Nashua Area Radio Society’s 2017 Field Day Station Test

ARRL Field Day is the Nashua Area Radio Society’s largest and most popular activity each year. You can see more about our recent Field Day activities on our Field Day page and on our Blog.

Dave Merchant K1DLM, our Field Day chairman, is bringing some 21st Century radio and computer technology to our Field Day setup this year. There are several aspects to this new component of our Field Day plans including –

  • Two Flex-6700 Software Define Radios running over a network  for our new Digital and enhanced GOTA Stations
  • An on-site WiFi Network to enable using the N1MM+ Logger in network mode for sharing of log information, station activity, real-time scores, and messages
  • A central Score Board and Field Day Information Computer in our public information tent
2017 Field Day Site - Upper Field Layout

2017 Field Day Site – Upper Field Layout

We will again be holding our 2017 Field Day operation at the Hollis-Brookline High School in Hollis, NH. We are planning on using the upper baseball field area as our main operating location. We have decided to add a third tower this year and locate it on a soccer practice field which is situated several hundred feet away from our main operating area. All of our antennas and equipment will lie within the required 1000′ circle but the third tower would situate those operating at that location away from the rest of our group. Dave’s solution to this problem was to set up a network and operate two Software Defined Radios (SDRs) at the lower site remotely from our location on the upper field.

Dave has enlisted Piece Fortin, K1FOP to be our IT Chairman for Field Day this year. Pierce has been instrumental, along with Dave, in the planning and testing of all of this new technology. Pierce and Dave have a great deal of networking and IT experience and knowledge and we could not have put together what is described here without them.

Dave K1DLM, Piece, Hamilton K1HMS, Mike Ryan K1WVO, Anita AB1QB, and I have gotten together multiple times to set up and test all of this new technology. I wanted to share some more about the equipment and the associated testing (which has been staged in the kitchen at our QTH – thank you, Anita!).

We began the testing process by setting up our 20m CW station.

20m CW Station Test

20m CW Station Test

This station uses an Elecraft K3S Transceiver, a K1EL WinKeyer and the N1MM+ Logger running on a Windows 10 Laptop PC. We used this station to get our basic N1MM+ setup including our Field Day CW keying macros right.

40m SSB Station Test

40m SSB Station Test

Next came our 40m SSB station. This setup uses an Icom IC-7300 Transceiver and allowed us to set up and test N1MM+ on the fly audio macro recording and playback. All three of our SSB stations will have on the fly recording and playback capability which will allow each of our SSB operators to record and use a custom set of audio macros.

Digital Station Test

Digital Station Test

Next came our Digital Station. This station uses one of the two remote Flex-6700 SDRs.

Remote Flex-6700 SDRs and Antenna Switch

Remote Flex-6700 SDRs and Antenna Switch

Dave, K1DLM put together a really nice package for the two Flex-6700 SDRs and associated equipment which will be located on the lower field. He used a rack system to mount the two SDRs, power supplies, a three-band Tri-plexor, a set of bandpass filters for 80m, 40m, 20m, 15m, and 10m and a 403A 8×2 networked antenna switch. This setup allows either of the two SDRs to share the tri-band yagi or the 40m and 80m Inverted-V antennas on the tower on the lower field and operate on any of the 5 available HF bands. Antenna and filter switching automatically track the frequencies of the two SDRs making the setup simple to use.

Digital Station Second Display - SmartSDR & More N1MM+

Digital Station Second Display – SmartSDR & More N1MM+

The Digital Station’s remote SDR will be operated using a SmartSDR client running on the Digital Station laptop PC. This station will have a second monitor to better accommodate all of the windows associated with it.

Digital Station Main Display - N1MM+

Digital Station Main Display – N1MM+

The main display associated with the Digital Station will run decoders for all PSK and RTTY modes. The ability to decode multiple PSK signals simultaneously and multiple RTTY decodes are available. The Digital station also acts as the N1MM+ master station in our Field Day setup for all of the other stations which use N1MM+.

