Our rail-trail route between Wakulla Station and San Marcos
We began at the Wakulla Station on the Historic Tallahassee St Marks Rail Trail POTA K-3661. When we put a spot on the POTA website the chasers came quickly. We had fifteen contacts in fifteen minutes on 40 meters SSB. That covered the required five for RaDAR and the required ten for a POTA Activation.
Then we mounted our bikes and headed 7.5 miles South on the Rail Trail. The radio gear was pulled in a bike cart. The equipment included the Elecraft KX2, Elecraft KXPA 100 amplifier, and a 30 AH Bioenno LiFePO4 battery. We used a SOTA Beams Band Hopper dipole for an antenna.
We arrived at the San Marcos de Apalache State Park POTA 3652 at St Marks, Florida. Once again, we spotted ourselves on the POTA website and got fifteen more contacts. Some were the same chasers as the previous stop.
Our radio gear
The bike ride was more than the required two kilometers, but it was a beautiful tree-lined journey. The trip down was 51 minutes downhill going South and 57 minutes uphill on the return.
My bike with the cart for the radio gear
Back at the Wakulla Station, I attempted an AO-91 pass but no joy. Dennis and I then found a Mexican Resturant for a nice lunch. Then we drove a couple of hours back to Panama City. On the way, we listened to Bill Browns WB8ELK's QSO Today episode.
Greg N4KGL at San Marcos State Park
The RaDAR Challenge's time constraint, radio contacts, and the required motion are challenging but fun. You have to try it to understand.
Dennis WA6QKN and I will combine Rapid Deployment Radio (RaDAR), Parks On The Air (POTA), and Amateur Satellites along with a fun bike ride. All of this will be in Wakulla County, Florida. Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio combines the outdoors, amateur radio, and movement. You are welcome to try RaDAR in the field or chase us on the radio. Please check https://pota.us/ for our spots. We will use N4KGL as our callsign. In RaDAR we need at least five contacts to move to the next location. For bikes, we need to move at least two kilometers. Our bike rides will be longer to get from park to park.
Our four-hour clock for the challenge will start at 1300 UTC, 9 AM EDT, with the SO-50 pass at the Wakulla Station Trailhead on the Tallahassee St Marks Historic Rail Trail (POTA K-3661). We will complete our five contacts on HF and ride our bikes to Wakulla State Forrest (POTA K-4643). Then continue the bike ride to Wakulla Springs State Park (POTA K-1862). Our HF contacts will be CW or SSB on
40, 20, or 17 meters. Please watch for our spots on https://pota.us/#/
Our rig will be the Elecraft KX2 with the Elecraft KXPA100 amp. I will use a bike cart to pull the rig and a 30 AH Bioenno battery. The antenna will be a SOTABeams Band Hopper Link Dipole.
We may continue this pattern beyond four hours to qualify for one of the RaDAR Awards sponsored by Parks On The Air.
Warthog Award: two RaDAR* transitions at or between entities during a 24 hour period. Rhino Award: three RaDAR* transitions at or between entities during a 24 hour period. Cheetah Award: five RaDAR* transitions at or between entities during a 24 hour period Ostrich Award: seven RaDAR* transitions at or between entities during a 24 hour period. Leopard Award: ten RaDAR* transitions at or between entities during a 24 hour period. Lion Award: twelve RaDAR* transitions at or between entities during a 24 hour period
Here are some antenna choices that serve me well. I operate portable more often than at home.
For horizontal polarization on portable ops, I am favoring the SOTAbeams BandHopper 40-30-20 meter link dipole. This is an extremely lightweight antenna that comes with RG-174 feedline. The good news is that the antenna does not weigh down the top of a telescoping pole. You will need to lower it to change the band using the jumper clips. I use the SOTABeams Tactical 7000 telescoping pole to support the BandHopper. There are lighter telescoping poles that would work as well. Note, I also like the LNR Trail Friendly End-fed for 40, 20, and 10 meters. I just have not used it lately.
SOTABeams Band Hopper at a campsite. Hard to see, isn't it.
For vertical polarization on portable ops, I love the N6BT Bravo 7K vertical. The Bravo 7K is self-supporting with integrated radials. When I am on the saltwater shore, the vertical is my top choice due to the saltwater effect. I also have had good success inland. It does not require a tuner. I find I can switch between 40 and 20 by changing the coil jumpers. The other bands require adjusting the element lengths. The adjustments are pretty straightforward.
