KH6 – Hawaii Bound

My current assignment at Fort Leavenworth has me traveling quite a bit. My intent has been to bring a rig with me and have some casual QSOs while on the road. My success has been mixed. I would mostly attribute this to either a lack of planning on my part or being in a stuck in a hotel room with zero antenna opportunities.

One of the most inspiring ham radio blogs I ever ran across was the 100 Pound Dxpedition. I enjoyed how Scott, NE1RD, covered his adventures of conducting portable operations… documenting what worked and what did not. His last post on that paticular blog was back in 2007, but I still use the site as a reference. Scott’s praise for the Buddipole led me in using the Buddipole during my recent tour in Korea. Another tip from Scott I am going to try out is using a hardside golf bag case to transport my Buddipole to Hawaii.

Now for a rig… I think the Elecraft KX3 would be ideal for a Hawaii trip. With 10 watts output and an internal battery, I can’t think of better rig to take to the beach. But the wait time for the KX3 is still quite a while. I have both an Elecraft KX1 and a Yaesu FT-817ND. The KX1 would be great due to its small size and ease of use. But it is limited to only CW and I would like to do some PSK in addition to CW.

I pulled out my FT-817 and conducted an inventory:

    – West Mountain Radio RIGblaster Plug n Play connects directly to the DIN socket on the back of the rig.
    – CAT cable that connects from the RIGblaster to the rig’s ACC socket which enables rig control.
    – PowerPole 12v adapter.
    Palm Paddle.
    Elecraft T1 Auto-tuner.
    – Nifty manual for the FT-817.

My FT-817 has quite a few of the optional bells and whistles from W4RT:

I also splurged on two recent upgrades:

    Peg Leg tilt stand – I think this will be helpful as one of my significant dislikes of the FT-817 is the small display which is hard to see.
    – Magnets for the Palm Paddle – this is critically important as the Palm Paddle by itself is not heavy enough. The magnets allow the Palm Paddles to firmly stick to the top of the FT-817.

For PSK, rig control, and logging I have my Dell Mini netbook. I had not used the netbook in a while, so I started it up to see how it was working. I initally purchased it back in 2009 baselined with Ubuntu and have kept Ubuntu installed on it since then. After booting it up. I updated the distribution to 10.04 LTS and installed fldigi. The RIGblaster easily interfaced with the netbook via a USB connection and the headphone/microphone jacks.

I configured fldigi to work with the RIGblaster to include rig control using Hamlib:

    – Audio: PortAudio using the netbook’s hardware soundcard for both Capture and Playback
    – Rig: Hamlib; Device /dev/ttyUSB0; Baud rate 38400; Stopbits 2; PTT via Hamlib command checked

… clicked on the Initialize button and I was good to go.

Setting up the macros on flidigi is pretty straightforward with the default macros only needing slight tweaking for my personal preferemces.

Once I fired everything up all I had to do was switch to 14.070 MHz, switch the mode to DIG, and drop the input level a bit. With the narrow yellow PSK streams cascading down the waterfall, I picked one that was calling CQ and answered. Transmit worked and my home antenna provided a nice low SWR, no need for the tuner. My macros worked and the QSO was concluded successfully. All with 5 watts.

I plugged in the Palm Paddle, switched to 7.115 MHz, listened and heard nothing, then used the paddles to send QRL? a few times. SWR still looked decent. After a few CQ calls, I got an answer followed by a short QSO. Great – both PSK and CW were working FB.

Now the question is: do I want to bring my small Tokyo Hy-Power HL-100B amplifier that will raise the output to 100 watts? If I bring the amp, I will have to bring a power supply and a different tuner. I am thinking I need to be able to use two different configurations:

    (A) Beach and Buddipole: using the barefoot FT-817, running everything on batteries.
    (B) Lanai Portable: used from the hotel room, with amp and assoicated power supply.

Now it is time to go through my Buddipole bags and figure out what I need to pack.

Looks like I will be there during the Hawaii QSO Party!

4th of July

I have been here in Korea for just over two weeks and am settling in at Camp Red Cloud, located north of Seoul. I think I’ve done a poor job in the blog of laying out the last month and half in which there has obviously been some significant changes in what I am doing.

