We have been working on project to scale our open house activities to provide an opportunity to learn about Amatuer Radio and to showcase some of the modern, “hi-tech” aspects of the Amatuer Radio Service. This project was debuted at the NETT event at NEAR-Fest. We used our Portable Satellite Station, Remote Operating Gateway, and our Mobile HF Stations as part of this activity. There might be some ideas here that you can use to create an exciting operating activity at you local club or Ham Fest.
Is 20 meters open to the location of the latest DXPedition on the bands? When is 6 meters open for Sporadic E? Looking for a weak signal 2 meter contact with a specific grid square? There are websites you can visit that give you a prediction of whether the band you are on is open to a given destination.
The simplest HF propagation prediction is the widget that is seen on many Amateur Radio Websites – QRZ.com, DXSummit.fi, and more. This gives you a rough idea of what bands are open day and night. Data is based on the Sunspot Number, A and K indices and other indices. But this doesn’t take into account many factors like your location, the DX location, the characteristics of your station and the DX station. Just because 15m says Poor doesn’t mean you won’t hear anything on the band.
VOACAP – HF Propagation Prediction
VOACAP, is the Voice of America Coverage Analysis Program, and provides detailed information about the HF propagation. You can choose transmitter and receiver locations from many cities around the world. It also provides choices of Antennas, Power, Mode, and more for each end of the contact. You can look at several different views of propagation. If you spend some time delving into the details of propagation visit this site.
For a faster view of whether you will be able to contact a specific DX Station that is currently on the air, the DXSummit.fi spotting website has incorporated propagation predictions on their website. If you find a DX station spotted there that you contact, just right click on the DX callsign and select VOACAP from the drop-down. You just need to choose whether you are a Basic (100 watts and a Wire) or a Super station (Amplifier and Directional Antenna). You can also look at views of Short Path or Long Path. It will give you a good view of when you need to be on which band to contact the DX station.
6 Meters – The Magic Band
The best website that I have found for 6 meters is DXMaps.com . It provides a map view of the world or you can select a continent. Based on spotting network data, it shows 6 meter contacts and color codes them by Sporadic-E, Multihop ES, Meteor Scatter, etc… even Aurora. You can also get a view of 10 meters, 2 meters or 70 cm. If you sign up for a free account, you can subscribe to real time notifications when there is an opening near you.
2 Meter Propagation
Looking for a tropo opening for a weak signal 2 meter contact? Visit the website http://aprs.mountainlake.k12.mn.us/ to see a VHF Propagation map. This shows tropo openings as color coded clouds – with brighter colors for the longer openings. This is based on APRS data.
These are the websites that I like to visit to understand the propagation forecast for the day. If your favorite site is not on the list, add a comment so that we and the rest of our readers can check it out.
We flew our High-Altitude Balloon for the second time this past weekend. Our second High-Altitude Balloon Flight (HAB-2) was part of a STEM learning project that we did with STEM club students at Bishop-Guertin High School in Nashua, NH. The students did all of the flight prep and launched HAB-2 at approximately 11 am ET from a school in Winchester, NH. Parents, teachers and local students joined us for the launch as did several members of our HAB team.
Our students prepared, launched, and tracked HAB-2 this past weekend. Their HAB made it to almost 118,000 ft! You can read more about the launch and the flight on the Nashua Area Radio Society’s website via the link above.
The Nashua Area Radio Society is planning to launch another High-Altitude Balloon (HAB) this coming Saturday, October 28th at 15:00z (11 am Eastern Time) from Winchester, NH USA. Our Balloon will carry a 2m APRS transmitter operating on 144.390 MHz and will be using the call sign N1FD-11. You can also track our HAB via the Internet using aprsi.fi. We expect our HAB’s flight to last about 2 1/2 hours and reach an altitude of over 105,000 ft. The balloon will also be carrying two video cameras to capture near-space video during the flight.
Our HAB launch is part of a STEM learning project with local High School students here in New Hampshire. You can read more about our project and see a video from our previous HAB launch and flight on our website here. We hope that you’ll track our HAB!
As explained in a previous article, we have been working on enhancing our FlexRadio 6700 based Remote Operating Setup to include additional remote control client options, better remote networking via the Internet, and better integration with our microHAM system.
