This year for the 4th of July holiday weekend, I decided to do a four day rove to hit four new POTA parks (K-2343, K-2339, K-2354, K-2349) and four new grids (EM09, DM99, DN90, EN00) around northern Kansas. I’ll be posting a separate writeup for each park, so check out my overview page for links to the other activations. On Thursday the 2nd, I left my home in the Kansas City suburbs early in the morning for the approximately four hour drive. I decided to head north to St. Joseph and then travel US 36 almost the rest of the way which was a much nicer drive than the alternate I-70 option. I got to travel through a bunch of small towns and see a real beautiful part of rural Kansas. The drive up was mostly uneventful, although as I neared Lovewell, Google Maps routed me down a gravel road that soon turned to dirt. As I rounded a hill, the back end of my car started to slide around me, and although I didn’t spin out, I ended up in the mud and stuck. Using some of my snow driving skill learned during my Ohio upbringing, I switched off traction control, and my front wheel drive Honda Accord was able to make it on its way. I nearly got stuck two more times on that road before before hitting pavement again. A little rattled and worried if I’d miss my first planned pass at the park, I raced down the country roads in my now mud-caked sedan.
After going back and forth on plans for Field Day this year, I decided to do it as a satellite-only operation from Elk City State Park to double dip on my goal to activate all Kansas State Parks on satellites. I reserved one of the campsites right on the shore of the Elk City Reservoir which gave me a decent horizon around, although there was some terrain north of me facing away from the reservoir. I planned a 1B KS – Battery operation for the event.
After the nearly three hour drive down from Kansas City on Saturday, I got to the campsite around 2pm or 3pm and quickly set up my tent. The RV/camper section of the campsite was packed full, but the tent area where I set up was mostly empty. This was nice because it allowed me to operate without annoying any neighbors with my passes throughout the day. Unfortunately, I was too late to make some of the early FM satellite passes of the day, so I prepared for a long list of linear transponder satellites. My goal for this Field Day was to 1) activate the park for Parks on the Air, 2) have fun camping, and 3) get some more practice on the linear transponders. Looking back, I accomplished all three, but not without some frustrations. Additionally, the rules for ARRL Field Day, AMSAT Field Day, and POTA meant three separate logs that were all counted differently.
I’ve wanted to give a VHF contest a go for awhile, it never seemed like I could have a workable station for real weak signal VHF being an apartment dweller. With all my travel plans canceled this summer due to COVID-19 and plenty of time to experiment, I figured I might as well clear a few weekends to test a portable VHF setup and then work the ARRL June VHF Contest. I decided I’d largely use equipment I already had which meant entering the contest as Single Operator Portable (SOP) with only 5w.
Continuing my mission to activate all Kansas State Parks, I decided to take the Friday before Memorial Day (5/22/2020) off from work to travel down to Crawford State Park in southeast Kansas. This park is nicely situated around a lake and offers camping, boating, and fishing. At first arrival, I drove around the park looking for a good spot to activate from with a clear view of a the sky and away from campers who probably did not want to hear my yelling into my radio. As I started to loop around the lake, I encountered the spillway which also serves as part of the road. Since it had been raining all morning, the lake was high, and the spillway was, well, spilling over. Although I saw several SUVs and trucks drive through the moving water, I decided my Honda Accord may not be up to the task and took the long way around the lake. I ended up coming back near the park entrance for the satellite passes, but I did get to see the numerous campgrounds and lake access points during my initial exploration. As it was Memorial Day weekend, the campsites were mostly full.
I decided to operate in the parking lot that butts up to the beach and playground area, both of which were closed for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This spot provided a decent view of the sky in most directions. I planned for three satellite passes from this location, all FM birds. Although this location is fairly far from my apartment up near KC, it was just within my VUCC circle, so I was able to tack on some new grids as well. This was especially lucky as Mitch, AD0HJ, was roving through North Dakota at the time, and I got him on the DN76/77 grid line!
