The ARRL January 2003 VHF Sweepstakes at KMØT

Introduction:

Itís been a weird winter here in NW Iowa, hardly any snow and not too much cold. One would think that this would be a good thing. Perhaps I just wanted to run my snow blower a few times in order to get that "Tim Taylor Ė Home Improvement" feeling. This left lots of time for doing station improvements to get ready for the contest, however I really did not have that much to work on this time around. This gave me more time with my wife and kids and that really worked out for the best!  A little bed time reading with my youngest was in order!

Patricia Gets on the Air!

Sometime during the entire winter hustle bustle, Kid's Day was approaching and I kept telling Patricia that it was coming up. After a few times about telling her, she got pretty interested in it and began to ask questions! When Kid's Day came on, I yelled upstairs for Patricia and she came running down ready to go. Patricia made a bunch of contacts, exchanged her favorite color, age and where she lived.

 

She even adlibbed a bit and told the other kids about her favorite animal, Horses! One little boy asked her if she liked dogs, Patricia just blurted out a resounding NO!  Aren't kids great! Honesty and tack, hmmmmm. We will need to work on the tack part a bit.  Out of all the kids she worked, she was the youngest. Most were in the 6 to 9 year old range. So for her being 4-1/2, I was pretty proud of her. 

We had worked on her Morse code oscillator just days before, but she had not yet mastered the code by the time Kid's Day came along.  Maybe next year!  As you can see, Jenna used the finished unit as a teething ring!

During Kid's Day, Mom was in the shack with Jenna too and we got a bit on videotape. Should be interesting a number of years from now watching that!  Here is a picture of Jenna as she gets her first real shack visit!  Hopefully many more to come!

Dad Gets on the Air!

My dad had been a ham a long time ago, back in the late 50s and early 60s. He was in the Air Force at the time and worked as an electronic technician. He also had the opportunity to work in a MARS station and got his conditional license back then as K4VPO. Well, when us kids came along, he let his ticket slide and that was about it. As I grew up, I always was interested in the old gear he had laying around. I remember the yellow lights from the bezels of the old Hallicrafters receiver he had. I donít ever recall Dad talking to me about Ham radio, I think he just forgot all about it as we kids got older.

As time passed and I grew into the hobby with really no coaxing from Dad, I had always hoped he would someday return to the ranks and get his ticket once again. I had been bugging him about it over the last years but I never was able to get anywhere with it, so I pretty much forgot all about it.

One day I got a phone call from dad and he said "I need the books" I almost fell off my chair! He had run into an old friend of my mom's who happened to be Ham and they got to talking. In fact, I knew the gentleman, Fritz - WØKO. He was a member of the Brainerd Amateur Radio Club and I had met him many times when I was a young Ham. I was involved with the club up there while I was in High School in Brainerd.

So, I got him an early Christmas present and sent him the books for the Tech and General exams, expecting him to crack the books right away. Well, about 3 weeks passed and I called him up to ask how it was going. It was only a few weeks to the test. Dad indicated that he had not yet opened the books and realized that he needed to get going quick. I did not hear anything for a week or so and then we got together on the phone to clarify a few things. He was really having troubles from what he said and did not have a good feel for it.

Well, test time came along and he jumped in and finished before any of the any other test takers. Dad said that they scored the test and he got the thumbs up! The VECs then coaxed him to take the General test. Well, dad passed that one too! With one wrong answer to spare! He gave them his old ham ticket and he got credit for the code and was upgraded to General Class all in one sitting! The funny thing was that he never cracked open the General Class examination study materials! I guess he remembered more than he thought! So, I was pretty proud of him and he was soon issued the callsign of KCØOHO.

Christmas rolled around and I gave dad my FT-100D that I had been running around with in the mobile. I also got him a tuner and a dipole. We put that up and a Cushcraft FM Ringo II. I got dad on 2 Meter FM and ran around town to see what simplex distance could be covered. That way he got some on the air practice prior to getting on the local Brainerd repeater. We then got him set up on 40 Meters and when I got back to Sioux Center, we were able to make contact on the low bands!

Dad has not spent too much time on the air yet, but hopefully he will get on a bit more this summer. I hope to put up a SSB 2 Meter yagi, and perhaps one on 6 Meters as well.

