Sunday, October 25, 2015

2015 IL QSO Party Summary Round Up

General Planning

During Field Day 2015, I took my radio and a few antennas over to a friends house who was interested in amateur radio.  Field day was a blast, even though we only contacted around 25 stations and band conditions were horrible, it was a successful day.  He gained a better understanding of ham radio and saw that it wasn’t a bunch of old guys rag chewing on the radio.  Fast forward to late summer 2015.  I asked him if he wanted to setup like field day and operate remotely somewhere in IL for their QSO party.  He was in.  We started gathering ideas on how to execute our plan and the outcome is below.

 Equipment Planning

We started a Google spreadsheet with all the items we would need and who was responsible for bringing them.  Most of the amateur radio items where in my court, other non electronic items were supplied by my friend.

I wanted to bring two radios with me so we could work both digital and SSB, but the 2nd radio was more for a backup.  I have a KX3 with the KXPA 100w amp as my primary station at my house which I planned on using for digital work.  The KXPA amp is a pain to lug around and to change the KX3 from digital to SSB is not the easiest, so I borrowed a Icom IC-706 radio from my local club to work SSB.  Each of us had a laptop with N1MM loaded, one for backup.  I pulled my TM-V71 off the shelf and put that in the bag so we would have a 2m/70cm rig just in case.  All equipment plugged into a Fruman power conditioner/power strip and then into a 2000w generator.

We setup 2 HF dipoles and a vertical antenna.  I also packed my 2m/440 copper jpole.  One of the dipoles is a W8AMZ G5RV Jr antenna that I’ve had horrible results in both field day and this QSO party with and will probably sell.  I’m feeding it with 75 feet of coax and it has horrible SWR.  The last two outings I’ve used that G5RV antenna, my antenna tuner has had a hard time tuning it.  The second dipole was a Windom and worked like a champ with very good signal reports.  I brought rope, painters pole, extra coax, electrical items, Anderson power poles, a 2nd power supply, cable, crimpers, basically my whole ham shack and tools just in case we needed something.

The vertical used was a Alpha Antenna Ez-Military antenna.  The plan was to use it for digital on 20m.  

 I built a PVC stand for the verticals (Ez-Military and Jpole) that looked like a football goal uprights (but on a smaller scale).

Canopy, table, chairs, windbreak, & ground sheet were supplied by my friend.  We also grilled bacon cheddar burgers from my local butcher, which were excellent with a little McCormicks gourmet burger seasoning.  Chicken wings were on the menu, but we wanted something quick and not messy, so burgers and chips were chosen.



Making a pile, checking it twice


Totes and more totes of equipment

What Worked : 
1) Spreadsheet for keeping track of who was bringing what items so we didn’t miss anything.
2) The major item we forgot were the bbq tongs for turning the burgers, but we made a stick spatula which worked.

What Didn’t Work : 
1) Did I need to pack misc tools (crimpers, soldering iron, extra cables, etc..)? Jury is still out of if I can lighten the load.

Lessons Learned : 
1) Need to pack radio go bag items in labeled totes for organization and quick packing.
2) Potentially packed too much stuff.  Need to re-think all the items I packed.


 Site Planning

There was lot of chatter the week before on the local repeater about the QSO party and where people were setting up.  I gathered some of the old timers already had their operating sites dialed in, as this was not their first party, so I didn’t want to set up on a county line that was already covered.

Our goal was to find a location on a 2 or 3 county line with lots of trees.  Google maps is a must when scouting out locations and can be a time saver without driving to 99% of the locations for recon.  Most of the population in southern IL is around STL, but there are some places just north of the the city that are very rural with lots of farm land.  Calhoun county, just north of St. Charles county in IL is basically an island between two rivers on the east and west side.  That county is sparsely populated, so odds are it doesn’t have a lot of hams in the area.  Jersey county just on the east side of the IL river is mostly farmland too with a large state park, so that was an option.  We were trying for a 3 county line, but would settle on a 2.  I was watching the IL QSO reflector mailing list for operating plans for each of the counties.  About once a week the activation map would be updated and we would compare that to the half a dozen places we picked out.  I used Google US Counties boundaries map to help pick out my favorite spots that included State Parks, public parks or common public areas, as I didn’t want to assume I was going to get permission to operate on someone’s property.  

