Wednesday, July 1, 2015

2015 ARRL Field Day

Basic 20 meter inverted Vee dipole at 25 feet.

This past weekend I took part in my amateur radio club's Field Day activities as usual.  This year the big factor was the weather.  I had planned on just using a pop up shelter to better enjoy the outdoors but after watching the weather forecast for a week before hand I decided to err on the side of caution and go ahead and break out the extreme weather tent.  

I am so glad I did too. It was pleasant and dry Friday night when we set up but soon after we arrived back at the site Saturday it started raining and it never did let up.  Along with gusty winds we ended up with 3.5" of precipitation before all was said and done.  Dealing with the weather is what Field Day is all about.  While it did add quite a challenge my old gear and some new pieces came through with flying colors

In the above picture at the far left is a small shelter I constructed to keep the elements off my new 1000 watt inverter generator. 

Inverter generators are a relatively recent technology that work great for powering sensitive electronic gear like amateur radios.  The generator works by first producing AC power output like a traditional generator but next converts the current to DC then back to AC.  This "inversion" creates a clean output with a true sine wave at the required voltage and frequency.  

The engine is a four stroke so no premix fuel is required and a feature I really like that this little gen-set has is called Auto-Idle.  Unlike a traditional generator that always runs at full throttle this unit idles down and then increases engine speed based on the load applied.  This does two things. First it saves fuel and second with a light load such as my ham station the generator barely came off idle.  With a 100 ft extension cord between the generator and the operating position the generator could not be heard.

We used maybe a gallon and half of gas for the 18 hours of time we spent on the air.

A couple months ago when the club's sign up sheet came around I signed up for the 20 meter (14.000MHz) band and CW (Continuous Wave Morse Code) of course.  In the past years I had to tear down my permanent station and transport it to the Field Day site.  I have several ancillary devices like computer interface, antenna tuner and electronic keyer connected to the rig in my home station and it was always a bit of a pain to disconnect all this stuff.  

I've been active in the amateur radio hobby now for seven years. I figure it's something that's here to stay so I decided to add another new piece of gear to the station.  Something to make the logistics of portable operations easier.  I took a trip down to Columbus Ohio to visit Universal Radio where I source most of my radio gear and picked up a Yaesu FT857D  amateur transceiver.  The 857 is a full power HF, VHF and UHF multimode radio that has most of the features found in a full sized rig but comes in a very small package aimed at mobile use.

The pink cell phone and glassed belong to my lovely assistant the RoadQueen, who handled the logging chores on a spreadsheet program she created herself with a dupe checker even so we wouldn't waste time and effort working a station we had already contacted.  In contesting these are called "Duplicates" and are to be avoided because duplicate contacts to same station cannot be counted for points.

 The only other thing I added to the Yaesu was a Collins 300Hz mechanical filter to help navigate the busy and crowded Field Day band conditions.  Most amateur transceivers come without filters which can then be added as needed depending on the type of activity the operator persues.  

In the upper right hand corner of the circuit board are two slots where filters can be installed.  One space for CW and the other for SSB (Single Side Band) voice mode.  The Yaesu is set up with simple push pin sockets so I didn't even have to warm up my soldering iron.

What the filter does is drastically narrow the receiver's passband.  When the band is crowded with lots of stations operating side by side close in frequency to one another the operator can engage the filter and as a result of the narrower passband only hear one or two station instead of several.  A radio's receiver without a filter in line normally samples a segment of spectrum that can contain four or five or more CW stations all transmitting at once. Each station is transmitting on a slightly different frequency which makes the tone of the signals a little different in pitch but it still ends up being a wild cacophony of senseless noise.  

In preparation for Field Day I limited all my operating to using CW only and the 857 to not only learn the new rig but to hone my CW skills for the event.  It all paid off and I set a new personal best logging 159 contacts with stations in 34 different states, three Canadian provinces, the island of Puerto Rico and Argentina way down south.

Unfortunately the weekend wasn't without incident as wind driven rain did invade some club member's tents and curtail operations while soaked ground loosened the guy wire stakes of the 6 meter antenna causing it to come crashing back to Earth sometime during the night.  But I can happily report no loss of life or limb and we all managed to have a good time and eat lots of great food as is one of our clubs main objectives.

Did I mention it was wet?

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