Wednesday, October 26, 2016

IL QSO Party 2016 as W9W & A Rant About WIARC

Oct 16th was the IL QSO party.  This QSO party is only for 8 hours during a Sunday, unlike the MO QSO party stretching out 20 hours over a 2 day weekend.  Since it's a quick 8 hours, it seems everybody is in a rush to get as many contacts, which I think is great.

I do have a bone to pick with the IL QSO party organizers.  I won the 2 county line for the 2015 IL QSO party and I still have not received my plaque for 1st place.  It was a year ago!  I emailed Danny Pease, NG9R and all I get is excuses from him on why he has not mailed the plaques.  He first put the wrong year on the engraving.  Then said the plaques were mailed, then retracted that and said he had to go pick up the plaques from the engraving shop.  His latest excuse is the plaques are going to be mailed to him and then be shipped out.  This guy should not be in charge of mailing out the award plaques.  And to throw salt on the wound, I find out he's the president of the club that sponsors the IL QSO party.  WHAT?  I wrote a very stern letter to Danny expressing my disappointment regarding him and the clubs lack of urgency.  There was no response, which I was expecting.  What if I was a new ham and this was my first contest?  What type of impression would I make on that new ham and the hobby?  Western Illinois Amateur Radio Club (WIARC), I'm disappointed in your lack of urgency regarding sending out the 2015 IL QSO plaques out to the winners.  I hope in 2016 you get the plaques out sooner than you did in 2015.

Now on to more cheerful things.  We started planning for the QSO party a few months before, putting together lists of items we needed to bring and sharing them with the team on Google drive.  This works great, as everybody has access to the same list on their phone, computer, etc.  We found the lists were already made in our head, as we know what to bring and what not to bring.  For MO QSO we had a huge trailer full of stuff.  This time we stuffed everything into the back of a pickup bed.

We decided almost a year ago that we were not going back to our 2015 location, as that location was RF noisy, dirty and not the best place to setup.  It was on a 2 county line, but the organizers changed the rules regarding what you could use as a county line, which made us move.  You can't use a waterway as a county line.  I think that is BS, but whatever.

The team was made up of the same guys from MO QSO with one addition, Sterling Coffey, N0SSC.  He is no newbie to contesting or working a pile up, which he does with ease, as his 120+ SSB QSO rate from 7 to 8pm on 80m showcased his skills.

From L to R.  Sterling N0SSC, Kyle N0KTK, Chris WX5CW, Justin KE0HXL, Kevin K0KEV.  Chris worked CW, Sterling CW and SSB, Justin SSB, Kevin digital and myself SSB.  Most importantly, Kevin cooked and kept us fed.  Those grilled chicken sandwiches and bacon cheddar cheese burgers hit the spot after setting up and contesting for hours on end.

In our usual quest to find good setup locations, we resorted to Google Earth and some BIC (butt in chair) time scanning the county lines and outlines of community/public areas.  We settled on a picnic area within the Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park on the Jefferson and Franklin county lines.  There just happens to be a large pavilion area the county line runs through.  Looking through the logs from last year, we saw this two county line didn't have a lot of QSO's, so it was a good fit for us.  2 counties, close to STL, lots of tall trees, etc... We got online, filled out the permit and requested the pavilion for the day.  25 dollars later and a few months of waiting, the pavilion was reserved in our name and the location was set.

County Line Pavilion with the location of the county line

We got lucky and snagged a 1x1 call for the MO QSO party for 2016, so why not run a 1x1 for the IL QSO party?  After a trip to the 1x1 call sign page and a quick search and form request entry, we were the owners of W9W for the weekend.  As a group, I really prefer to run as a neutral call sign, as it makes it easier overall.  One thing I don't like is how LotW handles contests with portable stations on multi-county lines.  You basically have to pick 1 county to upload your logs.  There isn't a multi-county selection, nor can you upload twice by moving the time a few mins for the 2nd, or 3rd county.  I've never had any luck with that, as LotW can be quite confusing.

