Field Day 2019

June 22 - 23 , 2019

Prologue:

The Amateur Radio Relay League has had, as its largest and most popular operating event, Field Day for nearly 100 years. At this time, "portable" operators lugged their radio gear on pack horses or mules soon after the close of World War I to field operating sites to operate in this new event. Luckily, in this century, the "state of the art" has appreciably become lighter and more efficient. The idea behind Field Day is to set up radios at field locations all over North and South America in less than optimal conditions in order to showcase their capabilities and to have a LOT of fun ! "Lighter and efficient" were the target words for this year's event as the Reelfoot Amateur Radio Club tried some new and different things, as you will see. Amateur communications start on Saturday at 1 PM and cease at 1 PM on Sunday for a 24 hour total operation period.

Weather conditions are always the wild card during this time of year here in the South. The usual hot, hazy, and humid conditions with widely scattered afternoon showers, gave way to unstable "popcorn" thunderstorms and rather ferocious winds. The latter came as quite a surprise !! For the most part, weather conditions were tolerable with no damage sustained. Temperatures, for the most part, were a very pleasant mid-80's affair. So as always, we took the good with some bad !

Planning for this year's event began in earnest after Thanksgiving the previous year ! The realization was that our youth component of the club was dwindling to zero and some members just could not be available for Field Day. So with our small club, the desire was to make things more efficient and less labor-intensive ... and maybe, more FUN ! To this end, the decision was made to realign the radios from modes - CW, phone, and digital - to bands and band combinations. So the usual CW station would become the 20 meter station, the phone station would become the 10 and 15 meter station, and the digital station would become the 40 and 80 meter station.

So, how would this move possibly make things "lighter and efficient" ? Well, the first thing that needed to be accomplished is the sharing of log data, even though Field Day does not see duplicates for different band-modes. Why is this needed ? Since we are at the bottom of the 11 year sunspot cycle, we understood that the higher bands such as 10 and 15 M would see limited openings. So, what would the 10/15M station need to continue operating ? The answer is to add an antenna (we call the Wild Card) so that it could operate on other band-modes not already occupied. Of course, this meant the potential for duplicate contacts. The answer to avoid this and to simplify operations is to network the computers to share the log data. Everybody would run the very nice N3FJP Field Day logging program in network mode which would alert the operator to how the stations are operating and to avoid duplicate contacts. This also meant that the complete log would be on all of the computers as a safety measure.

Configuring the stations in the per-band method meant that ALL stations had to have ALL mode capability. This meant that the 20 meter station needed to be able to operate not just on CW, but also on phone and the digital modes. This required getting each station configured well in advance to be sure the software and the available hardware played nice with all three radios. Jamie WB4YDL took it upon himself to configure each station in isolation with updated software on that computer so that each radio could be easily operated by someone not familiar with the radio. In other words, if you could work the 20 meter radio on the digital modes, you could easily work the 40/80M station in the same mode. The same went for the other modes and efforts were made to standardize the process, so for example, each station had a programmed Winkeyer for CW operation. Once Jamie was satisfied that the station was performing well with the software on that computer, a booklet was made outlining the procedures for that station on each mode. This was all done during the winter and early spring months.

So, now we have the computers and radios configured - how about the antennas ? We knew that the 40/80M station would use the very nice TNØ7 Engineering vertical configured as an inverted-L. This antenna has served us well in the past, so this was an easy decision. So what about the 20M and the 10/15M stations ? What if they could share the same tri-band antenna without interfering with each other - or other stations ? That would mean the use of one antenna instead of multiple antennas and would greatly reduce the labor load. In order to do this, a device known as a triplexer is used with the addition of three bandpass filters, one for each of the three bands. A single feed line from a multi-band antenna is fed to the triplexer and is separated out to the three bands. With the very tight bandpass filters, one station could operate on say, 20 meters, and another 15 meters, and neither operator would notice any interference ! An unused band would simply be terminated with a 50 ohm load - either a dummy load or a monitor radio (used to search for signals). In order to avoid any issues with trapped multi-band antennas, the Spiderbeam with its full-sized elements on 10, 15, and 20 meters was used. This is a very nice and efficient antenna with unity SWR across all bands but it does have a higher wind load, and this became important as you will read ! The aluminum push-up mast was modified to accept a Yaesu G-450 rotator at the bottom of the mast. This left the Wild Card antenna which was an off-center fed wire antenna built by Glenn N4MJ and deployed about 200 feet to the northeast of the other antennas. It was felt that this separation was adequate to prevent interference with the other HF stations.

