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201606 K8GP Rover ARRL June VHF 2016
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K1RA @ K8GP Rover ARRL June VHF 2016

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Welcome to another one of my roving articles, this time covering the the ARRL June VHF 2016 radio contest.  This article covers some brief history including our contest preparations and operations. Within this article are pictures, audio and video covering our time and experiences. For the contest analysts, there are also graphic maps and scoring information covering the stations contacted and the numeric results for QSO contacts, QSO points, grids and total point score from each of our various operating locations.  The last time Terry and I roved in an ARRL June VHF contest was in 2014.  You can read more about our previous June adventure by clicking K1RA @ K8GP Rover ARRL June VHF 2014.

Some VHF Contest History 2015-2016

Terry W8ZN and I (K1RA) had taken a break from roving after the ARRL January VHF SS 2015 contest and resurrected the K8GP fixed station in grid FM19bb to enter in the Limited/Multi and Multi/Multi categories in the ARRL June and September contests of that year.  Later in 2015, Terry acquired an old van from Brian ND3F/N3IQ and over the remainder of the year we began building out a new rover. We attempted our first roving effort with the van in the ARRL January VHF SS 2016 contest, but with the big, mid-Atlantic snow storms leading up to the contest, our preparation time was cut short.  That resulted in a very late (9 hour) start, though we did finally get on the road and to several sites with the newly outfitted rover.  As Murphy would have it, we had numerous issues.  You can read more about that contest by checking out my K1RA @ K8GP Rover ARRL January VHF SS 2016 article (currently offline). Below are a few select pictures taken during that event.  Click on any pictures in this article to expand them to full screen.  Once expanded, if your cursor displays a magnifying glass while hovering over the full screen picture, click again and then click, hold and drag the picture to zoom in on various parts of the display.  Use your Escape or Backspace key on your keyboard, or click on the black frame around the pictures, to exit full screen mode.

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With numerous lessons learned from operating the new rover van in the January contest, we attempted to repair and replace various parts of the station. The first task was to replace the failing crank-up tower that was used for the microwave station. Terry had acquired several pneumatic masts and found one that was still in a usable condition, so it was decided to mount it on the back bumper and transplant the microwave transverter and amplifier box and antennas.  This new mast would increase our antenna height from ~25′ to ~45′. Terry fabricated a mount for the bottom of the mast to mate with an Orion rotor. Below are a few pictures of the final design.  We attempted raising the mast several times in his driveway to determine the amount of time to extend and collapse, as well as how much air was required to fully extend the mast.  We eventually came to the conclusion that the air tank we had was not enough to raise the mast.  A second tank was added, but even then we’d have to recharge the tanks after each use as the pair was only good for ~120 PSI and yielded ~14 cubic feet of air. Due to the large diameter of the mast, each mast raising required ~12 cubic feet of air. Below you can see we strapped the top  3 sections of the mast together to provide extra support and minimize the amount of air required to fully extend.

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Since there were plenty of bugs to iron out after the January contest, we spent evenings and weekends throughout the spring months addressing the problems, as well as coming up with several new ideas.

In January I’d built, installed and configured an Arduino Uno rotor controller based on code by K3NG.  I was unable to properly box the unit, so this time around I’d asked Terry for an old rotor controller box, stripped the guts and then transplanted my controller and Terry’s customized relay board.  I added a 4 line x 20 character display that just fit in place of the old analog azimuth meter.  Below are some pictures of the inside of the unit, as well as it in action. I needed to use some ferrite core to prevent 50 MHz from causing the rotor to turn when I generated RF, which was another problem in January.

Another Arduino Uno project idea centered around an Inter Reference Spectrum GPS unit Terry acquired and used for 10 MHz LO for frequency locking his microwave transverters. The unit has a proprietary serial communication port that emitted latitude, longitude, elevation, heading, speed and time, though not in NMEA format.  I analyzed the documentation and wrote a program to read the data stream and display information on a 2 line by 16 character display.  This program had several modes that displayed the information noted above including real-time grid square location.  As the device gave us true north course heading as we rolled into a operating site it was useful in pointing the van to help calibrate our rotors, as their straight ahead pointing/homing was north too.

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Another project idea enacted in January was Terry’s ultimate rover controller box, built around the idea of using Elecraft K3 BCD band switching data and controlling access to various transverters by switching numerous coax relays.  Also the controller was able to hard key and sequence the V/UHF amplifiers.  I’d written some software for an Arduino Mega to read data from the K3 accessory jack and control a customized add-on shield Terry built to plug into the Arduino. This hosted circuity and relays to interface to external equipment in the station. Unfortunately in January, the program wasn’t quite working as expected and 50 MHz wasn’t decoding properly.  This contest I identified the K3’s DIGI OUT pin and Arduino’s input pin weren’t being sampled properly. Once the code was fixed and working we could then use hard keying, vs. the RF sense keying we had used.  In January some of the low band amps would chatter as they falsed into transmit mode as stray RF leaked back down the feedlines.

We performed some much needed reorganization of the rack to help facilitate easier installation and removal of equipment.  We had toyed with the idea of cutting an access panel in the side of the van to allow unencumbered access to the rear of the 19″ rack.  Maybe now that problem is solved.

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Since our usual June route put us further west into the states of Pennsylvania and Virginia, Terry opted to swap out his short 3′ boom, loop yagis on the microwave bands for longer 12′ boom, loop yagis.  The added antenna gain would pay off while working back east.  Margie K4MEP of Directive Systems and Engineering built us a new, long boom, 3.4 GHz yagi to round out the H-frame of loop yagis for 902 Mhz, 1.2 GHz, 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz.  Below are some pictures of the final antennas and their spots atop the pneumatic mast with the 5.7 & 10 GHz dual band dish.  The microwave transverter and amplifier box is located in the center of the H-frame.  There are several pictures of that with the door open so you can view layout and wiring inside the box.

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For June I’d opt for a larger DSEFO144-12, 144 MHz yagi.  Terry acquired another quick disconnect mast to boom plate similar to the one we’d used in the past for our 50 MHz, 5 element beam. Likewise, the addition of another quick disconnect, C connector would facilitate easy installation and removal of the antenna once we arrived at and departed our operating sites. There was no way we could travel with those two yagi in place.  The 50 MHz yagi would strap to the drivers side of the van and 144 MHz yagi on the roof of the passengers side.  Below are several pictures of the front mast including the new additions.  The 222 and 432 MHz yagis would remain the same, on their extendable and locking, square, fiberglass struts.

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Much of the rear, internal, power and antenna cabling remained the same as in January. We’d reuse the two Interstate SRM-4D batteries Terry had acquired.  These are rated at 25 amps for 6.5 hours, so we were carrying ~50 amps for that time period.  Terry had replaced the van’s stock alternator with a 300 amp model and ran #0 welding cable from the engine compartment to the rear.  Plenty of fuses dot the rear wall of the van!  Our current draw with all equipment powered on, e.g. radios, computers, transverters, amps, GPS, lights, fans, etc. idled at ~15 amps while we are in receive mode.

Terry had wished to bring his Ryobi 2 KW sine wave, inverter generator along to use in this contest.  He had a 100 amp switching, 12V DC power supply that he figured we could use to power the low band TE amplifiers.  That would leave the batteries to power the remainder of the station.  Unfortunately, we soon discovered that although the generator by itself was void of RFI and the switching P.S. by itself was void of any RFI, the two connected together as a pair created terrible noises on the 50 Mhz and 144 MHz bands.  In January, as we hadn’t finished a full effort running completely off the batteries, I was still interested in determining if the setup would sustain us for an entire weekend.  How long could we run off a charge? While both of us transmitted we could see 75 amp peaks on the digital current meter Terry had installed.  How would a weekend of heavy use pan out for the big batteries?

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Another issue is January was physical storage.  In January the van was a big mess as we had thrown everything in where ever it would fit as we rushed to get on the road.  This time we made the effort to organize the shelves for personal belongs, spare parts, tool boxes, extra cables, etc.  Also, as a tribute to John W1RT and his loss of the infamous crank for the crank up mast, we spray painted ours red and made a special carrying location that would hold it to prevent loss.

