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K1RA @ K8GP Rover ARRL June VHF 2014

Another roving adventure
K1RA @ K8GP/Rover
ARRL June VHF 2014

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If you are just joining us for the first time, a little background. Terry W8ZN and I had come off a previous roving adventure earlier in the year during the ARRL Jan VHF SS 2014 contest as K8GP/Rover. You can read about our amazing voyage, but to recap we’d done quite well using the newly improved N3UW rover mobile of our fellow Grid Pirate Rich. We’d accumulated almost 300K pts in that contest and although it was cold and snowy, we had a great time and did very well considering conditions and had few problems. We placed 3rd overall in the Classic Rover category in the U.S.

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The following article is a detailed look into our roving experience this past summer including rover and site pictures and weather, tropo, eSkip, grid terrain and QSO maps as well as select audio clips of our operations. If you’re not up for all the reading, you can click the following links if you are just interested in my photo album slideshow. Or, you can sit back and watch my Youtube video with contest video, audio and picture extracts from the weekend set to some background music. Finally there is my interactive Cabrillo log analysis maps for those who want to view our log details graphed on Google Maps. Otherwise settle in and follow along as we recap the spring and early summer. The Grid Pirates were up against the questions “what to do for the June VHF contest?” As some may know, Terry acquired Directive Systems Engineering last year, so his time has been limited with respect to organizing work parties at the K8GP FM19bb site. The winter was quite harsh on the hill destroying a number of our antennas. Terry captured a few pictures of the radial ice that had accumulated on one of the elements off the 2m LVA that had broken off and hit the ground. Also he found some ice off one of the booms. Needless to say the antenna farm looked like a disaster zone. Some of the microwave loopers were missing in action, ripped and blown right off the tower never to be seen again.

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Given the lack of time and severe damage along with a wet and rainy spring, we opted to put off repairs until the summer when we would hopefully have more time to regroup and rebuild. Rich N3UW was again kind enough to offer us of his rover, so as June approached Terry and I discussed roving instead. Discussions included route options and any possible changes or additions to the roving vehicle. Below is a picture of the rover as we last used it in the ARRL Jan. VHF SS 2014 contest. Terry had gotten the rover out one time in the spring during a VHF Sprint and noted poor performance of the 2m and 1.35m yagis. So at a minimum there were some needed VHF station improvements.

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External Construction Projects

Near the end of May, Terry and I met up in his driveway a few evenings after work to rework the rover to better accommodate our needs. Changes included removing and redesigning the front VHF array. Terry’s idea was to increase the spacing between all the antennas, so he built up an H-frame. He built new pair of DSE432-15RS yagis which, resulted in an upgrade from the single 432 yagi configuration. The rear mount 4 element 222 yagi was replaced with a new DSE222-10RS, and 2m was a new DSEDPM144-5. I’d mentioned to Terry that when I’d roved with John W1RT we’d eventually added a second 2m yagi to the rear microwave mast and employed it using an A/B switch at the VHF position. This allowed me to usually easily cover 2 directions. I’d mainly have the rear antenna looking west while the V/UHF array up front would look northeast. Also as it was on the crank up mast it offered an additional 20′ of height getting it up well above the roof line of the rover. Other than adding some additional securing straps for the rear mast, that would do it for exterior additions.

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Internal Construction Projects

For the interior we opted to add a shelf above the main operating table. This allowed us to get the rotator control boxes off the rigs as well as get the amps up and off the main table.  This provided more space for laptops, rigs, CW paddles and arm space. I even opted to mount the IC-7000 to the bottom of the shelf to allow tuning and operating the rotator with one hand. We’d also experienced some RFI issues with 6m in Jan. which we remedied with the addition of several ferrite cores wrapped around several control, power and RF cables. Unfortunately Terry also had discovered both Rich’s IC-7000 and K3 and internal 144 MHz transverter were having issues, so for this run we would replace both with Terry’s.  Other than some minor recabling, the addition of the A/B 2m antenna switch and some power output meters for 50 & 144 MHz and everything else stayed the same as Jan.

 

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Route Planning

As was in Jan., Terry put me in charge of the route, as he said he’d be up for anything, so I plotted several courses in the hopes we’d settle on one before contest day. There was the usual talk of running a coastal route, something that hasn’t been done well since the days of Bill W3IY (SK) and Christof ON4IY. Terry had talked about the desire to be on the Bay Bridge Tunnel island for a coastal tropo opening. I too envisioned great DX up and down the coast. I spoke with John W1RT who discouraged it, saying there were not as many QSOs to be made as there were when Bill was active years ago. Since we did so well in the Jan. VHF SS during flat conditions with no enhancement, I opted for a similar route. Back then we’d run FM08, FM09, FN00 and FM19 on Sat. and FN10, FN20, FM29, FM19 and FM18 on Sun. Here is our Jan VHF SS 2014 route.

 

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One problem I noted from that route is we spent a fair amount of time on the road at the beginning of the contest, which is prime operating time. I decided this time we’d spend our time doing more driving before the contest in exchange for more operating time and less distance driving between grids near the start. The new route would put us in Pa. near the corner of FN00/FN10 and FM09/FM19 on Sat. and then we’d run a similar Sun. route as in Jan. with FN10, FN20, FM29, FM19 and FM18, or so was the plan. Here is the initial K8GP/R June VHF 2014 route as originally published.