The Thursday before the QSO party, I narrowed down the field to two locations just north of St. Louis.  Friday I took off work and scouted those places to figure out antennas locations as Google maps with street view did a good enough job that I really didn’t have to do a lot of recon.

 I finally decided upon Pere Marquette State Park, right on the IL river bank.  After posting the question on the reflector site about how close to a county line you had to be, it was agreed upon 100 feet was ok, as the county line was right in the middle of the river.  The location had plenty of trees, a place to set up and also had bathrooms and electric near by if our generator took a crap.  We also felt good about the 2 counties as on Friday afternoon there still was not a permanent fixed station operating from these two areas, only rovers and mobiles, so we knew this would be a desirable QSO.

Google Maps Sat view and antenna layout



Google Maps street view of the operating location

What Worked : 
1) Google maps & street view is your friend for scouting out locations.
2) Use the US county boundaries in Google maps exact county locations.

What Didn’t Work
1) Potentially needed two dipoles oriented at 90 degrees to cover both IL counties and 50 states.

Lessons Learned : 
1) Pick a site with a natural tree wind break.
2) During the scouting mission, ask property owners if you can setup on their property, the worst they can say is no.


 Setup

 We decided to meet at 8am in St. Charles and take the Grafton ferry across the Mississippi river.  This shaved an hour off our drive time.  The goal was to be setting up equipment by 9:30am.  We beat this time by 30 mins because of the quick ferry ride.  For field day it took us almost 2.5 hours to setup two antennas and one radio, so having this extra 30 mins was great.  The plan for the QSO party was to setup 2 dipoles, 2 verticals, 2 radios with tent and table.  Setup progressed slower than planned as we questioned some of our antenna solutions, so when in doubt add 30 to 45 mins to your estimate for setup and troubleshooting issues.

Operating position for the day
The first dipole (Windom) was strung between two trees at around 20 feet, maybe a little more.  The Windoms need to be horizontal with the ground, as ours was not quite horizontal, but close, leaning downward towards the east.  The orientation of the dipole was almost east/west so we were pointing directly at Davenport Iowa for a radiation pattern.  I checked the SWR and we dipped at 20m and 40m, so I knew we were at least good with 2 bands. I didn’t check the others.  The Windom was fed with 75 foot of RG-213 and was connected to the Icom 706 HF transceiver.  We got excellent results from this antenna.  



For the 2nd antenna, the G5RV dipole was setup almost 90 degrees from the Windom in a north northeast/south southwest direction.  The SWR was so bad on 20 and 40m on the G5RV, the Windom started the day off and we never deviated from that antenna.  The G5RV was supported by a tree the west end and a 25 foot painters pole on the east end.  The goal was to use this antenna for a east/west radiation pattern and keep it low to the ground for NVIS.  I put a PVC “T” fitting on the top of the 25ft painters pole which we strung one of the antenna supports through the “T” and then anchored that to the ground.  It served 2 purposes of antenna support and pole guy, which was an excellent solution.  The painters pole didn’t bow or have any issues supporting the weight.  We could easily use this setup with two poles and a vertical dipole in place of any trees.



G5RV dipole antenna


Painters pole with "T" section on top

For verticals, we had two antennas, a 2m jpole and an Alpha Antenna Ex-Military vertical.  Both of these antennas were installed on an antenna support I had built out of 1” PVC pipe.  I supported it with sandbags at the base.  With a strong wind over the river, it was blowing all over the place, therefore, I strung a guy rope that stabilized it.  With two semi equal weight antennas on each end, once the guy rope was installed, it did alright.  Not sure if I’ll use it with two antennas again.


Football goal antenna support

We finished setup around 11:45 with the longest time trying to find the orientation of the dipoles and stringing the rope in the trees.