On May 20th, I graduated from the School of Advanced Military Studies, culminating my two years at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, knee deep in graduate-level text books and Army field manuals. One of the requirements for graduation was to write a monograph on a military subject. I choose to write on the early history of MARS prior to World War II, when it was known as the Army Amateur Radio System (AARS). During this years Hamvention at Dayton, I had the opportunity to present the paper and I am pretty happy on how it all came together. No significant research had ever been done on early MARS history so I spent the majority of my research combing through primary sources and even conducting a few interviews with the few remaining former members of the AARS. If you have an interest in MARS, the history of radio in the Army, or the origins and organization of radio emergency communications, the paper is available here at no cost. One facet to the history of the AARS that I found intriguing was the relationship that grew between the AARS and the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. The ARRL recently posted a short article I wrote on the subject and you can see it here if you are interested.

My assignment following school was to Korea with the 2nd Infantry Division. To actually get there, I elected to take a less typical means of transportation for part of the journey. I decided to take Amtrak from Kansas City to Seattle, where I would board a government contract flight to Seoul. I had ridden trains quite a bit in Europe, but never had taken a train for more than a short distance in the United States. I had also recently read Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service, A Year Spent Riding Across America by James McCommons. If you are interested in passenger rail travel, enjoy a good road trip, or would like to know why train travel fell victim to the car culture, you will enjoy this book. The author, James McCommons, travels all the primary Amtrak routes (with mixed experiences) and talks with US rail movers and shakers around the country. Overall, he said Amtrak was good and getting better. I decided to see for myself.

One of the countries more historic and picturesque routes is that travelled by the California Zephyr. Originating in Chicago, the train traces its way west, climbing through the Rockies west of Denver and on to the Sierra Nevada’s an into California, terminating near San Francisco. My folks still live where I grew up near San Jose, so California was great for a stop over. I could then take Amtrak’s Coast Starlight from San Jose through Northern California, central Oregon through Eugene and Portland, then on to Seattle.

The train ride west was wonderful and I did write a post about it. The stop over in California was a lot of fun. Arriving during the early evening of Thursday, June 10th, I was able to get some sleep and meet my dad for some QRP portable field operations. We headed up to the Santa Cruz Mountains, above Saratoga, strung up a 40m dipole and had fun playing with my FT-817 and KX1. Although we didn’t achieve any great DX contacts, it was a great time. Saturday morning we headed over to a local monthly hamfest known as the Electronics Flea Market @ De Anza College. De Anza College is a little known junior college which has overseen the growth of Silicon Valley. Although I did not find anything I couldn’t live without, I enjoyed roaming around and seeing what the vendors had.

Before lunch, we headed over to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. Founded in 1999, the museum opened long after I had left the Bay Area. Very cool museum!

Then it was back to the train station in San Jose and I hopped on the Coast Starlight and headed north. The train ride was relaxing with some amazing scenery.

I spent Sunday night in Seattle and caught a shuttle bus on Monday to SEATAC. Flying with AMC can be an experience and differs from a commercial flight. The AMC counter was located at the far end of the international terminal and I joined a long line of guys with short haircuts and heavy, canvas green bags. Although I had to check in at 7:00pm, the flight wasn’t scheduled to board until 1am. They didn’t pack the flight, so there was a little elbow room. Instead of flying directly to Korea, our route would take us to Anchorage, followed by Yakota (near Tokyo) and then Osan Airbase in Korea. We got to Anchorage, deplaned for fueling, reboarded and then sat for three hours. Apparently the weather was bad over Japan, so we were held over for about 24 hours in Anchorage. I had been stationed in Alaska during 1993-1994 and it was nice to see that midnight sun again (sunset at 11:30pm with sunrise at 4:30am).

From Anchorage to Japan with a short layover and then on to Korea. The rest of the story is here.

And on the amateur radio side of things… My equipment is here. I shipped over my Icom IC-7000 for HF and a Kenwood TM-D710A to use with my EchoIRLP node. Also on the way is a Davis Vantage Vue weather station that I hope to get on line and on APRS. I need to get my Korean license and have all the necessary paperwork. Just need to get it turned in now. There is a monthly hamfest in Seoul next Sunday that I am going to try an attend – that should be an experience and I will have to bring my camera.

Have you been enjoying Jeff’s new podcast at Cornbread Road is a Jeff at his best, weaving a tale of mystery and amateur radio in the heartland.

I will endeavor to keep my blog up to date with posts about my experiences here in Korea.

Korea Arrival

I arrived on Thursday, June 17th, to Osan. Osan hosts a major air base and is about an hour south of Seoul. It was a fairly straight forward process of working through Korean customs, despite the long line. I grabbed my bags and was directed to a bus. We were transported up to Yongsan, the hub of US military presence in South Korea and located in Seoul. After some initial inprocessing I headed over to the Dragon Hill Lodge. The Dragon Hill is a really nice resort/hotel run by the US military, similar to ones located in Hawaii and Germany.