 

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Propagation Tools and Predictions

As the contest approached I kept an eye on the Hepburn Tropo Propagation Prediction Maps and NOAA Weather Surface Forecast Predictions Maps. Predictions changed radically. At first it appeared that there would be a good opening to the SW from FM08, a grid we began at in Jan. VHF SS. then as weekend approached that shifted to a more northerly opening into NY and Canada favoring FN10 and FN20 and better propagation west from W. Pa and Va. Sun. In an effort to outwit the propagation gods I even proposed driving the route backwards starting up near the FN10/FN20 and FM19/FM29 grid corner that would give us the second day to work what looked like a better westerly or northerly opening Sun. from the westerly grid spots.

 

Hepburn Tropo Prediction Map

As V/UHF contests are most often affected by heat, humidity and weather fronts, its important to see if you can use forecast knowledge to one’s advantage in picking prime VHF operating spots that might offer long haul DX communications during enhanced conditions. The actual surface weather and radar maps for early Sat. morning of the contest.

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I’d been in this position before with John W1RT trying to chase propagation via our last minute route planning in the ARRL Sept VHF 2012 contest and we gambled and then lost to the gods. I didn’t want to lose again. By the time we left Terry’s driveway Sat. morning, we still weren’t certain what route we would take. It was looking though that regardless of starting locations, the Sat. VHF conditions would be depressed.

The Adventure Begins

After packing up the rover and taking a few last pictures, we headed down the driveway of Terry’s leaving FM18dv.

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After filling up the rover with gas and heading towards the main highway we finally decided we’d at least stick to our original first day route plan.  We would head up into Pa. hitting the FN00/FN10 and FM09/FM19 grid corner first. We headed down RT 15S and got on Route 66W and we were off. The day was mild, clear skies, but breezy. We traveled out RT 66W past Front Royal, VA, up RT 81N to RT 522N through WV and MD and then RT 70W into PA and then Breezewood, our first destination.

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Road Trip to FM09

The original route plan put us at FN00 first, a spot we’d been to before, but since we had yet to scope out the FM09 site down the road in the woods, we opted to go there first.  We didn’t want to risk losing time searching after the contest began. I’d scoped the site out on Google Earth and it appeared to have a good opening on a ridge overlooking east. We arrived exactly as the contest began at 1800z. What a surprise! A nice little alcove off a gravel road with an opening to the northeast, through east and south. The 6 digit is grid FM09WX and the elevation is ~2000′ with an immediate dropped off ~600′ along the ridge that runs NNE/SSW line. It doesn’t have much of a shot to the west as the ground rises into FN00 another 200+’, but it will have to do. Below some descending zoom level terrain views of the grid stop.

 

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As predictions and real-time APRS propagation maps showed, V/UHF conditions stunk. We were trapped, a high was building in from the west and a low had just moved off the northeast. We were in a propagation black hole as indicated by the grey area of nothingness covering all the FM and FN grids of the mid-Atlantic area shown in the Hepburn tropo predictions. The surface and radar maps also show us just outside a high pressure area. Skies are blue with some broken clouds and wind conditions are breezy.

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As Terry parked the rover and cranks up the mast, I jump out and run to the edge of the alcove to grab some panoramic pictures overlooking the valley below, then its off to operating.

 

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As in the past, I’d mainly be operating the low band V/UHF station (50-432 MHz) and Terry would man the microwave station (902-10368 MHz). Terry gets the first QSO in the log with W3PAW on 1.2 GHz, followed by WA3PTV/R and W3HMS/R on the same band and I find and work W3IP across the low 4 bands and then its off to search and pounce and find some microwave capable stations to pass along to Terry.  I have some intermittent power output issues on 144.  I run around to the back open the door and re-secure some cables and things appear to work again.

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I am able to work some of the more powerful stations out to the northeast to include K1WHS FN43 on 144 and K1TEO FN31, WA2VNV, FN30, K1TR FN42 and W2SZ FN32 through 432. Although I set up audio recorders on both our V/UHF and microwave stations, I was only able to capture audio from the V/UHF (50-432 MHz) radio. Therefore, all audio you will hear in this article comes from one of those low 4 bands. Click here to start an embedded MP3 player below (Flash required) to hear some stations we heard and worked from this grid. Try opening or downloading the MP3 file as alternate options if the embedded player doesn’t work.