When we first started the generator, we were overwhelmed with the amount of AC EMI in the radios.  On 20m, it was S9, sometimes +10.  It was a little bit better on 40m, around S5 to S7, so we started troubleshooting the EMI issue.  I had a grounding rod, so we grounded the generator with no luck.  With time running out, we switched to 40m and started the contest.  At times it would drop down to just above an S3, but we fought EMI the whole day.  We have since started looking at chokes and AC EMI solutions for next time, as we didn’t have this issue at Field day using basically the same setup.

What Worked :
1) Setup was faster than Field Day 2015.
2) Good position with flat ground and trees.
3) Painters pole for non-tree support worked great.
4) Lots of paracord and good ground stakes for anchoring poles.
5) Mason line with washers or fishing weights make good starter lines in trees to pull the main ropes up.

What Didn’t Work :
1) G5RV antenna.
2) Needed full 3 hours for setup, thought we could get by with 2 hours.
3) Generator EMI problems.

Lessons Learned :
1) Test out your generator to find any EMI problems and fix them before heading to the field.
2) Move your generator to new location, 90 degrees from your dipole antenna and feed it with 100’ of extension cord.  Roll up the excess to reduce EMI.
3) Install AC EMI chokes and common mode chokes on your lines.
4) Plan out your antenna locations before hand and stick to your plan!



Setting up the wind break

Operating & Troubleshooting Issues

We operated for a total of 6 hours, noon to right at 6pm.  The day started out with search and pounce mode on 40m SSB.  As one would assume, that’s a slow process.  We made 16 contacts our first hour.  Once we got some food in our system, I started calling CQ on a clear frequency and our run rate went up.  Here are some of the stats by the hour.

Hour 1 : 16 - search and pounce mode
Hour 2 : 31 - search and pounce mode & run mode
Hour 3 : 64 - run mode only
Hour 4 : 36 - search and pounce mode & run mode
Hour 5 : 3 - cooking dinner & some tear down
Hour 6 : 94 - run mode only

The first hour we had some visitors come over and ask us what we were doing which turns into a 10 min conversation.  We did frequent bio breaks to rest our voices and get up and walk around.  Sitting in those folding outdoor chairs is not the most comfortable thing.

We had a radio issue where the detachable head from the Icom 706 came loose and shut off.  Once we figured out it needed to be fit back into place, we were on the air again.

The Icom 706 radio I borrowed worked OK.  Other than the detachable face issue, it was good, but had quite a bit of noise.  More than I would've liked.  Pulling QRP or mobile stations out of the noise was hard, sometimes impossible bringing down our rate, but at least we got them in the books.  Here is one good thing about that radio ; we pulled it out of the case, plugged in the power supply and turned it on and it was ready to go.  We didn’t have to mess with any knobs or settings, it just worked.

We ended up using 40m the whole day on SSB.  We didn’t check 20m as the EMI from the generator was overwhelming.  If you look at the analysis, we didn’t contact any states west of Kansas, so maybe we should of tried 20m at sunset?  Maybe switch to 80m?  Shutting down 2 hours before the end of the contest hurt our numbers, but we were tired and running out of steam.

I tried a few CQ’s on 20m digital (PSK31) thinking I could get through the noise, but I didn’t get any takers.  I didn’t see any CQ’s either, so everybody must of been down on 40m digital.

In 6 hours, we made 244 contacts : 1 Canadian province, 24 states, 68 IL counties and no DX.

What Worked :
1) Windom antenna performed.
2) Painters pole for an antenna end support worked great!
3) Orientation of the Windom dipole.

What Didn’t Work : 
1) EMI sucks.
2) G5RV antenna.
3) Digital PSK31 on 20m.
4) Trying to figure out county codes when runtime was high.

