K1RA @ W1RT Rover ARRL Sept VHF 2009
W1RT Rover ARRL Sept VHF 2009
1000 miles, 15 hours driving, 14 hours operating, 4 hours sleep
I had the opportunity to operate with John W1RT this past Sept 2009 ARRL VHF contest. Christof, ON4IY, was unable to make it this time around, so John offered me first dibs at the shotgun seat. I’ve known John for over 25 years, from back at Goddard ARC and U. of Md. ARA in the 80′s, as well as the K8GP Grid Pirates Contest group. We’d operated VHF contests in the past from Spruce Knob, FD from around the country, as well as made several long road trips to Dayton, but never had roved together in a VHF contest before, so we were both in for a new experience. What follows are my pictures and recollection of the adventure, as well as post-contest analysis. Click on any thumbnail to view the larger picture. Clicking on a panoramic will open a 360 degree viewer, be patient while it loads. Use the left-right arrow at the bottom of the panoramic picture to scroll.
My trip started several days before the test, taking a one-way train from D.C. to Stamford, CT on Thurs. 9/10. John picked me up at the train station and we got back to his place in the early afternoon, in enough time to look at the rover and perform final preparations and testing. First the low 4 bands. A quick SWR test with the antenna analyzer shows the front 3 antennas (144-432) look good 1:1. We still need to assemble the ruggedized moxon for 50 MHz. A bit of measuring and sawing and its up on the mast in no time with a good 1:1 match. This new antenna build would prove to be much sturdier and withstand some heavy tree branch abuse over the weekend.
Next its on to testing the station. All bands are putting out power, 400w on 50 and 144 MHz and 200w on 222 and 432 MHz. Things seem to be going smoothly. We fire up the computer and ensure rig control and audio are functioning. Some minor audio issues with MFJ interface box and wire jumpers, but eventually get mic and computer audio keyer ironed out. One final test on 144 MHz and then the unthinkable happens. Its Murphy! A burning aroma begins to permeate the van. We kill the master power and begin hunting. Its the 2m amp and its very warm to the touch. We remove it and put it on the bench and after several tests it appears the finals are blown. Its a mad dash to the computer. John puts out a call to borrow any solid state amp we can get our hands on. Greater Norwalk Amateur Radio Club comes through with a response, but it won’t be until Friday night before we can get it.
Friday is a new day, but its raining and it does not appear it will let up. We attempt to find why the 2m amp blew. After some troubleshooting we come to find out the rear 2m antenna feedline is bad. There’s an intermittent break in the line. It’s a kludge of several pieces, so we end up ripping it all out and re-running one length of the only thing we have, 9913, PL-259′s and adapters. It’ll have to do. Working in the rain is no fun, but we manage to pull apart the old coax bundle to the rear mast and attach the new feed. It tests out perfectly and we tape and seal everything up. Some final testing of the uwave station and computer and things are beginning to come together. I upload my new master 20,000 call LUP file for Roverlog and give it a quick test. We exercise the computer rotator control app and networking and all is looking fine.
Its Friday eve, and its almost time for dinner. John gets a call from GNARC and makes a quick run to pick up the loaner 2m amp. Meanwhile, John’s wife Terry KB7MFM makes us a very fine meal. I have another long time friend Ed K1RT join us for dinner. Amazingly K1RT and W1RT live only about a mile apart in Easton. We sit down catch up and reminisce. Its a short visit and back to the rover to integrate the amp and get ready for a final morning test and departure.
It’s Saturday morning and we make a quick run to Tashua Hill FN31ig to test with K1TEO. Things seem to work, though Jeff reports some audio distortion issues on the low bands. There’s no time to debug. We head back to John’s to pack tools and set up the GPS and mapping laptop computer. It’ll be food on the road, a quick stop at Radioshack and off to West Rock, FN31mh. We get to the hill about 130pm in enough time to snap a few pictures and then start operating.
It’s 2pm and I start by working another long time fellow contest operator Ed K1TR. We’re off and running. Bands are OK, though nothing special. We work plenty of guys around the northeast, K1GX, K1TEO, K1WHS, WA2FGK, WA2VNV, N2GHR. We spend about 2 hrs working over 100 stations and John says we’re off to a good start, so time to leave for our next grid. Just as we leave and turn the batteries back over to charge Murphy pays us his second visit. The alternator blows! It’s not good, no charging current. Fortunately we can limp back to John’s place, about 45 minutes away. Back in the driveway, we cool down the engine compartment with a box fan and get on the phone looking for replacement alternators. Finding one, we head to the AutoZone and return to install. Its dinner time, so John’s wife Terry makes us another nice warm meal before we hit the road again. Its off to our second site Eagle Rock, NY.