Plans were now set and we would again enter in the very competitive class 3A which signifies three HF stations as a club, with a free VHF station, and a "Get On The Air" (GOTA) station using Glenn's call sign N4MJ. Captains for the HF stations were Bob K9IL for 20M with XYL Rose W9DHD's very nice Kenwood TS-590S, Michael AK4VU on 10/15M with his Kenwood TS-480HX, and Jamie WB4YDL on 40/80M with his Elecraft K3S station. The VHF station was also supplied by Jamie WB4YDL and consisted of his Yaesu FT-847. Steve KK4NNH controlled the GOTA station with his Kenwood TS-590S station. This station is also designated as the "Experimental Antenna" station and Steve didn't disappoint ! He deployed a pair of unusual helically wound vertical dipoles on PVC tubes that are inductively fed ! Wow ! And they worked !! Very well ! Steve has been studying these kinds of antennas for some time and some of us think he's ready to publish his results !

As in many previous years, Glenn N4MJ has generously allowed use of his shop for the Field Day event so we could all be in air-conditioned comfort and stay covered from the elements. Many thanks to Glenn and XYL Linda !

There were no changes to rules regarding bonus points this year. The first points garnered for Field Day this year was actually an announcement for the event on Facebook and Me We- worth 100 points for the Social Media bonus. Both Noel KJ4UNX and Jamie WB4YDL shared Safety Officer duties with the availability of an AED - automatic emergency defibrillator. First Aid was available but thankfully was not needed. Noel also sent out the press release which was printed in the Union City Messenger - good for another 100 points !

Setup:

Thursday evening prior to Field Day weekend, we all gathered at the shop to set up radios and computers. This went very smoothly since much of this had already been accomplished just a few months before. Each computer ran the N3FJP Field Day logging software in network mode ensuring that the log was dupe-free and copies of the log were on each computer ... just in case. Also, each computer was configured with its own Winkeyer with the option to use top-side buttons or computer function keys for programmed messages. The logging software also made use of programmed messages for the phone mode as a "voice keyer". So function keys were set up for a couple messages such as "CQ Field Day" with Jamie WB4YDL's melodious voice !

Digital modes are a bit more complicated to set up depending on which mode is used. Also the hardware was a bit different for each station. For example, The Kenwood TS-590S and the Elecraft K3S use USB connectivity that has its own audio CODEC. This makes things extremely simple and efficient to configure as it's all in one box - the radio ! On the other hand, the Kenwood TS-480HX uses the older style RS-232 connections and therefore needs an outboard sound interface to get things going. This was accomplished using the popular Signalink sound card interface. The snag in all this is the need for a serial-to-USB interface cable ... that works ! This was finally dealt with when Steve KK4NNH came to the rescue with a functioning interface cable. All computers had the same digital mode software, that is flDigi for RTTY and PSK modes, and WSJT-X for the popular FT8 mode. Each of these programs was configured with the same macros for messages and each was configured to log contacts to the N3FJP software. It all worked seamlessly ! And the networking ? Yep, it worked too once we plugged in the network switch !! The information / instruction booklets were set at each operating position and we were good to go for the next day.

Steve KK4NNH had his antennas already set up in the north pasture and functioning well, after a brief tune-up, to his Kenwood TS-590S. So the GOTA station was also ready to go using the same software. The GOTA station this year would function on all modes. Many thanks to Steve's XYL, Hannah KK4SJF, for providing pizza for the setup grab and munch !

The following afternoon is designated as antenna setup day and to take care of any loose ends. We began by setting up the aluminum push-up mast with its rotator at the base and then off to the side, we had a jig to setup the Spiderbeam antenna. It had been 3-4 years since we deployed the Spiderbeam and naturally, there were mistakes made ! Once we figured out that a couple of the fiberglass tubes were reversed, it took less than 5 minutes to get it right. Raising the light-weight Spiderbeam onto the mast took very little effort and it was slipped onto and tightened on the mast. The mast was then raised to its normal height of about 40 feet and the cables were routed to the shop for connection to the triplexer and the rotator controller. The 3-point guys were tightened in place.

The very nice TNØ7 Engineering vertical configured as an inverted-L is very easy to deploy and so it was with about sixteen 60 foot radials. The fiberglass tubing resembles a long fishing pole and has the wire vertical conductor inside it. The horizontal component is strung between the top of this tube to a fiberglass mast some 25 feet away. The vertical is then back-guyed to keep it from bowing. A 1:1 UNUN at the base is used to interface to the coax cable which then goes to the Elecraft K3S station inside the shop.