Since we had limited visibility behind the van, we installed a rear facing backup camera and an LCD display up front.  Terry began installing roof cameras for watching antennas and low hanging branches, but we never completed the cabling and switching required to interface to the LCD display, so we’d have to settle for just a rear view only this time.  Below are pictures of our storage area and operating stations.

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Finally we got to the point where all the antennas where mounted, cabled and tested. Antenna SWR’s were low across all the bands.  All the amps where now working via hard keying and generating ample RF.  Below are some pictures of the pneumatic mast fully extended with the microwave transverter and amplifier box, as well as it collapsed with the H-frame and long boom, loop yagis installed.  Additionally you can see the from mast with our 50 MHz five element yagi, an FO-12 144 MHz yagi and the 222 & 432 MHz yagis extended out on their respective fiberglass masts.

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Other fixes and additions this year are as follows.  Terry fixed the 222 transverter, which seemed to be operating in class-C, given the distortion reports I’d received while operating SSB in January.  Terry built a new 902 amplifier that would run off 12V DC that boosted his power from 8 watts to a little over 50 watts.

The Contest Operating Plan in Action

The last time we were out roving in an ARRL June VHF contest was in 2014.  During that event and near the end of the first day we had decided to modified our route.  The Hepburn tropospheric predictions had indicated potential enhanced radio conditions where we were and depressed conditions to the east where we were headed.  We opted to stay put in western PA and stick along western VA, instead of heading east toward eastern PA and MD.  It had paid off that Sunday morning and evening with excellent tropospheric openings to the NW, W and SW.

Prior to the 2016 contest, while watching the Hepburn predictions, it appeared like we might have a repeat of 2014.  We opted for a similar route to what we ran in 2014.  Below are our planned operating locations/grids and the respective operating start and stop times.

K8GP/R – June 2016 – Schedule

Grid Marker Start Time Stop Time
FM19aw B 1800z 2030z
FN10db C 2100z 2330z
FN00rg D 0100z 0400z
Sleep 0500z 1100z
FN00rg D 1100z 1500z
FM09te E 1700z 1930z
FM18ax F 2030z 2200z
FM08us G 2300z 0300z

Below is my Google Direction Map for the scheduled grids and markers above.  This represents our planned route, which would entail ~9 hours of driving, covering ~450 miles. Click on a colored, tear drop, marker to see the grid location information, or zoom in to explore the local terrain view.  You may also click on the -> icon next to K8GP/R in the upper left corner of the map to reveal all the marker coordinates.

The plan was to leave Terry’s QTH (FM18dv – Marker A) and be on the road by 10 am.  Google directed us to take Rt 15 north into Fredrick, MD then up Rt 70.  We get a late start and don’t get on the road until 11:30 am. Terry opts to go Rt 66 west to Rt 81 north as he feels going into Fredrick may be an issue depending on traffic.  The 66 route is 20 minutes longer according to Google. We make it into Breezewood to stop for food.  The Wendy’s is closed.  There’s a Subway. Yikes, the lines are way too long and as we’re crunched for time, so we opt to skip lunch and grab a Pepsi at a vending machine and eat a Granola bar.  Its off to our first site.

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K8GP/R – FM19aw

We arrive at the FM19aw site a little after 2 pm.   Below is a satellite view of the site.  We park slightly northwest of the commercial radio tower seen near the 5 o’clock position of the loop. Use your mouse, scroll wheel or the +/- buttons in the lower right of the map to zoom in/out. Click on the “View” link below the map to explore the site in full screen, terrain mode and view elevation data and where the site sits in relation to the surrounding area.  The elevation here is ~2400′.

View FM19aw on Topographic Map

I setup the camera on a tripod off behind the rover and begin recording video.  There is a steady breeze blowing and it appears that will mean no enhanced tropospheric radio conditions for us today.  Terry begins to pump up the pneumatic mast for the microwave antennas, while I begin assembling the V/UHF antenna system.  First I extend the horizontal, fiberglass, square tubing masts and push the 222 & 432 MHz yagis out away from the center mast.  Then I attach the 50 MHz five element yagi on the quick connect plate and cable the antenna to it’s C-connector. Following that, I attach the 144 MHz FO-12 yagi using a similar mounting plate and C-connector.  Below are a view pictures I captured from the video I took of us assembling the antennas and masts.

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After cranking up the V/UHF mast I take a few final pictures of all the antennas and masts raised to their fullest extent.   The winds are gusty as I head inside the van.  I turn on the wide angle, dash camera in the van and point it back at the operating area and we are on the air. We make our first contacts about 15 minutes into the beginning of the contest.

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As expected, given the gusty weather atop the hill, radio conditions are depressed.  There seems to be no enhancement to speak of on the bands.  Below are pictures of the Hepburn tropospheric prediction, as well as several surface and radar weather maps for the beginning of the contest.   Predictions changed from earlier in the week and Hepburn rightly predicts (U) unstable conditions over western Pennsylvania.  Weather maps show several fronts and a low pressure area lingering to the north and a batch of wet weather moving out through the northeast.  All the data indicates that working any DX is going to be a struggle.

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Although we seem to contact quite a number of local stations (<100 mi.) like W3SO(FN00), K3EJJ(FM19), W4IY(FM08), W3IP(FM19), K1RZ(FM19), K1HTV(FM18), N3XF(FN00), we struggle to contact more than a few of the bigger equipped stations out at a long distance.

I do manage to snag K1WHS(FN43 @ 432mi), KJ4ZYB(FM07 @ 210mi), K2BAR(FN31 @ 278mi), W3CCX(FN21 @ 156mi) all on 144 MHz and Jay W1VD who I’d operated with back in the mid-80’s providing me my first big multi-op, VHF contesting experiences.  He clocks in from FN31 @ 286mi on 50 MHz. Click the |> play button below to begin streaming audio from a select few DX stations we contacted from this grid from our V/UHF station.

Terry easily works K1RZ(FM19 @ 58mi), Joe WA3PTV/R, Don WA3RGQ/R and John W3HMS/R all one ridge over in FN10ca @ 10mi. and W3PAW also FM19aw just down the mountain from us.  All completed easily through 10 GHz.  Terry does manage to snag a couple of DX QSOs (>100mi.) with K1ISR(FM06 @ 269mi) on 1.2 GHz, W3SZ(FN20 @ 108mi) through 10 GHz.  He also complete with W2RMA/R on 2.3 and 10 GHz.  He is operating from FN00rg @ 68 mi.  We’ll be heading there for our third grid stop later in the day. Click the |> play button below to begin streaming audio from a select few DX stations we contacted from this grid from our microwave station.

We spend 158 minutes operating from this site from 1815-2052 GMT.  Here are the band by band breakdowns while operating from this location including the best DX stations we contacted on each band.

K8GP/R – FM19aw – Band QSO & Grid Breakdown with Best DX

Band QSOs Grids Best DX Call Best DX Grid Best Distance
50 37 14 K1TR FN42 399
144 38 17 K1WHS FN43 432
222 23 10 K1TR FN42 399
432 28 10 KJ4ZYB FM07 210
902 9 4 W3SZ FN20 108
1.2G 13 5 K1ISR FM06 269
2.3G 7 3 W2RMA/R FN00 38
3.4G 6 3 W3SZ FN20 108
5.7G 2 2 W3SZ FN20 108
10G 6 4 W3SZ FN20 108

Here are the overall totals for QSO contacts, QSO points, new and unique band grids and total score for operating from just this grid.  Band grids are the unique grids worked across 50 MHz – 10 GHz from just this grid.  New Grids are those not yet worked from any previous location, per contest rules. Since this is our first operating location or grid site, all new grids are equal to the unique band grids we contacted.  The score is just for this grid, so it is equal to QSO Pts * Band Grids accumulated while operating from this grid.