I was able to do a load of laundry, buy a towel (I’d forgot to pack one!), check email, and do a webcam Skype call back home. I tried staying up until 9pm, with the time change really working it’s evil. I woke up around 3am, ready to go… but with nowhere to go. The gym opened at 4:30am, which allowed me to get in a workout. Friday’s inprocessing was to be conducted in civilian attire – unusual but I wasn’t complaining. Like most inprocessing, it dragged quite a bit. Those of us leaving Yongsan and heading up to 2nd Infantry Division-land were herded onto a bus and transported up to Camp Stanley, less than an hour north of Seoul. Driving through Seoul is a reminder of the duality of Korea. Seoul is a super modern city with everything you could think of. But it doesn’t take too far of a trip until you reach areas that could easily be considered third world.

Camp Stanley is a small installation, maybe half mile by half mile square. It serves as the inprocessing location for all 2ID soldiers. Here our records our updated, equipment is issued, and everything is done to prepare a recently arrived soldier to be integrated into his unit, ready to get to work. However, it is a Monday through Friday schedule. Upon our arrival we received a general briefing covering the Do’s and Don’ts, issued rooms and bed linen (no towel – but I had bought mine earlier), and we settled in for the weekend. Restricted to the camp while we inprocess, there are all the basics amenities located within short walking distance: Post Exchange (PX – like a small department store), Commissary (the military’s grocery store which stocks just about everything you could get stateside), a food court, community activities center (like a rec center; pool tables, TV, video games, and free wifi), gym, and library (also with free wifi).

I’ve considered pulling my FT-817 out to see what I can hear, but think I will wait until I arrive at my final destination, which should be sometime next week.

Field Day

My Field Day adventure started on Tuesday, 23 June. I finished the final touched to the eARSIB and then through every possible item I thought I might need (minus a 25 pin to 9 pin cable for a Kantronics KPC-3+ which I will talk about later) in a total of 3 footlockers. I packed up the truck, loaded up the dog and was on the road by 10:30am. There was good APRS coverage on my route along I-80 up until western Nebraska where I encountered an almost 200 mile gap. Once I hit Cheyenne, I was back in APRS coverage. My stop for the first night was Laramie, Wyoming, which I made before sunset.

The next day I pushed on west. While in western Wyoming I was able to check into the 40M Sparkle Net (7262 kHz) and talk with Dave, KE0DL, back in Leavenworth, Kansas. I also noticed on my GPS that one of the APRS stations was moving along I-80 the same direction that I was going. I gave a short call on the 2M National Simplex frequency and got a reply. We had both started the drive in Wyoming but parted ways in Salt Lake; he headed south on I-15 to Vegas, I kept west on I-80. I enjoyed the drive through eastern Utah. Park City, Utah is a place I had spent a lot of time skiing about twenty years ago. I’d been there often in the winter, but this was the first time seeing it during the summer.

Traffic was heavy through Salt Lake City and I did my best to make my way around the city as quickly as possible. West of the Great Salt Lake, I had an interesting HF QSO with a gentleman in Southern California who was using an Elecraft K3 with an the diminutive MT-1 antenna. My initial plan was to spend the night in Winnemucca, Nevada but upon arriving discovered they had me on the second floor in a non-pet room. Instead of hauling my footlockers up a flight of stairs I decided to push on to Fernley, Nevada (just east of Reno) where I found a great hotel with a first floor room I could practically back my truck up into. The dog liked it too.

Thursday morning I worked my way up the eastern side of the Sierra Nevadas, listening to a few 40M nets. I reached the Sonora Pass around noon and enjoyed the view. The dog a I hiked up to a nearby plateau and took in the view.

After traveling down the western side of the mountains I was able to raise my dad, KD6EUG, on a repeater near his cabin in Mi-Wuk Village. California Hwy 108 wound its way down from Sonora Pass. The drive was spectacular along the scenic route and traffic was sparse. I rolled down the windows and opened the sun roof to take in gorgeous day. Reaching the cabin in Mi-Wuk, both the dog and I got to strech our legs and rest up. Thursday night we assembled the gear that would become a permanent station at the cabin: an IC-706MKIIG, LDG Z-11 Pro, RIGblaster PnP, IC-208H, all powered by an Icom PS-125. In addition to the radio gear, the station would also integrate a Davis Vantage Pro2 weather station, beaconing the weather data view APRS.

