Monday, June 28, 2010

Alaska Field Day Fun and Frustration

I had the privilege of once again operating at KL2R, north of Fairbanks, Alaska, for Field Day. Hosts N1TX and KL1BE went above and beyond yet again. Lots of fun and great food. 

For me, it started on Saturday morning when I set the alarm for 0530. Well, I smacked the snooze button for another ½ hour of sleep. Once up at 6:00 AM, I was out the door just a few minutes past 6:30 AM headed for Fairbanks. 

I arrived at Fairbanks at 8:40 AM first stopping at our local bank and then the gas station. I had made arrangements to pick up a visitor from Ohio (Rich, W8VK) at Fred Meyer's around 8:45 AM. Rich was there waiting for me and after fueling up, we headed toward ARS KL2R. I had a nice conversation with Rich and found it even more exciting that he was from Ohio! Being from Ohio myself, we had plenty to talk about on our short drive north of Fairbanks.

Upon our arrival, (around 9:30 AM) it was great meeting up with a few old friends that had arrived prior to us. After a few brief catching up and welcoming conversations, I headed for the operating area! Larry (N1TX) gave the run down of operating stations and modes planned.  This year, KL2R was operation as 7E! This in itself meant that we were operating 7 stations at the same time and operating on emergency power (generator, battery and solar for us). Dan, KL1JP, who I like to refer to as "Dan, the Solar Man" once again had his solar set up available. I am extremely interested in the folded solar panel on top of the cooler in the photo above. After seeing the portable solar panel and talking with Dan about it, I will be owning one very soon. 

I made myself comfortable at the 20 meter CW station and started to get acquainted with the Yaesu FT-950 radio. I operate Icom, but I must say I really like this transceiver, and the price is very reasonable. Once 10:00 AM arrived, I was off sending CQ Field Day from KL2R! 

The band was not very active and it was slow going. In looking at the space weather forecast for the weekend, I read that a solar wind was to buffet the earth on the 26th, so I figured the weekend would possibly be a challenge. Turns out, that was an understatement. 

20 meters never produced much in the way of activity until very late. It was slow and shy of steady for most of the day. I have to say that I extremely admire the other operators at KL2R. 20 was our most active band and it showed determination and dedication by the other operators to stick with bands that produced very little or nothing at all. I was getting frustrated at rates of 20 per hour, so I can only imagine what they were feeling. And yes, with the aurora level peaking at 9, that set the pace for the weekend.

There were many highlights for me personally, the first just being able to operate and meet several new hams I had not met before. Secondly, seeing Ken, W6HF, and Luci, KL1WE, making satellite contacts. I had operated satellites when I lived back in Ohio along with my sidekick, KL1SF. I have never even attempted them up here, as I sold my all mode UHF/VHF equipment upon arriving to Alaska (regrettably now). I actually took a small video of a contact that Ken and Luci made, which I hope to post in a Field Day 2010 video in the near future on my YouTube site. Not only was it cool that I got to see the action but Tammie Wilson, District 11's State House Representative stopped by and saw it as well (she also got the grand tour and got to see all of us in action)! Also, Elaine, KL6C (cool callsign, huh?) did a really cool educational activity with batteries. There was much more to enjoy, so check out KL2R's blog site for more detailed information once the dust settles. 

Getting back to the band, 20 meters really never came to full life, but toward the evening hours things appeared to pick up briefly. The spectrum scope showed more activity, but once again, our signal was not being heard very well due to the band conditions and the auroral influence. I left at 12:30 AM on Sunday morning and when I left, the only signals heard were a few from Asia. I had a stop to make at Wal-mart and then I was off for home, arriving back shortly after 3:30 AM. It was a long day, but well worth the drive. It is a contest format but in the end, friendship, food, and fun won it for me. Field Day is about a lot more than just band conditions, and that was proven this past weekend. In quoting the ARRL Field Day rules, the Field Day objective is "To work as many stations as possible on any and all amateur bands (excluding the 60, 30, 17, and 12-meter bands) and to learn to operate in abnormal situations in less than optimal conditions." Yep, mission accomplished at KL2R!

Monday, June 14, 2010

10 meters, finally!?

Started seeing several spots on the cluster today regarding PNW (Pacific North West) 10 meter propagation. I tuned my old 751A to 10 meters and I started to hear some faint SSB. I then headed down the band to scan for beacons. K6FRC was booming in as normal when 10's open (28.300). I heard and posted several other beacons. 

The 10 meter season begins for me on June 14th,2010. Starting off kinda weak but I'm hoping that many more openings are ahead. I was listening on 28.405 to a QSO that seemed to drag on forever, with no callsigns given. I can only guess as to their QTH. Either way, nice to see the band open once again. A good ten meter opening would be the only thing that would keep me from venturing outdoors on a day off, with plenty of sunshine!  Well, almost...