K8GP/R – FM19aw – Totals For This Grid

QSOs 169
QSO Pts 327
Band Grids 72
New Grids 72
Score 23,871

Below are two QSO maps I generated for our time and log from FM19aw.  These contain and display everyone we contacted across all bands.  The first map overlays all QSOs I made from 50-432 MHz while the second map overlays all QSOs Terry made from 902 MHz – 10 GHz. In the map’s default configuration, the colored markers and lines indicate the highest band we contacted a particular station.  The color code is as follows: Black=K8GP/R, Brown=50, Red=144, Orange=222. Yellow=432, Green=902, Blue=1.2G, Purple=2.3G, Grey=3.4G, White=5.7G and Gold=10G.

You may interact with a map in several ways.  First, you can zoom in/out using your mouse, scroll wheel or the +/- buttons in the lower left hand corner of the map.  Next, you can click on a colored marker to reveal the call sign, grid square, distance and band for which a particular station was contacted.  Clicking the marker will pop out a window on the left side of the map with those station’s details.  To close the contact details, click the back arrow in the upper left of the pop out.

To analyze our log further, for example to view all contacts on one particular band, click the -> display icon to the left of K8GP/R in the upper left of the map.  This will reveal a list of bands you can check or uncheck to toggle various map/band layers on/off.  If you do wish to perform this type of analysis it is better to click the “View Full Screen” link below each map as it offers a larger view and easier way to interact with the band map layer, toggling features.  All QSO maps in this article perform in a similar fashion.

K8GP/R – FM19aw – 50-432 MHz QSOs Map

View Full Screen Map for K8GP/R – FM19aw – 50-432 MHz QSOs

K8GP/R – FM19aw – 902 MHz – 10 GHz QSOs Map

View Full Screen Map for K8GP/R – FM19aw – 902 MHz-10 GHz QSOs

Its about 2100z and we’re about 30 minutes behind schedule when we decide to leave the site. Terry deflates the pneumatic mast and I crank down and disassemble the V/UHF mast, pulling off the 50 & 144 MHz yagis and collapsing the 222 & 432 fiberglass masts. We secure the antennas to the roof racks, bungee loose cables and the ladder, place the red crank in its special spot, lay the chairs down from rolling around, start the engine and hit the battery charge switch.   The digital ammeter shows 40+ amps of charging current.

We’re on to FN10.  Terry had taken Rt 75 just east of our location on his was back from Dayton a few weekends ago to check out the route and site.  We have no map as internet, cell coverage is spotty, but Terry thinks he can remember the new way in.  We head up Rt 75 about 20 minutes and then east, up a hill and note the engine heating up slightly.  Nothing to be alarmed about, but we need to keep an eye on that.  As we get up and over the hill we’re unsure if we missed the turn so loop back, but turns out we hadn’t gone far enough after all.  We see the second hill off in the distance through a clearing in the dense woods we’re driving though.  Its up the gravel road to the site.

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K8GP/R – FN10db

We finally arrive at FN10db and scout the site.  Last time we were here in the dark.  There is a gravel road that goes back to several commercial tower sites, but none offer enough room to crank up our antennas, so we head back to the fork in the road and pull into a grassy area that we’d set up in when we were here in June 2014.

Below is a satellite view of the FN10db site.  We setup inside the bottom of the V at the fork in the road.  You can see the access road to several tower sites off to the northeast.  There isn’t much difference in elevation between the end of that road and where we end up, so we don’t loose much by choosing our operating spot.  As usual, you can zoom in and scroll around this map or choose the “View” link below the map to explore a full screen, terrain mode map to observe the surrounding ground elevations.

View FN10db on Topographic Map

We proceed to prepare the rover, masts and antennas for operating.  Terry notes our air compressor has died.  We’d set it to charge the tanks while in motion, but somehow during the drive it quit.  I set up the video camera across from the van and snap some pictures of Terry and I in motion.  Its a bit less windy at this location, but still conditions seem unstable for any chance of good, tropospheric enhancement.

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Below are a few pictures from the dash camera, video recorder of me attaching the V/UHF antennas to the front mast, with some assistance from Terry.  Everything goes like clockwork and antennas are up in no time flat.  The new connect plates easily allow for the 50 & 144 MHz antennas to snap into place quickly and are working out quite well.

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Below are a few more pictures I snapped of the antennas raised to their full height before Terry and I jump into the back of the van to do some operating.  Its getting a bit cooler now that the sun is beginning to fall towards the western horizon.  The tops of the trees are swaying and the leaves are rustling.  I’m not holding out much hope for any long haul DX on the bands.

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With our late departure from FM19 and our backtracking over the last hill, we don’t make our first contact until 2220z about 1 hours and 20 minutes behind schedule.   As expected conditions on 144 Mhz and up through the microwaves are nothing to write home about.  I struggle to work many stations.  150 miles seems to be about the limit, though I do squeak out contacts in FN31 with W1QK and K2BAR at ~250mi.  Powerhouse station K1WHS in Maine is still coming through and we complete, but unfortunately they are not operational on the higher bands.  The Hepburn prediction and surface and radar maps pretty much tell the story below.  We’re sitting in the black area of southwestern PA surrounded by unstable conditions. A cold front is still far out to our northwest and the wet weather is now pushing off of the New England coast.

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It turns out Don WA3RGQ/R was just down the road operating in FN10ca and after Terry logs him on the microwave bands, he swings by the new rover and takes a few pictures.  We have a short conversation and then he’s off to his next location.

Back to the radio and I notice the 50 MHz band conditions beginning to peak up.  I cash in on some much needed, long haul, eSkip contacts and put a number of new grids in our log. EM0x, EM1x and DM9x grids in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas all make it into my log from the southwest U.S. Calls include K9KK, KF0M, N0KQX, N5LJL, KC0PUN, WD5USA, KC5MVZ, W5KS and N0IGZ. Then off the back of my antenna I believe I here some VE’s.  I turn my beam to the northeast and snag a few Canadians.  VO1KVT and VO1DJT in GN29 and VO1EGH(GN37). Best of all I catch EA8DPM in the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa in grid IL18.  Wow, what a signal and great DX! Click the |> play button below to begin streaming audio from a select few DX stations we contacted from this grid from our V/UHF station.

 

During this time Terry logs WA3RGQ/R down the road in FN10ca through 10 GHz, WA3PTV/R in FM19aw, from our last site ~15mi away, through 10 GHz.  A bit further out Terry completes with K1RZ(FM19 @ 58mi) through 10 GHz and K3MEC(FM09 @ 67mi) through 10 GHz. Click the |> play button below to begin streaming audio from a select few DX stations we contacted from this grid from our microwave station.

 

Its coming up on 0030z and we’re 1 hour behind schedule for leaving this site.  Terry and I agree to tear down and head back down the mountain to pickup the turnpike and head west to Blue Knob ski resort.  The sun is setting and the sky is vibrant orange and pink. I grab a few pictures of the rover before we hit the road.

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Terry had noted quite a bit of 900 MHz and 5 GHz noise at this location, most likely due to the commercial tower sites down the road from our operating location.  That interference pretty much rendered those bands useless for completing any long distance contacts. We operated 138 minutes from this grid from 2220-0038z.  Here are the operating stats and best DX contacts from this operating location.

K8GP/R – FN10db – Band QSO & Grid Breakdown with Best DX

Band QSOs Grids Best DX Call Best DX Grid Best Distance
50 42 25 EA8DPM IL18 3503
144 25 12 K1WHS FN43 416
222 14 8 N2NT FN20 172
432 18 8 N2NT FN20 172
902 10 5 W3CCX FN21 140
1.2G 10 5 W3CCX FN21 140
2.3G 5 3 K3MEC FM09 67
3.4G 4 3 K3MEC FM09 67
5.7G 4 3 K3MEC FM09 67
10G 4 3 K3MEC FM09 67

Here are the overall totals for QSOs contacts, QSO points, new and unique band grids and score for operating from just this grid.

K8GP/R – FN10db – Totals For This Grid

QSOs 137
QSO Pts 263
Band Grids 75
New Grids 30
Score 19,988

Below are two QSO maps I generated for our time and log from FN10db.  The first map overlays all QSOs I made from 50-432 MHz and the second map overlays all QSOs Terry made from 902 MHz – 10 GHz.  As noted above on the first set of maps from FM19aw, these are fully interactive, supporting, zoom, clicking marker/station info and band/layer toggling.  Likewise, full screen maps are also available by clicking the “View Full Screen” links below.