Its 820pm and we’re some 3 hours behind schedule now when we arrive at Eagle Rock FN20vt. My plan was to capture lots of audio and video from the weekend, but with the depressing start I sort of lost sight of that task. I didn’t even get a pix of myself at the low band operating seat. So all I can say was its rainy, drizzly, dark and there are an inordinate number of people there. There appears to be a 9/11 memorial service going on. We manage to find a spot to park and no sooner are we approached by the police. I manage to start working stuff on the low 4 bands, but John ends up interacting with the authorities. He begins to answer their questions and tries to put their fears to rest. It doesn’t seem to work, since at first word we must pack up and leave. Then its wait a minute and let them see if we are interfering with their comms. We finally get an OK to stay and John cranks up the uwave mast in the rain and starts to make a handful of QSOs. Conditions aren’t great and I work mostly low 4 band stations. We stay for 1.5 hours and only work N3NGE and K1GX through 2.3 GHz and about 70 stations total. We’ve had enough, so its time to pack up and head off to Sandy Hook, NJ. We realize our bad start is probably due to the fact we didn’t pay homage to Bill W3IY (SK), so we turn on the SiriusXM and listen to some Grateful Dead in his memory.
Not having been to the FN30ak site before we run into our fair share of problems. First no left hand turns in NJ and the mapping software appears not to be aware of this fact. After heading out of our way for several long blocks and down a gravel road to nowhere, over the bridge 3 times, we finally find a place to settle in and operate off the side of the road along the water. Its 1130pm and again its still drizzling and dark. We manage to work some QSOs, K1TEO through 10 GHz and K1GX through 2.3. We only spend about 30 minutes here, working about 40 stations. John says its a 3 hour ride to the next stop so no more time to operate and its back on the road again. PA here we come.
On to route 80 and across PA we realize we won’t make the planned FN10 spot to operate, so we opt to head to the hotel and get a fresh start at Camelback FN21 in the morning. Unfortunately we had already booked a hotel in FN10, so we have to drive past Camelback and backtrack later. The GPS and mapping software are still causing us problems, so we miss the initial exit for the hotel, and its not until 330am before we get to sleep. Ugh, its been a long and depressing day.
Sunday morning and it 715am when we awake. The sun is up and it looks to be a nice day, what a change from yesterday. We’re on the road by 730am and after a quick McD’s stop we backtrack to Camelback FN21bd. Again we miss a turn to the hill wasting more time, but eventually get to the top. Its a beautiful site and its sunny with clear blue skies.
It’s 9am and our fingers are crossed that we can make up for Saturday’s lost QSOs and time. I look at our score, 25K, pretty dismal. John cranks up the mast and we hit the bands screaming. We have some great runs. I pass many stations to John and he seems to be working them without issue. We work N3NGE, WB1GQR, W2SZ, K1TEO, W2SJ, K1RZ and K1WHS up through the uwaves. The low bands aren’t band either, even manage working some distant rovers like WA2IID FN23, VE3SMA FN03, and KJ1K FM28. The dinner bell, which sits on the 19″ rack Jacobs box, is rung many times for each of the new grids we pick up. We end up spending 2.5 hours operating and reap almost 200 QSOs. I don’t want to leave since there are still folks on the band I haven’t worked and passed up to uwaves, but alas, John gives the pull the plug signal and its down the mountain and onto Pismire Ridge, PA. We switch the batteries over to charge and the ammeter spikes at 80 amps, but soon that drops and the batteries charge at a more steady 20-30 amps. I look at our score, almost 100K, wow what a ride, I’m beginning to feel better about this roving adventure. Heading down the hill we get flashing head lights from an oncoming van. Its NN3Q Rover. We stop for a quick hand shake and fire up the bands while mobile and make a quick exchange with them, then we’re off for some more driving.
On the way to FN10xw we briefly cross through the south eastern corner of FN11, so while in motion I crawl into the back and pick up a few QSOs. Its only 15 minutes in the grid but I work KA1ZE, NN3Q, K1TEO WA2FGK and K3YTL. Down the road a few more miles and were at Pismire Ridge. Its 1220pm and we drive up to the water tower, hop out and crank up the mast. I snap a few pictures and beginning scanning the bands.
The weather is still great and condition are fair. We work K1TEO, WA2FGK and K1RZ through the uwaves and K1WHS FN43 and WB1GQR FN33 to the north on 2m. Not much to the south. We spend 60 minutes here and end up working a bit over 50 stations. John cranks down the mast and its time for more driving. It’ll be a long diagonal drive across FN10 to our next spot in FM19. We’re not looking forward to driving all those miles. We seem to be spending more time driving than operating.
