ARRL Field Day 2013 with W7RAG

As the sun sets the fun begins. Radio propagation is better at night.Since last year’s Field Day, I’ve upgraded my amateur radio license to General Class, but still haven’t spent any time on the air. Instead, I’ve been using my amateur radio privileges to down-link wireless video from remote control airplanes, so all is not lost. Field day is a great opportunity to get on the air and work the HF bands, making remote, long distance contacts from off-the-grid power and field conditions. Another great incentive for attending field day is conversing with other amateur radio operators (HAMs) about a variety of interesting and geeky topics. I end up learning a ton about amateur radio and other technical fields, so it’s always well worth the investment of time and sleep deprivation.

Immediately after arriving, I ran into another first person view (FPV) hobbyist who is also a HAM. He had a small quad copter with a wireless camera and we spent about an hour flying this little bird with down-linked video. Though it was small, it performed admirably in the wind. When the quadcopter’s battery finally died, he brought out his 20 meter mobile rig and used a slingshot with a fishing reel to string an antenna through an overhead treebranch. With so many amateurs competing in the field day contest, it wasn’t long before he made two contacts, one in Manitoba, Canada and another in Nevada. His entire mobile rig was easily transported in a hard briefcase and powered by a couple lithium polymer batteries, originally intended for powering remote control aircraft. I can definitely see myself with a similar rig, making contacts while camping on a remote mountain top.

As the sun set, we got down to business: eating junk food and talking about technical stuff. While there was a radio contest going on, we were too engrossed in our conversation about robotics, Linux, nanotechnology, processor design, etc. that we let hours pass before we finally sat down at the stations to begin DXing. I lasted until about 5AM after which my fatigue level left me mostly zombified. Every time I’m determined to pull an all-nighter with ease (like I did many times in college), I’m left disappointed and exhausted. I must be getting old! :(

Hopefully by this time next year I will have purchased my first HF radio and made some non-field day DX contacts. Time will tell.

ARRL Field Day with the Radio Amateurs of the Gorge

RAG TentI passed my technician exam and became a HAM nine years ago while attending Cal Poly. A number of us were involved with the Cal Poly Picosatellite Project, which involved designing an orbital satellite capable of down-linking remote sensor data via HAM radio bands. Many of the engineers on the project became HAMs in order to communicate with this and other orbital satellites carrying amateur radio (OSCARs). Unfortunately, I ended up graduating before I could use the privileges my new license provided, and I haven’t been involved in amateur radio since then. That is, until a few months ago, when the local LDS church put on an emergency preparedness fair. Several classes were offered at the fair, including one that covered the importance of amateur radio in emergencies. This was all that was necessary to rekindle my interest in this hobby and begin preparing to upgrade my license to a general class. With my new found motivation I realized that I had still never been on the air, a fact I was somewhat embarrassed to admit to other HAMs. I decided to attend our local field day where I learned that my situation wasn’t uncommon.  I also had the opportunity, after nine years, to get on the air and make distant contacts.

Mobile ECCField day is an exercise organized by the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL), held annually on the fourth weekend in June. It is considered the largest emergency preparedness exercise in North America, with over thirty thousand operators participating across all of the amateur radio bands. Field day starts on Friday when HAMs gather at a predetermined outdoor location to set up an emergency communications center (typically a tent), radio gear, antennas, power supplies and amenities (such as heaters, food, coolers, etc.). The exercise begins at 1800 UTC on Saturday and ends at 2059 UTC on Sunday, after which the HAMs pack up their gear and head home. During the exercise the objective is to make as many contacts as possible under field conditions. In addition to being an emergency communications exercise, it is also a contest, with points being awarded for each contact made. More points are awarded for distant contacts or for using lower power levels to transmit. Contacts can be made with voice communication or by utilizing digital radio modes and Morse code (CW). According to the ARRL web page, the objective of field day is: [Read more…]

Reflections on SEA-PAC: Attending My First HAM Radio Convention

I just returned from an awesome weekend in Seaside, Oregon where I attended the SEA-PAC convention, an annual gathering of amateur radio operators at the Seaside Convention Center.

HAM Antenna Farm

HF Antenna Farm

First, a little back story: I’ve been a HAM for 9 years, call KG6PFU, but I’ve not yet been on the air. While attending Cal Poly I became involved with the Cal Poly Picosatellite Program, also known as PolySat. The aim of this program was to involve engineering students in an extracurricular project to design, build, and deploy an orbital satellite capable of remote sensing and downlinking telemetry on a HAM band. Because picosatellite communication involved using HAM radio frequencies, a number of the engineering students involved in the project took the FCC licensing examination and obtained our technician class licenses. Due to external commitments and schoolwork, I was only involved with PolySat for a short time and never had a chance to use my new privileges. Fast forward 9 years and I’m still a licensed HAM with a license that is about to expire, and I’ve still never been on the air. [Read more…]