K8GP/R – FN10db – 50-432 MHz QSOs Map

View Full Screen Map for K8GP/R – FN10db – 50-432 MHz QSOs

K8GP/R – FN10db – 902 MHz-10 GHz QSOs Map

View Full Screen Map for K8GP/R – FN10db – 902 MHz-10 GHz QSOs

We work our way down the mountain and back through Upper Strasburg and Fannettsburg and pickup I76, the Penn. Turnpike and head west.  We need to find some food quick, as we gave up eating lunch before the contest as we were running late and the fast food joints were slammed with people.  We find a service station and food court on the turnpike and chow down.  Since our air compressor died, we also search and find a free, air compressor and fill up the air tanks.  Its back on the road, then onto Rt 99 north.  Its dark now and I’m trying to recall the correct way to get to the FN00 site.  We’d taken an exit to early last time (2 years ago) and it took us through some small windy roads with low hanging trees that were harsh on our antennas.  Google says take exit 10 but I fear that’s wrong so we head further north to the next exit.  Mistake!  5 miles down the road we make a U-turn and come in from the north side of the mountain, which bring us through a resort community where we get lost and stuck at a dead end.  Eventually we find a gravel road (Pavia Rd) that leads us up to our operating location.  What a fiasco.  Lesson learned – follow Google directions and remember exit 10 for next time.

K8GP/R – FN00rg

Below is a satellite view of our operating location. As with the other maps in this article, they are interactive and one can zoom in/out.  To view a full screen terrain map click the “View” link below the map to explore the ground elevation of the surrounding area. The elevation here is ~3100′.

View FN00rg on Topographic Map

Its late, 0330z, and it is extremely windy atop the mountain.  There are no trees for shelter from the wind.  Terry is weary of extending the microwave mast all the way, so it goes up only ~10-15′.  I assemble the front V/UHF mast where both the 50 & 144 MHz yagis act like kites in the brisk wind.  I finally get everything attached and crank up the mast.  I feel a few raindrops as I take several pictures in the dark before we get on the air.

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I’m wondering if anyone is even on the air at this hour as we are now 2.5 hours behind our schedule to arrive at this site.  Much to my surprise, there are some diehards still on the air, as I log my first contact at 0339z with K2LIM and we run the lower 4 bands. W3IP(FM19), W4IY(FM08), K3ZO(FM18), N2NT(FN20) and WB1GQR(FN33 @ 359mi) as well as a few others fill my V/UHF log, while W3IP, W4IY, K1RZ and K2LIM(FN12 @ 160mi) make it into Terry’s microwave log.  I even pull in a few 50 MHz eSkip contacts with K8IRC, K0AWU and KB0BK in MN. (EN37 @ 875mi), K9DRO in WI. (EN46 @ 758mi), WA0CSL in N.D. (EN17 @ 1065mi) and WD0T in S.D. (DN94 @ 1138mi).  Click the |> play button below to begin streaming audio from a select few DX stations we contacted from this grid from our V/UHF station.

 

I don’t have a Hepburn tropo prediction map for this hour, but several surface and radar weather maps still tell the story.  A bit of rain over south western Penn. and some gusty winds.  There are heavy storms northwest near North and South Dakota, in red on the radar map on the right.  Could that lend to the eSkip opening I’d experienced on 50 MHz in that general direction?

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Terry and I operate for about an hour making 62 contacts and then we decide to call it quits.  Terry fires up the generator to give the batteries a charge overnight and then we plan to get some sleep.  I blow up the air mattress and lay out on the floor while Terry takes the fully reclining passengers seat. We set our alarms and plan to rise at 1030z (6:30am).

The daylight begins creeping in through the windows around 1000z and Terry and I both awake to begin a new day.  It was a surprisingly good night’s sleep in the van.  Its overcast this morning, but not as gusty as last night.  Terry expands the pneumatic mast to its full height and we get ready to operate.  I grab a few pictures of the van at sunrise.

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My first contact at 1024z is with Stan KA1ZE/3 operating his remote station in FN01 via the internet from his QTH in CT.  Then its Maurice K3EJJ through 1.2 GHz, and then John W1XX in FN41 on 50 & 144 MHz.  Everyone is awake and on the air.  Steve K1IIG in FN31 through 222 MHz, W2LV in FN21 through 432 MHz, WA3EOQ in FM09 through 1.2 GHz.  Its about 1100z and I notice 50 MHz is already opening with some eSkip to Florida when I work KD2JA in EL98. Soon after its an eSkip opening into northeastern Canada, VO1GVT in GN29 @ 1300 miles. Unfortunately I forget to start the MP3 recorder, so no playback audio until ~1300z.

The bands are the best they have been all weekend.  That’s not saying much, but I begin to experience a bit of tropospheric enhancement on 144 MHz and above.  The Hepburn prediction shows a possibility of an opening and some slight enhancement to the west southwest, as well as the northeast and maybe south.  The map shows we are right on the edge from our operating location in south western Penn, but hopefully the 3100′ elevation will put us in the duct.  The surface weather maps show a cold front finally pushing in from the north.  Sure enough I catch some DX contacts right along the front line’s westerly and northeasterly paths.

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Whereas on Saturday on 144 Mhz and up, I’d only been easily working out to 150 miles, now I’m contacting stations 250 miles and beyond.  At 1130z I manage to find AA4ZZ in EM96 @ 294 miles and we successfully complete on the low 4 bands.  There is some tropo enhancement now to the south on 144 MHz as I pickup W0LD in FM05 @ 331 miles.   We work N2GHR in FN30 @ 286 miles through 1.2 GHz.  Its 1200z and my best tropo DX from this location on 144 Mhz and up comes with N1JEZ in FN44 at 480 miles and we complete up through 432 MHz. CW always gets through!  Terry finds K8TQK(EM89) in a chat room and we work up through 1.2 GHz.  Soon after I work KC8AAV, N8XA, and KB8GUE  all in EM89 ranging between 200-275 miles. I also contact N8ZM in EN80 and KC9PQT in EN70 to the west and soon after to the southwest I contact K4TO in EM77 @ 338 miles up through 222 MHz all thanks to the enhancement along the weather front I’m sure.

 

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Its about 1230z and we find Brian at K3MEC in FM09 and complete on all 10 bands.  He asks Terry if we could stop in at his QTH as he needs some tower assistance.  Since we’ll be operating in FM09te later, about a mile down the road from his QTH, Terry agrees to pay him a visit. We’ll see him in a few hours.  Terry and I continue operating and contact N3HBX in FM19, VE3YCU in FN02 and N3RN in FN11 and we complete with all through 1.2 GHz.  I hear N4OX then finally I find fellow rovers Joe WA3PTV and Jack AB4CR.  Jack was to meet us here on site soon, but turns out he’s at FM08us on Skyline Dr in VA, where we’ll end the contest, I guess no parking lot QSOs with him today.  As he’s having technical difficulties, we only complete on the low 4 bands. The 50 MHz band continues to open and I work VE2DLC(FN58 @ 748mi) to the north and to the south I pick up WA4GPM(EM90 @ 690mi). Joe WA3PTV is over in FM09wx and we complete through 5.7 GHz. Click the |> play button below to begin streaming audio from a select few stations we contacted from this grid from our V/UHF station.

The overcast morning weather slowly burns off revealing blue skies and as it does the tropo subsides. Thankfully it appears 50 MHz eSkip is continuing to increase and intensify.  Will this band and propagation mode make up for the lack luster tropo conditions on Saturday?  Its about 1400z and I work W4UAL(EM63 @ 695mi), VA2NQ(FN35 @ 456mi), AA5AU(EL29 @967mi), N4TWX(EL89 @ 745mi) and then my old time, Murphy’s Maurauders colleague from CT, Dan K1TO in EL87 in Florida at 916 miles.   50 Mhz just keeps getting better from there.  I work a few more, K5TR(EM00 @ 1307mi) and Bill W3XO(EM00 @ 1350mi), who I’d recently seen at the VHF Super Conference where we reminisced of my Single Op entry from his place in MD back in the 80s.  Thanks Bill for use of a big station back in the day when I had nothing.  Click the |> play button below to begin streaming audio from a select few stations we contacted from this grid from our V/UHF station.

