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K1RA @ K8GP Rover ARRL Jan VHF SS 2014

Terry W8ZN and I (Andy K1RA) activated K8GP / Rover during the ARRL Jan VHF SS 2014 contest using the newly improved rover of Rich N3UW.    The article below covers both our preparations for the event as well as our experiences over the two day contest weekend. You will find information about each of our grid stops, including highlights of stations and grids we contacted as well as pictures, audio and video.   I likewise present some stats and analysis using some home grown dynamic maps I created based on Google Maps and PHP scripts I wrote to parse our log. This allows me to display stations we contacted by grid and band. You too can analyze our log using my tool. Finally, you can click on most of our 6-digit grids (blue) to see a Google Terrain view of each of our operating locations.

The Catalyst

Recently Rich N3UW handed over the keys to his Ford Transit van to Terry in the hopes of improving its capabilities as a 10 band rover.  Rich has been active in the Grid Pirates contest group as far back as 1999 as KD4DSX/R.  He has been in and out of roving and gone through several vehicles over the years with varying degrees of success. Rich suggested if Terry could refit and re-engineer the rover before the Jan VHF SS that he would let Terry take it out contest weekend for a maiden voyage. Here are some old pictures of Rich’s previous rover on various expeditions some 15 yrs ago. Click any thumbnail within this article to see a higher resolution image.

As many know we on the east coast suffered an arctic blast during mid-January, but also the weather took a brief swing where temperatures got near 50 degrees.  I offered to help Terry work on the van in exchange for the shotgun and low band seat during the upcoming Jan VHF SS.  Terry and I had attempted several Jan VHF SS roves over the years with limited success.  This year we hoped with a little luck we could both rebuild and have a solid roving station we could activate on the bands for the entire weekend.

During the month of January Terry and I took advantage of some warm weather days to work on the vehicle, mounting various supports for both masts and antennas.  Terry worked nights in the vehicle and in the cold (with the help of a space heater) on re-engineering the interior.

Rich has always had a great set on equipment of the high bands, something we mainly call the “Owen Box” (aka K3CB, ex-K6LEW), consisting of DEMI transverters. For antennas he uses various loopers.  To drive the system he’s recently acquired an Elecraft K3 and internal 144 MHz transverter to act as an I/F for the microave transverters.  On the low bands an IC-7000 and 222 MHz DEMI transverter round out the station. Terry offered to take a look at all Rich’s equipment and re-engineer the vehicle to run as a 2 man rover supporting both simultaneous low band (50-432 MHz) and high band (902 MHz – 10 GHz) stations.

Terry constructed a desk to put in the back of the van, mounting the Icom and Elecraft rigs.  Then he took an idea from the John W1RT rover and acquired an old military lighting crank up mast and we mated it to a Yaesu rotator riding on a tow hitch off the back of the van.  To hold the mast vertical we attached two I-beam to the pre-installed Thule roof racks.  These ran from beyond the back of the vehicle out over the front windshield.  The back mast holds all 902 MHz and up antennas.  At the front of the I-beams we’d gone through several configurations for the low band antennas.  Finally we settled on a stubby Rohn 25 top section holding a Yaesu rotator and mast holding a 50 MHz moxon, a 5 element 144 MHz, 4 element 222 MHz and 11 element 432 MHz yagis.

Other work on the inside of the van included rerunning 12v from the engine compartment and mounting and wiring a bank of 3 batteries under the table.  Some high current fuses and breakout for power distro was mounted along a side board in the back.  Rich had a sinewave inverter we used to generate 110 VAC for running the rotators and laptops.  It was RFI free, no noise on the bands!

I took to making an amplifier stack out of Rich’s TE amps he had for the low bands.  Terry had a brake and aluminum which he fabricated a U-chassis they would all sit in and mount to the table.  Rich had a nice Jacob’s Box to bump up the batteries to give us a steady 12 VDC for this stack.  Terry wired it such that it only kicked in when we hit the PTT on the low band station.

To facilitate logging Terry pulled together two laptops which we connected together with a LAN crossover cable.  I set up N1MM and W9ZRX / W9PA VHF database.  We had to use a USB-serial to connect one PC to the K3 and we had a USB-IC-7000 dongle for the other.  Both offered us rig and frequency control through the logger, a MUST when doing a lot of band hopping and passing of stations during the contest.  I programmed the IC-7000 internal voice and memory keyers with some messages and we were about ready.

Just before the weekend Terry finds and unopened AM/FM radio that supports iPod and MP3 CDs.  As the rover had nothing in the front dash he is able to mount and wire it into the van’s harness and we’ll have entertainment during the long drive.  By contest weekend we were well prepared and wondering what could we have possibly missed, or what could go wrong.  Would the weather curtail our plans?

Pre-contest Week

Days before the contest I begin gathering rover data and posting our route as well as others across the various V/UHF radio group email lists.  I have several informative exchanges with Al K3WGR 1/2 of NN3Q/R about operating locations up in Packrats country.  Eventually I settle on a route and Terry agrees.  Below is the route map as well as route details we settle on.  This includes grid stops in the following order: FM08us, FM09tf, FN00wa, FM19aw on Sat. and FN10ni, FN20bi, FM29ax, FM19xx and FM18dv on Sun. The first stop would be Hogback on Skyline Dr. in the Shenandoah Mtns @3200′, followed by a tower site on Back Mtn west of Winchester VA, then another tower site north on Breezewood, PA and finally Sat. night about 20 minutes east at a tower site on Big Mtn.  We would drive to Harrisburg that night and start at a tower site on Blue Mtn in the morning, moving to Mt Penn hear Reading and onto a four corner grid near Gap PA before heading to end the contest in Terry’s driveway on Bull Run Mtn near Haymarket VA.  The route is about 500 miles and 10 hours of driving based on Google Maps navigation.  Below are pictures of our route map, detailed grid locations and times as well as the multi-rover spreadsheet I published for the V/UHF community to help assist in tracking those heading out in the cold over the weekend.

