Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Field Day Reflections

Field Day is over for another year and, by at least one measure, this was my most successful effort since I started operating solo.  The final tally was 120 QSOs - 114 CW and 6 SSB - on all eligible bands from 80-10 meters.  This was about half again as many as I log in a typical year.  Using only search and pounce, I managed to work 44 different sections in all parts of the country.  I seemed to have a pipeline into Ohio and I had more contacts from there than anywhere else.

A big part of this year's success was my antenna.  At least, I think it was.  I suppose you never really know from just one outing but all signs point to it.  As is my custom, I used yet another antenna this year.  From past experience and reading others' Field Day reports, there seems to be two different schools of thought about antennas.  One group tends to use the same antenna configurations year after year.  I suppose these are the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" hams.  The other group, to which I belong, is always on the lookout for something new.  It seems like every year I'm trying something new and different.  It doesn't always involve a new antenna - sometimes it's just a different location or configuration of an existing antenna.

Most of my antennas are pretty simple homebrew affairs built from wire.  I've used 44 and 88 foot doublets, W3EDP end feds, horizontal loops, vertical loops, off center fed dipoles, inverted-Ls, end fed half waves, and vertical wire ground planes.  I've also purchased a couple of commercial antennas.  One is a Buddipole Deluxe that I really like when configured as a vertical but that I've had limited success with when horizontal.  The other is a Pacific Antenna PAC-12 that I built from a kit.  As a self-supporting ground mounted vertical, it comes in handy when there aren't any suitable trees for supporting a wire antenna.  It's very light and compact enough to carry along on a field outing, sets up easily, and normally works really well.

My antenna this year was a full-size coax-fed fan dipole cut for 80 and 40 meters.  The center was mounted on a painter pole bungee-corded to an elevated deck and was up about 25-30 feet.  The ends were supported by fiberglass crappie poles.  The 80 meter ends were supported by 20 foot poles and the 40 meter ends by 12 foot poles.  This inverted-V configuration provided a nice separation between the wires.  Although it is most efficient on 80, 40 and 15 meters, the internal tuner in my KX3 was able to find a match on all bands 80 through 10.  I probably had considerable feed line loss on 20 and 10 but you wouldn't know it from the results.  Here's how things turned out:

  • 80 meters was disappointing this year, something that I've seen comments about in other posts.  In past years there has been lots of Sunday morning activity but I only managed 5 QSOs.  With a full size antenna for this band, I was hoping for better conditions and results.
  • 40 meters was a good band on Saturday afternoon and evening but not so much on Sunday morning.  I put 28 QSOs in the log on this band.
  • 20 meters turned out to be the money band for me with 45 QSOs.  I had originally planned on setting up a vertical for this band but, surprisingly, the fan dipole turned out to be a winner - feed line losses and all.
  • 15 meters was spotty on Saturday afternoon with only a handful of QSOs.  Sunday was better and I put a total of 29 QSOs in the log.
  • 10 meters didn't open up on Saturday but there was some activity late on Sunday morning.  I put 8 CW QSOs in the log and then decided to switch to phone.  QRP power combined with some deep fading was a challenge but I managed to put 5 more QSOs in the log before the end rolled around.

Unlike in many parts of the country, weather conditions here in southern Wisconsin were just about perfect with clear skies and temperatures in the upper 70's on Saturday.  Mosquitoes drove me inside at dusk but it was otherwise a beautiful day.  Clear skies again greeted me when I returned to operating on Sunday morning.  Clouds moved in mid-morning but the rain held off until about 2:30 local time - long after I had everything packed up and indoors.  That's one of the benefits of operating QRP - the setup and tear down time is minimal.

The KX3 worked flawlessly, and logging on a Palm Pilot using GoLog and a serial CW sender was a pleasure.  The only thing that didn't work as planned was working PSK31.  KX3 Companion software on an Android tablet connecting to the KX3 via a Piglet worked very well but I was unable to get the KX3 configured properly to decode.  It would have helped if I'd worked out the kinks in advance.  After a bit of fiddling I gave up for this year but this will definitely be on my list for next year's event.

Whatever the conditions where you operated, I hope you had an enjoyable Field Day and are looking forward to next year.  And for those who made it into my log, thanks very much.  It was a pleasure working each of you.

72, Jim - K0RGI