Grandpa - KCØOHO and Patricia - Christmas 2002

Preparation and Investigation of the Gear:

I had to take down the dish tower in order to do a few things.  One thing I wanted to look at was how the equipment was fairing being up there for 6 months to date.  Also, I wanted to try to resolve the drifting issue I had on 10 Ghz.  During the cool and warm parts of the day, the 10 Ghz system might have been 20 KC from where it had been before.  Not too much of a problem for when I was working Gene, NØDQS, cause we both knew we could find each other, just had to tune around abit.  But for other stations such as up in EN34 and elsewhere, it was a crapshoot in terms of telling them where I might be.  Also, I would drift around abit between transmissions.  That was ok, but still a pain for when I was the DX and the other station was not copying me all that great in the first place.  I also had a new DL2AM amplifier for 5.7 Ghz that I wanted to integrate, going from 250 mW to 20+ watts.

Where did all this water come from?

So one day when the wind died down (which doesn't happen all the often around here), I lowered over the dish tower and took the 5.7 and 10 Ghz transverter boxes inside.  When I got inside and opened them up, I discovered all kinds of water in the boxes.  The water at this time was pretty froze, but there was some other moisture all around the inside the box as well.

Where did all this water come from?  The Hoffman boxes are water tight for sure and I had taken special care to silicone seal around all the cable entries.  I posted to the VHF and other reflectors and got some good responses back.  The boxes may be water proof, but If not hermetically sealed, then when it cools down outside, you will get condensation within the box from the water vapor content of the air. 

So the boxes got opened up and I blew a fan on them for a few days to dry all the electronics real well.  After a few days of dry out period, both boxes appeared to be working on a brief power on test.  So I proceeded to further updates.

5.7 Ghz gets a Boost!

I finally got an amp for 5760 Mhz.  However, I had extremely good luck with the DB6NT transverter and its 250 mW output to a 2' dish and copper pipe feed.  (Contact David Orlean - K1WHS  at www.directivesystems.com for the dish and feed - Note that Steve at Downeast Microwave also has the same units!)   Up to the January Contest of the this year, I had made probably about 75 contacts and worked 17 grids.  My best DX was with Bob - K2YAZ up in EN74ax during a fantastic tropo opening the fall before.  That distance was 844 Kilometers (524 miles).  Gene - NØDQS and I also had very good luck in a few contests at that power level and I was able to work him in 16 grids during his rove in the 2002  September VHF Contest.

This particular amp, by DL2AM, is good for 22 watts out with around 200 mW input.  The current draw is about 5 amps at 13.8V.  These amps need a seperate turn on voltage during PTT.  A DB6NT sequencer was also installed to handle the proper switch timing.  As I had learned my lessons from the year before, at these power levels, the front ends of the transverters can't handle the bleed through during the TX to RX cycling.  See the 5.7 and 10 Ghz write up for more details on the sequencers and installation.  So I installed the amp in the bottom of the box and installed a heat sink on the outside of the Hoffman box.

  

I then at that point started looking for ways to more securely mount the transverters to the metal strap within the box.  I was told by Gerry at SSB Electronics, that for better frequency stability, the transverters had to mounted tight to the metal enclosure of the box for heat sinking.  Previously, I had used double sided tape to stick the transverters to the metal strap, then tie straps to hold the lid on.  I fashioned a few straps out of copper to help hold both the lid and transverter to the metal strap.  I would just slip the straps on after everything was installed in the box.  Note below the final burn in and testing of the amp for the 5.7 Ghz box.  I was also using a DEMI weak signal source for testing the RX system.

  

Try Try Again.....

Well, my little idea about the copper straps did not work out too good.  They just were not stiff enough to hold things tight.  I kinda thought that would be an issue, but I was looking for the "quick fix".  As I have done this a bit, I should know better by now....

Anyway, I then went with some stiff aluminum strap.  These I fashioned in a U shape and drilled holds in the ends.  Slipped them around the transverters and metal strap and tightened them down gently so as not to stress the transverter enclosure.  They held very nice and seemed to help with the transverter heat transfer.  Before these straps, the transverter enclosure would get fairly hot from the internal crystal heater.  Now that they are tied to the enclosure, they are cooler and have the ability to transfer heat better from the case and to the outside world.