 

Contest Weekend

Contest weekend I get to Terry’s Sat. morning around 10a.  The rover is covered in snow from a small front that blew threw the night before.  Our first worry is whether or not we will be able to access our first planned grid stop FM08us (Skyline Drive).  I give the automated road conditions line a call (540-999-3500, option 1, option 1) and we’re disappointed to hear that the entire road is closed as of the 4a report.  We hope that the afternoon conditions will improve and they will open, so we pack up and hit the road.

We get on Rt 66 and head west. We make a quick stop at Lowes to pick up some storage containers along the way for Terry’s tools.  The back operating area is cramped as it is, so on site we need to pull everything out we don’t need and put it outside.  The containers will help consolidate to keep dry what we need to put on the ground.  I take a few final shots of the rover while Terry runs into the store.

We make it to Front Royal by 12p and to the gate of the parkway soon after only to find it still closed, ugh!  Now off to find another site.  Terry recalls a location we’d gone to when we did a mini rover in 2012, a microwave tower site near the corner of FM08/09/18/19 on Freezeland Rd.  We head there and manage to get up the snowy access road and set up about 130p.  According the the GPS this is technically FM08xx, whew, just inside the grid but over 1000′ lower than our FM08us site.  Soon after we are visited by another rover, it is Brian N3IQ/R and his partner Dave N3XUD.  They weren’t aware we aborted the FM08us site and they were hoping to start here too.   Fortunately they are able to move down the road across the grid corner into FM18ax to start.

FM08xx

As the contest starts Terry begins running the bands with N3IQ/R down the road and I meet up with K1TEO on 144.247 MHz the ‘rover sked’ frequency which will get used quite often over the weekend for coordination and general tracking of other rovers.  Next its K1RZ. Dave doesn’t have 10 GHz this weekend, but we run through 5 GHz without issue.  During the next few minutes of the contest Terry becomes frustrated that the microwave computer and N1MM logger keeps locking up.  What we come to determine is 50 MHz RFI is seeping into the USB-serial dongle Terry is using to control the K3 and which provides rig frequency control and cw keying.  Unplugging the dongle fixes the lockups, but now Terry must change bands on the radio manually and in N1MM logger separately, which is quite a chore.  Losing cw keying and without a straight key also means I hand over my bencher paddles and he has to side swipe in bug mode as iambic isn’t his style.  Anyhow, being down more than 1000′ from our planned FM08us site hurts us on the high bands.  We only manage working W3PAW (FM19) through 3.4 GHz, KA3EJJ and N3OC in FM19 through 2.3 GHz and Phil K3TUF (FN20), WA3EHD (FN20) and Jeff K1TEO (FN31) through 1.2 GHz.  I manage to grab a few minutes of audio on my smart phone.  I acoustically couple it to a second pair of headphones on the low band station. Click here to start an MP3 player below to hear some QSOs and the general noise level in the back of the van with 2 ops at the beginning of the contest.

We stick to our 1.5 hours scheduled operating time for this site and leave ~2030z.  I grab a few pictures of the van and site before we go which can been seen below.

Also below is a map of our QSOs and breakdown of our operation from this grid showing total number of contacts, our time on the air and a band by band breakdown of stations and grids contacted.   New band grids are in bold. As this is our first grid just about all grids we work across the bands are unique band grids for the purposes of rover contest scoring.

FM08xx

125 QSOs – 1 hr 30 mins operating

50 MHz– 25 QSOs – 6 grids (FM18, FM19, FN00, FN10, FN20, FN31)

144 MHz – 34 QSOs – 8 grids (FM18, FM19, FM29, FN00, FN10, FN20, FN21, FN31)

222 MHz – 18 QSOs – 7 grids (FM18, FM19, FM29, FN00, FN10, FN20, FN31)

432 MHz – 18 QSOs – 7 grid (FM18, FM19, FM29, FN00, FN10, FN20, FN31)

902 MHz – 6 QSOs – 3 grids (FM18, FM19, FN10)

1.2 GHz – 9 QSOs – 5 grids (FM18, FM19, FN10, FN20, FN31)

2.3 GHz – 5 QSOs – 2 grids (FM18, FM19)

3.4 GHz – 3 QSOs – 2 grids (FM18, FM19)

5.7 GHz – 2 QSOs – 2 grids (FM18, FM19)

10 GHz – 2 QSOs – 2 grids (FM18, FM19)

 

FM18ax

A quick drive across the line into neighboring FM18ax and we work fellow roving team N3IQ/R on 10 bands before we give the FM08xx site over to them and we move onto FM09.  Below is a breakdown of our operation from this grid showing total number of contacts, our time on the air and a band by band breakdown of stations and grids contacted. Not much to report here.