My Bravo 7K Vertical. The horizontal elements are hard to see.
For the ultimate in portability, my choice is the Alexloop magnetic loop. During the current solar minimum, it has been my backup, not my go-to. However, I have high hopes for the Alexloop in Solar Cycle 25 when the upper HF bands get better. You can't beat it for a quick and easy setup. The performance will surprise you even on 40 meters.
For ARRL and Winter Field Days, the MyAntennas.com 80-10 EFHW has been very successful. It is 130 feet long. I support it with a camo pole support and several Jackite poles.
My MyAntennas.com 80-10 EFHW. It is 130 feet long.
For Field Day on a small campsite, I designed a 100-foot long vertical loop fed a the bottom center with a remote tuner. It is supported by three 30 foot telescoping poles. The horizontal length is 30 feet, and the vertical sides are 20 feet. The lower wire is 10 feet off the ground. I have used this antenna at campsites and on island expeditions.
My Field Day 100 foot vertical loop uses three Jackite poles for support and a remote tuner at the bottom center.
At my home QTH, I had to rethink my antennas as Hurricane Michael took down my trees. I have chosen the N6BT V8, vertical sold through HRO, as my home antenna. It is similar to the N6BT Bravo 7K but uses an MFJ remote tuner at the base of the antenna. The antenna tunes well on 40 to 10 meters. The elements come off quickly for storms. I also remove the vertical element between uses to make the antenna less of a target for lightning.
My N6BT BT vertical in the backyard of my home. The horizontal elements are hard to see.
At my home QTH for receiving, I have a noise problem on the HF bands due to high-voltage lines running over my backyard property line.. The noise is intolerable on any antenna I put in the backyard. This encouraged me to try a receiving loop. I choose the W6LVP broadband magnetic loop with the T/R switch. For me, the loop makes HF operating at home possible. I mounted the W6LVP loop on a four-foot mast in the front yard near the house. I use a lightweight rotator to adjust the orientation to get a noise null. I use the N6BT V8 in the backyard as the transmit antenna.
My W6LVP HF receive loop in the front yard of my home.
Linda and I took a three-night camping trip to FDR State Park near Pine Mountain, Georgia over the Columbus Day weekend. For me, the draw is Dowdell Knob a 1345 foot peak in the park. This peak qualifies for Summits On The Air or SOTA. It is W4G/CE-004. Since I live in the flatlands of Florida, Dowdell is the closest SOTA opportunity. The history aspect was our visit to the Little White House and museum located nearby in Warm Springs, Georgia. This is where President Roosevelt took advantage of the warm springs for his polio. The president died at the Little White House halfway into his fourth term. Roosevelt fostered the Rural Electrification Program. I learned that when the farmers got electricity their first purchase was a radio. The nature aspect was our visit to the Butterfly Center at Callaway Gardens. We were immersed with the butterflies among the plants they enjoy. It was a challenge to capture them with my smartphone camera. I will let the pictures and video fill you in on the details.
The SOTA activation on Sunday morning was successful. I had a pile-up going on 40 meters for the first hour, I was getting better than one contact per minute. In all, I had 88 contacts; 68 on 40 meters, 17 on 20 meters and 3 on two meters. Of those 51 were SSB, 34 were CW, and 3 were FM. One of the two-meter FM contacts was about 45 miles to Mauk, GA. The contacts also counted for Parks On The Air (POTA). The park reference is K-2173.
I also did some operating from our campsite number 501. It had room for an 80-meter Dipole. I talked back to Bob WB4BLX in Panama City on 80 meters SSB. So this camping idea is working out for us. I expect we can do this in a big way during our retirement years.
My plan for the November 2nd, 2019 RaDAR Challenge is to start operating at the San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park near St Marks, Florida. After five contacts, I will bike on the Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail to the Wakulla trailhead. That is about seven miles. After five contacts there, I can bike back to San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park for more operating. I hope to do three stops during the four-hour window of the RaDAR Challenge. All the stops will be at Parks On The Air references. That should attract some chasers.
I did some RaDAR practice while camping at Top Sail Preserve State Park. Please see the video.