We operate for 120 minutes from this location and score 110 total QSOs. Our rover V/UHF station (50-432 MHz) and our microwave station (902 MHz – 10 GHz) QSO breakdown is as follows:

FM09WX
Band Station Unique Calls Total QSOs
V/UHF 27 81
Microwave 8 29

Our best DX or longest distance contacts across the bands stack up as follows:

FM09WX
Band Call Grid Miles
50 K1TEO FN31 273
144 K1WHS FN43 438
222 K1TR FN42 367
432 K1TR FN42 367
902 N3RG FM29 164
 1.2G N3RG FM29 164
2.3G N3IQ/R FM18 69
 3.4G N3IQ/R FM18 69
 5.7G N3IQ/R FM18 69
10G N3IQ/R FM18 69

I wrote a program to graph our Cabrillo contest log file on Google Maps. Below you will see QSO maps for FM09WX for all bands combined, our 50-432 MHz rover station and then our 902 MHz-10 GHz rover station. Points and lines are color coded for each station we contacted. The color represents the highest band for which we completed a contact with that station. The color code is as follows: Brown=50, Red=144, Orange=222, Yellow=432, Green=902, Blue=1.2G, Purple=2.3G, Grey=3.4G, White=5.7G, Gold=10G.

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Down The Road to FN00

We’re off the air at 2008z and on the road by 2015z. Its not too far back up the gravel road we came to visit our old FN00 site, which we first visited back in the 90s when we operated under W3ZZ in the multi-op category. This is an AT&T microwave site that sits @ ~2200′ the highest point of this area, though is pretty much surrounded by trees from where we park the rover. The 6 digit grid is FN00WA. Below an descending terrain view into our grid.

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Terry cranks up the mast at 2030z and we get right to operating as not to waste any time. Our first QSOs are with N3IQ/R across the bands, W3SO on the low 4 and K1RZ through 5.7G.  Conditions haven’t changed much since the beginning of the contest. They are still flat as the current surface weather and radar maps along with the APRS real-time tropo map indicate.

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I jump out to grab some pictures of the operating location and hand the stations over to Terry. Unfortunately we are looking through a fair amount of foliage. It is here we see that the high 2m yagi on the microwave mast really pays off as signals received on it are quite a bit louder. I get back to operating and Terry grabs a picture of me manning the V/UHF station. Yes, I do actually operate! Where did everybody go? Are we really in a RF blackhole?

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Our last QSOs from this grid are with K2AVA FM19 at 2201z.   Click here to start an embedded MP3 player below (Flash required) to hear some stations we heard and worked from this grid. Try opening or downloading the MP3 file as alternate options if the embedded player doesn’t work.

We operate for 80 minutes and earn 71 QSOs across all the bands.  The station by station QSO total breakdown is as follows:

FN00WA
Band Station Unique Calls Total QSOs
V/UHF 18 53
Microwave 4 18

Our best DX or longest distance contacts across the bands stack up as follows:

FN00WA
Band Call Grid Miles
50 N3RG FM29 165
144 K1TEO FN31 272
222 K1TEO FN31 272
432 N3RG FM29 165
902 N3IQ/R FM08 72
 1.2G N3IQ/R FM08 72
2.3G N3IQ/R FM08 72
 3.4G N3IQ/R FM08 72
 5.7G N3IQ/R FM08 72
10G N3IQ/R FM08 72

Below you will see QSO maps for FN00WA for all bands combined, our 50-432 MHz rover station and then our 902 MHz-10 GHz rover station. Points and lines are color coded for each station we contacted. The color represents the highest band for which we completed a contact with that station. The color code is as follows: Brown=50, Red=144, Orange=222, Yellow=432, Green=902, Blue=1.2G, Purple=2.3G, Grey=3.4G, White=5.7G, Gold=10G.

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FM19 bound and The Future?

Next we are on the road to FM19AW Big Mtn. another favorite spot for V/UHF and microwave contest rovers.  We get on RT 30E and along the way we stop to fill up the rover with gas and stop for food in Mcconnellsburg at a Burger King, which has terrible service.  We waste 15 mins waiting for food.  As we get back on the road I check out the latest Hepburn predictions for Sun. morning. It looks like the high pressure situated over Wisc. and Mich. will make its way in from the west this evening and be well situated over W. Pa and western VA and begin to offer that area some V/UHF enhancement to the midwest.

 

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Its now time to start thing what we should do for Sun. The predictions look even better for Sun. evening with enhancement possibly to the north and northeast. We’ll make the final decision after our FM19 spot, but all indications look like we should abort the easterly rove towards Phili and the FN10/FN20 and FM19/FM29 four corner grid and stay where we are.  So its back up Rt 30E and the windy road leading to Big Mtn, yet another great microwave tower site.  I capture some cool shadow pictures of the rover antennas and a view to the south as we rise above the valley.

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We make it to the gravel road and begin the ascent to the top.. What’s that off in the distance on the side of the road.  Its big and black and its moving!  A black bear saunters through the brush.  We stop and I try to get a few pictures.  That’s the biggest black bear either of us has seen up close.

 

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We approach the top of Big Mtn on Tower Rd. This site has a great shot in just about all directions and sits at ~2400′. Below a descending terrain view into the operating area.

 

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As we get to the main site we find WA3PTV and WA3RGQ rovers already parked in the prime rover spot.  We make a loop around the top access road to check out other operating spots. There’s a little alcove with a good southern shot, but it doesn’t leave us much room to get off the road.  We loop once more back around to say hi to Joe and Don and then setup to operate on the back side of the loop road.  We don’t get on air until 2326z, so much for optimizing time between grids.