FM18ax

10 QSOs – 5 mins operating

50 MHz– 1 QSO – 1 grid (FM18)

144 MHz – 1 QSO – 1 grid (FM18)

222 MHz – 1 QSO – 1 grids (FM18)

432 MHz – 1 QSO – 1 grid (FM18)

902 MHz – 1 QSO – 1 grid (FM18)

1.2 GHz – 1 QSO – 1 grid (FM18)

2.3 GHz – 1 QSO – 1 grid (FM18)

3.4 GHz – 1 QSO – 1 grid (FM18)

5.7 GHz – 1 QSO – 1 grid (FM18)

10 GHz – 1 QSOs – 1 grid (FM18)

 

As we leave the site Terry talks about wanting to drive back home to get another laptop with a real serial port, since the USB dongle is acting erratically.  He’s bummed that he has no rig and band tracking control from the N1MM logger, nor any CW memory and keyboard keying.  We discuss possibly swapping out my Dell laptop for his as I’m not using the serial port, just a USB dongle for the IC-7000. In the interim we figure out what to do about making him a straight key.  Heading back to the highway we stop at a Radio Shack in Front Royal and find a micro switch with lever arm that we’ll employ with a few clip leads.  A quick stop at the drive through for some fast food and its onto Rt 66W then Rt 81N.

 

FM09tf

We cross into FM09 on Rt 81 N around 2200z and I crawl into the back and begin to work several stations on the low 4 bands.  Its Mike W3IP, Dave K1RZ, W3PAW, N3HBX all in FM19 and N3IQ/R (FM08).  We arrive at FM09tf around 2230z.  This site was suggested to us by Brian N3IQ/R as it is just down the road from his place on the same mountain.  Roads are slick and snow covered but passable.  We find a place to park and crank up the mast.  It is extremely cold.  Even with gloves my finger tips ache after just a few minutes outside.  The sun is just about setting.  Its cold enough now that we need to crank up the space heater to keep warm while operating.  I find K1RZ and tell him to call Terry on 902 MHz and proceed to find K1TEO and run low bands. This site is OK, though not the best on microwaves.  We work W3PAW (FM19) through 5.7 GHz, K1RZ (FM19) to 3.4 GHz, N3OC (FM19) to 2.3 GHz, and both N3NGE (FN20) and N3HBX (FM19) to 1.2 GHz. We get new unique band grids from N3IQ/R (FM08), N3RG (FM29) and K3MQP (FM09).

Its now dark as we leave the site.  As we leave and roll down the road we hear a rattle in the back outside of the van.  Is it the ladder? Loose coax? No its the microwave mast mount!  A bolt hold the bearing to the roof rack I-beams has come loose.  Loosing much more would have made for a little disaster.  This is what makes maiden voyages a learning experience.  A quick tightening and we plot a coarse to FN00.  Google maps and good 3G/4G phone coverage throughout the weekend allows us to run with Ms. Google voice navigation by just entering the lat/lon coordinates of our next grid spot.  We have Topo USA on the laptop and a USB GPS, but we never have to rely on that.  Below is a map of our QSOs and a breakdown of our operation from this grid showing total number of contacts, our time on the air and a band by band breakdown of stations and grids contacted. New unique band grids are in bold.

 

FM09tf

105 QSOs – 2 hr operating

50 MHz – 17 QSOs – 6 grids (FM08, FM18, FM19, FM29, FN00, FN20)

144 MHz – 27 QSOs – 10 grids (FM08, FM09, FM18, FM19, FM29, FN00, FN10, FN20, FN21, FN31)

222 MHz – 15 QSOs – 7 grids (FM08, FM18, FM19, FM29, FN00, FN20, FN31)

432 MHz – 19 QSOs – 7 grids (FM08, FM18, FM19, FM29, FN00, FN20, FN31)

902 MHz – 5 QSOs – 3 grids (FM08, FM19, FN20)

1.2 GHz – 8 QSOs – 3 grids (FM08, FM19, FN20)

2.3 GHz – 4 QSOs – 2 grids (FM08, FM19)

3.4 GHz – 3 QSOs – 2 grids (FM08, FM19)

5.7 GHz – 2 QSOs – 2 grids (FM08, FM19)

10 GHz – 1 QSO – 1 grid (FM08)

 

FN00wa

Its almost a 2 hour drive to FN00 site, up Rt 522 to north of I70 and I68 near Breezewood PA.  This is an microwave site a fellow Grid Pirate, Ken N4UK, turned us on to almost 20 yrs ago.  We’d operated several contests under the call sign of Gene W3ZZ (SK) prior to the club getting the K8GP call.  We wind our way back down a snow covered road and crank up the mast and begin to operate.  Its 0200z and we’re 30 minutes behind schedule. Skies are clear and temperatures are in the single digits.  I find neighbor W3SO in the same FN00 grid and run the low 4 bands.  Next I find N3HBX (FM19) for his top band of 1.2 GHz, then K3TUF (FN20) and we’re only able to run through 1.2 GHz and its the same limit with K1RZ (FM19), K1TEO (FN31), N3NGE (FN20).  This site isn’t as good a microwave site as we hoped.  We are surrounded by trees and can’t crank above them, so that’s probably the issue.  Brian N3IQ/R and Dave N3XUD have now moved into our last spot in FM09 and we run them up through 10 GHz.   The site does offer us a good opening to EN92 where VE3ZV calls us on 144 MHz and I manage to work him up through 432 MHz.  We end up working WA3PTV (FM19) up to 902 at 0400z and being we’re now 1 hour behind schedule we must hit the road.  We end up with new unique band grids from N3IQ/R (FM09), N4HB (FM17), N3EMF (FN01), VE3ZV (EN92) and WA4GPM (FN11).