One of these days I'm going to form a non-profit contesting group, send in my paperwork and request a formal club call from the FCC, but the 1x1's make due and give some urgency to the people chasing as some want to work all the 1x1's and also they think it's a special event call.

During the planning, we created an antenna plan based on a few site visits.  There was many versions of this drawing, as we were trying to create the best antenna layout per our operating techniques and how we wanted to operate.  There were also power distance concerns and antenna coax length issues that we had to be aware about.  Below is the final plan we decided upon.  One thing we learned during the MO QSO party was to create your plan and stick to it.  This year for IL, we did a very good job in sticking with the plan.  The only change we had was the digital Packtenna location that was more towards the pavilion on the east side vs the south.

We left town Sunday morning around 6am and arrived on site at 7:45am.  The first station setup was the CW tent within the south part of the grounds.  Chris (WX5CW) and Sterling (N0SSC) worked in this station.  Chris was connected to an NVIS antenna that I had built for 40m and 80m.  You can read about this antenna here :  It's basically a homemade DX Engineering NVIS antenna and was the first test of the design and it worked great!  I built two of them, one for CW and the other for SSB, and they came in handy!  

40 & 80m NVIS antenna

Sterling's antenna was a 80m - 6m Windom with a vertical radiator about 40ft up in the trees.  He didn't spend much time on 20 or 40m, but when 80m came alive around 7pm, he ran for the hour and racked up 120+ QSO's with that antenna and his rig.

The SSB tent was a pop up tent with my Flex radio and an NVIS 40m & 80m dipole.  Again this antenna worked great.  I could hear and work stations as close as 30 miles, all the way out to OH and CO as the bands came up and down.  I'm really impressed with the overall performance of the NVIS antenna and can't wait to use it in the MO QSO party.

Justin and Kevin were under the pavilion, as they were guarding the food from predators and also serving as home base for others to take a break from the squawk on the radio.  When not stuffing their faces with cookies, Justin was running S&P on 20m and would throw out a run when others were taking a break and Kevin did the same on digital with his Flex radio.  The Flex radios are very valuable when running digital, as you can have multiple bands up with multiple VFO's, and running separate instances of FLdigi at the same time all decoding at the same time.

40m was hot during the day, with lots of IL stations booming in.  Bands were in good conditions which made the day go quickly.  There is nothing like calling CQ with nobody coming back to you.  80m picked up around 6:30pm, as everybody was trying to get that last QSO in on a different band or multiplier in the last hour of the show.

I have not turned in the log yet, as I'm still going through it, but looks like the raw score is around 185K with a total of 575 QSO's, ~1500 QSO points and 125 multipliers.

Looking back here are the good, bad and the ugly.  What was good : 1) We stuck to our setup plan.  2) We made sure someone was running at all times.  3) We timed our setup correctly and had time for lunch and dinner.  Having someone dedicated to cook is key.  4) Bugs were not an issue.  5) I think we did a good job of coordinating who was running and who was running S&P.  6) We were watching the bands and when 80m opened up, we starting running to get those extra QSO's in.

What was bad : 1) The elements.  The wind was a pain sometimes as it would whip around my sun shade tarp.  2) Tearing down in the cold and dark was an issue, but I did get out of there with everything I brought in.  Tearing down all but 2 stations starting at 7pm helped.  3) Going through the log after the contest is always a pain.  4) Forget your VHF station, we made 1 contact the whole day.

Not too bad for our first outing as a group in the IL contest.  The more and more contests we work as a group, the better we get and the more we learn what works and what doesn't work.  Our goal is to be competitive in the MO QSO party and be near the top of the entries for years to come.

Not sure if there is going to be a YouTube video for this contest, as my SSB audio did not record correctly but we did get some of Chris' CW, so it might be in the background.