Well, it is definitely cheating to buy a QRP-Labs QCX transceiver already built. But that is what I did when I saw one at the Huntsville Hamfest. The seller said he just likes to build them. He had three for sale and when I doubled back to buy the 30-meter version was the only one left. For 60 dollars this was a good deal.
QRP-Labs QCX Transceiver
My first attempt to make an on-air contact was "No Joy." I had no test equipment out in the field, but I listened with another rig. I actually heard an oscillator on the right frequency on receive but heard nothing on transmit. I happened to be reading the QST Review of the QCX and found something interesting.
Excerpt from QCX Review in QST
That was a lucky break indeed as the QCX was in Code Practice Mode. I turned code practice mode off, and the RF output is working. I measured the power into a dummy load, and I am calling it 2.8 watts out. This measurement is not particularly accurate, but I will take it as nominal.
Now your luck will vary in making contacts at this power level. However, I had an excellent contact with Tom K4UTJ in Galax, Virginia when I was set up at the Panama City ARC Tailgate last Saturday. I was using the SOTAbeams Band Hopper 40/30/20 link dipole for the antenna supported by the SOTAbeams Tactical 7000 mast in the center. I had a rough time initially but gee it helps to have those link dipole jumpers correct.
I recorded most of the QSO here. The QSO went on for 13 minutes. Tom had to bail out. So catching a fish with QRP is fun even if it won't happen every time.
By the way, I am fine with the built-in key, which is a micro switch. I am a straight key guy. I also like the way the rig decodes my outgoing CW.
I had a great time operating the W/VE Islands QSO Party from Santa Rosa Island AKA Okaloosa Island near Destin Florida on Saturday, August 24th. I used the callsign N4I. Myself, N4KGL was the only operator. The island is USI FL003S for the Island QSO Party and K-0661 for Parks On The Air. The site is the Okaloosa Island Day Use Area which is part of the Gulf Island National Seashore. I like the site because it has a saltwater shore on the bay facing the rest of the country. I used an N6BT Bravo 7K vertical to take advantage of the "saltwater effect". The rig was the Icom 7100 running 100 watts.
N6BT Bravo &K vertical at the saltwater shore
Suzy was my partner for the day. Since no dogs are allowed on the beach, I set up in the picnic area and ran a coax over the sand dune to the vertical at the water's edge. My operating time was just over four hours with a break for lunch.
The bands were in good shape. I had pile-ups going on both 40 and 20-meter phone. My stats were
Total Contacts 124
40m CW 6, 40m PH 38
20m CW 4, 20m PH 76
4 Parks On The Air
1 Beach On The Air
We had many good signal reports and we were getting well into Canada. In fact, I worked my friend Chris VA3ECO by chance. He lives on his own island ON304. Note, he comes down to Panama City for the Winter months.
The control head for the Icom 7100
The rest of the Icom 7100 and a Bioenno battery in a box.
I attended the Pico Balloon Forum presented by Bill Brown WB8ELK. I already had one of Bill's balloon payloads. The forum was just what I needed to understand the details of prepping the ballon. The balloon is a party type mylar balloon. After the talk, Bill checked the lift of the balloon in the Embassy Suites lobby. Then Bill and Bev WB4ELK launched the balloon successfully in front of the hotel. The payload has the APRS ID WB8ELK-5. APRS tracked the balloon near Chatanooga, across Georgia, South Carolina and out over the Atlantic. The balloon's altitude was up to 27000 feet. It headed up the Eastern Seaboard within range of shore APRS IGates. Eventually, it went out of APRS range presumed to be headed Eastward. We will be checking aprs.fi to see if it is spotted in a few days. Some of the ballons circumnavigate the Earth but there is no guarantee.
Note Bill's QSO Today Podcast interview is Episode 250. It highlights Bill's lifelong interest in Space.
Bill WB8ELK and Bev WB4ELK checking the lift of the Pico Balloon. The net lift is the weight of a penny.
I have not finalized the launch window for my payload. I will look into piggybacking some STEM activities the SEARS Rocket Club is doing. The rocket launch site in Samson, AL may be a good place to launch. The payload itself is an engineering marvel. It is solar-powered has a single circuit board with a 20 milliwatt transmitter and GPS. The payload is very light as required for a pico balloon launch. Bill has done the engineering I just have to prep and launch.