Below is a map of our QSOs and a breakdown of our operation from this grid showing total number of contacts, our time on the air and a band by band breakdown of stations and grids contacted. New unique band grids are in bold.

FN00wa

90 QSOs – 2 hrs operating

50 MHz– 16 QSOs – 8 grids (FM09, FM17, FM18, FM19, FN00, FN01, FN10, FN20)

144 MHz – 25 QSOs – 13 grids (EN92, FM09, FM17, FM18, FM19, FM29, FN00, FN01, FN10, FN11, FN20, FN21, FN31)

222 MHz – 10 QSOs – 7 grids (EN92, FM09, FM17, FM19, FM29, FN00, FN01, FN10, FN20, FN31)

432 MHz – 16 QSOs – 9 grid (EN92, FM17, FM18, FM19, FN00, FN01, FN10, FN20, FN31)

902 MHz – 5 QSOs – 4 grids (FM09, FM19, FN10, FN20)

1.2 GHz – 5 QSOs – 4 grids (FM09, FM19, FN10, FN20)

2.3 GHz – 1 QSO – 1 grid (FM09)

3.4 GHz – 1 QSO – 1 grid (FM09)

5.7 GHz – 1 QSO – 1 grid (FM09)

10 GHz – 1 QSO – 1 grid (FM09)

FM19aw

Its a short 20 minute drive down Rt 30E into FM19, barely enough time to put a reasonable charge on the batteries.  We get to the top of Big Mtn, another microwave tower site.  John W1RT and I including other rovers WA3PTV, W3HMS, etc. have used this site often in June and Sept.  Tonight the tower road is covered with snow all the way to the top, but the climb is not so steep as to give us any problems.  We don’t get on the air until almost 0500z almost 1.5 hours later than expected.  We should be leaving the site to head to sleep.  Because of our late arrival it appears we will suffer in QSOs.  We hear very few people are on the air.  Mike W3IP (FM19) is still awake, though he’s only on 144 this weekend do to previous storm damage.  We find K1RZ (FM19) and easily work through 5 GHz. We work stations N3YMS (FM29), WA3NUF (FN20) and K1TEO (FN31) all through 1.2 GHz.  WB8TFV (FM19), WA3USG (FN10), K3IPM, W2SJ we mainly work across the low bands and that’s it.  Just before 0600z (1a) we call it quits and pack up.  A disappointing stint from this grid.  We only get unique band grids from N3YMS (FM29).

Below is a map of our QSOs and breakdown of our operation from this grid showing total number of contacts, our time on the air and a band by band breakdown of stations and grids contacted. New unique band grids are in bold.

FM19aw

37 QSOs – 1 hr operating

50 MHz– 4 QSOs – 3 grids (FM19, FN10, FN31)

144 MHz – 9 QSOs – 5 grids (FM19, FM29, FN10, FN20, FN31)

222 MHz – 7 QSOs – 4 grids (FM19, FM29, FN20, FN31)

432 MHz – 6 QSOs – 5 grid (FM19, FM29, FN10, FN20, FN31)

902 MHz – 3 QSOs – 3 grids (FM19, FM29, FN20)

1.2 GHz – 4 QSOs – 4 grids (FM19, FM29, FN20, FN31)

2.3 GHz – 1 QSO – 1 grid (FM19)

3.4 GHz – 1 QSO – 1 grid (FM19)

5.7 GHz – 1 QSO – 1 grid (FM19)

10 GHz – 0 QSO – 0 grids ()

Sleep

It is actually snowing now as we make our 1.5 hour drive to Harrisburg FN10 where we plan to sleep.  Its back to Rt 30E and Rt 81N to Harrisburg.  We arrive at the Econo Lodge at 0730z (230a) and we make the mistake of turning down a wake up from the front desk as we check in.  The plan is to get on the road and up Tower Rd by 1200z (7a).  Its a few miles from the hotel so we expect a short 5-10 min drive.  Unfortunately both Terry and I oversleep.  I’m up just before 9a, well rested, but realizing we’re way off schedule.  I make some noise to get Terry moving and out of bed.  He too can’t believe its 9a!

FN10ni

Out the door and a quick stop at the McD’s and its up Tower Rd to Blue Mtn tower site.  This road is actual a challenge for the front wheel drive Ford Transit.  There’s about 2-3″ of snow on the road.  The road is gravel and riddled with potholes.  Its bumpy and we lose moment as we head up.  There is a short 100′ stretch that winds to the right and rises at about a 30 degrees where we come to a stand still, wheels spinning.  Terry attempts a few more tries to climb the grade, but fails.  After about 15 mins of this and Terry’s will not to let the mountain win, he spins the van around and slowly inches up the hill backwards until a point where we can turn around and continue forward.