Satellite Station Test

Satellite Station Test

Our Satellite Station 2.0 was also added to the test setup. It uses a MacBook Air laptop running MacDoppler to control the antenna rotators and the Icom IC-9100 Transceiver which are part of our Satellite Station. A Windows 10 Surface Pro computer is included which runs N1MM+ and provides logging and other network functionality for our Satellite Station.

GOTA Station Test

GOTA Station Test

We also tested our GOTA station which uses the second Flex-6700 SDR and a FlexRadio Maestro to provide a more conventional “buttons and knobs” interface for our GOTA operators to use. This station will also have a laptop PC running N1MM+ for logging.

Scoreboard Computer

Scoreboard Computer

We also build and tested a Scoreboard PC. This computer will be located in the Public Information tent at Field Day and will be connected to a large display. It will show our real-time score, QSOs being logged as they are made and other useful information about our Field Day operations. This computer will also continuously play videos from our Video Collection and will provide access to IP video cameras which monitor the tower and equipment on the lower field.

Pierce, K1FOP and Hamilton, K1HMS Testing CW Stations

Pierce, K1FOP and Hamilton, K1HMS Testing CW Stations

Our networked N1MM+ testbed contained at least one station of each type (CW, SSB, Digital, Satellite, and GOTA) that will be part of our Field Day setup this year. The Station Masters for the additional CW and SSB stations came by to test their setups using the test bed.

Field Day Networking System

Field Day Networking System

The networking system which Dave and Pierce built is central to all of the technology described here. All of the gear is mounted in a single rack which will be located on the upper field during Field Day. The setup includes a Firewall/DHCP server, a commercial grade outdoor WiFi access point, a 4G LTE modem for Internet access, an Ethernet Switch, and a UPS power supply.

MoCA Data Link Cable

MoCA Data Link Cable

The upper and lower fields at our Field Day site are separated by several hundred feet. A thick line of trees between the two locations raised concerns about connecting the upper and lower sites using WiFi. Pierce came up with a great solution to this problem – we will be using MoCA Data Modems and RG6 Quad Shield 75 ohm Coax Cable to provide a 10 Mbps data link between the two sites. We tested the MoCA link using a much longer run of coax cable then we will need to use at Field Day and confirmed full 10 Mbps throughput.

N1MM+ Talk Window

N1MM+ Talk Window

Our networked N1MM+ setup will allow any station in our setup to send messages to everyone who is operating at Field Day. We can use this capability for important communications like “lunch is ready!” or “I need help from Pierce (our IT chairman) on the 40m SSB station”, or “The 6m band is wide open!”.

Our GOTA and Digital stations will be located together in the same tent and will provide our Field Day 2017 visitors to see and use 21st-century Amateur Radio technology to make contacts. We are expecting young people who participated in our High-Altitude Balloon project and from other local schools where we have done Amateur Radio activities to attend. In additional to being a learning opportunity for all of us in the Nashua Area Radio Society, we hope that the state of the art technology that we are using will generate interest among our visitors. If you are local to the Nashua, NH USA area, come pay us a visit during 2017 Field Day. We’d enjoy providing a tour for you and your family along with a chance to Get On The Air. Hope to see you at Field Day!

Fred, AB1OC

Dayton Hamvention 2016

Anita Preseting in Contest ForumFred, AB1OC and I just returned from the 2016 Hamvention in Dayton, OH.

Our first day in Dayton was spent at Contest University – this was our 5th year in attendance but each year we learn more from the contesting experts. This year, we attended two presentations from Frank Donovan, W3LPL on operating techniques for the declining solar cycle and on 80m and 160m antennas.   We also heard a talk from Val NV9L from Ham Nation on Log Analysis tools and another session on SO2R (Single Operator 2 Radio) Operating.