I just installed an N6BT.com V8 vertical antenna in my backyard. I had not settled on a home antenna since Hurricane Michael took my trees and the storage building. Unfortunately, I still have high voltage power lines across the back of the lot. I am not in an HOA neighborhood. A tower and a beam would be effective but that would be a significant investment.
N6BT V8 installed in the backyard.
I have had good experience with N6BT antennas. I use the N6BT Bravo 7K when activating parks. It is a remarkable performer on the saltwater shore. However, it has also done the job over the ground in the parks. The N6BT vertical antennas evolve. Instead of using coils and adjusting element lengths like the Bravo 7K, The V8 uses a remote tuner, in this case, the MFJ 993BRT. Tom Schiller N6BT calls this antenna a vertical dipole. The ancestor to this antenna was a vertical dipole with a horizontal section at both ends for capacitive loading. As Tom says, the top element was extended, and the top flat section was removed. On the lower element, it was shortened and extended horizontally. So there you have it. This is very asymmetric vertical dipole indeed. The good news is that the antenna is complete and does not require ground radials.
Please watch my YouTube video that covers the details of the installation. The biggest issue was the tuner, which is from MFJ. The one I received was DOA. It did not do anything. I supplied the 12-volt power via a bias T on the transmitter end of the coax. Yet, I did not hear any relay clicks when RF was applied, so tuning never started. I did get lucky after removing the cover, there were some switches hidden under a circuit board. This board would be for the desktop version of this tuner. One of the switches is labeled power. I pushed that switch, and the relays clicked when 12 volts was applied. I left it like that and put the cover back on, and now the tuner works as intended.
The MFJ 993BRT remote tuner mounted.
Initially, the antenna did not tune on 40 CW. After playing around with the hairpin coil, it finds a match on 40 CW. So it tunes quickly from 60 meters and up. On 80 meters the tuner struggles. It will quit trying after a while. Strangely if a reapply RF, the SWR is good. In any case, 80 meters will be the exception for my operating. Since I now have a remote tuner in the middle of the yard, I could experiment with some wires to make a doublet or maybe turn the V8 into an inverted L for the low bands. I do have a tree on each side fence line to run a wire to. I think I will find out what the stock antenna will do first.
The hair-pin coil
I have consistent noise from those powerlines. It sounds like arcing, and I should call the power company. Short of that, I have a W6LVP broadband loop mounted on a short post with a rotator in the front of the house. This antenna is much quieter, and I can null the noise to some degree. Therefore the V8 is mainly a transmit antenna. I am delighted with the W6LVP loop.
The antenna slips into a PVC pipe buried 18 inches.
I have had several rag-chew QSOs on 40 CW for a start. If the solar cycle gets cranking, I will be ready for the high bands. I am a little nervous about lightening. However, I can lift off the vertical section of the antenna and lay it on the ground. Then the antenna is much less of a target.
The N6BT Bravo 7K predecessor to the V8
The bottom line, I am going to enjoy this antenna. I can now get on the HF bands from the house. Thanks to Tom N6BT for an antenna solution that works for my situation. This antenna is available exclusively from Ham Radio Outlet. The tuner is a separate purchase.
Flight Of The Bumblebees 2019 was a fun time with on the air friends and local friends. I was at Carl Grey Park in Panama City, Florida. The activity was brisk for the first two hours of four and fell off after that. My first contact was Larry W2LJ. I also worked friends Steve KF5RY, Steve WG0AT, Shel KF0UR, Jim W4QO, and Ed WA3WSJ. In town, I worked WB8PAF and Jim KW4UT, who was using an HW-8. 20 meters dominated. I just picked up Georgia and Alabama on 40 meters. The grand total was 46 contacts and 28 Bumblebees. I was assisted on-site by Dennis WA6QKN and Ron KK4DWE. Phil N4STC and Jim KW4UT came for a visit.
My N6BT Bravo 7K vertical antenna is positioned on St Andrews Bay for the saltwater effect.
My gear was the Elecraft KX2 at 5 watts CW. The internal battery almost carried the whole event. The 20-meter antenna was the N6BT Bravo 7K on the St Andrews Bay shoreline. My 40-meter antenna was the SOTA Beams 40/30/20 Band Hopper link dipole.