Finally we make it to the top.  Its 1500z and we’re 3 hours behind schedule.  We should have left here 2 hours ago…ugh!  The first station I hear as I fire up the radio is Rus at NN3Q/R (FN20).  We quickly work on the low bands and I pass off to Terry where they work up through 10 GHz.  Then its Roger W3SZ (FN20) and N3NGE (FN20) multi-op through 10 GHz. Terry is busy, as he completes with many on the upper bands to add several ten band sweeps through 10 GHz including stations N3IQ/R (FN00), K1RZ (FM19), K3TUF (FN20) and W3PAW (FM19).  I continue to scour the low bands adding 4 bands with WA3GFZ (FM29), W3SO (FN00) and K3IPM (FN20) as well as many more single 50, 144, 222 and 432 QSOs. Just before we have to leave I assist Terry in finding some low bands stations that are also good through 1.2 GHz from this locations including N3OC (FM19), WA2FGK (FN21), W3HMS (FM19), K3MD (FN10) and WA3PTV (FM19). This is an extremely productive grid and Terry is happy as we complete six 10 bands sweeps.  We earn new unique band grids from WA2FGK (FN21), WY3P (FM27), N3IQ/R (FN00) and K3TUF (FN10). There were a few downsides to this site other than the snowy road conditions.  The site was very noisy on 903 MHz with bad cell  QRM.  Fortunately many stations are now active on 902 MHz and we completed QSOs there.  We suggest all stations migrate lower in the band.  Another site issue was that 10 GHz was being clobbered by the W3HMS/B beacon right above our heads.  We were able to move stations higher in the band away from the beacon and that helped.

Below is a map of our QSOs and a breakdown of our operation from this grid showing total number of contacts, our time on the air and a band by band breakdown of stations and grids contacted. New unique band grids are in bold.

FN10ni

142 QSOs – 1 hr 45 mins operating

50 MHz – 26 QSOs – 7 grids (FM18, FM19, FM29, FN00, FN10, FN20, FN21)

144 MHz – 31 QSOs – 8 grids (FM18, FM19, FM27, FM29, FN00, FN10, FN20, FN21)

222 MHz – 17 QSOs – 8 grids (FM18, FM19, FM27, FM29, FN00, FN10, FN20, FN21)

432 MHz – 20 QSOs – 8 grids (FM18, FM19, FM27, FM29, FN00, FN10, FN20, FN21)

902 MHz – 9 QSOs – 4 grids (FM19, FN00, FN10, FN20)

1.2 GHz -11 QSOs – 3 grids (FM19, FN00, FN10, FN20, FN21)

2.3 GHz – 7 QSOs – 4 grids (FM19, FN00, FN10, FN20)

3.4 GHz – 6 QSOs – 4 grids (FM19, FN00, FN10, FN20)

5.7 GHz – 7 QSOs – 4 grids (FM19, FN00, FN10, FN20)

10 GHz – 7 QSO – 4 grid (FM19, FN00, FN10, FN20)

FN20bi

It’s another 1.5 hours drive from Harrisburg to Reading PA.  We’re headed to Mt. Penn courtesy of a suggestion from Al K3WGR 1/2 of NN3Q/R.  We were hoping to overlap a few minutes with that rover so we could run the bands with them.

On the way Terry finally says the he needs to have rig frequency control with the N1MM logger.  We had to disconnect the USB-serial dongle early on do to 50 MHz RFI.  I tell Terry I will climb in the back and exchange laptops to get him a real built-in COM port.  Cut over goes fine, but when I plug the IC-7000 USB dongle into his laptop that I moved into the low band position it no longer works.  Now I’ve lost rig frequency control and can’t seem to resurrect it.  Putting it back in the original laptop shows its really dead…ugh!  By this time we were approaching the site.  We were to arrive at 1530z, but get there just before 1900z now 3.5 hours behind schedule.  We see another rover already on site at the high spot under the fire tower, but it doesn’t look like Al & Rus.  We circle around and grab a spot in the lot below.   As Terry cranks up the microwave mast I walk up and find out its Tyler KM3G/R.  I introduce myself and take a few pictures of his setup and the fire tower.

We’ll coordinate on 223.5 MHz FM and run the bands.  He’s good to 1.2 GHz this weekend.  Its back to K8GP/R and some operating. Boy now I’m suffering with no rig control.  It is a real chore to keep the rig and logger synchronized on the right bands as I hop around.  Otherwise, this is another very productive site for us.  Also there is no QRM from any commercial radio stations.   We complete top bands with the following station: 10 GHz with K3TUF (FN20), N3NGE (FN20) and W3SZ (FN20),  3.4 GHz with WA3NUF (FN20), WA2FGK (FN21), 2.3 GHz with K3IPM (FN20), WB2RVX (FM29) and 1.2 GHz with NN3Q/R and K1TEO.  We grab new band grids from Ed K1TR (FN42), Herb WA2FGK (FN21),  Jeff K1TEO (FN31) and WB2RVX (FM29).  We pack up and hit the road at 2100z.

Below is a map of our QSOs and a breakdown of our operation from this grid showing total number of contacts, our time on the air and a band by band breakdown of stations and grids contacted. New bands grids are in bold.

 

FN20bi

168 QSOs – 2 hrs operating

50 MHz – 28 QSOs – 8 grids (FM18, FM19, FM29, FN10, FN20, FN21, FN31, FN42)

144 MHz – 42 QSOs – 8 grids (FM19, FM29, FN10, FN11, FN20, FN21, FN31, FN42)

222 MHz – 30 QSOs – 7 grids (FM19, FM29, FN10, FN20, FN21, FN31, FN42)

432 MHz – 27 QSOs – 8 grids (FM18, FM19, FM29, FN10, FN20, FN21, FN31, FN42)

902 MHz – 11 QSOs – 6 grids (FM19, FM29, FN10, FN20, FN21, FN31)

1.2 GHz – 12 QSOs – 6 grids (FM19, FM29, FN10, FN20, FN21, FN31)

2.3 GHz – 7 QSOs – 4 grids (FM29, FN10, FN20, FN21)

3.4 GHz – 5 QSOs – 3 grids (FN10, FN20, FN21)

5.7 GHz – 3 QSOs – 2 grids (FN10, FN20)

10 GHz – 3 QSO – 2 grid (FN10, FN20)

FM29ax

Next, its down the mountain and onto back roads through Amish country to the FM29 site.  The scenery is very nice, but we get stuck behind several slow going horse and buggies.  We don’t need these extra delays!  The sun is going down and its about to get dark.

