Monday, June 28, 2010

Field Day 2010: Gone but Never to be Forgotten

Despite the poor propagation, this was a banner year for Field Day at KL2R.  Not just a contest, Field Day is a great exercise in teamwork.  Also, to Connie KL1BE and yours truly N1TX, Field Day represents a time for socializing and a chance to "integrate" family/friends with the radio hobby through fellowship and mutual generosity from everyone involved.  This year proved a resounding success in that regard.  We had about 20 visitors, some of whom I had never met before, and several I had not seen for a long time.

The preparation team and operators demonstrated a tremendous amount of enthusiasm, innovation, and sheer determination.  The personal contributions of each resulted in an accomplishment greater than their sum, which was an event far more fun and enriching (and fattening) than I had imagined it could be.

About six weeks of planning in earnest paid off when Friday setup began.  We had many equipment options available and were able to adapt as needed to changes in personnel and time available to test.  By the time Friday morning rolled around, the shack was ready to accept new gear and antennas.  Dan KL1JP brought a portable solar setup with batteries, a Moxon 6m antenna, and a strong arm for slinging lines to put up the two additional G5RVs.  

We had four HF stations set up in the shack with my FT950 and FT100, KL1RL's FT1000MP Mark V, and KL1AZ's TS2000.  Elaine KL6C rolled in an 18-foot trailer complete with table, generator, and Ten-Tec Jupiter for a fifth HF station.  Ken W6HF and Luci KL1WE operated their mobile FT897D briefly as HF #6.  Thank goodness for the effectiveness of W3NQN bandpass filters.  Two Honda 2 kW generators powered the shack, and the solar-charged batteries kept things going in Elaine's trailer. 

The entire layout was networked using N1MM software.  Although basic configuration of multi-multi operation is fairly straightforward with N1MM, I believe this arrangement proved to be the most problematic aspect of the entire weekend.  As with anything, you can do planning to the smallest detail, but only thorough testing can wring out the bugs.  Alas, Murphy was lying in wait in several dark corners once the contest began.  As an example, we painfully discovered N1MM is far more stable in multi-user mode with fixed IP addresses instead of using DHCP.  Fortunately, no fatal errors occurred, and the log did not suffer. 

Mother Nature once again demonstrated her cruel sense of humor by teasing us earlier in the week with decent propagation only to pull the magic ionospheric carpet out from under us on Saturday with high aurora and Kp index  See below.  We hardly heard any east coast stations.  Even our relative proximity to the west coast didn't seem to help much with contacts.  Twenty meters CW was the money band, disappointing as it may have been, thanks largely to the skill and tenacity of Phil KL8DX.  Elaine KL6C tried like the dickens to resuscitate 80m, and John KL1AZ persevered on 10m and 6m.  He netted one QSO on the latter.  Along with digital guy Kevin NL7WO and newcomer Rich W8VK, Elaine and John earned gold stars in my book for exemplary commitment by keeping the CQs going despite few or no prospects most of the time.

Space Weather and Geomagnetic Indices
Results by Band
    Band  Mode  QSOs    Pts
     7  CW       9      18
     7  LSB      4      4
     7  PSK31    3      6
    14  CW     213     426
    14  PSK31    1      2
    14  RTTY     2      4
    14  USB     18      18
    21  CW       1      2
    50  USB      1      1
   144  CW       1      2
   144  FM       2      4
   420  FM       4      8
 Total  Both   259     495

With these contact results, of course, bonus points will play an essential role for any sort of competitive standing.  We had that pretty well covered.  W1AW bulletin?  Check, thanks largely to the booming signal of K6KPH.  Satellite QSO?  No problem, as W6HF and KL1WE have that down to a science.  Public relations?  Done.  Neal WL7NZ even got us a plug on radio station KIAK.  Alternative power?  Yup. KL1JP's solar-charged battery configuration worked with aplomb.   QTC?  Ed AL7N took traffic for me on 2m CW.  Public official?  State Rep. Tammie Wilson stopped by with her SWL husband, Bob, and spent a good long time asking a lot of questions.  Again, planning and teamwork paid dividends.

Food, of course, played an essential role in keeping the team motivated and rolling in the right direction, largely thanks to KL1BE and KL1WE laboring in the kitchen day and night.  The menus included biscuits and gravy, home fries, huevos rancheros, refried beans, tortillas, homemade bread, grilled cheese sandwiches, vegetable pie, pea soup, green salad, bean salad, moose chili, burgers, bratwurst, angel food cake with fresh strawberries, and other tasty treats.  Gallons of coffee, iced tea, sodas, wine, and plenty of water kept us well-lubricated.

Special guest Rich Carstensen W8VK happened to be visiting family in the area and hitched a ride with KL8DX.  Rich spent most of Saturday entertaining us with tales of QRP conquests on Top Band and his time as lead tech at Alinco.  He never missed an opportunity to call CQ on CW when a position was free.  Andre KL7AC, Mike AL7KC, Ruth KL2WR, Larry KL2WS, Eric KL7AJ, Chad  AL2D, John AL7ID, and Fred WL7IJ rounded out the guest list.  (I am sure there are a couple of others I  am not recalling in the post-FD fog, and I hope they forgive me.)

In the end, 2010 brought a Field Day for the memory book.  Even though I'm a competitive sort of guy, the points are secondary.  The published results can hardly reflect the wonderful rewards of camaraderie and good cheer gained from the whole weekend experience.  Thank you, all!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Field Day 2010 Preparations

The shack's radios have been fairly quiet during the past couple of months, save for some odd moments for DX and some lightweight competition efforts.  For the past six weeks, however, we've been planning for a wonderful Field Day with (hopefully) a turn-out greater than ever. 

Many of the Fairbanks-area hams, as most Alaskans, are busy with summertime outdoor activities like fishing and camping, and organized events like Field Day take too much time away from those.  Still others enjoy a trip down to Byers Lake for the annual Motley Group picnic, which happens to coincide with Field Day.  (The Motley Group is a statewide net that meets daily at 2100 local time on 3933 kHz.)

A couple of months ago, Neal Brown WL7NZ, president of the local Arctic Amateur Radio Club, asked Larry N1TX if KL2R would be interested in hosting some AARC operators not otherwise occupied, since it appeared KL7KC would not be participating in Field Day this year. Of course others would be welcome.  FD 2009 was a banner year in terms of participation at KL2R, and the more the merrier!  Thus, the gears began turning.

Initial response to the call for help was very enthusiastic, so we quickly began inventories and brainstorming the possibilities.  Over the past several years, we've been operating primarily as a Class E station (home emergency power) and will do so again.  Generators and batteries are not a problem.  A wide number of rigs are available, too.  We got quite excited about the possibility of checking out NL7Y's Elecraft K3, but other interests pulled him away.  Nevertheless, ICOM, Yaesu, Kenwood, and Ten-Tec should all be well-represented.  Dan KL1JP set about building another solar power unit housed in a large portable cooler.  He also designed and built Moxon antennas for 6 and 20m.  Elaine KL6C (ex-N6PU) has been gathering parts for our educational activity, building some battery systems.  Ken W6HF and Luci KL1WE made the drive north from California and practically demanded to be put to work cleaning out and organizing the KL2R shack to make the place suitable for human habitation.

The press release is finished and ready for distribution, elected officials and fire department staff have been invited, Ed AL7N is standing by for NTS traffic, the menus are shaping up, etc.  So things are looking very good, indeed!