This project involved the addition of the following capabilities to our base Remote Operating Setup:
- An upgrade to FlexRadio SmartSDR V2 to add improved networking of our FlexRadio 6700 radio over the Internet
- The addition of a FlexRadio Maestro Console to make it easier to operate our station remotely and to enable sending CW via paddles.
- A new, simpler VPN solution to allow remote control of the microHAM Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controller and Elecraft KPA500 Amplifier which is part of our Remote Operating Gateway
- Updated Laptop PC VPN and Remote Control Software to allow operation of our DXLab Logging Suite software with the Maestro in SSB Phone and CW modes
- The installation of the latest version of WSJT-X software to add current JT9, JT65, FT8, MSK144, and WSPR digital modes to our Remote Operating setup
These steps are now complete and we have some good results to share.
The first part of the upgrade was to update to SmartSDR V2. This upgrade enables much improved SmartSDR operation over the Internet. Our previous approach, which used a tunneled VPN connection combined with the previous versions of SmartSDR did not always perform well when used with low-bandwidth or high latency Internet connections. SmartSDR does much better in this area.
Both the SmartSDR CAT and the SmartSDR DAX application have been updated to allow software on a PC being used to operate the FlexRadio SDRs over the Internet to gain access to CAT and sound interfaces associated with the radio.
We also added a Maestro Console to enhance the usability of the SDR radio portion of our Remote Operating Gateway. The Maestro is very easy to use and extends the available controls and display space which was limited when using just a laptop PC. The Maestro supports direct microphone connections for phone operation and also works with connected CW paddles for operation in CW mode. I have been using a single level paddle along with our Maestro as speeds of 22 WPM with full QSK. Sending CW at these speeds with the Maestro works well.
The Maestro has built-in WiFi and Ethernet connections and full support for SmartSDR V2’s connections over the Internet. The Maestro can operate from AC power or from an internal battery pack. I have a couple of spare rechargeable batteries for our Maestro to support longer operating sessions on battery.
We have been using a combination of TeamViewer Remote Control software and a router-based VPN solution to enable control of our antenna controllers and station power/amplifiers. This arrangement works well but most of our readers probably do not have a router which can support VPN connections or the networking knowledge to set up a secure VPN system.
A much simpler VPN solution can be realized by utilizing TeamViewer’s built-in VPN capability. You simply install TeamViewer on a PC in you shack which can access you station accessories and on your remote operating laptop or PC. You then enable TeamViewer’s VPN option and the configuration is complete.
We now use TeamViewer to set up both a VPN connection and a remote desktop control connection to a computer in our shack which can control amplifiers, power, and other station accessories associated with our Remote Operating Gateway We use TeamViewer in this way to control our microHAM Station Master Deluxe antenna controllers, RigRunner remote power controller, a microBit Webswitch device and an Elecraft KPA500 amplifier which are all part of our station’s Remote Operating Gateway.
With the addition of the SmartSDR and the updated TeamViewer/VPN setup, we can operate our station remotely over the Internet. We have tested our setup using a Wireless Hotspot modem and Verizon’s LTE service. The combination of our PC running the DXLab Logging Suite and the Maestro work great in this configuration.
We have found the need to initialize the networking configuration in a specific order to get everything running correctly. The steps that we use are as follows:
- Connect the laptop PC to the Internet
- Bring up the TeamViewer VPN connection
- Run SmartSDR on the laptop PC and login to SmartSDR Remote
- Bring up the DXLab’s Suite including Commander (currently, DXLab’s Commander has some issues connecting when the FlexRadio protocol is used. We have found that the KENWOOD protocol works fine.)
- Bring up the remote control application for the Elecraft amplifier and access our RigRunner power controller and microBit Webswitch units to turn on accessories as needed
- Initiate a second TeamViewer Remote Control connection and use it to run the microHAM remote antenna controller in a single window
- Shutdown SmartSDR on the laptop PC and bring up the connection to the radio via the Maestro.
There is obviously still some room for simplification in this initialization procedure. I expect that some simplification will come as all of the software involved becomes more mature and is further adapted for remote operation.
Once initialized properly, its simple to use the PC and Maestro combination to work SSB Phone or CW contacts. The DXLab Logging Suite will follow the radio, track modes, handle split operation, and allow control of our antenna rotators via DXView. We can click on spots in DXLab’s SpotCollector to automatically set the FlexRadio SDR’s mode, frequency, and split configuration. The Maestro and DXLab will stay in sync during tuning, mode changes, and other radio operations.
The final part of this project was to add the latest Version of the WSJT-X software to our Remote Operating client laptop PC to enable FT8 operation on the HF bands and MSK144 for Meteor Scatter work on 6m.
We do not use the Maestro for digital operation. We leave SmartSDR running on our remote laptop PC instead. We also use the JTAlert application to create an automated bridge between WXJT-X and the DXLab Logging Suite.
The combination of SmartSDR V2 and WSJT-X work great remotely. We have used this combination to make quite a few FT8 contacts on the HF bands as well as several Meteor Scatter contacts on 6m using MSK144 mode.
These enhancements to our Remote Operating Gateway have helped both Anita and me to operate more. I have our Maestro either in my home office or on a table in our kitchen where we can listen to the bands and work DX when the opportunities come up. Remote Operating, even its just from another room at your QTH, is great fun!
We should be able to begin the next step in our station upgrade plans – the addition of an Elecraft KPA1500 shared amplifier, in the near future. The new amplifier will enable our Remote Operating Gateway to operate at legal limit 1500w out on the HF bands and 6m.
Anita (AB1QB) and I have been having a lot of fun with our Mobile HF station since we completed it several months back. We’ve been working quite a bit of DX and we make some contacts whenever we are out doing errands or taking other trips. We are planning to attend the Hamvention in Dayton, OH again this year and Anita suggested that we use the trip to activate some most wanted United States Counties along the way.
U.S. County Hunters are Amateur Radio operators seeking to work and confirm all 3,077 U.S. Counties. CQ Magazine has an awards program for U.S. County Hunters. Quite a few Amateur Radio operators work all U.S. Counties – some do this using multiple modes and several have done it multiple times. To find out more about the US-CA Award, see the excellent County Hunter Dot Com site.
The Mobile Amateur Radio Awards Club (MARAC) is a support group for county hunting and mobile activities with members all over the world. This is a great organization to join if you are interested in County Hunting. MARAC provides additional awards center around County Hunting and mobile operating.
Anita did the planning for our County Tour to Dayton, OH and back. She began by looking at looking at the County Hunter’s Web most wanted page to determine which counties lie along potential routes between are home and Dayton, OH were most needed by County Hunters. Based upon this information, she created the route shown at the beginning of this post. As you can see, we are taking different routes going to Dayton, OH and back to allow us to activate as many U.S. Counties as we can. We are also taking a few side trips off our route to activate a few of the most needed Counties near our route.
|SundayMay 10||MA||Middlesex, Worcester|
|CT||Windham, Tolland, Hardford, Litchfield, New Haven, Fairfield|
|NJ||Bergen, Passaic, Morris, Somerset, Hunterdon, Warren|
|PA||Northampton, Lehigh, Berks, Lebanon, Dauphin|
|MondayMay 11||PA||Northumberland, Montour, Union, Snyder|
|TuesdayMay 12||PA||Cumberland, Fulton, Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Indiana, Westmoreland, Fayette, Greene|
|WV||Marshall, Wetzel, Tyler|
|WednesdayMay 13||OH||Athens, Meiga, Gallia, Lawrence, Scioto, Pike, Ross, Greene, Montgomery|
|SundayMay 17||OH||Clark, Madison, Union, Delaware, Morrow, Richland, Ashland, Wayne, Medina, Summit, Cuyahoga, Lake, Ashtabula|
|NY||Chautauqua, Erie, Niagara, Orleans, Monroe, Livingston, Ontario, Wayne, Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaiga|
|MondayMay 18||NY||Oswego, Madison, Oneida, Herkimer, Montgomery, Fulton, Schenectady, Albany, Columbia|
|MA||Berkshire, Springfield, Hampshire, Worcester, Middlesex|
Planned U.S. County Activation Schedule
The table above shows the 86 U.S. Counties that we plan to activate on our trip along with a rough idea of our schedule.
We found a useful iPhone App (County Finder) that will tell us what County we are in at a given time. The County Finder App uses the GPS in our iPhones to provide our current location in real-time.
We will also be tracking and logging the current grid square that we are operating from. We will be using the HamClock App on our iPhones to determine our grid square of operation in real-time.
Anita and I will be taking turns operating and logging. We are planning to use a laptop computer running the DXLab Suite and we will connect it directly to the IC-7000 Radio in our truck. This combination plus the County Finder and HamClock Apps above should allow us to accurately log all of our contacts. We will also be uploading contracts that we make to eQSL, LoTW and ClubLog in real-time as we operate.
We will also be running an APRS station so that folks can see where we are located in real-time and follow our progress. We are using the OpenAPRS iPhone App for this purpose. Our APRS callsign with be AB1QB-15 and you can see our position and progress on aprs.fi at any time by clicking here.
Anita and I are members of the Nashua Area Radio Club and we will be operating using the Club’s call sign, N1FD/M, during the trip. In addition to the electronic QSL’ing methods mentioned above, we will also be able to provide paper QSL’s using the Club’s QSL card shown above. All paper QSLs that we send will note the correct County and Grid Square from which the QSL’ed contact was made. See N1FD on QRZ.com for QSL information.
|Band||County Hunters Net Frequency (SSB)|
|20m||14.336 & 14.271 MHz|
County Hunters Net Frequencies
We plan to operate on or near the County Hunters Net Frequencies listed above. We will be QRV SSB on all of these bands and we may also do a limited amount of operating on 160m SSB as well.
We hope that you will take some time to work us during our trip. If you do and you read our Blog, please let us know. If we do not have other stations calling, we’d like to take a little time to say “hello” and get to know some of our readers better. We will also be attending the County Hunter’s Forum on Friday, May 15th at this year’s Dayton Hamvention. If you are there, please introduce yourself and we’ll have an “eyeball QSO”.
– Fred (AB1OC)
2015 has been quite a year for working new DXCC’s for us so far. This month is the most productive that I have experienced with more than 20 interesting DXpeditions on. We’ve been fortunate to have the chance to work the DXpedition on Navassa Island (#2 on ClubLog’s most wanted list) which took place in February of this year. In addition those show above, there are also quite a few small operations including E51UFF on North Cook Island and VP8DOZ on South Georgia Island (#9 on ClubLog’s most wanted list) being on. Also, Eritrea, E30FB which is operating right now is #20 on ClubLog’s most wanted list. All of this makes for a great opportunity to work all-time new ones as well as to add new DXCC Band-Points.
Anita, AB1QB has worked 13 all-time new DXCC’s and I’ve worked 5 all time new DXCC’s since the beginning of 2015. Anita has broken the 250 DXCC barrier and I’m just 2 away from breaking 300. There have also been quite a few new IOTA’s for us. Anita has added 11 IOTA’s this year and I’ve added 14. We also added more than 85 DXCC Band-Points each towards our DXCC Challenge Award totals. I have set a goal to work at least one new DXCC Challenge Band-Point each day in 2015 in hopes of getting to the 2,000 DXCC Band-Point level before the end of the year (I am currently at 1,785 worked).
We use a number of different sources to find out about these operations. Our favorite ones are The Weekly DX, the DX-World.net (the source of the graphic above) and DX Publishing’s QRZ DX. These are all excellent sources for finding out about upcoming DXpeditions, small DX operations and IOTA activations. Working DX contests such as CQ WW DX, the ARRL DX Contests and CQ WW WPX are also excellent ways to work new DXCC’s and new Band-Points. We have a whiteboard in our shack where we record upcoming operations that we need as well as contests that we want to participate in. This helps us keep track of what is coming up that we need.
We also use the SpotCollector component of the DXLab Suite to help us identify new DXCC’s, Band-Points, IOTA’s and WAZ Band-Zones that we need in real-time when they come on. We have also used SpotCollector to alert us when stations that we need for the Yearly CQ DX Marathon are on the air.
We have configured SpotCollector (the spotting component of DXLab) to aggregate spots from a variety of sources. Our logs are kept in DXLab and we program the SpotCollector to filter all of the incoming cluster spots and CW/RTTY Skimmer data to tell us about high-priority stations that we want to work when they are on the air. The key to this approach is careful filtering of incoming cluster and skimmer spots to only display and forward the most important opportunities.
The first step in the filtering is to configure DXLab’s DXKeeper component for the types of contacts that we are interested in. This is done in the Award configuration section of DXKeeper.
We then use the powerful SQL script capability of SpotCollector to only tell us about stations that we are willing to “head for the shack to work”. SpotCollector is configured to send the appropriate spots as text messages via email to our mobile phones so that we know immediately when something that we need comes on. The filter above selects all-time new DXCCs, new DXCC Band-Points, new IOTA’s and new WAZ Band-Zones which are spotted in the Eastern or Central United States. The filter also picks up new Band-States for the ARRL Worked All States Award.
We hope our readers who are interested in working DX and IOTA’s will be able to find some time to work so of the operations that are on the air right now. This time period is certainly one that has a lot of potential to put “new ones” in the log. If you use the DXLab Suite, you might try some to use some of the more advanced features of SpotCollector to help you to better find stations that you want to work when they are on.
– Fred (AB1OC)
It is once again time for our annual 2014 Year in Review post. First, I’d like to thank our readers for their continued interest in our Blog. Our blog was viewed about 100,00 times in 2014 from 165 countries around the world. You, our readers have made 2014 our busiest year yet and this provides Anita (AB1QB) and me with great encouragement to continue to provide content for our readers.
2014 was a very busy year in Amateur Radio for us. Our activities included a continued focus on station building, contesting, WRTC 2014, special events, providing presentations to help other in the hobby learn about new things, attending several HAM Events, progress on operating awards, and most importantly – time spent on the air operating.
We upgraded our fixed station to include a microHAM Station Automation system this year. This was a major project that added some nice SO2R capabilities to our Multi-one station as well as automated the sharing of our antennas between our two SO2R Operating positions. More of this project can be found here:
- Station Automation Part 1 – microHAM SO2R And System Design
- Station Automation Part 2 – Second Operating Position And Antenna Switching
- Station Automation Part 3 – Antenna Cut-over And Final Integration
We also added LEO Satellite capabilities to our station with the addition of some new antennas and electronics on our tower. This allowed us to make our first contacts through LEO birds with linear transponders. Our articles on this project include:
- LEO Satellite System Part 1 – System Design And Electronics
- LEO Satellite System Part 2 – Antenna Assembly And Ground Test
- LEO Satellite System Part 3 – Final Installation And First Contacts
Our final major station building project was the construction of a state of the art mobile HF station in our Ford F-150 pickup truck. We did this project in phases starting with a simple setup using a 100W radio and HAM Stick antennas through the installation of a Screwdriver Antenna System for the 160m – 10m HF bands and concluding with the installation of an amplifier to enable high power mobile HF operation. You can view the articles on this project here:
- Mobile HF Installation Part 1 – Icom IC-7000 running barefoot with a simple MFJ HAMStick Antenna
- Mobile HF Installation Part 2 – Proper Bonding And Choking
- Mobile HF Installation Part 3 – Adding A Scorpion Screwdriver Antenna and Controller
- Mobile HF Installation Part 4 – 500W Amplifier, 160m And Accessories)
- Working DX Using Mobile HF
- Working DX Mobile On The 80m Band
Anita (AB1QB) and I continued to be active in several contests this year. We both continued to develop our skills as contesters and our scores and place in the rankings reflected this. You can read more about our contesting activities and what we learned in the following articles:
- 2014 ARRL DX Phone Contest
- 2014 CQ WPX SSB Phone Contest Experience
- Contest Results for AB1QB and AB1OC (ARRL Rookie Roundup, BARTG RTTY, North American QSO Party, and ARRL June VHF Contest)
- AB1OC’s 2014 CQ WPX Contest Results – Another Station Goal Met
- AB1QB Enters The 2014 JARTS RTTY Contest – Our First Use Of N1MM+
We were also fortunate to host one of the WRTC 2014 competition sites. Along with our friend Scott Anderson, NE1RD, Anita and I acted as site managers for the only WRTC 2014 Competition Site in New Hampshire. You can read more about our WRTC 2014 experiences here.
