AA4XX QRP Finally Works Europe and Africa on 160M

AA4XX QRP Finally Works Europe and Africa on 160M

Up until a couple years ago, I had assumed that working Europe on 160M via QRP CW  was probably not in the cards for me.  What I didn’t realize at that time was that some groundwork was being laid that would significantly increase the odds that my goal of working EU would be realized.

For most of the past decade, I considered my 160M dipole (up 75′) to be the best performing Top Band antenna that I would possibly be able to muster.  I could work lots of stateside stations with the dipole and could usually work the nearby Caribbean island stations as well.  I had heard quite a few Europeans, but none had ever heard me.

New insights were gained when a friend invited me to attend a local meeting of the PVRC (Potomac Valley Radio Club). Many of those guys were way ahead of me in terms of operating skill and contest experience, and they kick started me into a trajectory that helped me become a much better operator.  I learned basic principles, from computer logging to rapid fire cw exposure during major contests.  That was a great confidence booster.

During this time, another friend introduced me to QRP contester Gene Bowman, WB4MSG, at the Winston-Salem Hamfest.  Gene invited me to his QTH to look at his 160M vertical  loop.  I didn’t realize it at that time, but that visit was a pivotal point in my ham career.  That story is presented here.  Gene became my 160M QRP mentor, offering advice based on his hard earned experience.

I decided that I was going to build a vertical loop similar to Gene’s in order to see if I could realize any improvement in Top Band station performance.  I was disappointed to witness that  the ground around my property (rocky red clay) was a poor RF conductor.  Ground losses with the new vertical loop were excessive, even after installing more than 40 long ground radials.  A careful reading on ON4UN’s Low Band DXing suggested that an elevated counterpoise might be the answer to lowering ground losses.

The picture below was taken during an ice storm in Jan 2016.  Each counterpoise wire is a little over 80 feet long.  Full details on the complete antenna, along with an EZNEC antenna file, can be found here.

 

Elevated Counterpoise Reduces Ground Losses

Having increased my operating skills, along with the addition of an efficient 160M antenna, it became apparent that my odds of working Europe on 160M with QRP power were significantly improving.

The first break through occurred in late January, 2016, when CS2C (Portugal) and CR2X (Azores) were worked during CQ160CW 2016.

During the Dec 2016 Stew Perry Contest, an unusually good opening added several more new EU countries to the 160M log:  9A5W (Croatia), DP5A (Germany), S57DX (Slovenia), F5NTV (France),  OQ5M (Belgium), EI2CN (Ireland), and G3RJ (England).

Two additional EU countries were added in Jan 2017 during CQ160CW: OM7M (Slovak Republic) and PI4DX (Netherlands).  In addition, I was pleasantly surprised to be called by CN2AA in Morocco, for my first African Top Band QSO.

The map below provides a pretty good indication of what can be done with QRP power on 160M with the right antenna and basic knowledge of 160M propagation.

 

Some of the countries worked by AA4XX QRP on 160M

To work the EU stations from the US East Coast with QRP, you need to understand gray line propagation;  Basically, stations that are located in the transitional zone between night and day (both dawn and dusk) experience a substantial boost in both tx and rx signal strength.  The signal strength enhancement that occurs during this time period affords low power US East Coast operators their best chance to make themselves heard in EU.

95% of the EU stations I have worked on Top Band were during the grayline period whereby the EU stations were transitioning from darkness to daylight.  This translates to the hours between   11:30PM-1:30 AM local time East Coast US, or 0430-0630 UTC.  It is interesting to observe the grayline propagation effect as it marches across EU from east to west.

There are many gray line calculators available on the internet.  The following gray line utiilty, which updates every five minutes, is available here.

 

As can be seen on the map above, the grayline has both an eastern and a western terminator.  The period during which the eastern grayline terminator approaches the US East Coast is dawn, and during this time it is common to hear signals from the Western US and Hawaii peak substantially.  I have worked HI many times on Topband QRP from 6:30-7:30 local time, or 1130-1230 UTC.

This video shows what it’s like to work Hawaii on Top Band with QRP during grayline propagation.  The op is my friend Dick, N4HAY as he and I were participating in the CQ160CW Contest at WQ4RP during Jan, 2016.

In conclusion, three keys to working EU with QRP power levels from the US are to take advantage of the grayline propagation boost, to choose an efficient vertical radiator, and to minimize losses throughout your antenna system.

KnightLite’s FYBO 2017

KnightLite’s FYBO 2017

Each year at this time, the the Arizona ScQRPions sponsor the Freeze Your Buns Off QRP Sprint.

Stations who set up in colder environments receive higher points multipliers:

Temperature: 65F=x1, 50-64F=x2, 40-49F=x3, 30-39F=x4, 20-29F=x5,<20F=x6

A small group of hearty KnightLites braved the cold temperature using the KnightLite’s Club Call, WQ4RP.

Rob K3COD and Joe WA4GIR were operating 40M and 20M respectively upon my arrival at Harris Lake State Park near Raleigh, NC.  The temperature on Joe’s thermometer was reading 37F, which provided a points multiplier of 4.  Both stations were using inverted vees supported by nearby pine trees.

 

Rob K3COD and Joe WA4GIR Operating FYBO 2017

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Hurricane Matthew Takes Out WQ4RP 160M Loop

Hurricane Matthew Takes Out WQ4RP 160M Loop

Hurricane Matthew paid a visit to North Carolina on Sunday, Oct 9, 2017.  Drenching rain and twisting winds dropped several pickup sized loads of dead tree limbs around my property.  My wife and I also heard one or two large trees fall in the woods between our house and the WQ4RP antenna site about 1/4 mile away.

After the rain subsided Sunday afternoon, I walked my dog Jack down to the antenna site just to make sure that everything was OK.  I was surprised to see that one of the tall trees that supported the 160M vertical loop was on the ground.  Almost half of the 26 wires composing the raised counterpoise were under that mess, along with the vertical loop radiator!

 

160M Vertical Loop with Elevated Counterpoise was No Match for Hurricane Matthew

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WQ4RP Lightning Protection System Nearing Completion

WQ4RP Lightning Protection System Nearing Completion

This previous Summer, work was started on the Lightning Protection System at WQ4RP.  The basic plan was to bond all antenna feedlines, control lines, and power cables to a common single point ground reference.  That single point reference is a a KF7P entrance panel designed precisely for this purpose.

I contend that while it may not be possible to guarantee 100% immunity from a direct lightning strike to one’s tower, tower mounted antennas, typical backyard dipole, or associated feedline(s), it is entirely possible to substantially increase the odds that such a strike will have most of its energy dissipated in a protective grounding system well before it has a chance to get into your shack or radio equipment.

The copper strap exiting the lower left corner of the Single Point Entrance Panel (below) is clamped to a ground rod, which bonds the panel to the grounding system.  The copper ground rod clamps may be obtained from KF7P.  The large round access hole in the top left of the panel is for routing cables into the radio shack.

 

KF7P Single Point Ground Entry Panel

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WQ4RP Goes 100% Solar/Battery Power

WQ4RP Goes 100% Solar/Battery Power

It has been my long desire to move WQ4RP toward 100% Solar/Battery powered status.  With the total rebuilding of the radio shack during 2016, it made sense to incorporate a solar system into the new shack. The goals for the power system  system were to supply RF quiet power for the entire amateur radio station, including power for the radio(s), peripheral equipment (logging computers, keyers, etc.), and lighting.  WQ4RP is often used as a QRP contest station, so the power system needed to be robust enough to supply continuous power both night and day. This post discusses the  components that comprise the WQ4RP Solar/Battery Power System:

  • Solar Panels
  • Mounting system for the panels
  • Solar Charge Controller
  • Batteries
  • Shack Lighting
  • Wiring details

Two Renogy 100W 12V Monocrystalline Solar Panels were selected for this project.  The two panels were mounted over under style with the use of aluminum L stock purchased from Home Depot.  The two panels were bonded very securely to the common aluminum L stock with pop rivets.  

Two Renogy 12V 100W  Monocrystalline Solar Panels

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NJQRP Skeeter Hunt 2016

NJQRP Skeeter Hunt 2016

The NJQRP Skeeter Hunt is always a fun event, with this year being no exception.  This year’s Skeeter Hunt encouraged portable Skeeter stations to set up in one of our many national parks, as well as back yards, fields, lakes, or any place that a prospective skeeter might find enticing.

My wife, Sue, and I decided to drive down to Surf City, NC to spend some time at a campground by the sea in order to get in a few miles of walking and to allow me to set up an antenna in the salt marsh for the Skeeter Hunt.

An Interesting Diversion

During our 2 hour drive to the coast from Raleigh, Sue was sharing a very interesting magazine article regarding the tiny village of St. Helena, which to our surprise was only a few miles off our route.  We decided to take a detour in order to see if we could find the Saints Peter and Paul Russian Orthodox Church, which was constructed by a handful of Ukrainian Immigrants who relocated to the fertile NC coastal plain  in the 1920’s from the US Midwest as well as from the Old Country.

St. Peter and Paul Russian Orthodox Church 1         St. Peter and Paul Russian Orthodox Church

This lovely church was constructed in 1932, as evidenced by the cornerstone below.  This church is now entirely supported for by its congregants, all three of them!