The next site is another suggestion by Al K3WGR, the Twin County Machine shop off Rt 30 near Gap, PA.  We make it to Rt 30, fill up and grab some food and head west towards Gap.  Along the way we see a nice rise in the road and a cell tower in a field.  The road from here west seems to dip down lower in elevation towards Gap, so we hedge not going to the suggested site. We can’t stop near the field, but we head slightly east and find an Allied concrete factory on the south side of Rt 30.  It has a rise in the parking lot and we back the rover in and set up to operate.  It has a great view of the horizon from east through south to west.

It about 2230z and we are now 4 hours behind schedule as we should be heading to Terry’s QTH and our final grid.  We’re hoping with FN10 and FN20 offering ~150 QSOs each that we can do the same here.  K3GNC (FN20) is first in the log with a 4 low band sweep, then I find and work K3TUF (FN20) and pass to microwaves and Terry easily works through 10G. We also pick up N3NGE (FN20) through 10 GHz.  Across the other bands its WB2RVX (FM29) and K1RZ (FM19) through 5.7 GHz, WA3GFZ (FM29) and WA3NUF (FN20) through 3.4 GHz, and on 1.2 GHz we complete with NN3Q/R (FN10), W2SJ (FM29), N3YMS (FM29), K1TEO (FN31) WA3EHD (FN20) and N3HBX (FM19).  On the low bands we sweep the bottom 4 with K3IPM (FN20) and WA3QPX (FM29).  We earn new unique band grids from N2SLN/R and K2LIM (FN12), N1DPM (FN32), NG4C (FM16) and WA3GFZ and WB2RVX (FM29). We leave the spot at 0040z a whopping 4 hours and 10 minutes behind schedule.  Here’s what the site would look like in the daytime.

Below is a map of our QSOs and a breakdown of our operation from this grid showing total number of contacts, our time on the air and a band by band breakdown of stations and grids contacted. New unique band grids are in bold.

 

FM29ax

152 QSOs – 2 hrs operating

50 MHz – 21 QSOs – 8 grids (FM16, FM18, FM19, FM29, FN10, FN12, FN20, FN31)

144 MHz – 38 QSOs – 10 grids (FM16, FM18, FM19, FM29, FN10, FN12, FN20, FN31, FN32, FN42)

222 MHz – 26 QSOs – 9 grids (FM16, FM19, FM29, FN10, FN12, FN20, FN31, FN32, FN42)

432 MHz – 30 QSOs – 10 grids (FM16, FM18, FM19, FM29, FN10, FN12, FN20, FN31, FN32, FN42)

902 MHz – 7 QSOs – 4 grids (FM19, FM29, FN10, FN20)

1.2 GHz -13 QSOs – 5 grids (FM19, FM29, FN10, FN20, FN31)

2.3 GHz – 6 QSOs – 4 grids (FM19, FM29, FN10, FN20)

3.4 GHz – 5 QSOs – 3 grids (FM29, FN10, FN20)

5.7 GHz – 4 QSOs – 2 grids (FM19, FM29, FN10, FN20)

10 GHz – 2 QSO – 2 grid (FN10, FN20)

FM19 (mobile)

We have almost a 3.5 hr drive back to Terry’s.  We opt to blow off FM19xx at the Bart Mennonite Church also suggested by Al K3WGR.  It would have been nice to run all those Packrats on the upper bands from another close in grid, but there just isn’t enough time.  We’ll head straight home, hoping to work some low band stations while mobile once we cross over into FM19 when we get on I95 south.  At 0142z about 1 hour into the drive we cross into FM19xs and I climb into the back and get on the air.  As we head down I95 south toward and through Baltimore and around the north side of DC beltway and toward NoVA, I manage to sweep 4 bands with N3HBX (FM19), N3NGE (FN20) and W3SO (FN00).  I also catch Tyler KM3G/R on 222 also in FM19.  A few others I work across some of the low bands include my dad K1HTV (FM18), K3TUF (FN20), K3YDX (FM19) and N3UM (FM18).  We approach the end of the grid around 0245z and we make the mad rush to Terry’s at FM18dv.

Below is a map of our QSOs (centered half way along our route) and a breakdown of our operation from this grid showing total number of contacts, our time on the air and a band by band breakdown of stations and grids contacted.  No new unique band grids from this stint.

FM19 (mobile)

25 QSOs – 1 hr operating

50 MHz – 7 QSOs – 4 grids (FM18, FM19, FN00, FN20)

144 MHz – 9 QSOs – 6 grids (FM18, FM19, FN00, FN20, FN31)

222 MHz – 4 QSOs – 3 grids (FM19, FN00, FN20)

432 MHz – 5 QSOs – 4 grids (FM18, FM19, FN00, FN20)

FM18 (mobile)

At 0250z we cross over into FM18kx as we approach the Potomac River and Tysons Corner VA.  I start scanning the band to work people on the low 4 as we are in a new grid.  I search and pounce to sweep the following stations on the low 4  bands K1RZ (FM19), N3NGE (FN20), W3SO (FN00), WB2RVX (FM29), N3HBX (FM19) who I also have move up to 1.2 GHz where we complete a mobile SSB QSO.  Others stations I manage to work across some of the low bands include K1HTV (FM18), N3UM (FM18), N4PD (FM19), W3IP (FM19) and WA2OMY (FN20).  Terry is now hustling to get up Bull Run Mtn to his driveway where we plan to end the contest and activate the microwave bands.  Its going to be close.