 

 

Final adjustments:

Based on the recommendations I received on my water problem, I drilled "weep holes" in the enclosure so that moisture could vent in and out of the box.  The holes were made very small and strategically located so not to let rain water in.  I had to give this a bit of thought since I typically park the dishes pointed straight up to eliminate wind load.  With that, I drilled holes on the bottom and in the cover toward the hinge.  This worked out very well since the equipment that is attached inside the box is towards the top and would not sit in any water.  Now I could say I thought of all that long ago when I laid these things out, but no.  Nice to be lucky once in a while!

Then, I recall a flurry of emails come across the VHF reflector on reflectivity of paint, absorption of heat, etc.  I read up on this subject with great interest.  It was my impression that the bright aluminum was a very good reflector of the sunlight, but to my surprise the thread indicated that having a brushed aluminum box was almost as bad as having the box painted black!  All this in terms of heat absorption from the sun.  Of course, painting the box white is the solution.  So, now I have my own version of the "White Box" as both the 5.7 and 10 Ghz enclosures are painted with a number of coats of white glossy enamel!

All this was completed the weekend prior to the contest and I burned them in for a day on the bench.  Two days before the contest, the wind finally died down enough so I could get the tower set back up to the vertical position.

The Contest:

The contest started out by catching some of the rover pack of Jim - KBØTHN/R, John - KCØLBT/R and Jon - WØAMT/R. These guys traveled down to middle Iowa and hit some grids in the area with intentions of going north from there. The conditions at the start were not too outstanding. Pretty windy and dry for sure. So the tropo was marginal at best. I actually had a bit of a struggle working some of these folks in close. Pretty sure it was propagation related.

After chasing those gentlemen around for a bit, I ran into Bruce, W9FZ/R as he was up north in EN15 and had a limited schedule there, so it was good to link up with him early. Conditions to the north were actually pretty good as we were able to work each other thru 2304 Mhz. Bruce had not roved for a few years since his loss of his previous rover vehicle. In this particular contest, he rented a vehicle I believe and got it all set up. I think he did pretty well and he gave me lots of QSOs. I really think he enjoyed being out in the thick of things again! Thanks Bruce!

In between chasing these rovers, I also was tracking Gene, NØDQS/R. Gene started out down in EN20 and EN30. We have always had a bit of trouble with him down there in the winter months, propagation is never too good and the elevation there is marginal. No problems on all the bands thru 3456 Mhz, but pretty weak there. We spent just a few minutes on 5.7 and 10 Ghz, only to say try it again in June. That ended up being the only two grids we did not make it on all bands. All his stuff was working good, it was just a long shot are far as making it on those bands this time of year.

Being freed up for a bit from chasing rovers, I then worked a bunch of the guys in the EN34 area and then began looking to the West, South and East. Not many takers there. The band did not seem to be too open out those ways. Managed to raise Phil - NØPB and Dan - K9IMX. Surprisingly though, contacts with Bruce, W9FZ/R were still going well as he traversed the northern grids. Also, as Gene - NØDQS/R got in a bit closer, never had any problems thru 10 Ghz. My new amp on 5.7 Ghz was working wonderfully and Gene was able to find me without any trouble. In the father out grids, he would just respond with his 250 mW on CW and we would work cross mode CW - SSB. Worked out very well! Thanks Gene!

As evening wore on, I tried a schedule with Bob, K2YAZ - EN74, but never heard a peep. Emailing after the contest reveled that he had heard me once briefly, but that was it. I think it was the first time we never made it on any band when we had a schedule set up. We even tried the next day, nothing then either. So it was apparent that the long haul tropo was not in the cards to the east. In fact I had spent quite a bit of time listening and CQing east, all in attempts to get some of the group of rovers in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin - Like Tim and Pat - KØPG/R - K9ILT/R - but nothing was ever heard from them. Next time you two!

Late evening to the north kept surprising me. The guys up in northern Minnesota, EN36 and EN37 came blasting in and I easily worked through the EN34 QRM to get KØAWU EN37 - Bill on 50, 144 and 432. The characteristic quick QSB was not really there, we were able to get all those bands in a few minutes. I noticed that those guys were in pretty well for a good period of time. Unusual for that time of year. Also, KØKP in EN36 was worked on 50 and 144 Mhz and Jim, KBØCIM in EN36 on 144 Mhz.