I hand the mic over to Terry as I take a few pictures outside and around the rover as the weather clears.

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The antennas shine in the mid morning sunlight.  As I take more pictures of the rover I can hear Terry calling CQ on 50 MHz and running stations thanks to the continuing eSkip opening.  Stations include KD5EUO/R(EM00), WB5MAC(EM22), K1TOL(FN44), K5AND(EM00), W5PR(EL29), K5QE(EM31), KR4SO(EM50), K5GZR(EL29) and WD5CVN(EM40). In the mix, Terry finds fellow rover Don WA3RGQ at our previous location in FM19aw and Paul W3PAW at his fixed location in FM19aw and works both up through 10 GHz at 38mi. Click the |> play button below to begin streaming audio from a select few DX stations we contacted during this period from this grid from our V/UHF station.

 

Unfortunately the microwave station MP3 recorder does not capture any audio from Terry’s K3 until about 1900z.

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Its a little after 1500z and we should get on the road if we’re going to stay on schedule today.  I find W3CCX in FN21 and pass off to Terry and I work a few more stations on 50 MHz eSkip including KP4EIT in FK68 @ 1675 miles and its time to pack up and go. I crank down the V/UHF mast as Terry secures the microwave mast for travelling. I snap a few pictures of the rover just before we’re about ready to hit the road.  I switch over to the 50 MHz omni antenna on the roof of the van and we leave the parking lot ~1530z about 30 minutes behind schedule.

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We spent 60 minutes Saturday evening and 300 minutes Sunday morning for a total of 360 minutes of operating time from this FN00rg location.  Here are the operating stats and best DX contacts from this location.

K8GP/R – FN00rg- Band QSO & Grid Breakdown with Best DX

Band QSOs Grids Best DX Call Best DX Grid Best Distance
50 103 54 KP4EIT FK68 1675
144 55 27 N1JEZ FN44 480
222 30 17 N1JEZ FN44 480
432 29 14 N1JEZ FN44 480
902 10 5 K8TQK EM89 258
1.2G 6 3 W3CCX FN21 174
2.3G 6 3 W3CCX FN21 174
3.4G 6 3 W3CCX FN21 174
5.7G 4 2 K1RZ FM19 96
10G 3 2 K1RZ FM19 96

Here are the overall totals for QSO contacts, QSO points, new and unique band grids and score for operating from just this grid.

K8GP/R – FN00rg – Totals For This Grid

QSOs 264
QSO Pts 463
Band Grids 136
New Grids 78
Score 59,732

Below are two QSO maps I generated for our time and log from FN00rg.  The first map overlays all QSOs I made from 50-432 MHz and the second map overlays all QSOs Terry made from 902 MHz – 10 GHz.  As noted above on the earlier maps, these are fully interactive, supporting, zoom, clicking marker/station info and band/layer toggling.  Likewise, full screen maps are also available.

K8GP/R – FN00rg – 50-432 MHz QSOs Map

View Full Screen Map for K8GP/R – FN00rg – 50-432 MHz QSOs

K8GP/R – FN00rg – 902 MHz – 10 GHz QSOs Map

View Full Screen Map for K8GP/R – FN00rg – 902 MHz-10 GHz QSOs

Back down the mountain, the short way, and onto Sarah Furnace Road, noting the proper exit 10 on Rt 99 for future reference and then we head south.  The batteries are charging at 40+ amps.  We’ve given them a good workout.  We continue down the road and stop to cleanup and grab some food and a seat at Wendy’s.  Next its off to the local gas station to fill up, but no air compressor, so we head out to the turnpike then south on Rt 522.  As 50 MHz is still open and I’m hearing some stations via eSkip on the omni antenna on the roof, I attempt to contact a few stations while we are in motion.  While still in FN00 I contact KM4HI(EL89), W0PV(EL87), K4WI(EM62) and K4TR(EL88).  Everyone else I hear on the band we’ve already worked, so I wait and wait until we cross into a new grid, which happens around 1700z.  Now in FM09 I’m able to start reworking people again, picking up K2PS(EL98), N4OX(EM60), N4TWX(EL89), K1TO(EL87), W3SO(FN00), W5PR(EL29), K5AND(EM00), WN2E(EM50), W3PAW(FM19) and K1RZ(FM19).  I take a break as the eSkip subsides. I crawl back into the front seat to chat with Terry as we look for a service station with an air compressor, as we’ll still need to recharge our air tanks before our next site. Click the |> play button below to begin streaming audio from a select few stations we contacted while in motion from our 50 MHz station utilizing a halo on the rover’s roof.

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It looks like no more free air for us.  We do find a gas station on Rt 522 with an air compressor @ $1.50 for a maximum of 70 PSI.  Not quite enough to fill our tanks, but it will have to do.  Another few more minutes down the road and as we approach the bottom of the mountain of our next operating location, we see another gas station with an air compressor.  This appears to have no limit on PSI, so we dump another $1.50 and it gets us another 20 PSI.  That should hold us. First, its up the mountain road to visit Brian at K3MEC.  Its warm out and Terry notices the engine starting to heat up so he kicks on the heaters. Those big batteries and new pneumatic mast have put a fair amount of additional weight in the van to haul.  As the radiator hasn’t been flushed, its probably due for some TLC too.  We sweat it out for a few minutes until we get to the top and soon we arrive at Brian’s driveway.  As we meet up with Brian he says his tower mounted microwave box is not working and it appears a coax jumper may have failed. Terry climbs the tower to quickly replace it as I grab a few pictures of Brian’s shack.  A quick test seems to show Brian’s good to go and he’s back on the microwaves again. We’ll now head down the road to our operating location and setup.

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K8GP/R – FM09te

We travel about a mile or so down the road and to the sothwest along the ridge line and park about halfway through the bend on Archwood Trail.  Below is a satellite view of our operating location. As with the other maps it is interactive and one can zoom in/out.  To view a full screen terrain map click the “View” link below the map to explore the ground elevation of the surrounding area. The elevation here is ~2200′.

View FM09te on Topographic Map

We park, but then Terry realizes we’re too close to some power lines, so we move the van a few dozen feet down the road.  He raises the pneumatic mast, but now as I raise the front crank up mast I realize we are too close to some high hanging tree branches just off the side of the road. I will be unable to rotate the V/UHF antennas.  Fortunately Terry has brought his pole saw with him. Unfortunately we end up wasting a good 15-20 minutes clearing the offending branches before we can get on the air.

We finally get on the air and I make my first contact at 1950z.  We should have left this site 20 minutes ago!  Where did the time go?  We are 2.5 hours behind schedule.  There is still some 50 MHz eSkip in progress so I contact 8 stations in 5-land (OK, AR, TX) covering EM12, EM15, EM22, EM25, EM35 and EM44.  I also pick up W4HLR in EM56 in western TN and KF0M in EM17 in KS.  Click the |> play button below to begin streaming audio from a select few DX stations we contacted from this grid from our V/UHF station.

Of course Terry works Brian on all 10 bands, then finds Dave K1RZ and completes on all 10 bands as well.  That is a first from this location and the extra tall mast helps as the microwave antennas now easily clear the nearby trees. Click the |> play button below to begin streaming audio from a select few stations we contacted from this grid from our microwave station.

The Hepburn prediction and the surface weather maps show no signs of enhancement for the higher bands.  John N2NC does a great job of keeping track of us over the weekend and SMS’s me for a sked.  I’m lucky to work out to 222 miles and contact him at N2NT across the lower 4 bands.  Ed K1TR catch me as well via SMS and we attempt on 144 MHz CW and do complete, but he’s very weak and that’s the only band I can hear him.  He clocks in at 447 miles.  All other contacts we make from the hill are under 100 miles.

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Since we’re well behind schedule, we only operate from this site for a little over an hour.  I make our last contact at 2102z.  We retract all the antenna arrays and pack up to head onto our next site, FM18ax.

