing for the trip, I learned that my fellow travelers Kevin, KJ4OAP, and Nathaniel, W2NAF, were planning to bring ham gear.  Of course, I was as well, so we ended up with quite the merry bunch of hams on Adak.  I don’t collect IOTAs, but I know it’s popular.  So, I checked out Adak Island in the IOTA directory—NA-039, Andreanof Group.  Fewer than 20% had claimed it, so it’s not super-rare, but not super-common, either.  I was assured by at least one friend that we would be very popular, especially in Europe.

One of the first things you notice about Adak when you get off the plane is the wind.  In fact, the locals call Adak “the Birthplace of the Wind.”  It’s actually quite poetic considering that the winds are so strong that you don’t leave furniture outside and that the houses shudder with typical gusts.  I experienced 75-mph gusts and 60-mph sustained winds during my short visit alone.

Adak is probably best known as the forward base from which the U.S. conducted its counteroffensive against the Japanese invasion of Attu and Siska during World War II.  It also played an important role during the Cold War and although the military left some 10 years ago, it retains much of the infrastructure including heavy machinery, a port, and a large airport.  The population shrank rapidly from a peak of just over 6000 in the 1990s to around 150 today.  Just before the military (principally Navy) pulled out, they were in the process of building new base housing.  The housing was completed nevertheless and so there are literally dozens if not a hundred homes that have never been occupied!  Some of the others have been converted into a small hotel (this is where we stayed).

The economy is heavily dependent on fishing and fish canning right now.  However, the locals are excited about the possibility of becoming a logistics hub for oil and gas work in the Bering Sea.  In fact, the aircraft I came out on (An Alaska Airlines 737-400) had an unprecedented 60+ passengers on it because executives from an oil company were coming to check the place out.
Alaska Airlines operates “regular” flights twice per week.

Due to a fiction of time zones, Adak is only one hour behind Anchorage, despite being some 27 degrees west.  So, sunrise and sunset are both very late in local time.  It is also very far south, about the same latitude as Vancouver.  Although I arrived at 6:30 pm, it was still light out for almost another four hours.  So, I quickly put up the vertical on 20 meters just before sunset.

While we were putting up the vertical, Nathaniel met Jeff, KL2HD, who happened to have flown in on the same flight as us and who also happened to have his office and station across the street from my apartment.  Neat.  He works for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and they have field sites throughout the Aleutians.  They use HF to communicate with their camps.  So, he just plugs into a well-installed folded dipole to do his hamming.  Have you ever seen a folded dipole installed between two (yes, two) Rohn 45 towers?  Intense.  Wind.

Due to our work schedule (8-10 hours per day plus meals), I often did not manage to get on until 0500 UT at the earliest, and sometimes even later.  But, when I did, I was greeted with a roaring pileup of the “deserving.”  This elicited a little bit of mail from my East Coast friends about getting on the air earlier.  It turns out, however, that for most of the trip, 20 and 17 meters were open to the entire U.S. until 0630 UT.  Both the skimmers and the QSOs bear this out.

Why yes, I did get a new radio to replace the FT-840.  More on this in the future.

It was pretty apparent that I had a lot of callers who couldn’t (for a variety of reasons) copy me.  European friends reported a total lidfest on their end the first night I was on the air, although I learned a lot about pileup control on this trip.  I have great respect for the “real” DXpeditioners who do this from the rarest locations.  This was tremendous fun, though, and I enjoyed working each and every one.  Thank you for calling!

There was one night on 17 meters that I CQed dead air for almost a half hour, making just two QSOs with stateside stations.  And like a switch, the Europeans came in over the pole.  It was incredible: I made 300 QSOs in 2.5 hours that night…mostly Europeans and Japanese.

Oh, one more photo…this is one of our rental vehicles on Adak.  No, your ARES group cannot buy it.  The siren and lights don’t work anyway.

So, I got home on Monday and Sarah is amused by the amount of fan mail (QSL cards) the trip generated.  Speaking of QSLing, the log has been uploaded to LoTW and has already generated about a 25% return rate.  If you worked KL7/K8GU, you can get a nice photo card by sending an SASE or SAE+green stamp to my callbook address.  I also use the bureau.  To this point, Kevin and Nathaniel and I have been planning to share a card.  They are still there for another week (so, if you missed me, you still have a chance for NA-039) and then we will figure out a card and order them.  So, it will be a few weeks until cards can go out.


April 3rd, 2012

Loyal readers know that from time to time, I am fortunate to travel to interesting and exotic locales for work—they usually come in pairs, so Greenland and Peru are it for a while.  Although the motivation is usually field work, occasionally a conference pops up.  The International Symposium on Equatorial Aeronomy occurs every three to four years and can be counted on for an exotic locale.  Sarah had such a good time when we attended the 12th ISEA in Crete in 2008 that she insisted on attending the 13th in Peru with me this year.  Of course, Evan complicated that a bit, and so we evaluated the pros and cons of leaving him with grandparents or bringing grandparents along, eventually finding a willing pair of grandparents to come along.  If you’re interested in a general travelogue (and following posts) and some photographs, you might check out my father’s blogs.  This short post is mostly focused on radio aspects of the adventure.