The passes I attempted were:
- AO-91 (1627z) – max 17 degree pass: 0 QSOs
- AO-92 (1655z) – max 86 degree pass: 9 QSOs
- AO-91 (1802z) – max 43 degree pass: 6 QSOs
Unfortunately the first pass didn’t yield any QSOs. It was a lowish pass to the east but also busy which made it difficult to get into the bird. I’m not sure if I heard myself at all on the downlink during that pass. The next two passes went very well despite being busy as usual.
After activating the park, I decided to drive over to the Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie about an hour and a half away to work the EM27/37 grid line. Although the grid line was not quite that far away directly, I prefer to use public parks/land for my roving as not to attract attention or worry locals who may see me pulled over on the side of the road. The prairie area just so happened to have a small gravel parking lot that perfectly straddles the grid line and afforded me a good place to hang out for an hour or so. From that location I worked two passes, PO-101 (a brand new satellite for me) at 2055z, and SO-50 (my least favorite) at 2122z. Both passes were successful with many QSOs, although PO-101 was fairly quiet and I even got to chat a bit, which is rare in my experience on the FM birds. In the end, I made six QSOs on PO-101 and 12 QSOs on SO-50 from the grid line.
As a relatively active rover for satellite operations, I’m often looking to check whether a new location will be within my “VUCC circle” and be eligible to count for my home station VUCC certificate. Rule six of the ARRL’s VHF/UHF Century Club (VUCC) Award Rules states:
For VUCC awards on 50 through 1296 MHz and Satellite, all contacts must be made from locations no more than 200 km apart. For SHF awards, contacts must be made from a single location, defined as within a 300-meter diameter circle.
This means that I can use many operation positions, including those from different grids and parks from my Kansas State Parks POTA mission, and effectively double dip on these contacts as long as no two locations are more than 200km apart. Although it’s easy enough to manually measure distance between locations using the ruler tool on Google Maps, as your list of locations grows, that gets difficult. I decided to write a quick and dirty Python script that checks every combination of locations against one another to see if any are more than 200km apart.
Although technically a Kansas State Park entity, the Prairie Spirit Trail State Park is actually a 51 mile trail that connects Ottawa and Iola, Kansas and replaces the old railroad that used to link the cities. Along the way, this trail brushes up against several city parks which makes for several convenient access points. I chose to base my activation at Kanza Park in Ottawa, located less than two miles from the trailhead, as it has a parking lot near the trail and gave me some room to activate within 100 feet of the trail without being up on the trail itself. The park was quiet for a Saturday morning (5/9/2020), but I saw several people walking and biking down the trail. It was an easy park to get to being in the middle of Ottawa near a lot of shops and restaurants.
I planned for three satellite passes throughout the early afternoon. After the first one, I was a little concerned as to whether I’d get to 10 QSOs after those three passes, but I was able to get well above the threshold and ended up with 20 (19 unique) contacts total:
- AO-91 (1639z) – max 25 degree pass: 1 QSO
- AO-92 (1655z) – max 87 degree pass: 8 QSOs (including a dupe from the previous pass)
- AO-91 (1815z) – max 37 degree pass: 11 QSOs
This park was again within my VUCC circle (and my home grid EM28), so I was able to count these contacts towards my home VUCC. As of 5/11/2020, I am up to 116 grids with three new grids from this trip.
- As I arrived to the park a bit early, I was able to listen into an RS-44 pass before my first AO-91. While I didn’t attempt any QSOs, it was neat to hear all the activity people are talking about.
- I tested my new headset (Koss SB-45) with my FT-817ND and TH-D74 on two of the passes, and it worked fairly well. I’m planning a more thorough review in a future blog post, but I think this is a decent headset for ham radio. My only gripe so far is that the boom mic is a bit loose so it flops around a bit if you’re moving your head. Audio quality seems fine, though.