As I chased W9FZ/R a bit more to the north, Ross - NØMSS in EN16 came in no problem. Then a surprise, I heard a weaker station calling me, it was Dennis - NTØV in EN08. We worked on 144 and 222 Mhz. Wow! Now that was a good haul for that time of year. I donít hear Dennis all that often so it was pretty neat to get him in the log.

It was getting late and I got together with Gene, NØDQS/R in his last two grids of the night, EN23 and EN33. After that, the late night schedule began with catching up with Marc - WBØTEM. Marc is always good about catching me in the late night hours and handing out some contacts. After that, I had some WSJT schedules and nailed a few more grids out east on 50 and 144 Mhz.

The WSJT contacts were pretty much like shooting fish in a barrel. The 50 Mhz rocks were very good and that made QSOs very quick. The 144 Mhz ones took a bit more time, but the rocks were definitely there. Stations worked included W2FU, K3EAR, W1FN. I spent some time CQing on 50 Mhz WSJT, but no takers other than pre-arranged schedules. It is a shame, the contacts were real gimmies. With that I decided to get a few hours of sleep.

Morning brought a bit of tropo as I was able to get a hold of Bob, K2DRH in EN41 and we worked thru 432 Mhz. After that the morning meteor scatter came in right as scheduled and worked a few more stations out east, some 8s, 3s and VE2 stations. The rest of the morning was pretty much tracking Gene, NØDQS/R amongst other rovers and keeping an eye on 6 meters. The morning meteor scatter was seemed long lived in some cases and I was wondering if it was a brief mixture of Eskip as well.

As I worked some more locals, Dale WØDMR, Fred WA2FHI (EN34) - Wade KCØAKU and Bryce NØSPP, that 6 Meter thing was still sending some signals to me. I managed to work a VA6 and a W7 off the back of the beam and also began hearing brief bursts to the east.  The 7 lander was in for about 20 minutes, unfortunately, CQs out that way did not produce any more QSOs.

The close look at 6 Meters paid off. Sure enough the band blew wide open at 2122 as I worked 1s, 2s, 3s and the occasional 4 lander. It was so strong, I was working some east coast rovers too! Got a chance to catch up with Jeff - K1TEO as he was tearing It up as well! The last one I worked to the east was Del, K1UHF in FN31. We even had a chance to chat about trying 2 Meter WSJT, but I declined since I was still in search of for sure 6 Meter multipliers. Well, I should have taken him up on it cause the last station I worked was Connie - NG4C in FM16 a few minutes later. It was a hum dinger of an opening for sure. I recall in a January contest about 3 years ago we had the same type of opening, but it was very early in the morning and I was sleeping through half of it. So it was nice to get in on the whole thing this time around. I netted about 60 QSOs and 12 multipliers. I heard through the grapevine later that the QSO rate for the big gun stations out east got the highest during the halftime of the NFL playoff game. Makes sense to me!

After that things slowed down considerably. I spent some time listening out west for an Es opening from the Midwest, heard a few blips, including a rover in 6 land, but nothing really materialized. That would have been awesome if I could have got a good opening out West that the East Coast competition would not get! (WellÖ.. a guy has to dream donít he?)

So I spent a lot of time calling CQ, raising a few here and there. Larry NØLL EM09 was worked thru 1296, so the band was not in bad shape his way. Just not a lot of guys to the south were on for the contest or I was missing them all. Also ran into Charlie - NØAKC in EN44. We have always had trouble on the higher bands and managed to work him thru 1296, so we were pretty excited about that. Thanks Charlie!

The near end was spent chasing stragglers and there were very few to find. Also caught up with Chris - NØUK who was roving on and off that weekend. Managed to get him in a few grids. Chris was always easy to pick out cause he would call me on CW and we would work cross mode CW - SSB. Goes pretty quick when you get the hang of it. Thanks Chris for finding me!

I worked Gene in his last grids and he was off to chase others. I then linked up with Gary - WØGHZ as we had not run all the bands we could, and managed to get a 3456 Mhz contact out of him. Thanks for the multiple tries Gary!

Thanks to all the other regulars that get in there for all the contests and some for multiple QSOs. I can't name you all, some of you are mentioned in the above text and kudos to them and KB9TLV, KB9PJL, KT8O, WYØV, KCØCQN, N9DG, WBØHHM, WØOHU, KAØRYT, WØZQ, KAØPQW, NØURW, KBØZKX, KØKFC, KCØHEW, NØKP, WØVB, KAØBZV, KØSHF, KBØOBT, NØHJZ, KB9UZV. Sorry If I missed anyone. Thanks! (Maybe I should just post the log?)

Darn - No F2 like last January...oh well, only 10 years to go for the next sunspot cycle peak!

Contest Summary: KMØT

Band QSOs Pts QSO Pts Grids
50 MHZ 152 1 152 53
144 MHZ 103 1 103 35
222 MHZ 41 2 82 25
432 MHZ 54 2 108 27
902 MHZ 20 4 80 18
1296 MHZ 27 4 108 21
2304 MHZ 20 8 160 18
3456 MHZ 15 8 120 14
5.7 GHZ 12 8 96 12
10 GHZ 12 8 96 12
Totals All Bands 456 1105 235

KMōT CLAIMED SCORE: 259,675

This was my best effort yet for the January Contest - with fair propagation and fair participation and many rovers. (January 2002 Score was: 214,760 - QSO count 378) (January 2001 Score was: 63,140 - QSO count 281)

"The Roverís Corner" ©

       

What can I say, as always, the rovers helped out. Here is the chart of Rover activity I worked:

BAND NØDQS/R W9FZ/R KCØLBT/R KCØCQN/R WØIS/R KCØOIA/R KBØTHN/R NØUK/R WØAMT/R EAST/R
50 MHZ 14 3 1 2 0 0 0 1 0 2
144 MHZ 14 4 3 0 3 2 4 3 1 0
222 MHZ 14 4 2 0 0 0 0 1 1 0
432 MHZ

14

5 2 0 0 0 1 0 1 0
902 MHZ 14 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
1296 MHZ 14 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
2304 MHZ 14 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
3456 MHZ 14 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
5.7 GHZ 12 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
10 GHZ 12 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total QSOs 136 28 8 2 3 2 5 5 4 2

Total Rover QSOs = 195

Rover QSOs % of Total QSOs = 42.7% WOW! Who says rovers are not necessary? Almost a clean sweep with NØDQS/R, just could not make it in EN20 and EN30 on 5.7 and 10 Ghz. Lots of good rover activity overall, its about the same as last year considering the same general % of rover QSOs.

Looking back to last years, January 2002: 158 Rover QSOs - 41.8% of total Qs. January 2001: 83 Rover QSOs at 29% of total Qs.

A special thanks to all the rovers, especially the top 2 - NØDQS/R and W9FZ/R - Experienced rovers for sure, thanks guys and to all the other rovers. You really make the contest happen!

GRID CHARTS

Here are some grid charts showing the extent worked on the various bands. These were clipped from Vqlog. I was able to export in ADIF format for my contest data from VHFDX (which I feel is superior in speed and ease of use for logging these VHF contests) The data transfers very quickly to Vqlog without any problems. The neat thing about Vqlog is that it has the ability to generate graphs, maps and charts based on the QSO data.

Finally.....

As far as the water in the 5.7 and 10 Ghz transverters, well everything worked the whole contest so lucky lucky me!  The contacts with Gene, NØDQS/R are always fun!  A good deal of the contacts on those bands were in the 100 to 100+ mile range and were never a problem!  Very Cool!  The new 5.7 Ghz amp should really shine this coming June!  Plans are in the works for upgrading Gene's - NØDQS/R 5.7 Ghz rover box to 16 watts.  As far as the drifting issues, it was pretty cold all weekend.  However, I did not notice any pronounced drift from morning to afternoon, there was defiantly temperature change during the day.  Making some contacts this spring will tell for sure that the new mounting of the transverters and painting of the enclosures was worth the efforts.

I really enjoyed this contest.  The 6 Meter opening really got me going and it was fun running a string of QSOs together.  Nice to have a pileup on you once in a while, makes you feel like a big gun!  Thanks again to all the contestants and good luck this winter getting ready for the next big event!

73 and See You Next Contest!

Mike - KMØT EN13vc