To simplify the APRS setup in the cabin, I decided to use a special add-on piece of equipment from Davis specifically designed to be used for APRS – the WeatherLink APRS streaming data logger. The data logger, once configured, streams weather data directly to a TNC, eliminating the need for a computer (or UI-View32). With this setup, it was not necessary to leave a computer running to keep the weather station pushing data to the TNC and VHF radio. The weather data is formated by the data logger to be ready for transmission into APRS. The station also has a laptop which I installed the WeatherLink software that would allow me to configure the APRS data logger. Configuring the data logger was pretty straight forward. Setting the parameters in the TNC to grab the data loggers APRS weather info proved a bit more challenging. The challenge was further compounded by my forgetting to pack the 25 pin to 9 pin cable that connects the laptop to the Kantronics KPC-3+ TNC.

The real work started Friday. The first task was completing the installation of a Davis Vantage Pro2 weather station on the cabin roof. That was done without much trouble.

The next step would be to get the weather data out via APRS using the IC-208H paired with the Kantronics KPC-3+ TNC and the Davis APRS streaming data logger. With the lack of a good cable to use between the laptop and TNC as well as not knowing exactly what parameters were need in the TNC we decided that task would have to wait until after Field Day.

Now it was time to string some antennas. The first was a 132′ dipole which ran N/S. I’d packed my CVS19 Pneumatic Antenna Launcher (aka tennis ball launcher) which helped us position the antenna up about 40′.

Next we strung a G5RV going E/W. This is the same G5RV I bought from a fellow ham when I lived back in Virginia. He had never used it and I had used the antenna only once while running a special event station at Fort Monroe.

It quickly became apparent that we could not both operate using both antennas due to their proximity to each other and surrounding powerlines prevented us from placing the antennas end to end in order to minimize interference. The solution: my dad’s Force 12 Sigma 5. The problem: the antenna was back in San Jose. So Friday night consisted of my dad traveling back to the Bay Area to retrieve the vertical antenna while I continued to configure the laptop (N3FJP Field Day networked logging software, Digipan for PSK-31, and the Davis Weatherlink program) in addition to setting up my operating position on the back deck of the cabin.

My operating position setup consisted of a 10’x10′ pop-up shelter (with mosquito net) and a large table with comfortable folding chair. Inside the shelter I placed a large table with the eARSIB and my station’s laptop.

I verified that the laptops at either operating position (the one inside the cabin and mine outside on the deck) could communicate via WiFi using the N3FJP software: it worked like a charm. The software allows two (or more) operating positions to share one log. Each operator gets to see the combined log and is notified of potential dupes.

Saturday morning my dad arrived back from the Bay Area and we setup the Sigma 5.

My operating position on the deck had the antenna connections for both the G5RV and the Sigma 5, my dad’s position had the 132′ ladderline-fed dipole. Interference between the two positions was sometimes a problem. I could use the Sigma 5 vertical on 20M, 15M, and 10M as long as my dad stayed on 80M or 40M (as long as I wasn’t on 15M). While this slowed down operations a bit, it gave us time to take plenty of breaks. My dad started Field Day by working PSK-31 on 20M. I worked phone contacts on 15M and 10M. Later my dad switched to phone, which he really started to enjoy.

10M and 15M were really incredible. I was able to work all the way to the East Coast and up and down the West Coast. For dinner, I BBQ’d some brauts. By midnight we were both exhausted and decided to get some rest.

I enjoyed using my eARSIB. This is the first time I used a foot pedal for my PTT – paired with a Heil headset. That worked great, allowing me to use both hands on the keyboard. I had been unable to configure the West Mountain RIGtalk to work on my laptop – not sure why. But it wasn’t too hard to just flip the band in the logging software. I had not used my Logikey CMOS4 Keyer in some time. I paired it with my Vibroplex paddle and the two worked well together. I enjoyed a few QRS CW QSOs – thank you for those who took the time to slow down for me. I had picked up a marine battery to use with my PWRgate and that worked well.

Sunday I got up after four hours of sleep and started working 80M using the G5RV.

The G5RV worked nicely and I contacted stations from Western Canada down to Southern California and Arizona. I moved up to 40M and expierenced similar results – but was also able to work a station in Japan. My dad was up soon and started to work on 80M and 40M with the 132′ dipole while I switched to the vertical and worked stations on 20M. By about 11:30am we were both pretty much spent. Overall we made about 250 contacts, mostly phone but also a few PSK-31 and CW…. and we had a great time!

KD6EUG Brags About The Number of QSOs He Made

We slept well Sunday night and Monday morning had me back working on the Kantronics KPC-3+/Davis weather station. The biggest problem I was having was figuring out what value to use for the GPSHEAD parameter. Without the correct value, the KPC-3+ was not grabbing the weather data. GPSHEAD would pull in the data a place it in LT (a buffer). LPT setup the APRS path. BLT setup the amount of time in between the TNC initiating a beacon transmission containing weather data.

After a few calls to the Davis headquarters, I was able to figure out that “@” was the magic value for GPSHEAD. Now the weather station is up and operational.

It was then back on the road, up and over the Sonora Pass. I was able to talk to my dad, operating from the Mi-Wuk cabin station, on 80M from the top of the pass. I spent the night in Carson City, Nevada and the next day headed east on I-80. I had made the decision to take I-70 back to Kansas in order to try something different as well as seeing a part of Colorado I had never seen before. It was a long haul to Grand Junction, Colorado – I arrived around midnight. After a few hours of sleep, I was on the road again heading east through some of the most beautiful scenery of the trip. Aspen and Veil were beautiful cities – I hope I get a chance to go back there someday. But while the drive was scenic, the going was slowed and progress was not nearly as quick as I had experienced before while moving through Wyoming and Nebraska.

I finally emerged from the Rockies and headed into Denver, stopping at the Ham Radio Outlet located there. Terry, KC0VFO, and I talked about our Field Day experiences – he operated mobile. His call sign looked familiar and sure enough, I had worked Terry on 15M during Field Day.

Moving east through Denver I was back on the open road, moving rapidly along I-70. I heard a call coming over the 2M National Simplex frequency. It was a gentleman operating from the Mt. Evans Observatory – we had an enjoyable QSO and he went on to work others. The Canada Day contest was also underway and I started to hand out contacts from the mobile. I had planned to make it all the way back to Leavenworth, Kansas but realized I was too tired and needed to spend the night somewhere. I crossed the Colorado/Kansas border and arrived in Goodland, Kansas were I found a hotel room and promptly fell fast asleep.

My final day on the road was pretty easy driving. When you think about Kansas, it is usually what you see in western Kansas along I-70. Flat terrain, lots of farms, not much else. For some reason, the speed limit max in Kansas drops to 70mph (Nebraska, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado all have a max of 75mph). I listened to some of the morning HF nets on 80M and 40M, then made contact with K2L, a special events station in Charleston, South Carolina. I was also able to check into the Sparkle Net on 40M and then later worked two stations on 17M, both located in and around the western border area between North and South Carolina. Soon I was back home, arriving before 3pm.

Rainy Sunday

It has been a cold, rainy Sunday. We are on short final for the delivery of child number two… about 12 more days. Spent part of the day finishing the fixes to the nursery. Despite the rain, I BBQ’d two excellent steaks for dinner. I spent a good amount of time at Fort Lewis, WA so BBQing in the rain is no big deal.

Yesterday I mounted a bike seat for my daughter (age 3) on the back of my underused Trek bicycle. The weather was pretty nice, sun and a little cool. I decided to take along my TH-D7A and mounted my Garmin eTrex on the handlebars… I was APRS bicycle mobile again (with a small passenger). I kept the power setting at EL (50mW) and had good luck getting digipeated by N7FTM, which is nearby. To get a little better coverage and maintain the low draw on the battery, I configured the home TM-D710A to digipeat only the packets from my TH-D7A. I hope the weather improves soon so I can do some more bicycle mobile testing. A speaker-mic would also be a great addition to the setup.

I have been doing a little more reading on APRS (when I should be working on homework). One item that I found very intriguing was CQSRVR. There is a good run down of that feature here and Bob “Mr. APRS” Bruninga’s, WB4APR, recent article in QST. What amazes me is that the CQSRVR feature is not used more often. I have also had a great time playing with I am a long time user of, but is just a wonderful tool to use in looking at APRS data.

It is time to get ready for Field Day. The plan is to road trip out California and link up with my dad, KD6EUG, at his cabin in Mi-Wuk (near Sonora, up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We will be a 2A operation. My rig will consist of my resurrected ARSIB (Amateur Radio Station In a Box). The ARSIB is based around the FT-817ND. To give the FT-817ND a boost, I’ve paired it with a 100W Tokyo HyPower amplifier. The tuner remains the LDG Z-11 PRO. I would like to have both a rig control interface and control cable from the radio to the amp but the the FT-817 has only one ACC input. Enter the CAT MATE – I am hoping this will solve the ACC input limitation. For a logging program I think we will go with the N3FJP logging software. It offers the ability to have two (or more) seperate stations have a combined log. It also features a software-based voice and CW keyer, which may come in handy. The downside is it is a Windows only program and it does not have integrated PSK-31. This will require a manual work around to add PSK-31 QSOs. I need to get all the pieces and parts together and start testing everything out to make sure there are no surprises. We will be busy enough stringing antennas and I want to minimize any adjustments I need to make to my own equipment during actual operation.

Return of the ARSIB

It’s time to dust off the Amateur Radio Station In a Box (ARSIB) and get it ready for field day.
Back in 2006 I was inspired by other hams who had put together portable stations that were built inside waterproof containers, capable of multimode (phone, CW, digital) HF, VHF, or UHF operation, easily powered by 110v/220v AC or a 12v source, able to carry with one hand, and ready for immediate operation with minimal setup.
My prototype was the ARSIB which I used on several occasions.

The ARSIB was based around my FT-817 to provide complete flexibility of a minimalist operation on AA batteries if need be. For normal operations, the 100W Tokyo HyPower amplifier gets me were I need to be. I had a lot of fun with the ARSIB using it during an RV DXpedition and for a lighthouse activation.
I now want to take the ARSIB to the next level – fine tune the design a bit. In searching around I have found several sources of inspiration:

  • Notes on building a portable self-powered communications station suitable for RACES, ARES, remote station, or general QRP use
  • Second Generation EmComm Station
  • KA5CVH Portable

    For my second generation ARSIB, I would like to improve the inner shelving structure supporting the radio equipment. Another goal of mine is not to put any holes in the waterproof container, which has limited some of my arrangements inside the box. I also want all the equipment to be able to travel well, without worry of damage. I also need to clean up the wiring; power, audio, and antenna. Some more ascetically pleasing, but functional.

    I think the Dell Mini will serve as the perfect companion for the eARSIB.

    Ultimately I hope to use the eARSIB (“e” is for enhanced) for Field Day 2009. The plan now is to link with KD6EUG, Larry, up in the Sierra Nevada’s for Field Day. In addition to participating in the event, we will string up an antenna or two for his cabin/shack… and maybe even get an APRS weather station operational as well.

    Now it is time to make it happen!

  • gerryk – Bringing tech to the West

    Nice new blog… and I really enjoyed this post:

    First proper HF QSO
    July 21st, 2007

    Now I have a proper dipole up, albeit not all that high, at about 15ft, signals are coming in very strong on all HF bands. Now that could mean a great antenna and matcher on my part, or, is more likely, a mediocre antenna system but huge signals from stations with massive beams and amps in the 100w plus range.

    Going on what I was hearing today, though, it seems to be a combination of the two. I heard plenty of 100 watt, G5RV at 60ft people, as you might expect, but also a few putting small powers out, like one gent putting 30w into a random wire who was chatting to another putting 5w into a resonant dipole. Both were 5/6 to 5/8 which boosted my confidence no end, given that my max output with the FT817 is 5w. I listened around the 40m band and, ok, it wasn’t completely crowded, but there was plenty going on all the same. I listened into a few chats and whenever I heard one wrapping up, got ready to pick up the open station after the other went QRT.

    Time after time, I waited for a QRZ or CQ and went straight back with my call, but when I unkeyed, generally heard a booming 5/9+ signal, or, more commonly, a few, coming back to the calling station, drowning my little signal completely. Frustrating, you might think, but, to be honest, I enjoyed tuning up and down the band, listening not just to people ragchewing or notching up QSOs, but the atmosphere too. The weather has been almost tropical of late, by which I mean tropical rain rather than tropical sun, and that sort of weather means thunder. Not thunder I could hear with my ears, unless you consider the added hearing aid of about 66ft of wire hanging about 15ft in the air. With that to pick up the discharges, the thunder sounded like feet crunching in gravel, in amongst the ever present hiss.

