Activation Report: Elk City SP (POTA K-2337) for Field Day

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.

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2020 ARRL June VHF Contest Report

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.

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Activation Report: Crawford SP (POTA K-2333) and EM27/37 Grid Line

Crawford State Park SignContinuing 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.


 

VUCC Circle Checker Script

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.

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Activation Report: Prairie Spirit Trail SP (POTA K-2350)

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.

Theodolite screenshot of my operating point near the parking lot. In this photo, my antenna is aimed toward the trail.

Other notes:

  • 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.

This is a part of my goal to activate all Kansas State Parks on satellites for the Parks on the Air program.

Activation Report: Hillsdale State Park (POTA K-2340)

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.

This is a part of my goal to activate all Kansas State Parks on satellites for the Parks on the Air program.

Activating All Kansas State Parks on Satellites

 

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!

Activation Reports:

 

Raspberry Pi METAR Ticker Display

When I was still in graduate school a few years ago, my office was in the center of a building which meant no windows and no way to quickly see the weather outside. This motivated me to make a project that would display the current weather on my desk. Being a pilot, I thought using the local METAR would be nice because I could also use the VFR, MVFR, IFR, and LIFR as quick designations for the weather and whether I could go flying after I was done for the day.

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Arduino-Based Intervalometer for DSLR

Arduino-Based Camera Intervalometer

I originally made this intervalometer to photograph the 2017 total solar eclipse. I wanted to make a portable and simple intervalometer out of parts I had laying around. I had a small enclosure with a front panel cut out for a keypad, LED, and switch from an old project I didn’t finish, so that seemed like a good place to start. I used this with my Canon Rebel T6i, and it connects using the 2.5mm remote port on the DSLR body.

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Remote Display over USB for Kenwood TH-D74

Kenwood TH-D74 with Upward-Facing Display and Yaesu FT-817ND Chest Rig

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.

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