Only these two antennas were needed, as well as the Wild Card wire antenna, for the HF station setup. It was at this point that ol' Murphy along with Mother Nature came to pay us a visit !! The weather reports appeared to show the usual "popcorn" storms that we have been getting almost daily. But this time it brought some pronounced and severe winds in excess of 60 miles per hour !! The first thing that happened was one of the guy lines to the aluminum mast loosened causing the mast to tilt over nearly 40 degrees. The significant wind load of the Spiderbeam and its present unusual attitude caused it to "helicopter" on the mast. Well, it was "all hands on deck" at this time as we all sprang to the guy lines and pulled the mast vertical. Everything was pitching wildly around us and the trees on the line all looked like they were buckling flat to the ground with the huge straight-line winds. The vertical antenna also lost one of its guy lines and was whipping wildly like there was a big fish on the other end ! One of the tubes of the aluminum mast slid down suddenly startling all of us as the mast became 4 feet shorter, but we all pulled the guys and held the antenna mast vertical until the winds died down. That seemed like forever but very luckily, it did not carry a lot of rain and no lightning !! We were able to secure the antennas and called it quits until the next morning when, we hoped, we would not encounter such weather again.

Noel KJ4UNX had setup his camper prior to this and the wind storm did not cause any damage to it. We waited until the next day to position the VHF antennas and set up the VHF station inside. The next morning the "junkyard dog" 6M yagi and the Cushcraft AR-270 were mounted on a new lightweight fiberglass mast with locks on each section. Guy rings were positioned and roped off to make it easy to turn the mast "Armstrong" style.

The Operation:

The Saturday morning prior to Field Day operations commencing saw ... rain. And more rain !! This was nice in keeping temperatures pleasant but hampered and delayed our antenna restoration after the tremendous wind storm the day before. So we pressed on with other things.

Traditionally, Reelfoot Amateur Radio Club offers a VE testing session to give those interested the licensing exams. It was a good thing that we started early with this as we had a very busy session ! Seven individuals came to take the exam either as a new Technician class license or as an upgrade to either General class or Extra class. The ARRL VEC unfortunately did not send us enough of the CSCE (certificate of successful completion of exam) forms which resulted in Glenn going back and forth to copy these forms (which are triplicate forms) as well as ID's !! This gave us a LOT more paperwork to do. But, in the end, we had three new Technician licensees, one General class upgrade, and one Extra class upgrade ! Congratulations to all !!

Successful Candidates Testing at the VE Session :

  • Stephen E. Prime, Jr : passed Technician Class
  • Johnathan M. Prime : passed Technician Class
  • John Harpole : passed Technician Class
  • Dennis Shannon, KN4LFL : passed General Class
  • John McMahan, K4JTM : passed Extra Class

The weather started to cooperate nicely to the point that Steve arranged a little visit. In keeping with our mission of emergency preparedness and to accentuate that mission, Steve, a Med-Evac helicopter pilot, arranged a visit by the Air Evac Lifeteam unit in one of their beautiful Bell 407 helicopters. This unit is based in Martin, TN and they made a nice landing near the western tree line adjacent to the Spiderbeam location. The pilot and two nurses were all quite interested in what we were doing and one was actually a licensed ham. So we showed them around the stations and antennas. They enjoyed themselves immensely and were gracious in posing for photos with their helicopter. They had to run shortly after that as the weather was expected to once again get stormy.

After the Med-Evac helicopter left the area, it was time to get the Spiderbeam down, place it on its jig, and get the aluminum mast down and search for any damage. Luckily, there was no damage to the Spiderbeam or its coaxial cable. The aluminum mast section that had slipped, only slipped to just inside the next tube. So it was a simple matter to re-deploy the Spiderbeam and mast, but this time, due to new storm activity in the area, it was decided to reduce the height to make the mast stiffer. This worked out well, but the slip tube holding the Spiderbeam itself simply could not hold its position due to the large wind load the antenna presented. However, it wasn't hard to re-point the antenna, when weather allowed, to the correct heading by simply loosening and turning the mast at the rotator.

Jamie WB4YDL had planned to showcase his portable satellite rotator and Arrow antenna in an effort to garner the 100 point satellite QSO bonus points, but the unusual weather and the antenna system's light weight effectively canceled that effort. We'll do it next year !!

There wasn't much sunshine initially to honestly do the solar energy bonus points until later the next day. Jamie set up the Bioenno 28-watt foldable solar panel that, with his solar charge controller and an LiPo battery, making the needed 5 QSO's for this bonus a snap. Bob K9IL did the honors from his 20M station.

The W1AW Field Day bulletin was copied again by Phil N4PWG - good for 100 bonus points - and the Visitor list again included two elected officials - Benny McGuire, Obion County Mayor, and Ralph Puckett, County Commission Chairman. Also on the list was the Med-Evac helicopter crew ! The visitor information area also sported a new display poster made by Steve KK4NNH which had some humorous sidelights and ham radio jokes. Nice !

With all antennas and radios set up, and all systems functioning well, at the appointed time of 1 PM, the bands exploded in activity. Bob K9IL took off as usual on 20M CW and quickly had contacts flowing into the log.