In the scheme of things:
2016 38 QSOs 25 BB
2017 61 QSOs 37 BB
2018 34 QSOs 21 BB
2019 46 QSOs 28 BB
This year was the second-best out of four years. I am still impressed with what 5 watts will do even at Solar Minimum.
Shel KF0UR one of my contacts was on Mt. Blodgett in Colorado Springs, CO, at 8000 feet MSL
WA6QKN on the left and N4KGL on the right hard at it.
For the July 13th, 2019 RaDAR Challenge, I chose to transition between stops on my new bike. I experimented with different ways to carry the gear on the bike. I found my Jackite Pole to be unwieldy at its four-foot collapsed length. So I invested in the SOTABeams Tactical 7000 mast. Its collapsed length is 23 inches, and it is 23 feet extended. I carried the mast and an angle iron stake in a gun sling across my back. I pound in the stake in the ground to anchor the mast. I also made use of bags on the rear bike rack and a backpack. The rig was the Elecraft KX2. My antenna of choice was the SOTABeams Band Hopper link dipole for 40/30/20 meters supported in the middle by the Tactical 7000.
My Raleigh Venture Bike setup for RaDAR
There was rain in the forecast influenced by tropical storm Barry. Happily, we did not get a drop of rain. The venue was Kinsaul Park in Lynn Haven, Florida. I did all the operating from the park but took my rides in the neighborhood. In the four hours for the RaDAR Challenge, I did three stops with five contacts each and made two bike rides in between stops.
There were not many RaDAR operators out except for John VA3KOT. I did not pick him up. So I took advantage of SKCC contacts on 40 meters CW and some IARU contest contacts of 20 meters. A highlight was working my ham friend Curtis WB4SHX in Mississippi purely by chance on 40 meters SSB. I mixed in some local contacts from N4STC and N4VSP. Unfortunately, I did not get a contact on the SO-50 satellite pass at the end of the four hours.
The SOTABeams Tactical 7000 mast and the SOTA Beams Band Hopper link dipole deployed.
My Elecraft KX2 resting on the rear bike cargo rack
RaDAR is Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio. Thanks to Eddie ZS6BNE for the RaDAR Concept. The challenges continue to be fun. The next RaDAR Challenge is the first Saturday in November. Check out the RaDAR group on MeWe.
Linda and I camped at Kolomoki Mounds State Park near Blakely, Georgia for two nights starting on July 2nd. The campground is next to beautiful Lake Kolomoki. We did not have any cell coverage for our AT & T phones. What a shock!
I did a Parks On The Air (POTA) activation for K-3726 with 33 QSOs. I used the Elecraft KX2 with 10 watts in the beginning and later with the 100-watt amp. I ran across Bobby AJ4KA in Newnan on 40 meters CW by chance. He was running a homebrew tube rig on a dummy load by accident he said. I gave him a health and welfare message since we had no internet.
The campsite had liberal space for an antenna. I used the SOTAbeams Band Hopper 40/30/20 link dipole. I also did a SO-50 sat pass using callsign W3ZM/4 for the AMSAT 50th Anniversary Celebration. I got three contacts including Jim K4LIX in Panama City.
I took a couple of bike rides up steep 80-foot hills. It almost killed me on the way up but coming down was fast and sweet. Linda and I also took in the park museum and learned what the mounds were all about. They are pretty neat unless you are getting sacrificed at the Chief's funeral.
So we had a successful trip and gave the Georgia gnats something to do. I recommend this park for a getaway.
The next RaDAR Challenge is July 13th, 2019. I am planning to transition between stops via bicycle. The prescribed distance is 2 kilometers. Port St. Joe Florida has a system of trails through the city that is perfect for RaDAR. I will likely start at the Florida Constitution State Park. It will be valid for RaDAR and Parks On The Air (POTA) credit. There are plenty of good stops at other city parks.
I am exploring options for carrying the radio gear on the bike. I now have bags on the rear for the KX2 and accessories. I also have a sling to wear across my back for a Jackite pole. The pole can support the SOTAbeams 40/20 link dipole. Of course, the details will be hashed out as we get closer to the date. The date in July was chosen to give those at high latitudes some better weather for their RaDAR outing. Let us know your plans guys; John, Julian, Fred, and Mickey. Post on the MeWe RaDAR Group. RaDAR is Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio.