I did quite a bit of operating at QRP power levels (5 Watts) in 2013. It is great fun to make contacts at low power and it is truly amazing how far one can communicate on only 5 watts of power. QRP operating is also a great way to improve one’s operating skills. I recently discovered an award run by the QRP Amateur Radio Club International called the 1,000 Mile Per Watt Award. I completed a QRP DXCC Award in 2013 so I have quite a few DX QSO’s at QRP power levels. After looking at my log, I discovered that my longest QRP CW contact was with Alan Taylor, VK7BO in Tasmania, Australia – some 10,470 miles from our station. I used this contact to apply for the 1,000 Mile Per Watt Award you see above. This award will make a nice addition to the wall in our shack.
Our club, PART of Westford, MA USA, held our 2013 Field Day event at the Concord Rod & Gun Club again this year. We operated three HF Stations (SSB Phone, CW, and Digital) as well as a VHF and a Satellite Station this year. All of our operations were QRP 5 watts and used solar/battery power. The photo above shows Bob (W1IS) and Bill (AA1O) operating the CW station. Our day began with the setup of our antennas and the four stations.
We also brought our 15m and 10m 3 element budi-beam mono band yagis which we designed for portable operations. These antennas plus a G5RV and a 40m wire beam made up our HF antenna farm for Field Day. All of these antennas were brought to a common interconnect panel where they could be connected to any of the three HF stations. We setup all of these antennas at home the week before to confirm that they worked as expected and to ensure that they could be erected safely and quickly at our Field Day site.
Another part of our team spent time to put up a Rohn 25G tower for our VHF Station. Allison, (KB1GMX) led this effort and supplied yagis for 6m and 2m. Operating on these bands QRP 5 watts is quite challenging and Allison was able to make a fair number of contacts by utilizing her considerable VHF operating experience.
Digital Station Battery Power
With the antennas up, we turned our attention to the setup of the digital station and its associated battery and solar power. The digital station is the most challenging in terms of off-grid power because we need to power both the Transceiver and a Personal Computer as the latter is integral to generating and decoding digital mode signals over the air. The power system for the digital station consisted of two 65 Ah dry cell deep cycle batteries and a solar charging system. The batteries were sized to allow operation of the digital station for the full field day period of 24 hours in the event that we had limited sunshine due to clouds or rain.
The battery system used SunSaver MPPT charging system setup in a 30 Vdc configuration along with two PowerFilm 90W folding portable solar panels wired in series. We had good sunlight during the daytime and the solar panels were able to keep our batteries fully charged. The CW and SSB phone station used a few sets of smaller batteries and a solar panel to recharge them.
SSB Phone Station Operations
All three of our HF stations used Elecraft KX3 Transceivers. The KX3s turned out to be an excellent choice for our Field Day operations as they have low power consumption, a good receiver and provide excellent usability and external interfacing capabilities for automated logging, CW and digital operation. The photo above shows Scott (NE1RD) and Lyman (W1LKS) operating the SSB phone station. We used PCs on all three station to automate logging. We used Andy’s (KB1OIQ) xlog logger for the Phone and CW stations and the N1MM logger for the Digital Station.
Digital Station Equipment
Anita and I were the coordinators for the Digital Station and we decided to update the configuration of the digital station this year. In addition to the Elecraft KX3, we used a Windows 8 PC running N1MM/MMTTY/2Tone/FLdigi to handle the logging and digital mode processing.
Digital Station Software – RTTY Mode
N1MM provided a more contest-oriented logging setup as well as the ability to run multiple digital decoders to give us the best possible chance of receiving digital transmissions without error. For RTTY signals, we used a combination of the MMTTY and 2Tone encoder/decoders. For PSK signals, we used FLdigi. After some initial tuning, we got good results with this combination of software.
Bob (KB1SWZ) put together a very competent Satellite station to complete our Field Day setup. Working LEO birds QRP 5 watts on Field Day provided to be quite a challenge as its hard to compete with the many higher power stations contending for the birds on Field Day.
With all of the stations setup and ready to go, we provided a series of “Toolbox Talks” to help members of our club understand our field day stations and how to use them. Shown above is Scott (NE1RD) explain how to use the Elecraft KX3 which was central to all three of our HF stations.
Digital Station Operations
One of the best parts of Field Day is that it provides the opportunity to spend time with newer operators and young people to introduce them to many aspects of Amateur Radio and to provide them with opportunities to get on the air and try new things. Shown above is Fred (AB1OC) explaining the operation of the Digital Station.
Field Day Feast
We are fortunate to have our club sponsor a nice meal as part of our Field Day event. Charlie (W1ADL) and Rick (W1RAG) did a great job with food for our event this year. In addition to a great meal, this provides all of the club members participating in our Field Day event a chance to socialize and have fun.
We operated for the full 24 hour period again this year and managed to make a good number of contacts with our QRP setups. The totals for our effort were 722 QSOs (up from 587 in 2012) with a final score (including bonus points) of 7,355. A special thanks to everyone who contributed to or was part of making our 2013 Field Day event a success. We also very much appreciate Joe’s (KB1SSA) efforts to help us secure the excellent facilities at the Concord Rod and Gun Club for our Field Day event.
I have been working on a number of operating awards as a means to confirm the performance of our recently completed station and as goals to expand and improve my operating skills. I have gotten to a point where my completed and confirmed QSOs have allowed me to earn several awards. The first award to mention is a recently completed ARRL DXCC using QRP (5 watt) power levels. This award required me to work and confirm 100 DXCC entities (basically 100 countries) using no more than 5 watts for transmitter output power. Completing this award is a good confirmation of our station’s antenna performance. In many cases, the QSO’s needed for this award received 59 or better signal reports confirming the performance of our antenna system.
Worked All States Award – QRP
I very much enjoy working stations using QRP (5 watt) power levels. To this end, I also have completed an ARRL Worked All States Award using SSB Phone and QRP power levels (5 watts). This award was a lot of fun to get and its pretty cool when you work another station in the USA and you get a 59+20 db or 59+10 db signal report and you let the other operator know that you are using QRP 5 watts!
ARRL DXCC – CW Mode
Finally, I have been working diligently on my CW skills and I am very proud to have completed an ARRL DXCC Award (basically 100 countries) using the CW mode. I am really beginning to enjoy CW and it certainly opens the door to a great many DX stations that are difficult to find using any other mode.
I am working on some other awards that are more difficult. A few of these could be considered “lifetime achievement” awards. These include:
A 5 Band DXCC Award (100 confirmed DXCC entities on the 5 major bands 80m – 10m; I am also working on endorsements for the 5 WARC bands)
The past few weeks have been good ones in terms of progress on some of my operating goals. An important one since the very beginning of my involvement in Amateur Radio has been to learn morse code and to operate CW. Many folks have made good suggestions on how to go about learning the code and I used a combination of these suggestions to get to the point where I am now. The first tool that I used was Code Quick to learn the alphabet and get some initial practice. This course is a good one because it uses the Farnsworth Method to teach the sounds of the letters and discourages thinking in terms of “dots” and “dashes” which severely limits one’s ability to copy code at speed. The second tool that I used was Gordon West’s Morse Code CDs to get some practice copying sentences and words. The final tool that I used was W1AW’s Practice Code Files to get some additional training on copying sentences and words.
The Thanksgiving Holiday here in the U.S. afforded me some time to really practice hard for several straight days and I finally got to the point where I was able to make a few QSO’s on the air. My first was CW QSO was with K4JYS, Bill in North Carolina on 160m. Bill must be one very patient Op as a combination of nerves and very limited CW skills made my first QSO pretty difficult. I did a few more QSOs over the next few days after some more practice, I improved my skills a bit more (I also completed about 30 QSOs with my dummy load to practice my sending skills. I am awaiting QSL cards from these QSOs to complete my WADL – Worded All Dummy Loads – Hi Hi).
Anita (AB1QB), my XYL after observing all of this, suggested that I enter the CQ WW CW Contest. At first, I thought that this was not practical given my limited CW skills. Later that evening, I was reading through the manual for my Elecraft KX3 Transceiver and noticed that it had a built-in CW decoder. I headed to the shack to try this out and found the KX3’s CW decoder to be excellent. After a little thought, I decided to enter the contest with the assistance of the KX3’s decoder to get some more practice copying CW on the air. After some thought, I settled on entering the contest in the single band 10m QRP category unassisted. I chose this category for several reasons. First, 10m only operation was positive in two respects – if the band was open it would make my 5 watts QRP go much further than 5 watts on the lower frequency bands and second 10m would be out at night which would give me a chance to take a break from my crash course in CW and get some sleep. I choose the unassisted category because I wanted to learn to tune through the band looking for CW signals and I choose QRP in the hopes that the contest would help me towards my goal of working a DXCC Award QRP.
CQ Zones (Courtesy CQWW website)
The CW WW CW Contest score is a combination of points from QSOs worked, Countries worked, and CQ Zones worked. My final count for the contest (all on 10m using 5 watts) was 125 QSOs, 49 Countries and 20 CQ Zones worked. This brought my total DXCC QRP Count to 83 Countries worked – within striking distance of the award. I worked 24 new Countries’ QRP that I did not have before the contest, with several being all-time new ones!
The best part of working the contest was the practice I got listening to higher-speed CW. Most contest operators work at about 25 words per minute or higher speeds and it was a real challenge to copy code this fast in the beginning so I had to rely on the KX3’s decoder. After a while, I learned to “hear” the sound of commonly used words in the QSOs like “CQ”, “5NN”, “TU”, and my call sign. I think the practice from the contest really helped my ability to copy CW at more realistic speeds. While it probably seems like diving into the deep end of the pool, I can recommend working a CW contest with the aid of a decoder as a good tool to help learn CW. There is nothing like running a lot of QSOs to help improve operating skills and I doubt that I would have 150+ CW QSOs under my belt at this point without participating in the contest.
I am continuing to practice CW and complete QSOs on the air. While I am a long way from where I want to be as a CW Op, I am very happy to have gotten to this point. Interested in some history of Morse Code? Check out this article that Nicole, a student in Wyoming has created.
One of my goals has been to complete a Worked All States Award (WAS) QRP. We added an Elecraft KX3 Transceiver to our station recently to facilitate achieving this goal and to equip ourselves with a lightweight portable “travel” radio. When the 2012 ARRL Phone Sweepstakes came around a week or so back, I decided to use the combination of the KX3 and our new antenna system to try to achieve a WAS award QRP and to have a little contesting fun in the process.
I did a bit of on-air testing before the contest and got some pretty interesting results. As an example, I worked a QSO with KC0W, Tom in Minnesota, USA (about 1,550 miles from my QTH) using 5 watts peak power and got a signal report of 59 + 10 dB. After letting Tom know I was QRP he asked me to drop my power to 1 watt. I did so and received a signal report of 59. At this point, Tom was pretty amazed and asked me to drop my power again so I went as low as the KX3 would go which was 100 mW. Tom then gave me a 57 signal report and we proceeded to have a nice rag chew. These results gave me some encouragement to work the contest QRP.
2012 ARRL Phone Sweepstakes Results for AB1OC
I was not able to work the entire contest period due to other commitments. As you can see from my multiplier tracking sheet above, we came pretty close to our goal of completing a QRP WAS during the contest – 42 of the 50 states worked and most of the contest multipliers snagged. I made 130+ QSOs during the limited time that I had to operate. I have since worked a few additional states QRP and now only need 4 to complete a WAS QRP – Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Utah. The first two are the difficult ones that remain and I should be able to get there with a little more work on the air.
If any of our readers living in one of the states that remain to complete a WAS QRP and could help me complete a QSO, please drop me an email at email@example.com
One of the things that I have been interested in doing for a while is working a DXCC Award QRP (using low power). I took some time to set up our guest operating position in the shack this weekend and decided to hook up our new Elecraft KX3 QRP radio there to test some QRP operation with our new antennas. The guest position in our shack is designed to provide easy hookup for a transceiver brought by a friend to our shack. It has full access to all of our antennas and the same band filtering that our other operating positions use allowing a guest operator to use the shack at the same time that we are operating.
The guest position has access to our SteppIR DB36 4 over 4 array on our tower and I decided to try these antennas operating as an array on 40m QRP. The results were better than expected. I was able to work a good bit of DX including DK1NO (Germany), 8R1Z (Guyana), D4C (Cape Verde), YY2CAR (Venezuela), and HE5LC (Switzerland) as well as a number of stations in the United States. Most of the DX stations gave me 59 or 59+ signal reports and a few of the US stations in the southeast an midwest gave me signal reports of 59 + 10 dB! This was more that I expected operating SSB QRP. My total worked country count operating QRP now stands at 35 with the longest QSO being about 5,250 mi. I think I should be able to achieve a DXCC QRP with a reasonable amount of effort, some good band conditions and the new antennas.
The Elecraft KX3 is a great QRP rig. The receiver is excellent with good sensitivity, decent selectivity and good noise reduction and filtering capabilities. It also appears to provide a good deal of operating time when run on batteries. The rig puts out up to 10w peak in SSB mode on batteries and will run up to 12w if externally powered. The KX3 also provides very good quality audio in SSB mode. This will be my go to rig for QRP operation going forward.