Thursday, July 01, 2010

My Field Day Report

I was reviewing my Amateur Radio blog and realized it has been almost a year since my last post. I will have to work on improving that frequency.

Over the past weekend, I was involved with Field Day. It is an event that I look forward to every year. If you are not aware, Field Day is sponsored by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL). It is a communications exercise that involves amateur radio operators in the United States and Canada. Its purpose is to test the operator's ability to set up a station and conduct communications under conditions that are perhaps less than ideal.

Typically, a given Field Day event may involve a ham radio club, an emergency operations center, or just an individual operator. I participated in Field Day with the West Central Ohio Amateur Radio Association (WCOARA). The club's callsign is WC8OH. We operated with the classification of 5A. The "5" indicates that we had (or intended to have) five simultaneous stations on the air. The "A" indicates that we were operating separate from the AC mains. In our case, we were using deep-cycle industrial size 12-volt batteries. These batteries are more than adequate to power a 100-watt station, plus accessories for the entire event. The event itself lasts for 24 hours. I'm not sure what to think about our classification of 5A. Of course, I agree that we operated on battery power, but I don't think we ever had five stations going at once. The only downside that I can think of with regards to misrepresenting our class is that it puts us in a league that we can't possibly compete with, if you look at Field Day as a contest.

Our Field Day was located in Fairborn, Ohio on or near the campus of Wright State University and just south of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. We were lucky to not have rain or storms until it was time to tear things down on Sunday afternoon. At that time, we just had a few brief rain showers that really did not impede us from tearing the equipment down. Sometimes, Field Day weekend is very comfortable and sometimes it is miserable. This year was miserable.  The temperature was certainly in the mid to upper 80's, and the humidity was high.  Dewpoints were in the 75 degree range.  It didn't take long to get sweaty.  I had brought two cases worth of Diet Pepsi to share, however, I probably drank at least a case myself over the 27 or so hours I was there.  Since I travel from Columbus to attend this Field Day, I have to find a place to sleep.  In the past, I have stayed with old friends from the area.  I have also slept in my car several times, and starting last year, I have slept in a tent.  My tent is a little over a year old.  It is classified as a three-person tent, and is quite easy to set up alone.  After I finished setting the tent up, I wondered why I had two tent pegs left.  I just assumed they were extras.  This year when I was setting up the tent, I suspected it might rain because several of us had seen lightning in the distance and had seen storms on the radar, therefore I added the rain fly.  The rain fly clips to the rest of the tent in four corners.  When I went to the tent at about 1:00am, I noticed that I was not getting hardly any airflow through the tent.  After consulting the web on Monday morning, I noticed that you are supposed to use those extra two tent pegs to secure the flaps of the rain fly to the ground at a distance from the tent.  This allows the air to flow.  I'll know that next year, and hopefully I will be much more comfortable.

Now on the radio stuff.  The primary stations that I observed at our Field Day consisted of my Kenwood TS-2000X where I mainly operated 20-meter and 15-meter phone.  Another TS-2000 at a different table was used solely for PSK31, on 20-meters, I believe.  One station was centered around an old Drake transceiver.  And the other station that I noticed used an Icom IC-706 variant of some sort.  The antenna that I used was my Buddipole Deluxe.  It was set up as a loaded dipole at was at a height of about eight feet on its tripod.  The PSK31 station initially used a Buddipole as well, but later switched to a G5RV type of antenna.  That Buddipole was converted to a 2-meter J-pole antenna for talk-in.  The Drake TR7A was strictly on 10-meter CW and used some sort of MFJ active or loaded whip antenna.  I believe that the Icom IC-706-variant also used the G5RV when it wasn't being used for PSK31, but the Icom was also used to make 2-meter and 6-meter contacts.  Beam antennas horizontally-polarized were used at a height of about 25 feet using an Army surplus type of mast.  That mast was guyed and was also lashed to our picnic shelter.  We used the N3FJP Field Day Network software for logging our contacts.  Our total number of QSOs was only about 160.  I don't know if it was the heat that was getting to us or the fact that our core group of operators was down from last year, but we just didn't operate as much.  I used the search and pounce technique for contacting stations.  Those contacts did not seem any more difficult to make this year than last.  I guess our hearts just weren't into it as much.

I have posted 98 pictures from our Field Day on my Picasa site.  I have also posted three high-definition videos from our Field Day on my YouTube site.