 

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I work fellow Grid Pirate KJ4EOO on the low bands, then WA3PTV/R who I pass up to Terry.  Not much of a challenge at <1mi.  Again I’m losing 144 power output and narrow it down to a bad cable to the input of the amp.  Conditions are still not that great as can seen be the forecast and prediction maps. Enhanced conditions are getting closer, but not enough to do us any good from this grid. Fortunately we are able to work some locals across the low 4 bands to boost our QSO totals.

 

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I jump out before it gets too dark and snap a few panoramic pictures from this little alcove.

 

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We operate until 0053 and log WA3RGQ/R and say we’ll be over to check out their operation. Click here to start an embedded MP3 player below (Flash required) to hear some stations we heard and worked from this grid. Try opening or downloading the MP3 file as alternate options if the embedded player doesn’t work.

We acquire 92 total QSOs during our 85 minutes of operating time on site.  Our rover station breakdown is as follows:

 

FM19AW
Band Station Unique Calls Total QSOs
V/UHF 25 73
Microwave 5 19

 

Our best DX or longest distance contacts across the bands stack up as follows:

 

FM19AW
Band Call Grid Miles
50 K2LIM FN12 168
144 K2LIM FN12 168
222 K2LIM FN12 168
432 K2LIM FN12 168
902 NN3Q/R FM19 101
 1.2G NN3Q/R FM19 101
2.3G WA3PTV/R FM19 1
 3.4G K1RZ FM19 59
 5.7G K1RZ FM19 59
10G WA3RGQ/R FM19 1

 

Below you will see QSO maps for FM19AW for all bands combined, our 50-432 MHz rover station and then our 902 MHz-10 GHz rover station. Points and lines are color coded for each station we contacted. The color represents the highest band for which we completed a contact with that station. The color code is as follows: Brown=50, Red=144, Orange=222, Yellow=432, Green=902, Blue=1.2G, Purple=2.3G, Grey=3.4G, White=5.7G, Gold=10G.

 

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Rover Show and Tell

We spend some time with Joe and Don and get a tour of their respective stations.  Joe’s got the back of his truck packed with equipment.  They have tripods and several dishes set up behind the vehicles.  We spend a bit too much time showing off the K8GP rover before realizing we don’t know exactly where the FN10 site is, so as Joe was there earlier in the day and frequents the site he gives us some pointers.

 

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Get Us To FN10

On the road again and fortunately the phone’s GPS and internet cell coverage as well as Google Navigation are all working so it keeps us on track. Its dark now and its a long gravel road up the side of Broad Mtn. This is yet another microwave tower site ~2200′. We pull off at a fork in the road and crank up the mast.  Below is a descending terrain view into the operating grid FN10CA.

 

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Its dark now, so as Terry starts to crank up the microwave mast, I try to get some pictures of the rover. I need to turn on the flash and nearly blind Terry. The antennas really took a beating from the low hanging branches up and along the mountain road. Most of the antennas are littered with leaves.

 

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Its 0222z when we make our first QSO with WB8TFV and then K1RZ. Soon after its N8KOL in EN80 on 432 and we begin to get a hint of that westerly enhancement the prediction and forecast maps hinted at.

 

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K1ISR calls in from FM06 on 144.  At about 0300z I step outside to try and get some long exposure shots of the rover under the almost full moon.  I hand over the low band station to Terry and soon after I hear him work K9LQZ EM68.  The opening is surely beginning to expand.

 

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The conditions begin to improve and we log DX stations K8TSK EM89, N8ZM EN80, K8DZ EM79 and WA4OTD EM69 all on 144 and VE3ZV EN92 on 222 We operate until 0418z last logging WA3EOQ and pack up.  Click here to start an embedded MP3 player below (Flash required) to hear some stations we heard and worked from this grid. Try opening or downloading the MP3 file as alternate options if the embedded player doesn’t work.

It very cool now up on the hill and skies are clear and the moon is bright.  We garner a total of 94 QSOs from this location in 115 minutes of operating time.  The station breakdown is as follows:

FN10CA
Band Station Unique Calls Total QSOs
V/UHF 36 77
Microwave 5 17

Our best DX or longest distance contacts across the bands stack up as follows:

FN10CA
Band Call Grid Miles
50 N3RN FN11 121
144 K9LQZ EM68 466
222 VE3ZV EN92 238
432 N8KOL EN80 255
902 W3IP FM19 65
 1.2G W3IP FM19 65
2.3G WA3PTV/R FM19 10
 3.4G K1RZ FM19 58
 5.7G K1RZ FM19 58
10G N/C N/G  0

Below you will see QSO maps for FN10CA for all bands combined, our 50-432 MHz rover station and then our 902 MHz-10 GHz rover station. Points and lines are color coded for each station we contacted. The color represents the highest band for which we completed a contact with that station. The color code is as follows: Brown=50, Red=144, Orange=222, Yellow=432, Green=902, Blue=1.2G, Purple=2.3G, Grey=3.4G, White=5.7G, Gold=10G.

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Brrr, Darkness and… Now What?

Did I say it was cool?  Earlier in the evening Terry realizes he didn’t pack any cool weather clothes, no pants, no sweatshirt or jacket.  It’s not bad in the vehicle but out in the dark its getting chilly. We can see the most immediate predictions of a westerly opening are true, so it is right to stay out this way, but where do we go? We’ve already hit all 4 grids up here.  Brian N3IQ/R had originally suggested we start in FN00RG Blue Knob Ski resort. It’s a good 1-2 hours north of our current location.  He’s visited numerous times and it was a site used by W1XX long ago running a successful multi-op. John W1RT and I had talked about trying to make it out there a few times during our Sept roves, but never made it. Now would be the time, if any, to give it a try.

Terry and I drive 45 mins. back to Breezewood and decide to spend the night there to get an early start north in the monring.  We opt to sleep in the rover, a mistake.  As I learned from John W1RT, its worth the $100 for a bed and a few hours of good sleep.  We’ll attempt to make the best sleeping in the reclining seat of the rover.  As it is cool and with no heat in the rover as we wind down, Terry runs into an all night mart to grab a sweatshirt.  I grab a neck pillow.  We sleep in Bob Evans parking lot, set alarm for its opening at 6am. Its 1am.

Wake Up to  FN00 (again) 

Its a very rough night sleeping in the van seats for ~5 hours.  The only saving grace is the warm comfort inside the Bob Evans, washing up and grabbing a big hot breakfast after we awake. We then head Rt 70W to Rt 99N to the Blue Knob Ski resort. The sun is trying to break through.  I turn on the smart phone and real-time APRS already shows 144 MHz in great shape! Its quite foggy along the road trip.

 

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By the time we get to our operating location at Blue Knob Ski Resort, the skies are clear and blue. What a view!  We are in FN00RG. Below a descending terrain view of our grid and a panoramic picture looking over the slopes.

 

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We are on the air at 1149z and my first QSO is with K8TQK EM89 through 2.3G, followed by N9YB EN71 and N9DB EN53 on 144. I think we made the right choice to come here!  The real-time tropo maps and Hepburn predictions seems to be dead on showing some good V/UHF enhancement to the midwest.

 

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Other DX stations logged include: W9EWZ EN52, W9SNR/R EN62, W9SUS and KC9WSS EN61, N9GJC EM68, N9YK and KB8U EN71, N8WNA EN82, N8BJQ EN80, W8PU and KB8GUE EM89, WB7PMP EM88 all on 144 K8DZ EM79, WZ8DX, K9DTB and N8XA EM89, N8KOL EN80, KC8RRT EN81 on 432. I step out of the rover and hand the stations over to Terry as I try to capture some pictures from around the site and of the vehicle.

 

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Rovers Unite!

Around 1400z Brian N3IQ/R shows up on site.  We do the rover handshake and spend a few minutes talking with him about the weekend and condition. As he had scheduled to come here and we didn’t, rover etiquette states we should bow out and give him the spot.

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Our last QSO from the parking lot is N3IQ/R as he sets up where we left off. Click here to start an embedded MP3 player below (Flash required) to hear some stations we heard and worked from this grid. Try opening or downloading the MP3 file as alternate options if the embedded player doesn’t work.

Its 1420z.  Over the next 30 mins while still in FN00 and driving down the mountain I tune 50 Mhz as the eSkip is just starting to kick in on that band.  The band is open to Texas where I work AB5EB EL09 and W5PR EL29. I also contact stations in Florida W4AS EL95, WD4MGB EL87 and NJ2F EL96.

 

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We accumulate 124 QSOs in 160 mins of operating time.  Our station breakdown is as follows:

FN00RG
Band Station Unique Calls Total QSOs
V/UHF 68 105
Microwave 7 19

Our best DX or longest distance contacts across the bands stack up as follows:

FN00RG
Band Call Grid Miles
50 AB5EB EL09 1317
144 N9DG EN53 620
222 WZ1V FN31 323
432 W3DOG FM13 435
902 K1TEO FN31 287
 1.2G VA3HD FN14 300
2.3G K1TEO FN31 287
 3.4G N3IQ/R FN00 1
 5.7G W3CCX FN21 175
10G  N3IQ/R FN00 1

Below you will see QSO maps for FN00RG for all bands combined, our 50-432 MHz rover station and then our 902 MHz-10 GHz rover station. Points and lines are color coded for each station we contacted. The color represents the highest band for which we completed a contact with that station. The color code is as follows: Brown=50, Red=144, Orange=222, Yellow=432, Green=902, Blue=1.2G, Purple=2.3G, Grey=3.4G, White=5.7G, Gold=10G.

 

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Its ~1500z as we leave FN00 and skies are clear and blue. What a beautiful day in the neighborhood. The surface weather and radar maps support the great conditions we just experienced.

 

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Back to FM09

Rather than circle back to previous sites we hit yesterday, we opt to head to a mountain west of Winchester we used in Jan.  Brian has a mountain station there and turned us on to a site down the road with a fairly nice take off.  I continue to sit back in the rover and tune the low bands as we make our way to the site.  50 MHz is still hopping as we cross into FM09 on Rt70E and then Rt 522S, so I try to snag as many new grids as I can.  Its a long 3 hour drive from the ski resort.  So I try to maximize my time by searching out new grids while the band is open.

 

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On 50 MHz I work 20 QSos on phone and CW and earn a number of unique grids.  Calls logged include KU1T FM09, KK1C FM09, W4BQF EM81, K4BAI EM72, KN4Y EM70, KJ4LTA EM71, N4OX EM60, WB8TFV FM19, W4ATL EM73, W5NZ EM62, K1TO EL87, K5GDX EM50, K4UB EM73, K4PI EM73, K2PS EL98, K5QE EM31, W2BZY EL98 and W4ZRZ EM63.  Click here to start an embedded MP3 player below (Flash required) to hear some stations we heard and worked while mobile. Try opening or downloading the MP3 file as alternate options if the embedded player doesn’t work.

I snap a few more antenna shadow pictures from the rover looking out the rear side window.

 

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We arrive on site FM09TE at 1702z. We are again around 2200′ on a mountain west of Winchester, VA. Below is a descending terrain view into our six digit grid.

 

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The sun is high in the sky and its quite warm. Terry cranks up the mast and I take a few pictures. The air is stable, very little breeze.

 

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It appears that the morning tropo has subsided, but we hope for a repeat as sunset approaches in several more hours. The weather maps show stable air continuing to build in. The 50 MHz eSkip has also diminished a bit but is not totally gone.

 

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We are on the air at 1712z and I make our first QSO there at 1724z K5TR in EM00. Since we’d operated from FM09WX yesterday up in Pa. we’d already contacted most of the locals on V/UHF and the microwave bands.  So, it was pretty slow going here.  I work a few more 50 MHz eSkip stations to include K5AND EM00, N4SVC EM80, N4RJ EM91, NU4Y EM90, W5PR EL29, WD4MGB EL87 and best DX of the weekend N0SZ in DM78 Colo. Terry eventually crawls into the front seat to take a nap and I man both stations.  When on 50 MHz I notice on voice peaks the IC-7000 resets and/or powers down.  I crank the power down to alleviate the issue, but there’s some RFI issue again.  There is a little enhancement to the northeast on 144 as I work KE1LI FN41, W2OW FN22, K2LIM FN12 and W2SZ FN32. My last QSOs are at 1952z with NN3Q/R in FN21 at the W3CCX site in Pa.  We work up through 1.2 GHz.  We leave the site at 2005z.  Click here to start an embedded MP3 player below (Flash required) to hear some stations we heard and worked from this grid. Try opening or downloading the MP3 file as alternate options if the embedded player doesn’t work.

While on the road and at this site we earn a total of 89 QSOs in 160 mins of operating time. Our band station breakdown is as follows:

FM09TE
Band Station Unique Calls Total QSOs
V/UHF 52 84
Microwave 3 5

Our best DX or longest distance contacts across the bands stack up as follows:

FM09TE
Band Call Grid Miles
50 N0SZ DM78 1430
144 KE1LI FN41 383
222 K2LIM FN12 222
432 K2LIM FN12 222
902 NN3Q/R FN21 202
 1.2G NN3Q/R FN21 202
2.3G N/C N/G 0
 3.4G N/C N/G 0
5.7G N/C N/G 0
10G N/C N/G 0

Below you will see QSO maps for FM09TE for all bands combined, our 50-432 MHz rover station and then our 902 MHz-10 GHz rover station. Points and lines are color coded for each station we contacted. The color represents the highest band for which we completed a contact with that station. The color code is as follows: Brown=50, Red=144, Orange=222, Yellow=432, Green=902, Blue=1.2G, Purple=2.3G, Grey=3.4G, White=5.7G, Gold=10G.

 

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CQ N3IQ

The day is winding down, but we still have 7 hours before contest end.  Terry asks if I want to check out Brian’s place as we’re minutes away, so I agree and we stop in to take a look.  Terry has helped Brian build a small station up here that he used during the contest Sat eve.  Brian enters the Unlimited Rover Category, so he can use preexisting antennas on a small tower behind the house.  After a few minutes and looking around its back on the road to skyline drive Shenandoah FM08US.

 

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Food and Spare?

We’re getting hungry so while heading back into Winchester we grab some food at a Five Guys.  We sit for a few minutes to eat and discuss how the weekend has progressed.  I’ve had a few problems on 50 & 144, but nothing major and although for bad conditions Sat, this morning and today’s eSkip has helped make up for it.  Back out to the rover and on the road, but wait.  Why is the backend of the rover looking lower? Walking around to the passenger side we find a flat tire.  Now its a mad dash to change, but where’s the spare?  Underneath? There not much room now to get it out.  Where’s the jack? On a side wall behind where we installed the operating table! Yikes, can we get it out?

 

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We waste 20-30 minutes changing and getting to a station to check and fill all other tires with air and its onto Rt 81S towards Front Royal. I crawl into the back as we head down RT 81S towards Front Royal and as we get into FM08 I work W5PR EL29 on 50 eSkip.  I also find Grid Pirates KJ4EOO and K1RZ on the low bands as we make our way onto Skyline Drive.  And there’s K5QE EM31 on 50 eSkip for our last 50 MHz DX of the weekend.  10 QSOs in all while on the road.  It all adds up!  Hey, more antenna shadows out the window.

 

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FM08 or Bust!