W3LPL Solar Cycle 5

Slide from W3LPL Contest University Presentation

Friday was the first day of the Hamvention and we spent most of the day visiting all of the vendor exhibits.   We visited the Icom booth, where we looked at the new Icom 7851. It has an incredible display as well as one of the best receivers on the market.

7851

Icom IC-7851 Display on a Large Screen TV

We also saw the new KX2 Transceiver at the Elecraft booth. It is even smaller than the KX3 and is perfect for SOTA and other portable operations. I would expect to hear some NPOTA activations using this radio.

KX2

Elecraft Kx2 on Right, next to a KX3

Friday evening was the Top Band dinner where we learned all about “Top Band Disease” from Larry “Tree” Tyree N6TR.   Hams with this disease are nocturnal, love the bottom of the sunspot cycle. They are constantly improving their 160m antennas – when you upgrade your receive antenna, then there are people who can’t hear you, so then you need to improve your transmit antenna – and the cycle continues…

Top Band

Top Band Dinner Presentation by N6TR

After the dinner, we were treated to a concert from the Spurious Emissions Band (N0AXKX9XK4ROW4PA), with hits like “On The Cover of the NCJ” and “Sittin on the Edge of the Band”. They were so funny! You can watch their performances on YouTube http://bit.ly/DaytonSpurs2016.

Spurious Emissions

The Spurious Emissions Band Performs at Dayton 2016

On Saturday, Fred, AB1OC and I presented our Station Building talk to around 250 people as part of the Dayton Contest Forum. It was a great honor to be selected to speak there by Doug Grant K1DG, who has been organizing the Contest Forum for many years.

Fred in Antenna Forum

Fred, AB1OC Speaks at the Contest Forum

We also continued to tour the vendor booths, visiting our fellow Nashua Area Radio Club Member Bill Barber, NE1B, at the DMR-MARC booth.

Bill Barber NE1B

Bill Barber, NE1B at the DMR-MARC Booth

After that, we stopped by Gordon West’s Ham Instructor booth where we spoke to him about the success of our Club’s License classes.  Here is a picture of Gordon, WB6NOA and Fred sharing the secrets of how the Hilbert Transform and the Flux Capacitor make Single Sideband and Time Travel Possible.

AB1OC with Gordo

Gordon West, WB6NOA with Fred, AB1OC

We also visited the AMSAT booth, where we met Burns Fisher,  W2BFJ,   who currently lives in Brookline, NH and is moving to Hollis.    They had a cube sat on display – you can see how small it is below.  It’s amazing that AMSAT builds and arranges to launch them into orbit so that we can make QSOs through them!

Cube Sat

Anita, AB1QB Holds a Cube Sat

Fred could not resist a visit to Begali Keys where we purchased a neat travel key. It should be great for operating mobile and for Field Day.

Begali Travel Key

Begali Travel Key

On Sunday, we headed back to New Hampshire, sad that the weekend had come to an end but full of great memories from the trip.

Software Defined Radio/Remote Operating Gateway Part 3 – On The Air Remote!

Remote Operating Setup In Our Home Office

Remote Operating Setup In Our Home Office

In the previous articles in this series, we explained how we integrated a FlexRadio-6700 Software Defined Radio (SDR) into our station and how we used it as a platform to build the Remote Operating Gateway for our station. The project has turned out to be somewhat involved so we will be providing a series of articles to explain what we did:

With all of the hardware and software installed and the integration steps complete, we will show some examples of using our remote operating setup on the air in this article. The first set of operating examples were made using the Remote Operating Client PC in our Home Office. This system is shown in the picture above.

Working The VK9WA DXpedition - Left Monitor

Working The VK9WA DXpedition – Left Monitor

We were able to make several contacts with the VK9WA DXpedition to Willis Island using our remote operating setup. The picture above provides a closer look at how we set up our Remote Client PC to work VK9WA (you can click on the pictures here to see a larger view). We just completed a CW contact with the VK9WA DXpedition on 40m and you can see that we have the QSO logged in DXLab’s DXKeeper. We used CW Skimmer to help determine where the operator was listening (more on this in a bit). We also used our Elecraft KPA500 Amplifier to make it a little easier to break through the pileup.