As the first step on my mission to activate all Kansas State Parks for Parks on the Air, I decided to visit the park nearest to my home in the suburbs of Kansas City – Hillsdale State Park. This park has numerous RV and tent campsites as well as a few day areas spread around Hillsdale Reservoir. I arrived fairly early in the day on April 25, 2020, and it wasn’t hard to find some space away from other people (keeping in mind the COVID-19 social distancing restrictions). I eventually found the archery range which was empty and had a wooden tower in front of a few targets which seemed like a perfect place to operate satellites from with a bit of a height boost. I was able to work two passes from this location before having to move elsewhere in the park since some other people arrived who wanted to use the area. The second location was near a day-use shelter, and I worked from the trunk of my car.
My plan was to be on three satellite passes throughout the afternoon, although in the end I stuck around for a fourth pass. As this park is in my home grid of EM28 and within my “VUCC circle,” these contacts also counted towards VUCC from my home location. As of the time of writing, I’ve confirmed five new grids from this activation, bringing my VUCC total to 113 grids. While at the park, I made 23 contacts in total which broke down accordingly for each pass:
- AO-91 (1631z) – max 22 degree pass: 9 QSOs
- AO-92 (1717z) – max 45 degree pass: 8 QSOs
- AO-91 (1806z) – max 48 degree pass: 5 QSOs
- CAS-4A (1826z) – max 46 degree pass: 1 QSO
A couple other interesting notes for this activation:
- I worked my brother, Andy, KK4LWR, on AO-91 at 1631z.
- The last CAS-4A pass was meant to be for practice with my brother. We’re both fairly new to the linear transponder satellites, so we planned to try to work each other. Prior to this contact, the only linear bird I’ve worked was FO-29 some time ago. Although my brother and I couldn’t make the contact, as soon as I tuned up, I heard Patrick, WD9EWK, on frequency and was quickly able to make the contact with him.
Being a relatively recent transplant to Kansas (back in the fall of 2018), I’ve realized there is still much of the state I haven’t seen. I’ve ventured down to Wichita and Topeka, but for the most part, I’ve only explored the Kansas City area. Since Kansas has 27 state parks spread out across the state, visiting each one and activating them for Parks on the Air (POTA) seems like a cool way to see the state and play with radio at the same time.
I’d also like to complete each of the POTA activations on satellites, which means 10 unique satellite QSOs per park visit. This may be a challenge depending on timing of satellite passes and the typical weekend pass antics, so I’ll have to plan carefully. I may bring an HF setup as backup, but my initial goal is to cross the threshold on satellites alone. Since some of these parks are a fair distance from the KC area, I might be doing some multi-day camping at the parks along the way.
I haven’t set a goal in terms of completion date for all 27 parks, but I’m hoping to make significant progress by the end of this summer. As of April 19, 2020, all of the state parks remain open despite the COVID-19 situation. I plan to do all of my operations alone, so I will be abiding by the social distancing requirements.
At the top of this post, I’ve created a map to show all of the parks on my list. Reg flags denote parks yet to be visited while green flags mark activated parts. Click on the flags for details on an individual park and my associated activation report which I will be posting as individual blog posts as I continue this effort. I will also link to the activation reports below.
Check my Twitter (@kd8rtt) for spots and details on planned activations before they happen!
- K-2340: Hillsdale State Park (4/25/2020)
- K-2350: Prairie Spirit Trail State Park (5/9/2020)
- K-2333: Crawford State Park (5/22/2020)
- K-2337: Elk City State Park (6/27-6/28/2020)
- K-2343: Lovewell State Park (7/2/2020)
- K-2339: Glen Elder State Park (7/2/2020)
- K-2354: Webster State Park (7/3/2020)
- K-2349: Prairie Dog State Park (7/4/2020)
Although I really like the Kenwood TH-D74 for its long list of features, being an HT, the user interface is not well suited to satellite operations. In particular, for linear satellites where I may need to continuously vary the tuning throughout the pass, it is tough to come up with a good mounting scheme on my chest rig so that the tuning knob is accessible and the screen is viewable. To try to solve this problem, I thought I could somehow build an upward facing display so I can mount the radio vertically and have access to the knobs and a good display. The photo above shows the final product for this project which is built around a Raspberry Pi Zero W and the USB interface the TH-D74 supports.