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We spent 70 minutes operating at FM09te.  Here are the operating stats and the best DX contacts for this location.

K8GP/R – FM09te – Band QSO & Grid Breakdown with Best DX

Band QSOs Grids Best DX Call Best DX Grid Best Distance
50 31 23 K5AND EM00 1268
144 15 9 K1TR FN42 447
222 10 5 N2NT FN20 222
432 12 7 N2NT FN20 222
902 4 3 K1RZ FM19 62
1.2G 6 4 W3CCX FN21 204
2.3G 3 2 K1RZ FM19 62
3.4G 3 2 K1RZ FM19 62
5.7G 2 2 K1RZ FM19 62
10G 2 2 K1RZ FM19 62

Here are the overall totals for QSO contacts, QSO points, new and unique band grids and score for operating from just this grid.

K8GP/R – FM09te – Totals For This Grid

QSOs 87
QSO Pts 156
Band Grids 58
New Grids 8
Score 9,204

Below are two QSO maps I generated for our time and log from FM09te.  The first map overlays all QSOs I made from 50-432 MHz and the second map overlays all QSOs Terry made from 902 MHz – 10 GHz.  As noted above on the earlier maps, these are fully interactive, supporting, zoom, clicking marker/station info and band/layer toggling.  Likewise, full screen maps are also available.

K8GP/R – FM09te – 50-432 MHz QSOs Map

View Full Screen Map for K8GP/R – FM09te – 50-432 MHz QSOs

K8GP/R – FM09te – 902 MHz – 10 GHz QSOs Map

View Full Screen Map for K8GP/R – FM09te – 902 MHz – 10 GHz QSOs

As we make our way down off the mountain, we make a quick stop at the gas station at the bottom of the hill that we visited earlier.  We refill our air tanks to ensure we have enough compressed air to raise the mast again.  It is now off to FM18.  We make our way back to Winchester and then take I-81 south.  Looking at the clock we realize that we are so far behind schedule, that it isn’t practical to visit the FM18ax site.  We will blow that off and head straight to FM08us on Skyline Drive.  We take I-66 east into Front Royal and grab some food for the road and head to the park entrance.  The shadows of the antennas standout as we head up to our final location.

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The skies are clear and the breeze is blowing as we make our way up the windy road.  Terry wishes to eat, so I take over driving as we make our way closer to Hogback Overlook.  What will the final hours of the contest hold for us?  So far we seem to have done well.  No major failures causing us any great distress. No issues that we couldn’t overcome.  Timing and schedule, as always, seems to slip, but given the lack luster tropo conditions compared to June 2014, it seems we are doing quite well with respect to our total score.  How will the final numbers play out?  I pull into the overlook and point the rover north.

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K8GP/R – FM08us

Below is a satellite view of our operating location. As with the other maps it is interactive and one can zoom in/out.  To view a full screen terrain map click the “View” link below the map to explore the ground elevation of the surrounding area. The elevation here is ~3400′.

View FM08us on Topographic Map

It is still breezy as we begin to prepare the rover for the final hours of the contest.  I snap some pictures around the rover after I crank up the V/UHF mast and while Terry prepares to extend the microwave mast.  He fixes a few loops on the loop yagis that were bent during travel while coming in contact with low hanging branches.  Afterwards I step inside the rover and startup the dash cam recorder and point it back at the operating area and we prepare to operate.

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Hepburn paints a pretty grim picture for the end of the contest.  We’re well within the black void of the no enhanced propagation zone.  The surface weather maps show the cold front has pushed well to our south.  Terry and I each make our first contacts at 2330z, 30 minutes behind schedule, along with the sacrifice of skipping FM18.  I contact W4AAQ(FM09) and Terry grabs K1RZ(FM19) and easily works him up through 10 GHz at 69 miles.  I find K1KG(FN42 @ 435mi) on 144 MHz CW and this time work up through 432 MHz.  I contact a string of local stations at 2-3 calls per minute including K1HTV, W3RFC, W3SO, W3EKT, N3HBX, WA3PTV/R and WA3RGQ/R.  I snag VE9AA(FN66) on 50 MHz.  It still appears there is a little eSkip action happening on that band. Click the |> play button below to begin streaming audio from a select few DX stations we contacted during this period from this grid from our V/UHF station.

I pass the rovers and W3EKT, N3HBX and K3EJJ off to Terry and he completes with all through 1.2 GHz, though he does manage a 2-way with Ed W3EKT on 2.3 GHz.  Click the |> play button below to begin streaming audio from a select few DX stations we contacted during this period from this grid from our microwave station.

The windy and unstable conditions are providing no enhancement for the microwave bands. Nonetheless, in the first 30 minutes of operating from this location we log 40 stations between us.

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Its 0000z and  I find Jack AB4CR/R again.  He’s now at the Howard County Fairgrounds in MD at FM19mh.  I’m able to work him on the low 4 bands, but Terry is unable to complete with him on the microwaves.  Tropo conditions suck!  I tune around 50 MHz and hear EA8DBM(IL18) calling CQ and after several calls I’m able to break through the pileup and manage to complete my second contact with him this weekend.  Then I worked N2NT for a sweep for their 4 bands from all 5 of our operating locations.  Otherwise its mainly local contacts out to ~100 miles on the low 4 bands.  Stations include: K3EJJ, K3CCR, K3ZO, N3JT, WS3C, K2AVA, K3TC, K3MQP and WB8PBU. In the mix I do manage to contact VE9MM, VE9ML and VE1HF, as there still appears to be some eSkip enhancement to the northeast on 50 MHz. Click the |> play button below to begin streaming audio from a select few DX stations we contacted during this period from this grid from our V/UHF station.

As the sun begins to set I hand the low band station off to Terry and step outside to take some final pictures.  The wind is picking up, but its still a beautiful view up here.  The park rangers are even out taking in the scenic view. They come over and take a look at our vehicle.  I answer a few of their questions and give them a tour of the inside of the rover while Terry operates.

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As the evening progresses the winds begin to increase and temperature drops.  We both put on our sweatshirts and close up the windows and doors and prepare for a rocky ride.  Its starting to feel like a roller coaster ride inside the van.  Below a few panoramic pictures I stitched together from some individual shots across the horizon as the sun sets. Click to expand them to full screen.

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Its a little after 0100z as I pick up a few slightly more distant stations on the low 4 bands to include WA2VNV(FN30 @ 310mi) through 432, K1TR(FN42 @ 461mi) on 144 and K2LIM(FN12 @ 251mi) through 432.   That’s followed by a string of locals (<100mi) to include W4IY, K4SO, W3FAY, W8ZA and K1RZ.

It’s down to the final hours and on 1.2G Terry completes with N3HBX(FM19), K3EJJ(FM19), WA3RGQ/R(FN00), W3RFC(FM19), WS3C(FM19) and K2LIM(FN12) very weakly on CW. I find W3CCX(FN21 @ 221mi) and pass to Terry, where they start on CW on 1.2G but switch to SSB as signals are relatively good.  Likewise they complete on 2.3G on SSB.  Its back to CW on 3.4 GHz though where they end. Only if conditions would have been better, but the enhanced tropo conditions were just not meant to be this weekend.  What a shame. Click the |> play button below to begin streaming audio from a select few stations we contacted during this period from this grid from our microwave station.

I’m treated to another small 50 MHz eSkip opening and manage to put a number of more distant stations in the log. To the northeast I contact KT1R(FN54 @ 618mi), NY1E(FN55 @ 653mi), KB1WEA(FN55 @ 652mi), KV1J(FN44 @ 543mi), VE1UT(FN63 @ 725mi), VE9WGD(FN57 @ 779mi), Could that storm off the northeast of Maine contributed to any of that 50 MHz eSkip enhancement in that direction?