See if you can decipher the line above the date

Cornerstone of Saints Peter and Paul Russian Orthodox Church

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FORMULATING A COHERENT RESPONSE TO ARRL RM 11708 / FCC DOCKET 16-239 NPRM

FORMULATING A COHERENT RESPONSE TO ARRL RM 11708 / FCC DOCKET 16-239 NPRM

Background on ARRL Petition RM 11708 / FCC Docket 16-239 NPRM

In November, 2013, the ARRL filed a Symbol Rate Petition with the FCC, requesting that a maximum bandwidth of 2.8 kHz be established for all data emissions below 29.7 MHz.  The FCC assigned RM (Rulemaking) number 11708 to this petition and subsequently requested comments from the public.  From March 2014 to present (Sep 2016), 80% of the amateur radio operators who have sent comments to the FCC on this RM have expressed opposition to RM 11708.  You can view comments that have been posted to the FCC regarding the ARRL’s petition RM 11708 here.  

The FCC issued Docket 16-239 NPRM (July, 2016) in response to ARRL’s RM 11708.  NPRM stands for Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.  The FCC is currently requesting comments on its soon-to-be-enacted Docket 16-239 NPRM , but anyone interested in filing a comment on RM 11708 / Docket 16-239 NPRM must do so prior to the Oct 11, 2016 filing deadline.  Of the approximately 100 comments that have been filed with the FCC to date, 89% of those responding  have expressed opposition to Docket 16-239 NPRM.  The majority of amateur radio operators who responded to this NPRM cited the need for a bandwidth limit in the RTTY/data subbands in order to protect the narrow band modes from unlimited bandwidth  transmissions.   You can view comments that have been posted to the FCC regarding Docket  16-239 NPRM here.

The Issues

In RM 11708 / Docket 16-239 NPRM, the FCC is requesting comments on two issues relating to data communications:

  1. Should the 300 baud limit be eliminated, thereby removing all limitations on baud rate?
  2. Should there be any bandwidth limit for RTTY and data emissions in the MF and HF bands?

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Why Should CW/RTTY Ops Care About ARRL RM 11708 / FCC Docket 16-239 NPRM?

Why Should CW/RTTY Ops Care About ARRL RM 11708 / FCC Docket 16-239 NPRM?

The FCC has recently announced a Notice of Proposed Rule Making, RM 11708 / Docket 16-239 NPRM, which will have significant implications for those amateur radio operators who enjoy CW and RTTY modes. The impetus for this proposed new rule was a petition from ARRL (2013) that all RTTY and data transmissions below 29.7 MHz be limited to a maximum bandwidth of 2.8 kHz.

In their response to ARRL’s petition, FCC has stated that,

“We decline, however, to propose to add a 2.8 kilohertz bandwidth limitation for RTTY and data emissions in the MF/HF bands as requested by the ARRL Petition.”

FCC further states that,

“We tentatively agree that a baud rate restriction has become unnecessary due to advances in modulation techniques, and no longer serves a useful purpose. Our rules do not impose a symbol rate limit on data emissions in any other amateur bands or in any other radio service. In addition, removing the baud rate restriction could encourage individuals to more fully utilize the amateur service in experimentation and could promote innovation, more efficient use of the radio spectrum currently allocated to the amateur service, and the ability of the amateur service to support public safety efforts in the event of an emergency…”

What does this mean for CW and RTTY operators?

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WQ4RP Lightning Protection System

WQ4RP Lightning Protection System

Having witnessed firsthand what lightning can do to a completely unprotected station, I decided to do things differently when the time came to rebuild the Excalibur Site.

The following photo is from a lightning strike that entered the shack five years ago via a balanced feedline.  There was no grounding system in place, so the lightning energy flowed through a wall stud and an ARRL Antenna Handbook on the book shelf on its way to ground.  The wall stud burned almost completely through, and the thick handbook was turned to fine ash.  The building was subsequently dismantled.

lightning strike at AA4XX radio shack turns ARRL Antenna Handbook into powdery ash

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WQ4RP Shack Gets a New Floor

WQ4RP Shack Gets a New Floor

Many hours were spent deciding on which type of flooring would be best suited for the WQ4RP remote radio shack.

In the end, southern yellow pine 1″x 6″ lumber won out, as this is the same type of flooring I installed in my log home almost forty years ago, and I knew this type of flooring would send the message that you are now entering a special place.

The pine boards were installed over a red vapor barrier.  The vapor barrier limits the amount of moisture that can migrate into the shack from the ground.  The pine boards were just a few inches longer than the 12′ length of the building, so with a little trimming the installation went quickly.  This is not tongue and groove– I simply selected the straightest boards I could find at my local Home Depot Lumber Department and arranged the boards for minimal gapping.  This method worked out very well.

Excalibur SYP Flooring

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