Special event operations were a particularly fun part of our on air activities in 2014. We operated as K2K, New Hampshire in the 13 Colonies Special Event, W1AW/1 as part of the ARRL Centennial QSO Party, and as N1FD Celebrating the 35th Anniversary of the Nashua Area Radio Club. It’s great fun to operate in these events and the experience running the pileups that result continued to help Anita and me to develop our operating and contesting skills.
We make it a priority to develop a significant amount of our Amateur Radio time to helping others in the hobby learn new things. In addition to writing this Blog, Anita and I try to create and deliver several presentations each year on a variety of topics of interest to the Amateur Radio Community. Our presentation this year included an update of our presentation on Amateur Radio Station Design and Construction and an Introductory Presentation on the DXLab Software Suite. We are always interested in working with Amateur Radio Clubs to deliver the presentation either in person where practice or over the web.
We had the fortune to meet some of the legends in Amateur Radio this past year. Anita and I had the opportunity to get meet Bob Heil, K9EID and to appear on his Ham Nation podcast. Bob is an amazing gentlemen and we feel truly fortunate to have the opportunity to get to know him. We also had the opportunity to meet Fred Lloyd, AA7BQ, the President and Founder of QRZ.com. Fred visited our station and did an article about our station on QRZ.com. Anita and I both learned a great deal about HAM Radio and how it came to be what it is today as a result of the time these fine folks spent with us.
Amateur Radio Conventions and HAM Fests were a major part of our Amateur Radio fun again this year. We were fortunate to attend and speak at the ARRL Centennial Convention in Hartford, CT USA this year – truly a once in a lifetime Amateur Radio experience. We also attended the Dayton Hamvention in 2014 where we had a chance to see all of the latest and greatest in Amateur Radio Equipment.
We were quite active on the air making almost 26,000 contacts between the two of us. As you can see from the graphic above, about 45% of our contacts were as part of Special Event Operations. We also made a little over 500 contacts from our mobile station, working over 100 DXCC entities in 2014 from the mobile.
We were active on all of the HF bands this year. We made our first contacts on the 60m band and I was able to focus on the 6m band and earn a VUCC Operating Award (100 grid squares worked and confirmed) on that band. Anita and I also made our first DX contacts to Europe on 6m in 2014. Anita took quite an interest in the 160m band and she is working on a Worked All States Operating Award on this band. Our operating time using weak signal and satellite modes on the 2m and 70cm bands was limited to a few contacts this year. I did make my first contacts through LEO Satellites in 2014.
We mostly operated in the SSB phone mode in 2014. Anita and I both continue to work on our CW skills and we managed a little over 800 QSOs using CW in 2014. Anita was very active in the RTTY mode as part of her RTTY contesting efforts.
All of this operating resulted in quite a bit of QSL activity. We sent a total of almost 4,200 QSL cards in 2014!
We again made a video showing all of our contacts around the world in 2014. As you can see from the video, we were fortunate to work quite a bit of DX in 2014.
All of this operating helped Anita and me to make some progress on operating awards this year. In addition to earning a 6M VUCC, I also completed a Worked All States Award on all 9 HF bands 160m-10m. I was also able to complete several nice regional operating awards (Worked All Europe TOP Plaque, Worked All VK Call Areas and Worked All Africa) as well upgrading my DXCC Challenge Award to the 1,500 Band Country level. Anita completed her JARL JCC Award (she worked 100+ Cities in Japan) as well as her Worked All States Triple Play Award (all states on SSB, CW and Digital via LoTW).
Anita and I had a lot of fun with Amateur Radio in 2014. We are looking forward to another great year of HAM Radio fun in 2015. We hope to share some of what we learn and our experiences with our readers here on our Blog.
– Fred (AB1OC)
I came across a great video this morning – an excellent introduction to DX’ing. For me, this video really communicates well what DX’ing is all about. Chasing DX is a part of our hobby that provides the chance to meet many new friends around the world, learn about culture and geography and make some amazing contacts. Take some time to watch the video – I think our readers will enjoy it!
– Fred (AB1OC)