We enter Front Royal and begin to start heading up Skyline Drive, driving in a southerly direction. Skies are crystal clear. It looks like this could shape up to be another great weather day to lead into some exciting tropospheric enhancement, fingers crossed. We rise to 1000′, then over 2000′ and then break 3000′.

 

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We arrive just before 2300z at our final grid stop FM08US, Hogback Mtn. @ 3300′. Below is a descending terrain view into our six digit grid.

 

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Before I sit down I jump out and take a panorama of the site as well as a few pictures of the rover before the sun starts going down.

 

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We are on the air by 2302z from the site and I work K2LIM on low bands.  Signals are loud and it sounds like some good enhancement to the north.  It beautiful up on Hogback.  The sun is beginning to set low in the sky.  The weather maps over the next 3 hours show what turns out to be a nice opening to the north and northeastern part of the US, as we are pretty much shut out to the midwest.

 

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We work over 20 DX stations beyond 275 miles across the bands to include: W1QK and K1LYP FN31, KA2DRR FN30 on 144, N8WNA EN82, K8TQK EM89 and N3KEN FN30 through 222, WB2JAY FN30, WZ1V, K1ZZ and N8RA FN31, WE1P FN22, K1MAP and W2SZ FN32, K1TR FN42, K1WHS FN43, W1AIM FN34, WM8I EN80, K2LIM FN12 and VA3HD FN14 all through 432. We log W1ANW FN41, K1KG FN42 and WB1GQR FN33 up through 1296 and K1TEO FN31 through 3456. Terry works WB2RVX in FM29 on both 5.7G and 10G with S9+ signals. See our Youtube video for a clip of those QSOs. Click here to start an embedded MP3 player below (Flash required) to hear some stations we heard and worked from this grid. Try opening or downloading the MP3 file as alternate options if the embedded player doesn’t work.

As the sun goes down and I take a break from the DX I capture a few last pictures to wrap up the weekend event.

 

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In all from FM08 we work 269 stations in 290 minutes.  The rover station breakdown is as follows:

FM08US
Band Station Unique Calls Total QSOs
V/UHF 91 229
Microwave 15 45

Our best DX or longest distance contacts across the bands stack up as follows:

FM08US
Band Call Grid Miles
50 W5PR EL29 1165
144 W1AIM FN34 498
222 W1AIM FN34 498
432 W1AIM FN34 498
902 K1TEO FN31 320
 1.2G W1ANW FN41 426
2.3G  K1TEO  FN31  320
 3.4G  K1TEO  FN31  320
5.7G  W3CCX  FN21  221
10G  W3CCX  FN21  221

Below you will see QSO maps for FM08US for all bands combined, our 50-432 MHz rover station and then our 902 MHz-10 GHz rover station. Points and lines are color coded for each station we contacted. The color represents the highest band for which we completed a contact with that station. The color code is as follows: Brown=50, Red=144, Orange=222, Yellow=432, Green=902, Blue=1.2G, Purple=2.3G, Grey=3.4G, White=5.7G, Gold=10G.

 

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Where Did We Go?

After all was said and done, our final route ended up looking like the following. We opted to stay to the west for the second day of the contest and we believe that was definitely the right thing to do as we did quite well on Sun. morning from FN00RG and Sun. night from FM08US.

 

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The Final Breakdown

The following is a breakdown of our operation per grid.  Note that we visited FM09 twice (FM09WX & FM09TE) and FN00 twice (FN00WA & FN00RG).

QSOs earned and Time spent per Grid
Grids QSOs Minutes
FM09 199 367
FN00 195 272
FM19 92 87
FN10 94 116
FM08 274 290

The following is a breakdown of our operation per band showing QSOs and unique grids earned over the contest weekend.  Below that our final QSO, QSO point and grids totals to combined for our claimed score. We did better than January VHF SS 2014 and this also beat my best record operating with John W1RT / Rover.

QSOs and Grids per Band
Band QSOs Grids
50 184 47
144 257 49
222 110 27
432 151 29
902 35 10
1.2G 46 15
2.3G 19 10
3.4G 24 9
5.7G 28 6
10G 10 8
TOTAL 854 208

We visited a total of 5 unique four digit grids over the weekend, so our final claimed score was computed to be:

Score = 1490 (Pts) * 208+5 (grids) = 317,370

A Big Thanks!

A special thanks to all the stations that listened for and contacted us across the bands as we drove from grid to grid.  Below is a listing of the top stations we worked across all the bands, across 50-432 MHz and 902 MHz and up respectively.  Congrats to N3IQ/R, K1RZ and W3IP for capturing the top 3 spots across all the bands. W3SO broke into the top 3 on 50-432 MHz only bands while WA3PTV broke into the top 3 on the 902-up only bands. Congrats to all!

 

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Post Contest Analysis

If you’ve made if this far and are interested in more analysis of our weekend’s operating activities, please continue to check out some statistics and comparisons I generated using some home grown programs to further analyze the ARRL VHF Cabrillo logs.