We drive and drive and drive some more. It pretty countryside, farmland, rivers and mountains. We crank up the SiriusXM and just listen to the music for awhile putting the contest behind us for a bit. I snap a few more pictures along the way and try to get creative. There’s a shadow of the uwave antenna array in the rear side view mirror. Its more than 3 hours on the road driving across FN10. Fortunately the roadways are clear and its smooth sailing.
Its coming up on 4pm. The skies are still clear and we’re approaching our next site Big Mountain, PA FM19aw. John comments we’re approaching his best score of 138K and wonders if we have a chance of hitting Bill W3IY’s best of 300K points. Its a goal, but its going to be a stretch with the 3 hour delay, so hopes aren’t too high. We’re feeling pretty good nonetheless just to be closing in on 140K with 7 hours left in the contest. We climb up the hill and take the long gravel road to the top. Lots of uwave towers up here, so it must be a good site.
We get to the site and see other vehicles there. Looks like parking for a nice hiking trail, but we’re here to operate, so up goes the uwave array and we begin scanning the bands. Conditions are still fair.
We work K1TEO to 3.4 GHz, WA3PTV Rover through 10 GHz in FN00, K1RZ through 5.7 GHz. We catch a bunch of the locals on the low bands, W4IY, W4RX, W3HMS Rover just down the road. All in all we work 80 stations in a little over an hour. We’re running short on time and we have to abort our stop at our planned FM09 site. There no time to waste, off to our last site Hogback Mountain on Skyline Drive in VA. We’ll have to grab some QSOs from FM09 while we are mobile on Route 81 near Front Royal along the way.
Its back down the hill and about 20 minutes later we cross into FM09. I crawl into the back to start making some mobile contacts. We’ll be in FM09 for about an hour and I work almost 30 QSOs, mostly low bands with K1RZ, W4RX, W3IP, W4IY, but then I find K3LFO/R on Hogaback and since the vehicle and uwave antennas are pointing right at him, we run the uwave bands, sweet! As we drive up Skyline Drive the sun sets and the western sky turns a nice orange glow. We make a quick stop to get a picture of the rover looking into the dusk.
We cruise by Devils Staircase, which has a good south view, but head to Hogback first. K3LFO/R is still set up and its 830pm, 30 minutes past his departure. John does the rover hand shake with them and we run the uwave bands again. We give them another half hour and say we’re coming back so pack up soon! Back to Devil Staircase and we work a few grids to the south, KN4SM FM16, K4QI FM06 through 1.2 GHz, and KR4WM FM03. As it turns out we should have stayed there longer since the bands were much better south than Hogback would be to the N, NE, NW or W. But its back to Hogback anyway. Its 915pm and K3LFO is still here! We just start operating and soon they move off to FM18. The usual local 10 bands stations are no where to be found, W8ZN, N3IQ, K3CB, W3ZZ are all silent. We still manage to work a number of folks though. I catch K1TR on 144 and 222, K8TQK EM89 for a new grid, W2SZ through 432, NN1D FN41 on 144 and W3KWH in EN90 for a new grid on 144 through 903. I manage to find some uwave stations for John to work, K1RZ, KE2N, WA2FGK, K1TEO and N3NGE, but conditions aren’t good enough to run to 10 GHz with anyone but Dave K1RZ. The clock strikes 11pm and the ARRL Sept 2009 VHF contest its over!
John cranks down the mast and we spend a few minutes gazing at the lights of Luray down in the valley below. A look to the heavens reveals an amazing view of the milkyway. Its very dark and clear and breezy too. The later probably explains the fair to low uwave conditions, but we can’t complain. For all our issues, we beat John’s old score by more than 100K. The graphs and charts below show more detail. Aside from the slow start on Saturday and poor weather, we quickly made up for it on Sunday morning on Camelback. The low band station greatly out performed previous years. I’d like to think it was the operator that accounted for this but I’ll just say John has done a bang up job building and keeping the station up and running all contest. uWaves also outperformed previous years. Pass, pass, pass was the name of the game this contest and it showed in the overall score of almost 250K a new W1RT/R record. Passing stations up from the low bands (50-432) to the uwave (903 and up) worked quite well and John and I had a good rhythm going for most of the contest.
Below are graphs I created with PERL and PHP scripts that I wrote employing JpGraph. This first set compares the last four VHF contests for W1RT from June/Sept 2008 and June/Sept 2009 for: low band only (50-432), uwave (903 and up) and combined all band point scores respectively. The x-axis is noted as hours into the contest, not time. Hour 20 of the contest, when we operated from Camelback FN21, is where we began to break away from previous years scores and pull ahead.