Here is our QSL card for the contest.  If you worked us and want a QSL card, please send a SASE to me via my address for my personal call, as I'm sure the W9W QRZ page will be changed for the next W9W special event station.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Sling Shot Antenna Launcher

I searched the net trying to find examples how to attach a fishing reel to a slingshot.  A friend of mine made one by taking apart a slingshot and basically attaching it to some 3/4 PVC pipe and then attaching the reel to the PVC.  That worked, but it's a big and it doesn't always shoot correctly.

After shooting this many times, the key is not to pull the rubber bands as far back as you can.  You only need a small amount of force to shoot the sinker, so if it mis-fires, try backing off the tension on the bands.

Also, another key part to make sure you get the most out of your shot is to make sure the line spools out of the reel cleanly and easily.  I've had other reels and line where if there is the smallest snag, it will limit your distance.

Here is my design.

It's quite simple.

A slingshot from Wal-Mart or Amazon
A decent reel
2 small hose clamps
25lbs tess yellow fishing line
1 large egg shaped sinker

I can launch the sinker around 100 feet in the air with some great accuracy.

Here are some of the details.


Fishing Reel

Hose Clamps

Egg Sinkers

25lbs Tess Line

Monday, October 10, 2016

National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) NM12 Jefferson Expansion National Memorial (STL Arch) Activation

On Oct 8th, myself, Scot (ND9E/0), Chris (WX5CW) and Sterling (N0SSC) activated the St. Louis Gateway Arch.  It was my 2nd activation of the arch with Scott, the first was back in April 2016.  Go check out my blog post & YouTube video back in April for that activation report.

Our permit started at 7am, as I was there a little before.  We arrived on site and wheeled everything to the south end of the Gateway Mall.  We were not able to drive a car on to the concrete area because the ballards were not able to be lowered, so we had to cart all of our equipment.

The setup was basically the same we had in April except for the push up mast we used to deploy the dipole antenna.  The military push up tripod mast I bought at Dayton as been busy this radio season.  I've used it during Field Day, Grant House NPOTA and this Arch NPOTA.  That was a great purchase.  We pulled some construction barrier around our area so the public would not walk into our space and setup the usual table, canopy and equipment.  Our radios ran on battery and solar provided by Scott.

It was a beautiful day, as the weather was perfect.  The high was in the mid 70's with very mild wind.  If you stood in the sun, it was a little warm with jeans and a long sleeve shirt on, but in the shade it was nice.

We had lots of visitors, asking which way to the arch that is.  It's amazing how many people miss the signs on how to get to the arch.  Makes me wonder how all those clueless people got around the other 362 days of the year we didn't activate the arch?!?  

Before today, the Arch (NM12) had been activated 9 times for a total of 583 contacts, so it is pretty rare.  Compare that to the top activation of the Lewis & Clark trail at 273 activations at 12,700 contacts.

Chris (WX5CW) was first up on 20m running CW.  I believe the arch had only been activated a few times with CW, so I knew he was going to have the pileup, and he did.  He worked 68 stations in about 2 hours.

As Chris was working CW, we tried to setup my Alpha vertical on 40m nearby.  Scott (ND9E/0) threw out his call but didn't make many contacts even after we spotted him.  That Alpha vertical works great on digital, so-so on SSB.

Someone snapped a picture from the top of the arch during our activation.  Can you spot us in the picture below?  I'll give you a hit.  Look for the top of a canopy and some orange construction fence.

Next up was Sterling (N0SSC) on SSB 20m.  He got the prize for the most contacts, and the MVP, as we switched out computers half way through his run.  He had to log a few QSO's on paper, had a few on Chris' computer and the rest on my laptop.  Now he's going to have to combine 3 logs together before uploading to LotW.  Sterling ran 20m phone for close to 1.5 hours racking up 115 contacts before going QRT.  Sterling made a lot of contacts on each of the coasts, as I heard CA and NY in there several times.  Band conditions on 20m were good for the first part of the day, which lead to some really large pileups.