In retrospect, it may not have been such a good idea to bring ham gear to this meeting.  Between being the most seasoned traveler in my family and the only one with a functional command of the Spanish language, plus Evan, plus hours of meetings and collaborations each day, there was little time/energy to actually operate.  Getting to Peru was uneventful—we took an American Airlines codeshare flight on LAN Airlines via Miama to Lima and got there early in the morning.  Unlike their neighbors to the south, Peruvian Customs is by far the most curious I’ve encountered while carrying radio gear—just a minor headache but Sarah was a bit concerned when they took me away for additional questioning.  I carry modest gear—a Yaesu FT-840, Astron SS-30 (this should be replaced with something smaller, but it’s what I have), WKUSB, Palm Mini-Paddle, the K8GU portable antenna system, and various cables to connect it all up.  After clearing Customs, we boarded a bus to Paracas, where the meeting would be held…

Paracas, which is about four hours’ drive south of Lima, was the site of a major earthquake several years prior and is still in recovery.  The hotel that hosted the conference and a few nearby hotels had all been rebuilt from the ground up since the earthquake.  The city is on a small bay that is protected from the Pacific.  It’s very beautiful—desert sands that go right down to the bay.  After a few days at the meeting, I managed to get the antenna set up.

One of the things that surprised me was an excellent JA opening on 20 meters just after sunrise before I went to breakfast and then the meeting.  I am pretty sure it was a direct-path opening because the signals did not sound like long path and the long path crosses the southern auroral oval, whereas the direct path does not.  (Auroral absorption, by the way, is one reason that the long path can be more effective than the short path.)  Any time I called CQ as OA5/K8GU, I was greeted with a roaring pileup.  Not bad for an antenna propped up on my veranda.  Verticals on the beach rule, and this one wasn’t even really on the beach.

At the request of a friend, I made a special effort to operate on 12-meter CW in the afternoon.  The portable antenna would not tune up on 12 meters with the wire radials I had laid out.  In a moment of desperation, I assembled some extra pieces of my portable antenna to produce a tuned radial that I clip-leaded to the ground lug as depicted in the photo above.  It worked right away and I was quite popular there as well.

A comment about computers—my standard work-issued computer is a MacBook Pro, which although perfect for my work, is essentially useless for amateur radio.  I know this will generate a torrent of discussion, but if you are accustomed to real contest/DXpedition logging software available for DOS and Windows, you know that the stuff for the Mac doesn’t cut the mustard.  I have logged DX operations on paper (CE/K8GU), or in the case of the OX/K8GU operation, brought along a second computer.  However, in a long-delayed flash of insight, I bought and installed VMware Fusion on the Mac in February.  It runs Windows XP and TR4W with the WKUSB just brilliantly and with no special configuration.  Aside from having to press Fn+F1 to CQ, this was an epic win.  KB9UWU tells me that there’s an option in VMware to eliminate this nuisance as well.

After the meeting in Paracas, we returned to Lima, where we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Jicamarca Radio Observatory.  The cornerstone of the Jicamarca facility is a 49.92-MHz radar that feeds an 18,720-element phased array, pictured above.  Jicamarca is one of the most powerful radio transmitters in the world, capable of 4.5 MW output, and is used for a variety of atmospheric, ionospheric, and space science experiments.  Like Arecibo, it was originally designed to perform incoherent scatter measurements of the ionospheric electron density profile.

Lots of fire in that wire!  Have you ever seen a coaxial cable that’s rated for over a megawatt at 50 MHz?  This is the feedpoint of the phased array.  There are a few tuned stubs in there, too.

Here’s one of the four 1.5-MW transmitter cavities.  A maximum of three are used together.  When configured for three transmitters, the driver stage puts out 7 kW!  Needless to say, everything is custom made on site.  The transmitting tetrodes (8973s, if I recall correctly) are refurbished by the manufacturer as needed.

After Jicamarca, we went to Cusco, which is south and east of Paracas, and much more lush than the deserts around Lima and Paracas.

We spent a lot of time being tourists in Cusco and vicinity and I had some difficulty with my computer so I only made a handful of OA7/K8GU QSOs from Cusco on 17 meters.  It is quite remarkable how much better the bands were from the coast.  As someone who has operated from W3, W8, W9 and W0, I can attest to that difference as well.  I missed my morning JA run…

A final thought—we drove through a lot of towns and communities in OA4, OA5, and OA7, on this trip.  Nearly every town, no matter how small, had at least one building with an HF fan dipole on the roof.  HF is alive and well in a mountainous country like Peru!

QSL information:  If you worked OA5/K8GU or OA7/K8GU, the best way to get a confirmation is through ARRL’s Logbook of the World.  I have been responding to direct cards (to my FCC address) with a one-day turn-around lately.