The following graphs show the top stations we worked for: all bands, low bands (50-432) and uwave (903 and up) respectively. K1TEO, WA2FGK and K1RZ claim the top 3 all band QSO spots, with Jeff grabbing 57 W1RT QSOs and with Herb and Dave each claiming 39.
The next 3 graphs show a tally of the new/unique and overall grids we contacted per hour, the number of minutes we operated per grid and the number of QSOs and QSO points earned per hour of the contest respectively. Note the x-axis on the bar graphs shows hours into the contest and also what grids we activated. We spent the most time operating in FM08, FN21 and FN31 in descending order.
The following charts are another way to tally and display the grids we worked. These pie charts show the number of new/unique grids we contacted for: all bands, low bands (50-432) and uwave (903 and up) respectively for each of the grids we activated. You can see that FN21, FN31 and FM08 were our 3 top most productive locations for working new grids.
The last 3 pie charts show the QSO points we earned per grid we activated for: all bands, low bands (50-432) and uwave (903 and up) respectively. Not surprisingly FN21, FM08 and FN31 yielded the most QSO points for us. These grids were excellent radio locations with plenty of activity.
Here is the Roverlog band by band breakdown and final score for our ARRL Sept VHF 2009 expedition along with the number of reported QSOs we worked per grid we activated.
RoverLog Score Summary, Using new rules: Band Qs Val QPts Mults 50 151 1 151 24 144 194 1 194 30 222 116 2 232 22 432 127 2 254 24 902 42 3 126 16 1.2G 42 3 126 14 2.3G 33 4 132 14 3.4G 17 4 68 9 5.7G 16 4 64 8 10G 13 4 52 7 Grids activated: 9 Totals: 751 1,399 177 Claimed Score: 247,623 RoverLog QSOs by Activated Grid: Grid Qs FN21 187 FM08 169 FN31 104 FM19 84 FN20 73 FN10 54 FN30 40 FM09 30 FN11 10
I wrote several more PERL scripts and employed AZ_PROJ to plot grid maps with the overall number of stations we contacted per band for our entire rove. These maps show grids, color coded as a number (power of 2), with a count of successful 2-way contacts made with each particular grid for bands 50 MHz through 10 GHz respectively.
Below is an animated image of the 144 MHz propagation as experienced by the US APRS network for the contest weekend from approximately 9/12 1800z through 9/14 0400z. Snapshot were taken every 15 minutes. Likewise I captured and animated NOAA GOES East IR (left) and water vapor (right) satellite images for the same period, taken every 30 minutes. There was apparently some scattered tropospheric enhancement during the first 18-20 hours of the contest across western 2,3 and 4 land, 8 and 9 land and VE3, as well as down in the S.E. US. Watch for the bright orange areas on the APRS map indicating band openings between regions. Observe the east-west trough in the GOES East water vapor map that tends to indicate an area of enhanced propagation for those lucky enough to reside within.
Finally, for those who are interested in the specifics of John’s W1RT Luxury Rover, here’s the low down on the vehicle, masts, radios, transverters, amplifiers and antennas:
Vehicle: 2000 Safari AWD – 150 hp, 4.3-liter V6, 4-speed auto (12 mpg)
Front mast: 10′ mast w/ 50-432 MHz rotatable in motion
Rear mast: 20′ crank-up w/ 903 MHz – 10 GHz (24G soon) + 11el 2m yagi
Battery Power: 4 Trojan T-105 flooded lead acid batteries
Inverters: 2 Jacobs Accuvolt buck-boost inverters
Computer: IBM Netfinity P4, Ubuntu Linux, Multi-seat X, Roverlog, Linrad & SDR-IQ
I/F radios: 2 Elecraft K2s
Transverters: 50-432 MHz Elecraft
Transverters: 903 MHz DEMI, 1.2-10 GHz DB6NT
Amps & Antennas:
50 MHz – 400W TE Systems & 2el Par Moxon
144 MHz – 400W TE Systens & 5el yagi
222 MHz – 225W TE Systems & 8el yagi
432 MHz – 185W TE Systems & pair 11el yagis
903 MHz – 200W Motorola & 31el yagi
1.2 GHz – 150W DL2AM & 55el looper
2.3 GHz – 125W DL2AM & 76el looper
3.4 GHz – 50W Toshiba PyroJoe special & 112el looper
5.7 GHz – 10W DL2AM & 2ft Dish
10 GHz – 10W DL2AM & 2ft Dish
If you enjoyed the article, please leave a comment below or email me at k1ra @ k1ra . us If you would like to contact John you can reach him at john @ sort . net
73 and thanks for the contest QSOs!
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