Next up was Scott (ND9E/0) on 40m.  We had enough badgering on the NPOTA Facebook page on "when are you going to 40?", "Need you on 40m STAT!".  I love those demands!  We lowered the 20m dipole and raised the 40m dipole.  The top of the mast was only 20ft off the ground.  Our 40m dipole ends were maybe three foot off the ground on the ends, so it really was a tall NVIS antenna, but we picked up some distant stations.

Scott worked 59 stations on SSB for about an hour.  Conditions where good on 40, but the band was full of noise as the PA and AZ QSO parties where all over the band, therefore getting a clear frequency was tough.

About 2pm I finally got on the mic and started calling CQ, but the bands were slowing moving south and propagation was not good.  I made 11 contacts total.  I think 4 of them were from running, the rest were from S&P.  It's ok that I didn't get a run in, as I was tired from setting up and being in the sun/outdoors all day.

It was a very successful activation and I'm glad we boosted the contacts by 50% from the previous numbers.  Great weather and great operators made it even more enjoyable.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) TR09 & TR11 Activation

Over the Labor Day weekend, I took a drive just north of Booneville, MO to activate the Santa Fe Trail in Missouri.  This trail runs from the north side of Booneville across the Missouri river all the way to Arizona.  It had been activated around 80 times before I activated, so I knew there wasn't going to be a lot of people wanting this unit.

Once I arrived on site, I noticed there was another marker there, just beside the Santa Fe Trail marker.  It was the Lewis and Clark trail marker.  I didn't realize, and didn't look on the map that Lewis and Clark also navigated their way through the area and used it for a staging area.  This was a twofer!  Both TR09 and TR11.

Santa Fe in the foreground, Lewis & Clark in the background

Here is a photosphere of the Lewis & Clark & Santa Fe trail head.

I choose my operating position under a large tree just off from the main parking lot.  The Katy Trail in Missouri runs along the Lewis & Clark trail, and is designated as a state park.  It use to be an old railroad, but is now converted into a bike and walking trail that runs the whole east/west length of the state.  This area seemed like this is a popular place to start or end on the Katy trail, as I was only there for about 3 hours, there must of been 30 or 40 bikers who came through the trail area.

I setup my portable dipole on my Packtenna mast and just supported it in the air with a branch as I didn't want to take the time to guy it.  I used bungie cords to wrap the dipole around the support mast so it wouldn't slide down and that seems to work well.

Yes, this is upside down, but it's rightside up!

I pulled the car into the shade, as it was still a little hot in the sun.  I brought my generator so I could run my 100W amp along with my KX3.  I'm glad I brought it, as I was calling CQ for around 3 hours to get my 10 contacts.  My A123 battery would of been dead in 30 to 45 mins trying to power my amp.  I've gotten a lot of use out of my generator, so I'm glad I've purchased it.  It's small, compact, quiet and provides enough power for all my gear for 8+ hours on a single tank.

Here was my operating position, the backseat of my car with the seat down.

I called CQ for at least 2 hours and gained around 7 contacts, three short for the 10 needed.  I then did some search and pounce around the band and found two other National Parks and then I worked some stations for the TN QSO party.  I ended up with 13 contacts for the activation.

Once I got back home, I emailed Sean from the ARRL regarding the twofer and was informed the deadline for submitting two NPOTA sites for one upload was back in March.  To solve this, I just uploaded two files as each contact was off by 1 min for the timestamp.  I read this was a no-no but I did it anyway to get credit for both NPOTA sites, as I didn't agree with the cut off date for submitting two-fers.

It was a great day, good weather, it wasn't too windy and as the sun went down, the temp dropped to the point where it felt cool.  I'm glad I drove across the state to activate those trails and put them into my log for NPOTA.  At this point, I might have more activatioins than I have chaser points!

I shot some video, but unsure if I'm going to put it together on YouTube.  Stay tuned.