    I didn’t spend a couple of hours throwing rocks into the branches of trees just to listen to clouds blowing off steam, though, I did it to talk to people far away with a tiny amount of power, and in among the big guns it just wasn’t happening. I tried tuning down to the 80m band, but apart from some very weak signals, it was dead as a morgue. I tried 20m. Not anywhere like 40m, but a few here and there. I tried catching loose stations at the end of a QSO, but again and again was rendered inaudible by what one QRP op called a pocketbook op. Those with deep pockets rarely have problems being heard, but, a well placed whisper can be like a shout, so I stick to my rather small guns on the power output. I tried 15m, and it’s pretty silent too, until, up at 21.190MHz I hear a clear voice calling CQ 15! He repeated his call a number of times while I frantically rematched the dipole with the Emtech ZM-2. Finally got a nice low SWR, switched back to USB and heard him still calling CQ. I keyed up, and as slowly and clearly as possible gave my callsign. “QRZ? QRZ, that station.” he said, and I was in. I repeated my call, almost shouting it into the mike. “Echo India 8 Delta Foxtrot Bravo?” he replied. I reread my call, “Echo India 8 Delta RADIO Bravo, Echo India 8 Delta ROMEO Bravo” and this time he got it. “EI8DRB from Charlie 3 3 Portugal Panama” he returned, mixing up the phonetics as hams often do. He gave his QTH as Andorra and his name as Pedro. Andorra! That’s nearly a thousand miles away! On 2.5w and a dipole 15ft off the ground, surrounded by trees, that’s not a bad achievement.

    He gave me a report of 3/5 and I gave his as 5/5, we bade each other good DX and 73 and went about our business. He also said I could QSL via, and within the next few days, Pedro in Andorra will be getting a postcard from Galway confirming our brief QSO. I don’t think he fully realises the significance of this to me. To him, I was just another weak station for him to log, for me, it is the beginning of an adventure.

    Fun with the FT-817

    I’ve been playing with my FT-817 and having some fun. It is amazing how many features they pack in such a tiny little box. I’ve slowly been learning some of them. The first (important) feature I discovered was the power setting. When you operate off batteries, the radio defaults to 2.5 watts output. You have to manually switch the radio to 5 watts to get max output. I knew this but failed to do it until I reread the manual. 5 watts compared to 2.5 watts makes a difference. PSK-31 works quite well with the FT-817. No issues there. CW is a little bit of a challenge without any filters… but still very doable. I’ve been playing with the IF Shift feature to get better copy on the other station for a CW QSO. I’ve read a lot about QRP and now it is time to put what I’ve read into action. First – a good antenna makes all the difference. Second – you’ll have more QSOs by answering a CQ than by calling CQ (i.e. listen, listen, listen). So far 40M has been where I’ve had the most luck, but I’d like to try more on 30M as it seems to be a less noisy band. But I’m having fun and improving my CW.

    Work AO-51 with your FT-817

    Clint Bradford

    Work AO-51 with your FT-817…or just about any dual-band HT!

    Summary: Program a channel with split freqs, per your owners manual.

    The Details: The two primary modes of operations for AO-51 are FM analog voice and 9600-baud packet. AO-51’s transmitters have variable power output, and can operate as high as 8 Watts output on 70cm. Hams are successfully working the satellite with HTs!

    In AO-51’s V/U mode, the UPLINK (to AO-51) freq for voice is 145.920MHz with a 67.0Hz CTCSS tone. The DOWNLINK (from AO-51) freq is 435.300MHz (no tone).

    First, you need to know WHEN and WHERE the satellite will be passing over your location. There are several computer programs that will tell you. In the home office, I use Nova for Windows[1]. Outside, though, I use PocketSat[2] on my Garmin iQue 3600 PDA and Verizon Wireless Treo 650. Both programs are easily updated with current satellite tracking data that is available on the Internet. Or, you can go to… -or-

    …and sign up. Using your longitude and latitude coordinates, you can access amateur satellite pass information (and a lot more!).

    The one “absolute” for success is to open up your squelch. Working satellites starts off as a process of finding weak signals, so don’t expect the satellite to be anywhere as strong enough to break squelch like your local repeater. It’s noisy, but that’s part of the process. Noise can also be an aid in locating the satellite because when the frequency starts to exhibit QUIETING, that’s a sure sign that you are hearing the satellite!

    Use a good antenna for your handheld. A good gain whip antenna like Pryme’s AL-800[3] (not for SMA connectors, though!) will make the difference. Using an Arrow dual-band[4] is better, and if you prefer to homebrew your antenna, Alex Diaz XE1MEX[5] has an excellent Yagi-Uda.

    Set up your radio so you can to tune for the doppler effect. Start listening 5 KHz above the center frequency[6] – you will hear the satellite sooner and clearer. When you hear the downlink signals get scratchy or fuzzy, tune down 1KHz at a time, and reception should be clearer. Follow the signal down in frequency as the pass continues.