Working The VK9WA DXpedition - Right Monitor

Working The VK9WA DXpedition – Right Monitor

The picture above shows a better view of the second monitor on our Remote Client PC. SmartSDR is running to control our FlexRadio-6700 SDR and it is set up for split operation in CW mode on the 40m band. We also have DXLab’s DXView running and we used it to point our antennas to the short path heading for the VK9WA DXpedition. Finally, we used DXLab’s WinWarbler to remotely key the Winkeyer connected to our SDR in the shack to make the actual contact.

VK9WA DXpedition 30m Pileup Viewed From CW Skimmer

The video above shows the VK9WA DXpedition operating split in CW mode on the 30m band. Note how CW Skimmer allows us to see exactly where the operator is listening (the VK9WA operator’s signal is the green bar at the bottom and the stations being worked can be seen sending a “599” near the top). You can see many of the folks trying to work the VK9WA DXpedition move near the last station that is worked in the pileup video.

VK9WA DXpedition 30m Pileup  Viewed From SmartSDR

The next video shows the VK9WA pileup in the SmartSDR application which controls the radio. This video provides a closer look at how SmartSDR is set up for split operation. Can you find the station that the VK9WA operator worked?  It is not quite in Slice Receiver B’s passband.

Laptop Remote Operating Client

Laptop Remote Operating Client

We also configured our Laptop PC to be a Remote Operating Client for our station. Our Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Headset is used to as both a wireless microphone and headphones with this system. Our Laptop Client PC can be used from any location on our property via the WiFi Wireless extension of our Home Network.

Window Arrangement For remote Operating From Laptop

Window Arrangement For remote Operating From Laptop

Since our Laptop PC has limited screen space, we created a configuration of overlapping windows to provide access to SmartSDR, key elements of the DXLab Suite and the applications which control/monitor our KPA500 Amplifier and Antennas. Each window is arranged so that a portion of it is always visible so that we can click on any required window to bring it forward when we need to use it.

Operating From Our Remote Laptop Client – A 20m SSB QSO

The video above shows a QSO that we made with AD0PY, David, and his friend Daniel in Missouri, USA. We used the FlexRadio-6700 SDR/SmartSDR combination in VOX mode to make transmit keying simpler. At the beginning of the QSO, we turned our antennas to point to AD0PY. Also, note the operation of the KPA500 Amplifier when we transmit in the video. The QSO is logged in DXLab’s DXKeeper at the end of the contact in the usual way. It’s fun to make casual contacts this way!

As you can see from this post, there is very little difference when we operate our station remotely or from our shack. This was an important goal that shaped the design of our Remote Operating Gateway and Client PC setup. Future posts will provide some details on how we set up the CW Skimmer and Digital Mode (RTTY, PSK, and JT65/JT9) software to work on our Remote PC Clients.

– Fred (AB1OC)

Software Defined Radio/Remote Operating Gateway Part 1 – System Design And Hardware Installation

Flex-6700 Software Defined Radio Stack

Flex-6700 Software Defined Radio And Remote Operating Gateway

We’ve been planning to add a remote operating capability to our station for some time now. We also did some previous work with a FlexRadio Software Defined Radio (SDR) in our station and we felt that an SDR would be a good platform to build a remote operating project around. We decided to combine our remote operating goals with a next-generation SDR upgrade (a FlexRadio-6700) for our station. This project has turned out to be somewhat involved so we will be providing a series of articles to explain what we did:

We will be tackling our goals of building a Remote Operating Gateway (GW) in two stages. Stage 1 will focus on operating our station from other rooms in our house (our Home Offices are prime locations for this). Stage 2 will involve operating our station “On The Go” from anywhere in the world that has sufficient Internet Access is available. We also want to enable full control of our station when operating remotely including:

  • Use of our Amplifier
  • Antenna Selection
  • Rotator Control
  • Equipment Power Monitoring and Management

We also use a microHAM station control system and contesting equipment and we want to fully integrate our new Flex-6700 SDR with this gear. Our Flex-6700 uses a dedicated Microphone to avoid some audio integration issues that we encountered between the Flex-6700 and the microHAM MK2R+ that we use in our station.

