Sunday, May 29, 2016

Oshkosh - Dayton for Aviation

For only the second time since 2001, I didn't attend the Dayton Hamvention this year.  Unlike the first time I missed, when I almost immediately regretted not being there, this time I was at peace with my decision.  There are several reasons for this, but the most important one is that I plan to attend the EAA Airventure instead.

Better known to aircraft enthusiasts simply as Oshkosh, much as Hamvention is better known to radio enthusiasts simply as Dayton, the EAA Airventure is the premier event of its kind in the United States.  Pilots fly their private planes into Oshkosh from all over and, for one week in July, Wittman Regional Airport is transformed into the busiest airport in the world.

Oshkosh is a city on the shore of Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin, about a two hour drive from my home near Janesville.  Home to the University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh, its population is less than half of Dayton's.  One significant difference is the quality of the facilities where each event is held.  Wittman Regional Airport is a nicely maintained facility and Hara Arena is, well, Hara Arena.  I know that much of the Dayton experience is trying to avoid breaking an ankle in the potholes in the flea market and surviving a visit to the restroom, but I've always thought how unfortunate it is that ham radio's premier event is held in perhaps the worst facility I've ever visited.

I first attended Oshkosh a couple of years ago with my XYL as part of a daylong bus trip.  We only spent about 6 hours there but I was hooked!  Row after row of every type of plane imaginable, from warbirds to homebuilt experimentals and everything in between.  There's a seaplane base on the lake and a radio controlled aircraft facility.  Forums and hands-on classes on everything imaginable that one might need to know to build or maintain an airplane.  Throw in a daily air show and an excellent aviation museum and, as you can imagine, I only scratched the surface of things to see and do.  I knew I needed to go back and seriously attend before retiring and moving to Tennessee.

So, I'm trading Dayton for Oshkosh this year and I'm very pleased with that decision.  And I'll even try to mix in a little ham radio while I'm there.  I'll be packing a 40m RockMite given to me by my good friend Dave N9GQ and I'll see if I can throw a wire up in a tree and make a contact or two.  I'll be back to Dayton again in the future, trying once again to avoid the perils of Hara Arena, but this year it's Oshkosh instead and I couldn't be more excited.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Beyond Field Day

The May QST arrived in my mailbox yesterday.  The theme is Amateur Radio Outdoors and among its contents is an announcement for Field Day.  Another article is about activating the John Muir Trail, and I started thinking about how Field Day could be a good starting point for expanding one's outdoor operating horizons.

For many hams, Field Day is likely to be their primary and often only exposure to outdoor operations.  It's probably my favorite event of the year but it only scratches the surface of what can be done away from the shack.  If my early experiences with Field Day are typical, here's how things generally happen:
  • Several months before the last full weekend of June, the local ham club will start planning.  A chairperson is identified, a site selected, band captains and a safety officer are named, a publicity chairman begins contacting local news outlets and public officials, communal meals are planned, and other various and sundry details are addressed.
  • The morning of Field Day - or perhaps the day before - a group of volunteers arrives at the site to erect antennas, prepare operating positions, set up a generator and string power cables, configure computers for logging, and make a few test contacts to verify that everything is working properly.
  • Beginning a few hours in advance of the start, reinforcements arrive in the form of club members and other local hams, all of whom anxiously await 1800 UTC.  Those staying overnight will generally prepare their campsites.
  • As the countdown ends, the real fun begins.  For 24 hours straight, contacts are made, tours given to local officials and the general public, meals and snacks eaten, beverages consumed, and - if fair weather holds - a good time is had by all.
  • At the end of the 24 hours everyone catches their breath and then starts the tear down and clean up, often accompanied by a cold 807 or two.  Over the next few days and weeks, scores are tabulated, documentation prepared, and the entry submitted.  Then the wait begins for the scores to be published and bragging rights established.
Phew!  Field Day is lots of fun but it's also lots of work!  And for many hams, it's all of the outdoor operating they care to do.  Oh, maybe a fox hunt or assisting with communications for a bicycle ride or other public service event, but that's about it.  Everything else happens in the shack.  If you've been a participant in one of these large group Field Day operations, you may have asked yourself if all that effort was worthwhile.  If you enjoy Field Day but don't enjoy all the work it entails, I can assure you that there is an alternative.

When you look at the scores published in QST, you'll see a relatively short section of entries in categories 1B and 2B, sometimes further identified with the designation of Battery.  Those are categories for 1 and 2 person entries, many using QRP power levels and a battery for power.  Set up and tear down time can be minimal, the site can be anything from your back yard to a mountaintop, and food is whatever you want and can carry with you.

Admittedly, the social aspect of Field Day is greatly reduced but there are offsetting benefits.  Without a generator roaring away, you can enjoy the sights and sounds of nature.  Extra filters to reduce interference from other stations are not needed.  There is a 5 times multiplier for running QRP and battery power.  Your entire station can fit in a backpack.  And the list goes on.  Perhaps best of all, you become aware that, if you can do this on Field Day, you can do it any other day of the year as well!  After all, you don't need help to set up your station and antenna.  If everything fits into a backpack, you can operate anyplace where you can toss a wire up into a tree, and without much planning.  Just throw the pack on your back or toss it in a car and go!

Field Day will be here before you know it.  This year, why not try something new?  If you don't own a radio suitable for hours of operating on a couple of gel cell batteries, perhaps you can borrow one from a friend.  Used equipment can be pretty reasonable and you just might know someone who is looking to divest themselves of that 40m QRP kit they built a few years back and then never used.  Sure, it may not be the best radio for Field Day but you'll find out if you like this style of operating enough to acquire something better for next year.  Who knows...it could be the beginning of a lifelong interest in operating outdoors!  72, Jim - K0RGI