Below is a map of our QSOs (centered half way along our route) and a breakdown of our operation from this grid showing total number of contacts, our time on the air and a band by band breakdown of stations and grids contacted.  Again no new unique band grids from this stint.

 

FM18 (mobile)

32 QSOs – 30 mins operating

50 MHz – 8 QSOs – 5 grids (FM18, FM19, FM29, FN00, FN20)

144 MHz – 11 QSOs – 5 grids (FM18, FM19, FM29, FN00, FN20)

222 MHz – 5 QSOs – 4 grids (FM19, FM29, FN00, FN20)

432 MHz – 7 QSOs – 5 grids (FM18, FM19, FM29, FN00, FN20)

 1.2 GHz – 1 QSO – 1 grid (FM19)

FM18dv

We park at 0335z and get on the air from just below Terry’s home QTH.  His lower driveway has a small outcropping that has a good shot from south through east to north.  Here’s what his QTH looks like from the day time during an antenna party a few years ago looking northeast through east to southeast.

I find Dave K1RZ (FM19) on 144 MHz and tell him to go call Terry on 902 MHz.  I find Tyler KM3G/R (FM19) for another 2 bands, then K1TEO (FN31) for the low 4 bands.  Terry finishes with Dave up to 5.7 GHz and then I find N3NGE (FN20) and tell them to call Terry on 902 MHz.  They complete through 3.4 GHz.  Terry calls his wife Margie K4MEP (FM18) on FM and has her run to the basement and work us through 10 GHz from up at the house.  I contact other low band stations to include NE2U (FN20), N2NT (FN20) and K2PI (FM18).  As the contest nears end I find WB2RVX (FM29) and move him to 902 where Terry completes through 3.4 GHz and I work WZ1V (FN31) for my last low band contact and the contest is over.  What a run!

Below is a map of our QSOs and a breakdown of our operation from this grid showing total number of contacts, our time on the air and a band by band breakdown of stations and grids contacted.  Unfortunately no new unique band grids from this location to end the contest.

 

FM18dv

35 QSOs – 30 mins operating

50 MHz – 2 QSOs – 8 grids (FM18, FN31)

144 MHz – 7 QSOs – 4 grids (FM18, FM19, FN20, FN31)

222 MHz – 3 QSOs – 3 grids (FM18, FM19, FN31)

432 MHz – 4 QSOs – 3 grids (FM18, FM19, FN31)

902 MHz – 4 QSOs – 4 grids (FM18, FM19, FM29, FN20)

1.2 GHz – 4 QSOs – 4 grids (FM18, FM19, FM29, FN20)

2.3 GHz – 4 QSOs – 4 grids (FM18, FM19, FM29, FN20)

3.4 GHz – 4 QSOs – 4 grids (FM18, FM19, FM29, FN20)

5.7 GHz – 2 QSOs – 2 grids (FM18, FM19)

10 GHz – 1 QSO – 1 grid (FM18)

Rover Equipment Breakdown

Below is a detailed list of equipment that comprises the N3UW rover we utilized when running under the K8GP/R call sign.

Low Bands

  • 50 MHz – IC-7000, TE amp @ 300w & 2L Moxon
  • 144 MHz – IC-7000, TE amp @ 300w & 5L beam
  • 222 MHz – IC-7000 (28 MHz I/F), DEMI transverter, TE amp 200w & 4L beam
  • 432 MHz – IC-7000, TE amp @ 200w & 11L beam
  • Yaesu rotator, Rohn 25 stubby top section and 4′ mast.
  • 144/222/446 MHz FM – TM742 @ 50w & triband vertical

High Bands

  • Elecraft K3 w/ internal 144 MHz transverter I/F for:
  • 900 MHz – DEMI transverter @ 25W & 6′ looper
  • 1.2 GHz – DEMI transverter @ 25W & 6′ looper
  • 2.3 GHz – DEMI transverter @ 15W & 6′ looper
  • 3.4 GHz – DEMI transverter @ 9W & 6′ looper
  • 5.7 GHz – DEMI transverter @ 9W & 2′ dish (dual 5/10G)
  • 10 GHz – DEMI transverter @ 2W & 2′ dish (dual 5/10G)
  • 25′ military crank up mast (3 sections) on Yaesu rotator

Final Band and Grid Stats

Below are the final stats for our rove using the N3UW rover.