As the contest end nears I swing the beam out to the west and on 50 MHz I complete contacts with WD0BGZ(EN00 @ 1111mi), N0EO(EN37 @ 953mi), WB2FKO(DM65 @ 1573mi) and W9RM(DM58 @ 1596mi).   Finally, to bring it all to a close I look once more to the northeast on 50 MHz and close out the log with contacts with W2SZ(FN32 @ 366mi), VE2EBK(FN46 @ 662mi), VA2NQ(FN35 @ 538mi) and N2GHR(FN30 @ 309). That’s all she wrote and the contest comes to an end.

Click the |> play button below to begin streaming audio from stations we contacted during the last hours of the contest from this grid from our V/UHF station.

We spent 216 minutes operating from FM08us.  Here are the operating stats and best DX contacts from this location.

K8GP/R – FMo8us – Band QSO & Grid Breakdown with Best DX

Band QSOs Grids Best DX Call Best DX Grid Best Distance
50 67 26 EA8DBM IL18 3545
144 36 12 K1TR FN42 461
222 21 11 K1KG FN42 435
432 27 11 K1KG FN42 435
902 6 3 WA3PTV/r FN00 92
1.2G 11 5 K2LIM FN12 251
2.3G 4 3 W3CCX FN21 221
3.4G 3 3 W3CCX FN21 221
5.7G 2 2 K1RZ FM19 69
10G 3 2 K3EJJ FM19 86

Here are the overall totals for QSO contacts, QSO points, new and unique band grids and score for operating from just this grid.

K8GP/R – FM08us – Totals For This Grid

QSOs 180
QSO Pts 298
Band Grids 78
New Grids 17
Score 23,542

Below are two QSO maps I generated for our time and log from FM09te.  The first map overlays all QSOs I made from 50-432 MHz and the second map overlays all QSOs Terry made from 902 MHz – 10 GHz.  As noted above on the earlier maps, these are fully interactive, supporting, zoom, clicking marker/station info and band/layer toggling.  Likewise, full screen maps are also available.

K8GP/R – FM08us- 50-432 MHz QSOs Map

View Full Screen Map for K8GP/R – FM08us – 50-432 MHz QSOs

K8GP/R – FM08us- 902 MHz – 10 GHz QSOs Map

View Full Screen Map for K8GP/R – FM08us – 902 MHz – 10 GHz QSOs

Contest Wrap Up

Below is our planned route as provided by Google Driving directions and our actual APRS track. Unfortunately, we didn’t follow the stated route to the first site.  That would have initially saved us roughly 20 minutes.  Also I got us lost near Blue Knob FN00 where we went too far north and had to backtrack and then travel up the back side of the mountain, which cost us another 45 minutes of operating time.

k8gp-201606-map3.PNG k8gp-aprs.PNG

We always appreciate the numerous contacts and support from all the stations who track and contact us throughout the weekend.  We’d like to recognize and extend a special thanks to the stations below for contacting us and providing many of our QSOs over the weekend. Many stations were persistent and always on the air when we arrived at our locations and a special few actually watched us on www.aprs.fi and ensured they were beaming our way as soon as we reported that we were on the air. Thanks to the Top 10’s in each of the categories below who provided us the most contacts over the weekend.  The categories include QSO contacts for all bands combined (50 MHz – 10 GHz), bottom four V/UHF bands (50-432 MHz) and the microwaves bands (902 MHz – 10 GHz).

#

Top 10 – All Bands

50 MHz-10 GHz

QSOs
1 K1RZ 50
2 WA3PTV/R 37
3 WA3RGQ/R 33
4 K3MEC 32
5 W3PAW 30
6 W3EKT 28
7 K3EJJ 26
8

N3HBX

W3CCX

24
9

N2NT

W3SO

20
10 W4IY 19

 

#

Top 10 – V/UHF 

50-432 MHz

QSO’s
1

K1RZ

N2NT

N3HBX

W3SO

20
2 W3EKT 19
3 W4IY 18
4

K3EJJ

WA3PTV/R

17
5

W3PAW

WA3RGQ/R

15
6

K1HTV

K3MEC

W3CCX

14
7

KM3G

W3IP

WS3C

12
8

K2LIM

N3RN

10
9 N3XF 9
10

AB4CR/R

W3RFC

8

 

#

Top 10 – Microwave

902 MHz-10 GHz

QSOs
1 K1RZ 30
2 WA3PTV/R 20
3 K3MEC

WA3RGQ/R

18
4 W3PAW 15
5 W3CCX 10
6 K3EJJ

W3EKT

9
7 W3IP 6
8 W3SZ 5
9

N3HBX

W3HMS

4
10

K2LIM

WS3C

3

Final Score

Here is our band by band break down for the entire contest showing number of QSO contacts, QSO points and new/unique grids contacted per band and band score for all our operating locations combined.

Band QSOs QSO Pts Grids Score
50 280 280 89 24,920
144 169 169 34 5,746
222 98 196 21 4,116
432 114 228 19 4,332
902 39 117 9 1,053
1.2G 58 174 14 2,436
2.3G 25 100 5 500
3.4G 23 92 5 460
5.7G 14 56 4 224
10G 18 72 5 360

Here is the final score computed per the ARRL rules.

Total QSOs 838
Total QSO Pts. 1,484
Total Grids 205
# Grids Visited 5
Total Score 311,640

K8GP/R – June 2016 – Band Grid Maps

Below are grids maps showing all the grids we contacted for each band we operated over the entire contest weekend. These tally all stations we worked from all of the grids squares from which we operated. The grids are color shaded from light grey, indicating 1 QSO to dark red, indicating >64 QSOs, contacted per grid.  I utilized a tool, that I published some time ago, that ingests Cabrillo formatted logs and produces KML files that can be displayed using Google Maps.  If you’d like to plot your own Cabrillo contest logs, please visit my Cabrillo Log Google Mapping Tool.  Below, you may click on a grid square to display which and how many stations we contacted there.  Calls that are listed multiple times per grid indicated we contacted them from more than one of our operating locations. Click the band name, title above each map to open the map in full screen mode for easier navigation and interaction.

50 MHz Grids

 

144 MHz Grids 222 MHz Grids 432 MHz Grids

 

902 MHz Grids 1.2 GHz Grids 2.3 GHz Grids

 

3.4 GHz Grids 5.7 GHz Grids 10 GHz Grids

 

K8GP/R – June VHF 2014 vs. 2016

So how did we compare to our last June effort from back in 2014.  As it turns out we ran a very similar route, hitting somewhat similar grids, though our timing was quite different.  In 2014 we had very good tropo openings Saturday night, Sunday morning and Sunday night.  We also had a smattering of eSkip on 50 MHz then on Sunday morning too.  This year tropo was pretty much non-existent except for a brief hour or two Sunday morning.  The 50 MHz eSkip rivaled any opening I’d seen in a contest for quite some time.  Interestingly in 2016 we ended up with almost an identical score to that of 2014, though if you look at the graph below, it didn’t start out that way. From the start we exceeded and then stayed well above our previous score for the entire contest. It wasn’t until the end that we tended to slow down and tail off.  Regardless of the conditions, if we would have stuck to our schedule and gotten to operate from the additional FM18 grid, we could have far exceeded our best score to date.  Below is our overall, cumulative point score progression for each hour of the contest.  For 2016, the grids from which we operated are highlighted on the graph. It should be noted these yearly comparisons are of our claimed, submitted scores and not actual scores after ARRL cross checking. In 2014 we claimed 315K and our actual score calculated by the ARRL was 295K.  In 2016 we are claiming 311K so we’ll see if this holds up as an official, personal record for us.

score-hour.PNG

Finally, with respect to the overall score progression above, below is how our score breaks down into further stats.   Observe our operating time per grid, in minutes, where you will note we spent the most time operating from FN00rg, followed by FM08us.  We earned the most QSO points from FN00rg, followed by FM19aw.  We earned the most new/unique band grids, per ARRL rules, from FN00rg, followed closely by FM19aw, which was our first operating location.  The score graph is a bit misleading in that it shows the stand alone score earned per grid.  It is not a cumulative score. It is just the QSO points earned for one location times the number of new/unique band grids we contacted from that location, per ARRL rules.  In general, as the contest progresses, it is usually harder to find and contact new grids.  So, in FM09 and FM08, though our QSO points earned was relatively high, the number of new grids we contacted were low, hence the low stand alone grid score.  Every QSO and new grid counts in the overall score seen above, so it still does payoff to visit more than just a few grids during a contest weekend.