Below our total QSO map combining all grids from which we operated for all bands, 50-432 MHz and 902 MHz-10 GHz respectively. If you would like to analyze our log in more detail click here and you will be presented with a page that allows you to dynamically plot a portion of our log on Google Maps.  I’ve  allowed anyone to look at our logs to learn more about how we fared from various grids we visited and certain bands we operated.

 

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I broke down the time spent per grid as well as plotted grids, QSOs and QSO points earned over the period of the contest weekend.  Since we operated from 2 grids twice (FN09 & FN00) both Sat. and Sun. we accumulated more operating time in those grids.  Its not too surprising then that we garnered the most unique band grids from each of those locations.  As would be expected, most new unique band grids are worked at the beginning of the contest when your log is empty and the first 2 hours shows that.

As Sat. progressed and conditions were below normal it was harder to work the DX and any new grids across the bands.  We managed to keep our average QSO rate above 45/hr for most of the time we operated on Sat.  though.  Our earned QSO points Sat. were also quite high since conditions were depressed and we had more opportunities and more willing local stations to band hop with us up through the microwaves.  Sun. morning though our QSO rate was lower as we trade that in place of boosting our grid totals quite a bit.  The fantastic conditions from FN00RG kept us searching for DX and new grids.  We had another huge burst of activity Sun. night when we arrived on Skyline Dr. FM08us with a first hour QSO rate of 110/hr, followed by another big boost in new unique band grids as the bands opened to the northeast under enhanced conditions.

 

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Below I provide a comparison of our Jan VHF SS 2014 and June VHF 2014 logs.  The graphs display the running total of unique grids contacted over each of the respective 33 hour contest periods.  By early Sun. afternoon we had surpassed our total Jan. grid count for 2014.  Not too surprising with flat conditions in Jan. and a combination of tropo on V/UHF and eSkip on 50 Mhz in June we scored more than 80 additional grids overall in comparison this contest. What is interesting is that the second and third graphs show that most all the 80 additional grids were earned on 50-432 MHz and our microwave only unique band grids tracked nearly identical.

 

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As above I make comparison of our Jan VHF SS 2014 and June VHF 2014 logs below, but instead here I show the running total point score of our logs over the respective 33 hour contest periods.  Interestingly in the first graph our logs tracked very closely point wise.  In June we ended up with 317K and in Jan. 301K, only 16K difference!  Why so close a score when conditions are so flat in January.  This was mainly due to the fact that in the Jan. VHF SS contest 902 Mhz & 1.2 GHz QSOs are worth 4 points, vs. only 3 points in June. and likewise 2.3 GHz and up QSOs are worth 8 points in Jan. vs. only 4 in June.  If you drill into the second 2 graphs you can also see a bit more.   On 50-432 MHz we didn’t surpass our point score on the low 4 band until almost near the last 3 hours of the contest.  In June we got a big boost in score from tropo which gave us a bunch more new QSOs and unique band grids.  Its the last graph that shows why Jan. and working those 902 MHz and up QSOs really pays off.  In January we ended our rove in Packrats country in FN10/FN20/FM29 and worked a ton of 902 and up QSOs.  By early afternoon on Sun. in the Jan. VHF SS we you can see we surpassed our entire June microwave score and in the end those bands we operated in Jan. beat June by over 50K points.  Combined both high and low bands together and now you can see why the overall logs are so close.

 

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Rover details

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 & DSE144-5 5L beam front & 6L rear

222 MHz – IC-7000 (28 MHz I/F), DEMI transverter, TE amp 200w & DSE222-RS 6L beam

432 MHz – IC-7000, TE amp @ 200w & pair of DSE432-RS 10L beams

Yaesu rotator, Rohn 25 stubby top section and mast w/ H-frame

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 & 6ft looper

1.2 GHz – DEMI transverter @ 25W & 6ft looper

2.3 GHz – DEMI transverter @ 15W & 6ft looper

3.4 GHz – DEMI transverter @ 9W & 6ft looper

5.7 GHz – DEMI transverter @ 9W & 2ft dish (dual 5/10G)

10 GHz – DEMI transverter @ 2W & 2ft dish (dual 5/10G)

25ft military crank up mast (3 sections) on Yaesu rotator

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Video

For those who’d like to see a mix of video and a slide show collage along with some contest audio and a select few tracks of music to go along with it check out my Youtube video of the weekend event by clicking here or below (viewable on PC/Mac desktop only, no mobile).

5,131 total views, 1 views today

4 comments to K1RA @ K8GP Rover ARRL June VHF 2014

  • John

    W4G0 who I QSO’d with in the Jan VHF/UHF contest on FM passed my the link to the blog. I was very happy to get it. I have watched the You Tube video several times and was anxious for more information. I learned a lot from your blog and will certainly read it a few more times. Great work and thank you for taking the time to do the great write up.

    73, John
    KM4KMU

    • Thanks for the comments John. I’m always glad to hear who’s interested in this small facet of the radio hobby. I was out roving with W8ZN in the ARRL Jan. VHF 2016 contest and hope to post a short article about our trials and tribulations soon!

      73

      andyz – K1RA

  • Ken Tata

    Very nicely presented! “It makes you want to go there.” Listen for me on the contests on 6, 2, and 432 from RI, FN-41 (Yep. That’s the whole state.)

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