Now, I would like to make some random observations:
  • I brought my W3NQN-type 200-watt bandpass filters to Field Day this year.  Despite mentioning that fact to the rest of the group, they did not get used.  However, this year we had very little station-to-station interference.  At one point, I was on 20-meter phone.  We also had a 20-meter PSK31 going at the time.  I would get interference but only when both the PSK31 station was transmitting, and when the 10-meter CW station was keyed down.
  • A couple of weeks before Field Day, I visited my Verizon Wireless store and traded-up my USB-based "air card" with their MiFi 2200.  That device bridges Verizon's 3G network with a WiFi network that supports up to five simultaneous users.  It worked extremely well.  I did not have a copy of Field Day Network on my laptop, so the MiFi came to the rescue.  I also used it for checking the radar screens and for downloading other software.  After checking Verizon's website I also realized that I did not get anywhere near my five gigabyte quota.  The MiFi also allowed my iPod Touch to get on the Internet.
  • We had somewhat of a delay in getting the Field Day logging program going.  Of course, it was no problem to actually start the program, but it was troublesome for the "client" computers to see the logging database on the "server" computer.  We used different combinations of domain names, settings on Norton Internet Security, and settings with the router before one of those combinations worked.  Field Day Network is a pretty decent program.  It does dupe checking, it interfaces with the radio and can poll the radio for frequency and mode information.  When interfaced with the rig and networked to other copies of Field Day Network, the application will let you know if two stations are on the same band and mode.
  • I enjoyed using the social-networking site Twitter a few times over the weekend.  I was accessing Twitter from my laptop computer and using my Verizon MiFi 2200 3G modem.  I have approximately 200 followers, so it is neat to be able to share with them what we are up to, and to also read their tweets.
  • I also enjoyed a little D-Star on Field Day weekend.  Although, D-Star contacts through a repeater or through the Internet wouldn't qualify for points in the contest, it is something that I can demonstrate to fellow ham radio operators.  This year I was using a DV Access Point Dongle along with my Icom IC-92AD handheld, and the Verizon MiFi 2200.  I made contact with WG8I using this set-up.  The DV Access Point Dongle contains the AMBE vocoder, but also contains a frequency-agile 2-meter 10mW transceiver.  This allows you to walk around with the HT on super-low power and communicate with any other D-Star user.  I played around a little with my DV Dongle as well.  The DV Dongle does not involve a radio at all, but still interfaces with the D-Star network.  I used a Logitech headset and recorded my audio as processed through the AMBE chip.  I was not pleased with the results, so I still have some work to do before I get on the air with it.
  • My microHAM Micro Keyer II worked very well.  I bought it shortly after last year's Field Day.  This year I strictly used it for rig control, or more precisely, to read the frequency and mode in Field Day Network.  Before next year's event, I hope to fully utilize it and use the sound card features and do some low-band digital modes using Ham Radio Deluxe.  For those not familiar with the Micro Keyer II, it is a rig interface for control, for audio, for keying, and so on.
  • I realized even more so this year that my DC-to-daylight rig, the Kenwood TS-2000, is only an average radio with regards to HF performance.  I realize that my Buddipole antenna is a seriously-compromised antenna compared to a full-length dipole for example, but if I can hear them nice and loud, then I would think they would be able to hear me.  I do realize that I have to bust pileups, but it shouldn't be that difficult.  Also, the receiver performance of the TS-2000 means that it is going to be tough to work one station right next door to another strong station.  That's why I am hoping to save up for and buy an Icom IC-7600 before next year's Field Day.  That radio has really decent specifications.
  • For about a half-hour I was involved with mentoring one of the club member's grandsons.  We continued to operate on 20-meters and I would let him know what to say and at what time to say.  During that half hour we only added one contact to the log, but it was fun.
  • I enjoyed the food over the weekend.  I brought ice cold Diet Pepsi, and a couple of bags of potato chips.  We had the disposal of a couple of Coleman-type stoves, and for dinner on Saturday we had a sweet-and-sour chicken stir fry, hamburgers, hot dogs, fruit, and other miscellaneous food.  On Sunday morning, we had pancakes, scrambled eggs, and bacon.
  • I mentioned earlier that I would like to work the lower bands next year.  In order to effectively operate down there, I'm probably going to need to set aside my Buddipole, and string up a dipole as high as possible in some of the tall pine trees there.  In order to do that, I'm going to probably need a slingshot system.  That's something to buy between now and next year. 
Hopefully, you will hear from my again sooner than a year from now.