SDR/Remote Operating Gateway Architecture

Flex-6700 SDR/Remote Operating Gateway Architecture

The first step in this project was to develop a system design (pictured above). We opted for an architecture which uses the Flex SDR as a third radio in Anita’s Operating Position. Her position is now a SO2R setup with a Yaesu FTdx5000 as the primary radio and a choice of either an Icom IC-7600 or the Flex-6700 SDR as the second active radio.

Elecraft KPA500 Amplifier and KAT500 Auto Tuner

Elecraft KPA500 Amplifier and KAT500 Auto Tuner

Elecraft W2 Watt Meter

Elecraft W2 Watt Meter

FilterMax IV Automated Band Pass Filter

FilterMax IV Automated Band Pass Filter

The Flex-6700 SDR has an associated Elecraft KPA-500W Amplifier/KAT500 Auto Tuner combination, an Elecraft W2 Wattmeter, an automated bandpass filtering via an Array Solutions FilterMax IV and a dedicated microHAM Station Master Deluxe (SMD) Antenna Controller. The Elecraft components are good choices for our remote operating project because they all have applications which enable them to be controlled and monitored over a network (more on this later in this series of articles).

Station Antenna System

Out Station’s Antenna System

The additional microHAM SMD allows the Flex-6700 SDR to have full access to and control over our entire antenna system and associated rotators.

K1EL WinKeyer

K1EL WinKeyer

Our setup also includes a K1EL WinKeyer to enable computer controlled CW keying of the Flex-6700 SDR. This device is relatively inexpensive in kit form and was fun to put together. We have a Bencher Iambic Paddle connected to the WinKeyer for in-shack CW operation.

SDR microHAM Integration

SDR microHAM Integration

The diagram above shows the details of the device interconnections which make up the SDR Radio System. The microHAM SMD Antenna Controller requires a serial CAT interface to its host Flex-6700 SDR to determine what band and frequency the SDR is on. The Flex-6700 SDR does not provide such an interface directly but it does create CAT control virtual ports on a host Personal Computer (PC).

DDUtil Setup - SDR Virtual CAT Access

DDUtil Setup – SDR Virtual CAT Access

DDUtil Setup - Bridging Physical Serial Port To SMD

DDUtil Setup – Bridging Physical Serial Port To SMD

To solve this problem, we used an application called DDUtil to bridge the derived CAT port associated with the SDR to a physical serial port on the PC. The PC’s physical port is then connected to the microHAM SMD associated with the Flex-6700 SDR. The pictures above show how DDUtil is set up to do this.

Station COM Port Configuration

Station COM Port Configuration

The microHAM gear, WinKeyer, Rotators, Radio CAT Interfaces, Amplifier/Auto Tuner Interfaces, etc. all use serial or COM ports on a host PC for control. It’s also true that many loggers have trouble with accessing serial ports above COM16. All of this requires a carefully developed COM port allocation plan for a complex station like ours. The figure above shows this part of our design.

A-B Switching Design For Radio Port 4

A-B Switching Design For Radio Port 4

microHAM Bus Expansion And Antenna Switching Gear

microHAM Bus Expansion And Antenna Switching Gear

The last part of the hardware puzzle required to integrate the SDR into our station was the installation of a second microHAM uLink Bus Hub, microHAM Relay 10 Control Box and an A/B antenna switch which is controlled by the microHAM SMDs. This allows the 4th radio port on our antenna switching matrix to be shared between the Icom IC-7600 and the Flex-6700 SDR.

microHAM Configuration For SDR Station Master Deluxe

microHAM Configuration For SDR Station Master Deluxe

The last step in the integration of the Flex-6700 SDR was to configure the microHAM system for the new equipment. This involves adding SMD #5 to the microHAM system and configuring it (and the rest of the system) to know about the Flex-6700 SDR, associated amplifier and its interconnections to the rest of the system.

SmartSDR Software

SmartSDR Software

The Flex-6700 SDR Hardware is controlled and operated via FlexRadio’s SmartSDR Application over a network. We have 1 Gbps wired and an 802.11 b/g/n Wireless Ethernet systems in our how and the SmartSDR/Flex-6700 SDR combination works well over either network. The software-based approach used with most SDR allows new features to be added to the radio via software upgrades.

SmartSDR Setup - Tx Keying And Interlock

SmartSDR Setup – Tx Keying And Interlock

It is very important to prevent the Flex-6700 SDR and the associated Amplifier from keying up when the antennas in our station are being switched or are being tuned. The screenshot above shows the configuration of SmartSDR to enable the keying and interlock interfaces between the Flex-6700 SDR and its associated microHAM Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controller to implement these functions. This setup enables the Tx Keying and Tx Inhibit interfaces between the Flex-6700 SDR and the microHAM Station Master Deluxe to work properly to key all of the equipment in the setup (SDR, Amplifier, active Rx antennas, etc.) and to lock out keying when antennas are being switched or when one of our SteppIR antennas are tuning.

Flex-6700 SDR With CW Skimmer

We will cover some additional software and integration steps to realize our Remote Operating goals. For now, check out the above video to see how the system performs. This video was recorded using our Flex-6700 SDR and CW Skimmer during the 2015 ARRL CW Sweepstakes Contest. We are really enjoying operating in CW mode with the new SDR setup!

Fred AB1OC

A Milestone Contact – Working Mt. Athos (Last New One In Europe)

Monk Apollo

Monk Apollo, SV2ASP/A on Mt. Athos

I have been working on completing contacts with all of the entities in Europe for some time. I have been fortunate to earn the DARC Worked All Europe Top Plaque having successfully confirmed contacts with 72 or the 73 DX entities in Europe on a sufficient number of bands. For some time now, I have been trying to work the last entity in Europe – Mt. Athos. There is only one station in this location which is SV2ASP/A operated by Monk Apollo. Last evening while looking at the spotting cluster, I noticed that Monk Apollo was operating 40 m CW. This was the first time I was able to hear him in over a year of listening for him! He had a pretty large pileup going and was working split. After some careful listening and some tuning, I was able to make the contact for number 73 of 73.

Recording of my QSO with Monk Apollo on 40m CW

As a bonus, Roman, DL3TU recorded my QSO so I have a very nice memento from this important contact. After some looking at my log and where I currently stand on contacts to the rarer ones in Europe, I am going to set my sights on earning the DARC’s WAE Trophy Award. To date, no U.S. station has been able to complete the necessary contacts to reach this level. It requires contacting all 73 European entities on the DARC list on at least 5 different bands.

– Fred (AB1OC)

 

2014 Es Season On The Magic Band – A Journey Towards A 6m VUCC

6m Band Opening Viewed On DXMaps

6m Band Opening Viewed On DXMAPS

I decided to become active on the 6m band this year. This 6m Sporadic E (Es) season was in full swing about a month ago when I got active on 6m. The picture above is from the DXMAPS website and shows one of the daily openings that we’ve experienced on 6m here in the US during the last month. The DXMAPS website is a good tool for monitoring for VHF/UHF band openings (10m and higher). The site collects and plots cluster spots and propagation mode information on a world map in real-time. This includes spots from CW Skimmers which monitor beacons on the VHF and UHF bands. This allows one to determine when a VHF/UHF band is open and the directions for possible QSOs from one’s location. As you can see from the picture above, there was a solid 6m opening on this particular day from my QTH in New England to the Midwest, the Southeast and the Caribbean! You can also see the beginnings of an opening into Europe.

Cluster Spots During A 6m Band Opening (DXLabs SpotCollector)

Cluster Spots During A 6m Band Opening (DXLab SpotCollector)

The graphic above shows spotting cluster data (we use the DXLab Suite at our station). You can see the details of the stations being spotted during the opening.

The 6m band is often called the “magic band” because it exhibits many different propagation modes including Sporadic E (Es), Tropo, Aurora, Iconoscatter, Meteor Scatter and even Earth-Moon-Earth (EME or “Moon Bounce”). You can find a good introduction to the magic band, its propagation possibilities and some ideas on how to get started on 6m on these sites:

I would also recommend Six Meters: A Guide to the Magic Band by Ken Neubeck, WB2AMU. While the equipment information in this book is somewhat dated and it can be a little had to find, it contains excellent information on propagation modes and operating on 6m.

Many of the 6m propagation modes can be very short-lived so one must be prepared to make short contacts at the start of a QSO. The typical 6m exchange would include callsigns, signal reports and grid square (more on grid square below). The 6m band is typically very quiet and will easily support QSOs that do not move one’s S Meter even with the rig’s preamps on!

SteppIR DB36 Antennas At Our QTH

SteppIR DB36 Antennas At Our QTH

We planned for 6m operation when we built our station a couple of years ago. Our primary antennas for 6m are our SteppIR DB36 yagis at 105′ and 65′. These antennas are used separately on the 6m band (we can run them as a 4 over 4 array on 10m – 40m).

SteppIR DB36 With 6m Kit

SteppIR DB36 With The 6m Kit Installed Below Our 2m and 432 MHz Yagis

Out SteppIR DB36 Yagi’s feature a 36 foot boom and have a 6m Passive element Kit installed which provide two additional elements on the 6m band. The resulting gain and front/back performance are in the range of  typical 5 element 6m mono band antennas. Having two independently directional antennas for 6m has turns out to be quite useful in contests and when monitoring for 6m openings. These antennas have 6 elements on 6m and are pretty directional. Typical operating setups at our QTH would have one antenna pointed to the West or toward Europe while the other is pointed south to monitor for openings to the Southeast and the Caribbean. In these configurations, we can instantly switch between two directions using our microHAM Antenna Control System.

AB1OC Operating Position On 6m

AB1OC Operating Position On 6m

Both of our two operating positions are 6m capable. They both feature Transceivers with good receivers (a Yaesu FTdx5000 and an Icom IC-7800) and both have PW-1 Amplifiers which provide 1KW output on the 6m band.

QSOs By Band

QSOs By Band As Of Early 2014

Before the 2014 Spring Es Season, we had only done limited operating on the 6m band. I did participate in the 2013 ARRL June VHF Contest and operated on a combination of the 6m, 2m and 70cm bands during that contest. I also did some 6m operating as part of the 13 Colonies Special Event in 2013. In total, I had made about 200 QSOs on 6m and had worked 10 grid squares by the beginning of the 2014. Most of these 6m contacts were with stations in the US with a few to the Caribbean. My longest DX up to that point in time were a few contacts 6m stations in the Canary Islands on the northwest coast of Africa.

JT65 QSO On 6m

JT65 QSO using WSJT-X and JTAlert On 6m

At the start of the 2014 Spring Es Season, I decided to get serious about earning an ARRL VUCC Award on 6m. This award requires one to work and confirm 100 grid squares on the 6m band (it’s also available for 2m and higher bands). I began by studying 6m propagation modes and monitoring the calling frequencies on the 6m band. We work a combination of modes on 6m include SSB Phone, CW, and digital (using JT65). The CW and JT65 modes are very useful on the 6m band when the propagation conditions are marginal. We recently upgraded to Joe Taylor’s WSJT-X software which supports both the JT65 and JT9 weak signal modes. This WSJT-X software coupled with JTAlert software from HAMApps integrated the JT65 and JT9 modes very well with the DXLab suite that we use for logging and other DX’ing work at our station.