    Don’t hold your whip antenna upright. Vertical antennas are not as efficient, and a HT held upright isn’t either. The satellite isn’t on the ground (which is what HTs and vertical antennas were designed for). TILT IT about the same amount as the satellite’s ELEVATION. This means that if you are FACING the satellite, tilt it down towards the ground from HORIZONTAL an equal amount. If the satellite is to your back, tilt it up an equal amount away from the satellites position off the vertical. You will be surprised at the difference.

    Many use headphones – especially if working full duplex. If you have an Icom IC-W32A, you can listen to your own downlink (helpful, but not necessary). Your brain can be better at discriminating signals than most expensive DSPs.

    Knowing your gridsquare – and having a gridsquare map – is a quick way of identifying locations of what you will be hearing. The ARRL and Icom have some dandy gridsquare maps, the latter of which are free at better amateur radio stores[7].

    Remember the “three Ps” for working amateur satellites: preparation, planning, and patience. Not every pass is workable with an HT or listenable with a scanner – so don’t go after the 10 degree passes. Pick your passes, and work the ones you know will give you the best chance.

    When you hear others, try to find a break in the action, and announce your callsign, grid square, and op mode, like this:


    Many hams record their sessions for later review. Even if you don’t make contacts, it helps to accustom yourself to the callsigns, voices and personalities of the other operators. When I first started out, I found it more valuable to know which contacts I missed rather than the ones I made.

    Ask questions! Find an elmer or look up the AMSAT[8] area coordinator for your area. Posting specific questions on the AMSAT bulletin board will also help you find answers.

    Clint Bradford, K6LCS
    Updated 07/17/06


    [1] Nova for Windows is available from Northern Lights Software Associates’ Web site at:

    [2] PocketSat is available from Big Fat Tail’s site:

    [3] The Pryme AL-800 telescopes to 34″ and collapses to 10″. Is is packaged with a 9″ rat tail – which you can use for everyday use. Use caution with this massive, heavy antenna: It has the potential of placing a lot of stress on your radio’s BNC connector. Pryme claims gain figures of 3.2 dB on VHF and 5.5 dB on UHF. Available at better amateur dealers – including Ham Radio Outlet – HRO.

    [4] Arrow’s Model 146/437-10WBP is a dual-band cross-Yagi design, with a duplexer built into the handle. It has three elements on 2M and 7 elements on 440. (You’ve seen pictures in QST and elsewhere of operators using this great antenna!) Also available at HRO – see it on Arrow’s Web site at…

    [5] Alex has performed a lot of work on suitable homebrew antennas for satellite enthusiasts. His Web site is:

    [6] For example, here’s how I have programmed my FT-817 for AO-51:

    Ch # Name TX Freq CTCSS RX Freq CTCSS
    101 51 -2 145.920 67.0 435.310 None
    102 51 -1 145.920 67.0 435.305 None
    103 51 MID 145.920 67.0 435.300 None
    104 51 +1 145.920 67.0 435.295 None
    105 51 +2 145.920 67.0 435.290 None

    [7] Icom’s map is available at the Anaheim HRO, and also available as a .pdf file on their Web site at:

    [8] AMSAT deserves your support! Membership isn’t that expensive, and members are entitled to discounts on AMSAT publications and satellite tracking software!

    Clint Bradford, K6LCS

    Field Day Wrap Up

    I had a good time. Putting together the Amateur Radio Station In a Box (ARSIB) was a good learning experience. I now have a functional, portable system that I can take anywhere to operate. The actual operation and contacts during field day was very enjoyable. Other than the lighthouse activations and the W4M special event station for Memorial Day, I don’t do a lot of phone. So all the phone contacts were good experience. No big DX and no new states (still missing Alaska, Hawaii, and Wyoming for WAS).

    I wish I had tried setting up my homebrew vertical dipole to see how it did against my end fed inverted vee.

    I’d also like to get one of the Heil Traveler headphone/boom mike devices that has a PTT switch. I think it would make operating easier having a boom mike than constantly picking up and setting down a hand mike. I’d also like to try to integrate some type of control software between the radio, the laptop, and the logging program. I’m going to give FT-817 Commander a try. I know there are similar applications for my IC-706MKIIG,

    I need to take advantage of some of the easy way to get more points….:
    – Message Origination to Section Manager: 100 bonus points for origination of a National Traffic System (NTS) style formal message to the ARRL Section Manager or Section Emergency Coordinator.
    – Satellite QSO: 100 bonus points for successfully completing at least one QSO via an amateur radio satellite during the Field Day period.
    – W1AW Bulletin: 100 bonus points for copying the special Field Day bulletin transmitted by W1AW.

    For next year I would like to try and operate away from the house. Maybe combine it with a summer vacation trip.