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Scheduled Departure

Bittersweet evening as I pulled my trusty Icom 756PRO from the bench and gently rested it into the Astron box that I'm shipping it to Icom in. I worked a few stations in the NAQCC Sprint this evening and my last QSO was an SKCC QSO with W5VYH.  I purchased this rig new in September of 2000 and it has served me very well. I hope this rig lasts me at least another 10 years. The tuner has failed to function and that is the only problem. I am hoping that Icom can do a "once over" and make sure all is within specifications and alignment for me also. I will be glad to get it back and I am now relying on my backup rig, an Icom 751A and of course my QRP rig, Icom IC703 Plus.

Now, since this is my only high power 6 meter radio, I would advise all Alaska stations to listen close to 6 meters. I'm sure we will have great openings for hours now that my rig has been sent off to the shop. This is by far, the best rig I have ever owned and in my opinion, one of the best on CW and especially digital. Icom did right by this radio but their replacement is a bit out of my budget. I have owned Icom's since day one but my next rig may be something different. K3 comes to mind but rest assured, this 10 year old sweetheart will always have a home here. It has given more than it has received and like my wife, it spoils me. Travel safe my friend, for we will do CW once again.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

WPX Follow-up

I put together a small video and uploaded it to my YouTube page consisting of a few audio files and one video file of what the weekend sounded like to me. I'm new to the video making world but I think it's a great way to share experiences with others who are interested.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

CQ WW WPX CW Contest 2010

I was very excited to end the contest season and begin the summer season with the CQ World Wide WPX CW Contest. My CW speed leaves plenty to be desired but I enjoy getting into the mix. Often times, I am the lone KL8 floating around but since prefixes are what this contest is about, I think it flows a little more evenly and does not get as aggressive as other contests, for my station anyhow.

I really was not ready for the start of the contest and I did not start setting up Win-test until well after the contest started. Yep, already starting off on the wrong foot. Just lots going on that day as my daughter had left us that morning and with the lack of sleep and following her flights across the lower 48, I was destined for a late start. Either way, I finally got the software configured, the rig sending CW after being prompted by the keyboard and the amplifier warmed up. I began to work my way up the band and working stations that could hear me. This begins to tune my brain to the higher CW speeds (yep, I'm challenged at anything over easy) and gives me an idea of the current propagation path.

It just seemed that several were not really hearing me. Now mind you, I have a small station but I can usually shake the tree and get some apples to fall. Well, for a Friday night, the fight was to get someone to hear me. I was noticing an extra amount of flutter on signals so figured something solar was effecting my contest plans. Seems to be pretty normal lately. I worked my way up the band and finally picked out a spot in the nose bleed section above 14050 (14.058 to be exact). I called CQ and worked a few stations followed by a few more. Someone must have finally spotted me on the cluster as a few more showed up. A nice steady pace, nothing to write home about, but enough to keep me on my toes and having to sort a call out of a couple now and again. I stayed parked there until just a hair past 0300z. I was calling with little success so opted to search and pounce yet again. I did that for another hour with minimal results and ended up back to calling CQ. It was a struggle all the way. Very hard to keep focused when the bands are poor and the weather outside was so nice. I started to see fresh air in my weekend forecast.

After making a rough go of it on Friday night, I shut things down until Saturday morning. I found the conditions getting worse and by Saturday afternoon, I was looking for a reason as to why things were so poor. It did not take long for me to see why. A quick look at the Aurora Oval told the tale.
I did a bit more research and in checking HAARP, more very bad news was observed. The Riometer (at right) was seeing red and it was basically telling me to shut my rig down and enjoy the remainder of the weekend outdoors. Lots of absorption and as Saturday afternoon progressed, the less I could hear and the worse the bands got. I took a look at the HAARP to see what tale the Magnetometer was telling and it was the wildest I think I have seen, ever (below)!

By the time late Saturday afternoon arrived, I was able to tune the entire 20 meter band and not hear one signal, at all! I waved the white flag just a bit after 0200z. It was sad to see such conditions as I had hoped to beat my last years score. I did a 20 meter, single band entry and walked away with 510,884 points in the single operator category. When I checked my final score this year, I was just over 33K points with only 153 QSO's. Yep, very sad but it was not of my doing, or at least that is my excuse. My plans were once again effected by the solar influence that people living in northern latitudes can relate to. I have not read any detailed reports as to what the lower 48 heard and worked, but I did see mention of 10 meter activity. Well, I can only hope.

The contest season has wrapped up for me and I will be sending my Icom to the doctor for repairs. I plan on enjoying our summer (as I operated the contest, I could look out my window and see wildland fire not far away) as much as possible and do some portable operating. I hope to get some much needed antenna work done but that has been a project I have been working toward the last few summers. Our remodeling and weekend fun seems to trump the hobby work but I will once again, give it my best shot. With any luck, as autumn approaches, you will once again hear this small station warming up for yet another cold and dark winter. Ham radio in Alaska during those months just makes things a bit easier to tolerate. My wife might not agree but then again, I am not complaining that I have the shack all to myself! Watch for my YouTube video's on potential summer fun as KL8DX/p accompanied by my wonderful wife, KL8SU. See you on the bands, if the sun allows. I will be enjoying the sun however, the midnight sun that is! Damn, I love Alaska summers!