Lessons Learned : 
1) Didn’t need the 2nd dipole antenna, moving the Windom would of sufficed.
2) County line stations need to operate in run mode, not S&P mode.
3) Allow ample setup time, as you’ll run into problems and need to troubleshoot.
4) Plan to operate the whole 8 hours and check other bands as the day progresses.
5) Bring a whiteboard or something to display county codes so your not thumbing through pages of abbreviations.
6) Learn to listen for the mobiles to get those rare counties!
7) Pay more attention to the spotting service for rare counties?

Teardown

Teardown is teardown.  What can I say.  We stopped transmitting right at 6pm and we had everything packed up and in the truck in 30 mins.  We were on the road by 6:35 and on the way to catch the Grafton ferry back to Missouri...but we missed it by 30 seconds, so we took the long way around via Alton.

Everything that had a flat surface was covered in “river dust”, so items went back into their totes a little dusty.  When I got back home, I pulled everything out of it’s tote, re-wrapped cords, dusted everything off and did a final inventory of anything that was missing.  Good news was everything was accounted for!

What Worked :
1) Quick work was made of tearing down.
2) We still had a small amount of light left during teardown.

What Didn’t Work : 
1) When throwing items into totes, sometimes they just didn’t fit like they did when you first packed them.

Lessons Learned :
1) Taking an extra 5 mins to pack things correctly might save you time down the line vs throwing everything in a bag.

Analysis & Overview

Contacts Made : 244
DX : 0
US States : 24
IL Counties : 68
Bands Used : 1 (40m)

Claimed score : 22692

Looking at the scores from 2014, that puts us in the bottom of the pack, but right in the middle of the other stations that were operating portable from a 2 county line.  

I exported my .adi file, imported it into Google Spreadsheets, did some work on it and then cross referenced it with some Google fusion IL county and US state sheets.  Below is the “heat map” of all the US contacts we made in our 6 hours.

IL Fusion Table

https://www.google.com/fusiontables/embedviz?q=select+col4%3E%3E1+from+1TCPjv3LvCsk9FRBnMwaUfnl33OkwwlzhioIwg9TE+where+col2%3E%3E0+%3E%3D+1+and+col2%3E%3E0+%3C%3D+10&viz=MAP&h=false&lat=39.88371536445658&lng=-87.18459582031255&t=1&z=6&l=col4%3E%3E1&y=2&tmplt=2&hml=KML


IL Counties fusion map
US State Fusion Table
https://www.google.com/fusiontables/embedviz?q=select+col3%3E%3E1+from+1RdOtcAiKvPPJP5XqR2ww5NQKd4xBAasg_PAez6Qk+where+col2%3E%3E0+%3E%3D+1+and+col2%3E%3E0+%3C%3D+12&viz=MAP&h=false&lat=36.35320124366188&lng=-88.27945499999987&t=1&z=3&l=col3%3E%3E1&y=2&tmplt=2&hml=KML


US States fusion map

To sum up the QSO party, we had a blast.  We are already thinking about plans for the MO QSO party in April 2016 and we’ll be back, probably in the same location for the IL QSO party next year.

What Worked :
1) Site planning is a must using on-line tools.
2) Painters pole for a dipole support was awesome.
3) Windom antenna was booming.

What Didn’t Work
1) EMI off the generator.
2) Digital on 20m.
3) G5RV antenna sucks.

Lessons Learned :
1) Need to switch bands later in the day to grab those western states.
2) Need to listen for those rovers & mobiles to get rare county multipliers.
3) Need AC EMI/RFI filter.
4) Need to contact more stations on digital!

YouTube video of operating position & QSO's from around 5pm to 5:30pm local time.




Saturday, October 24, 2015

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Mount Herman Decent Hyperlapse

I turned my Go Pro camera on and recorded the decent hike from the summit on Mount Herman.  After editing it together in Premiere Pro, I ran it through Microsoft's Hyperlapse creator and I posted the output on my Youtube page.

Kinda looks like Luke flying his x-wing fighter through the canals of the Death Star.

...ok, it looks nothing like that, but still is kinda cool.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

SOTA Activation of Mount Herman - W0C/FR-063

Video upload of my SOTA activation of Mount Herman (W0C/FR-063) while I was in Colorado.