There were some exciting times on the air during the early part of the Es Season this year. Two that stand out were my first double hop Es contacts with hams in California and several openings to the Midwest and the Southeast where the band went from dead to very active in a period of 5-10 minutes! This is typical for the 6m band but it’s quite an experience to go from calling CQ with no answers to being in the middle of an almost instant small pileup!

AB1OC Claimed Score In 2014 ARRL VHF Contest

AB1OC Claimed Score In 2014 ARRL VHF Contest

I also decided to operate in the 2014 ARRL June VHF Contest again this year. I decided to operate in the Single Operator, High-power Category on 6m only. I was able to make a little over 300 6m contacts in this contest and managed a score that was significantly better that my 3 band effort in this contest last year. My QSOs were primarily SSB phone mode but I also managed a number of contacts in CW mode and a few digital QSOs using JT65.

AB1OC Worked Grids In 2014 ARRL VHF Contest

AB1OC Worked Grids In 2014 ARRL VHF Contest (N1MM Logger)

As you can see from the screenshot from the N1MM logger that I used for the contest, I was able to work quite a few grid squares. We had a very nice opening to the Southeast and Florida during the contest period and this resulted in lots of new 6m contacts and even some small pileups at times!

AB1OC Worked Grids In The Americas

AB1OC Worked Grids In The Americas

By the end of the contest, my total grids worked was up to 98 and this put me very close to my goal of earning a VUCC on 6m. At this point I was hooked on 6m!

AB1OC Worked Grids In Europe And Africa

AB1OC Worked Grids In Europe And Africa

A couple of days after the contest ended, I took a look at the DXMAPS website and saw that a good 6m opening was occurring to Europe. I got on the air and was able to make my first ever contacts into Europe on 6m. The opening was a “spotlight” one (covering a limited area) that involved double hop Es propagation in Spain, Portugal, France and Morocco. Over the period of about an hour and a half, I made some 30 contacts into these countries. A very exciting time on the air and one that I will not soon forget!

AB1OC Worked Grids Around The World

AB1OC Worked Grids Around The World

With the opening to Europe and some continued operation on 6m I am currently at 122 Grid Squares worked (with 91 confirmed so far. My 6m QSO count stands at 755 with 112 new grid squares and approximately 550 QSOs made in the last 30 days.

The website used to plot the grid squares worked and confirm in the previous pictures is WG7J’s GridMapper site. Its a really nice tool to visualize the grid square one has worked or still needs to work.

At this point, I am totally hooked on the 6m band! While a yagi antenna with 5 or more elements helps a lot on 6m, I have found that it does not take a big station to have fun on the band when it’s open. I have worked many station in the US who were using wire antennas and verticals with 100w or less. See the following youTube video for an example of a simple 6m setup. Another good 6m intro video can be found here. If you have not given 6m a try, I encourage our readers to take a look at the band. It is really quite a lot of fun.

– Fred (AB1OC)

2013 Field Day

CW Station Operations

CW Station Operations

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.

Field Day Tri-Bander

Field Day Tri-Bander

Anita (AB1QB) and I handled the HF beam antennas for our Field Day Operation. This included a Hy-Gain TH-3JRS Tri-Bander loaned to the club by Allison (KB1GMX) which was installed 20 ft up on a guyed military push-up mast.

15m Buddi-Beam

15m Buddi-Beam

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.

VHF Tower

VHF Tower

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

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.

Solar Panels

Solar Panels

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

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

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

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.

Satellite Station

Satellite Station

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.

Toolbox Talk

Toolbox Talk

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

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

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.

– Fred (AB1OC)