Noel KJ4UNX worked with the Elecraft K3S to put digital QSO's in the log on 40M. The software took some getting used to, but once everyone settled in, QSO's were being made.

The 10/15M station was manned by Michael AK4VU and his Kenwood TS-480HX. Michael found no issues running digital on 15M alongside 20M CW on the same coax cable. So at this point, we had one station on CW and the other two stations on digital modes. And that seemed to be the pattern of things for most of the event. We were able to log several 10M digital QSO's this year.

After Bob took a break, Jamie WB4YDL decided to breakout the headset and run 20M phone and quickly put 50 QSO's in the log. After 10M and 15M decided to shut down, the Wild Card antenna came into play. The 40/80M station shifted to 80M digital and the Wild Card was loaded on 40M to continue digital operations. Interestingly, there was little interest in phone mode.

The GOTA station was active in all modes and had several operators. Operations here were dominated by Steve KK4NNH. He reported that there was some interstation interference but usually when the stations shared the same band and mode. Unfortunately, there were no youth operators.

Noel KJ4UNX's camper is the site of the VHF station. Jamie's Yaesu FT-847 was used to pass Winlink traffic to obtain bonuses in passed traffic and send a message to our Tennessee Section Manager Keith Miller N9DGK. Lots of traffic was received as well from many Winlink stations across the country. 6 meters did not show much life during the event, but interestingly, the first FT8 QSO's were logged on this band and from Canada to Texas ! Only a few phone contacts were made on this band.

Finally, the 40/80M station started making use of the other modes and logged many 40 and 80M CW QSO's. Jamie WB4YDL had made most of the phone contacts and finished on 15 meters with an even 100 QSO's.

The Results:

This year we had only 11 licensed operators participating in Field Day operations. A Youth Bonus was not achieved. The following are the bottom line results :

Score Summary:

  CW Digital
Phone
Total
Total QSO's
390
446
113
949

 

Band / Mode QSO Breakdown:

  CW Digital Phone Total
80M
5
98
0
103
40M
79
78
0
157
20M
277
35
50
362
15M
0
55
50
105
10M
0
10
0
10
6M
0
10
4
14
GOTA
29
160
9
198
TOTAL
390
446
113
949

The bonus point total this year was down from last year to 1730 points. This was primarily due to zero youth participation and the lack of a satellite communications bonus. Bonus points at the GOTA station were earned by Steve KK4NNH, Mike N4EBA, Randle KN4OPZ, and new General Class licensee, Dennis KN4LFL/AG. A total of three operators (Steve, Mike and Randle) earned double bonus status with Steve making a double bonus of 200 points ! The total number of bonus points generated by the GOTA station was up this year to an excellent 280 points.

The total QSO score after the power multiplier (x2) came out to 3570 points - a mild improvement from last year's score. This is primarily due to the unusual interest in the digital mode FT8. For the first time ever, digital QSO's outnumbered CW QSO's ! This allowed logging of QSO's from otherwise dead bands. As with last year, only digital QSO's were possible on 10M and some E-skip QSO's were made on 6M including some phone QSO's. Phone QSO's tallied approximately the same as last year and did not improve due to a lack of interest in the mode. The total submitted score was 5300 points for Reelfoot Amateur Radio Club in the class 3A category. This was 48 points less than last year's result.

Epilogue:

The results indicate that the station configuration overall was helpful in allowing a choice of favored mode and more operational time per operator. However, there were fewer operators this year than in any prior year. Poor weather, both local and solar, did not help matters in the least ! For the first time in memory, interstation interference was not a factor, making a comfortable operating environment for all. HF phone contacts again were made on only two bands. It appears that there was little interest in using this mode of operation, perhaps as each QSO counts for 1 point, even though contacts were more easily made and were far more rapidly made than digital QSO's. CW QSO's were made on only 3 HF bands with a dominant tilt towards 20M. This was due to a "camping out" effect - the owner and operator of the 20M radio was reluctant to operate the other radios !

Having to deal with unusual wind storms certainly bit into the humor of the group. However, we had a great cookout on Saturday evening by Noel KJ4UNX which definitely lightened up everything. It was delicious !! All the stations performed flawlessly and networking made it a snap to compile the results. Hopefully, more interested hams will be willing to join us next year and have a great time.

Photography for this event was provided by Michael AK4VU and Jamie WB4YDL .

The Shop at the QTH of Glenn N4MJ was once again the perfect Field Day location and the club members owe many thanks to Glenn and XYL Linda for a wonderful experience. Thanks also go to our XYL's who kept us fed and hydrated. The full Field Day results are published in the December issue of QST.


See you on Field Day 2020 !

When all else fails ... Amateur Radio.