Total QSOs and operating time per grid

  1. FM08xx – 125 (1:30)
  2. FM18ax – 10 (0:05)
  3. FM09tf – 105 (2:00)
  4. FN00wa –  90 (2:00)
  5. FM19aw – 37 (1:00)
  6. FN10ni – 142 (1:45)
  7. FN20bi – 170 (2:00)
  8. FM29ax – 152 (2:00)
  9. FM19 (mobile) – 25 (1:00)
  10. FM18 (mobile) – 32 (0:30)
  11. FM18dv – 35 (0:30)

Total QSOs per band

  • 50 – 155
  • 144 – 237
  • 222 – 145
  • 432 – 158
  • 902 – 51
  • 1.2G – 68
  • 2.3G – 36
  • 3.4G – 29
  • 5.7G – 23
  • 10G – 18

Total QSOs = 923

Final point score = QSO Points 2322 * ( (Grids Contacted 122) + (Grids Visited 8))  = 301,860 points

Interactive Grid Maps

Below is the PHP script I put together to parse our Cabrillo log and map it on Google Maps.  I had written a similar script for Jeff K1TEO for assisting him in writing his article for the Sept VHF 2013 contest.  This helped him visualize contacts made by several stations who experienced tropospheric conditions during that contest.  I modified that script to allow parsing of Cabrillo logs of rovers who visited more than one grid.  I used this to generate the pictures of the static maps I used above showing who we contacted from various grid stops.  The colored lines and markers indicate the highest band completed with a distant station.  I used the resistor color code to label MHz/GHz bands as follows – 50=brown, 144=red, 222=orange, 432=yellow, 902=green, 1.2G=blue, 2.3G=purple, 3.4G=grey, 5.7G=white and 10G=gold.  The black marker is our operating location.

To further delve into our K8GP/R log you can utilize the actual script which generates user interactive, dynamic Google Maps, showing call signs, grids, QSO distances and bands contacted.  Click here or the picture below to directly interact with a visual map of our log and then you may click the various +/- boxes next to “K8GP in GRID”, to minimize QSO lists, and check/uncheck the various boxes to toggle on/off QSO markers and lines for individual or groups of QSOs. Click on markers or lines in the map (or in the left pane) to view the distant station call sign, bands worked and mileage on the map.  To use the actual tool the allows refining analysis of our log click here.  If there is enough interest I can make this available for all stations to view their own logs. Please contact me k1ra @ k1ra . us


K8GP/R QSOs All Grids - ARRL Jan VHF SS 2014 Marker/line color = highest band completed 50=brown,144=red,222=orange,432=yellow 902=green,1.2G=blue,2.3G=purple,3.4G=grey,5.7G=white,10G=gold
Thanks!

We give a big round of thanks to the many stations who stuck it out and looked for and worked us across all the bands and grids we covered over the weekend.  Below is a Top “N” list of the stations we work most on the low 4 bands (50-432 MHz), the microwave bands (902 MHz and up) and finally all bands combined.  A special thanks to K1RZ, N3IQ/R, N3NGE, K3TUF and N3HBX who where the top 5 QSO producers across all bands combined!

Final thoughts

Everything held up well and we had no major complaints.  We seemed to have more PC issues than anything else.  Loss of rig and frequency control was the biggest issue, though that didn’t stop us from working stations, but made it a pain switching bands.  3 GHz may have had some insensitivity issues, but otherwise the equipment performed well.  The FM09 spot had some bad line noise on 50 MHz and the FN10 spot suffered some 50 MHz line noise and 903 MHz and 10 GHz interference problems.  All other sites were relatively quiet in comparison.  Oversleeping hurt us the most from a scheduling perspective.  Also we didn’t run the rover at top speeds, so getting site to site took us a tad longer than expected.  For flat conditions we can’t complain.  This score is just slightly better than the best score John W1RT and I ever submitted for a Sept VHF contest.  I note though that microwave contacts are worth more though in this contest than fall or summer contests.

 

Terry had so much fun that he’s already talking about next January and re-engineering his long bed truck we used in 2012 (see below).  There is talk of bigger and taller antenna supports, more antennas and higher power!  I said I’ve got the shotgun seat and low band position if everything comes together.  We’ll see what 2015 brings :)

 

The Video

For those who’d like to see a mix of video and slide show collage along with some audio and a select few tracks of music to go along with it check out my Youtube video of the preparations and weekend event here or click below.

73 and thanks for all the QSOs!

Terry W8ZN & Andy K1RA @ K8GP/Rover

ARRL Jan VHF SS 2014

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6 comments to K1RA @ K8GP Rover ARRL Jan VHF SS 2014

  • […] K1RA @ K8GP Rover ARRL Jan VHF SS 2014 […]

  • Bill McCourt - WF1L

    Hi Guys, Impressive report. I worked you once for 4 bands from WB3IGR and George worked you again later. Glad to see you had such a good result. Wish the bands would have been better but, what the heck, we all had a good time. 73 Bill-WF1L Op#2 at WB3IGR Easton, MD

  • Dave N3XUD

    Great report!!! Tanks for all the contacts with N3IQ/R see you next contest!!
    N3IQ/R operator DaveN3XUD

  • I just spent an hour reading your rover report and viewing the photos. You did a great job of telling the story of a very, very successful rove. The photography is outstanding. Well done!

    You roved under incredible conditions: incredibly bad weather compared to ours in California, but incredibly good activity levels compared to ours. Our rovers were out there roughing it in sunny weather with temperatures in the 70s and 80s, but with nobody to work above 1.2 GHz except the other rovers and me (in the QRP portable category). There were only a couple of fixed stations to work even on 1.2.
    You guys are in a hotbed of VHF/UHF/microwave activity!

    Another amazing thing is how well you manage to work DX through the trees even on the microwave bands.

    Just reading your report made me feel cold and tired.

    73,
    Wayne, N6NB

  • Bill

    Great story, I didn’t go out due to lack of any activity on any bands in the Sept contest. I was getting ready to tear down and sell my equipment. Maybe I should just come east for June contest. 73 ; Bill

  • […] I know what you are thinking: where can I get one of these? Well, Andy will tell you how here. As usual, he does a splendid job reporting both how something gets done and how it turns out- […]

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