To track things over time, I thought I’d do an overview of my satellite gear as of February 2020. I actually have two different setups for satellite operations: one for the FM/APRS sats and one for the linear transponder sats. Since I do FM sats much more often, I’ve tried to slim that setup down so I can quickly run out to catch a pass.
In both setups, my Kenwood TH-D74A serves as the receiving radio and APRS transceiver. This radio, while not full duplex like its brother the TH-D72A, it is a great option for satellite operations in a two-radio configuration. My favorite feature is the built-in audio recording function. This makes recording audio from satellite passes for later transcription a snap without a mess of additionally cabling and a dangling audio recorder. This radio also contains an APRS function which can be used with the ISS and other APRS satellites with just a couple configuration changes. Finally, this radio has a wideband all-mode receiver which lets it work for SSB on linear satellites. Of course, tuning is a bit tricky without a big knob, but it is doable. For FM sats, I simply hang it from a lanyard around my neck and use a 2.5mm mono to 3.5mm stereo audio adapter cable to connect it to earbuds. I also have all the FM sat frequencies programmed into memory so there is little preparation required for a particular pass.
For FM sats, my transmitting radio is typically the Ailunce HD1. This radio is dual band DMR/FM radio, which makes it versatile outside of sat operations and a way for me to keep my ham radio equipment list to a minimum (blasphemy, right?). There is nothing special about it other than it rated for 10W RF output which can be a nice extra boost when needed (like when using my Shorty Arrow).
For linear sats, my transmitting radio is the venerable Yaesu FT-817ND. It serves double duty as my QRP HF radio, so it is easy to bring my HF and sat setups together on trips. In order to make it a bit more user friendly for satellites, I’ve added a computer headset with a couple adapters and a handheld button for PTT. I also have made a chest rig made from dual-shoulder camera straps and two MOLLE pouches which hold the 817 and D74 at an angle for easy viewing. This works fine but I’d like something a bit more secure to hold the D74.
The antenna I use is either my standard Arrow Antenna (modified into a LidStick) or my Shorty Arrow (also LidStickified). In 2019, the Mini Circuits BLP-200+ popped into my Twitter feed as Mike, W8LID (also the creator of the LidStick), found that it worked well to prevent desense that is sometimes experienced on certain satellites and radio combinations. This filter is put on the 2m driven element BNC connector, and in my experience, it has completely removed the desense issues I had. You may notice it has a 1/2W rating; Mike got in touch with Mini Circuits and learned that this is really only an issue for out of band signals. Many of us have consistently put 5-10W or more of 2m signals through the filter without any issues.
To travel with my Arrow Antenna, I use a telescopic plastic tube which is commonly used to transport real arrows or posters. It is fairly lightweight, but strong enough that I’ve put it in my checked bag many times and it has kept my antenna protected. It is large enough to fit the full size Arrow Antenna, my Shorty Arrow mast, and even my rubber duck antenna for my HT. For the price, this is an excellent option for transport and storage.
For coax cables, I currently use RG-58/U and LMR-240 UF jumpers with BNC connectors. I recommend staying away from cheap RG-58/U (I’m using it temporarily), but the LMR-240 UF is high quality stuff.
The last part of my setup is my iPhone 11. Nothing special about it, but it runs GoSatWatch as my main satellite tracking app. The app costs $9.99 on the App Store, but it is well worth it for any sat op. I really like that it uses the IMU in your phone so that you can hold your phone up to the sky and physically orient yourself to where the pass will be in augmented reality. It has a simple but nice user interface and can support more than just ham radio satellites.
The other app I use occasionally is Theodolite. Photos from this app are often posted to Twitter, leading many to ask “what app is that?” It is useful to see your exact position and error of the GPS and record that for those gridline and corners that require evidence. It is $5.99 but again, well worth it as it has many other features that you may find useful.