time-per-grid.PNG qso-pts-per-grid.PNG new-grids.PNG score-grid.PNG

K8GP Rover Details

Here’s is a run down on the rover van and supporting power sources

  • Make/Model: Dodge B250
  • Year: 1994
  • Engine: 318ci V8
  • Alternator: 300 amp (upgrade)
  • DC Cabling: #0 welding cable from alternator to batteries
  • Batteries: 2x Interstate STM-4D + 1 100AH Walmart Marine
  • DC Cabling: #6 cable w/ 100A Anderson power poles to Jacobs
  • Power Booster: Jacobs 100A DC/DC converter (for V/UHF TE-amps)
  • DC Cabling: #8 cable from batteries to microwave MFJ 4416
  • Power Booster: 2x MFJ 4416 DC/DC converters for microwave box and K3’s

Here’s a run down of the V/UHF Station

  • Elecraft K3
  • 50 Mhz: K3 native w/ TE amp (300w) & DSEJX5-50 5 element yagi
  • 144 MHz: K3 w/ K144xv & TE amp (300w) & DSEFO144-12 12 element yagi
  • 222 MHz: DEMI 222 transverter w/ 28 MHz I/F & TE amp (150w) & DSE 222-10RS yagi
  • 432 MHz: Demi 432 w/ 28 MHz I/F & TE amp (150w) & DSE 432-15RS yagi
  • Mast: Military crank up, 3 sections ~25′
  • Rotor: Yaesu 12V w/ homebrew K3NG Arduino Uno Controller and LCD display
  • PC: Dell D620 w/ SSD 128GB HD and external USB kybd/touchpad combo & USB audio for MP3 recording
  • Software: Windows 7, N1MM+, TotalRecorder

Here’s a run down of the Microwave Station

  • Elecraft K3 w/ K144xv for 146 MHz I.F.
  • 902 MHz: DEMI transverter & DEMI amp (65w) & DSE3333LY loop yagi
  • 1.2 GHz: DB6NT transverter & DEMI amp (75w) & DSE2345LY loop yagi
  • 2.3 GHz: DB6NT transverter (20w) & DSE1376LY loop yagi
  • 3.4 GHz: DB6NT transverter (15w) & DSE9112LY loop yagi
  • 5.7 GHz: DB6NT transverter (10w) & shared 5&10 GHz DSE 2′ dish w/ W5LUA dual band feed
  • 10 GHz: DB6NT transverter (10w) & shared 5&10 GHz DSE 2′ dish w/ W5LUA dual band feed
  • Mast: Pneumatic mast, ~45′ w/ 120 PSI 10 gallon tanks and 12V air compressor
  • Rotor: Orion
  • PC: Dell D620 w/ SSD 128GB HD and external USB kybd/touchpad combo & USB audio for MP3 recording
  • Software: Windows 7, N1MM+, TotalRecorder

K8GP/R ARRL June VHF 2016 Video

Below is a video collage I put together containing some of the pictures above and including unseen pictures and video from within and around the van as well as audio recorded during the contest.  Click the “View” link below to watch in full screen mode. Enjoy!

Youtube Video Coming Soon – Please check back later.

 

50 Mhz The Magic Band

If you’d like to explore all the 50 MHz spots in N.A. over the June 2016 VHF contest weekend, please visit a Map of all 50 MHz N.A. Spot in ARRL June VHF 2016 that I created from spots retrieved from the DXsummit.  That captures the extent of the opening on an hour by hour basis.  As well as filtering by time, you can also filter QSOs by minimum distance to show the extent of some of the long haul openings.

73 & thanks for all the QSO’s!

andyz – K1RA @ K8GP/R

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12 comments to K1RA @ K8GP Rover ARRL June VHF 2016

  • Rick K1DS/R

    I love every bit of this adventure. You are a great op, an energetic ham and a wonderful raconteur. As I am getting closer to the sunset of my roving career of 25+ years, I am fascinated by all the computer stuff you are doing for controls. Glad you had such nice success on this rove. KUDOS!!
    73, Rick, K1DS/R

    • Rick,
      Thanks so much for the kudos. Its nice to be recognized by a rover with as much experience as yourself. Thanks for all the QSOs over the years and hope to catch you on the bands again soon!

      73

      andyz – K1RA

  • Jeff

    Great write up Andy – sorry I wasn’t around to work you. Congrats on the good score.

    Jeff

  • Allen Zimmerman

    Terry and Andy, what an accomplishment! I understand what you had to do to get to this level of roving (at least from a mechanical standpoint), but your operating ability and technique are far above the level of many of us, You guys are super ops!! Tremendous effort. and congratulations. The evolution of your rover van is a model for others.

    Very 73 Al K3WGR (1/2 NN3Q/r)

    • Hi Al,
      Thanks for the kudos and appreciate your recognition of our effort to build and operate the new rover. Looking forward to seeing and hearing the NN3Q/Rover out in full force (2/2) in upcoming contests!

      73

      andyz – K1RA

  • Paul AA4ZZ

    Andy and Terry, It was great to work you on Sunday morning. You had good signals down our way. I can see from the topo map why we did not hear you from FM08.

    73 Paul AA4ZZ

    • Paul,
      Yes, overall, tropo conditions were poor over the contest weekend. At least we were able to work you guys Sunday morning from FN00 when we had a bit of enhancement. Thanks for the QSOs and hope to catch you more in the next contest!

      73

      andyz – K1RA

  • John N2NC

    Really enjoyed your write-up Andy. Glad to get a “sweep” with you on the lower 4 from N2NT. Yes, I do remember watching you going in circles on the way to FN00rg on APRS :’)

  • John Young

    Andy,
    What a fantastic recap. Love the statistics and graphics. I was particularly interested in your microwave results as microwave (so I thought) requires line of sight to make a successful QSO. Good LOS is something I need in the FM only category, though I can get diffraction over sharp ridge lines which I did not think this was possible with microwaves.

    Last month I started looking at alternate sites to Flagpole for September to see if I could get a bit closer to the DC area. Two of the sites you used (FM19AW, FN10dB) and the one you didnt (FM18AX) are three I had been studying. I had written off FM19AW and FN10DB because Catoctin Mountain Park sits between them and Rockville/DC. When I saw you had microwave contacts into the area north of DC I was amazed, even more so after I plotted the elevation profiles and saw that you did not have LOS. Now I guess I will need to drive up there and spend a day testing at each site.

    I had the good fortune to be working the 6M & 1.25M bands with W4IY (learned A LOT) and made a couple of QSO’s with K8GP/R while “on duty”. It was windy at Flagpole. I was amazed we were was able to get the 1296 QSO completed when you were at FN00rg. I know there were earlier attempts but the wind was so strong the 1296 antenna was swinging pretty wildly.

    Thank you for taking the time to put this together. Its a real gold mine of useful information. Also I wanted to say thank you again for the time you spent talking with me at the VHF/UHF conference and all the encouragement.

    73
    John
    KM4KMU

    • Hi John
      Thanks for the feedback on the article and glad you enjoyed it. I get particular satisfaction when newcomers like yourself latch on and are able to glean some useful information to move themselves forward in this facet of the hobby. Note radio LOS is usually 1/3 more than visual LOS, so that can sometimes explain some of the more long distance microwave QSOs we’ve made. There is always a chance for tropo too, as mentioned in the article, given appropriate weather conditions.

      Regarding V/UHF FM contacts, I’ve got a fellow ham in Warrenton who gets up on Viewtree Mtn here in FM18cr and regularly reports working up into NJ and NY when there are morning or evening temperature inversions. It’s best to watch the http://aprs.mountainlake.k12.mn.us/ 2m APRS real-time maps to watch for any indication of enhancement.

      Glad you were able to get out and operate with W4IY. They are a great group of guys and a wealth of knowledge when it comes to portable multi-op operations. Hopefully you can team up with them again in the future if you aren’t able to get out and rove.

      73

      andyz – K1RA

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