Of Field Day and Changing Plans

Well ARRL Field Day is coming up fast. As all good plans go, sometimes they aren’t meant to be and they have to be changed. No, I’m not talking about the 10 gallons of fuel that I need to take that for a bit I didn’t think I had to.


Normally our club prepares for field day for normal weather or the possibility of storms later in the event. Usually during my time with the club we have not had to plan for rain all day on Saturday and the possibility of thunderstorms all day Saturday. In addition, I do not have a way to take photos in the rain as I don’t have rain gear for my equipment and never even thought of it. This is in addition to the threat of lightning. Which is going to be a problem for all.

Additionally, I have a rather large data plan for my smartphone and I tether it to my Chromebook when it gets rather quiet at work. With tethering and portable hotspot I have the ability to connect to the internet on field day. Due to the weather threats this year I have volunteered to monitor real time lightning maps and radar sources to keep ahead of the weather.

What this means for myself and for W3CWC’s operations:

This means I have less equipment I have to bring as I was planning on bringing the computer anyway, but no camera equipment needs to come. This also means that my scope of operations changes greatly. We are going to be using handheld radios to provide the communications for weather related information so that means everyone will need a handheld radio.

The showers and more importantly the thunderstorms means that we will have to scale back our operations. Our CW station will be limited to a few bands, we will be deleting our 40 meter station and other details I’m not familiar with yet. We will also be reducing the number of generator sets being used to provide for easier setup/take down and for additional safety (fewer exposed electrical connections).

This year we will have an emergency operations trailer on site with two operating positions, this will give us a few things. This will give us a dry and air conditioned space with diesel generator and two operating positions. Something we haven’t had during my time with the ARA.

It is also possible that with the weather conditions we may not be able to set up the majority of our operations until later Saturday or early Sunday.

That’s not all:

Poor ground weather conditions are not the only issue we are going to experience. In addition to the heavy rain and thunderstorms there is currently a forecast for a moderate (NOAA G2 Class) geomagnetic storm during the field day period. This may cause problems with making contacts on HF, but may enhance VHF contacts.


Field Day Update

It is less than a month until Field Day and the preparations are starting. What am I doing to prepare. Lets take a look.


My normal work schedule is Sunday through Thursday 1500-2330 local, this means I need to schedule time off and for someone to cover for me on Sunday. This has already been taken care of, but it is worth mentioning.

Tools and Misc. Supplies:

I always bring tools with me to the Field Day site in case myself or anyone else needs them. I need to take care of a few things. First I need to take the screwdriver from my bedroom and put back in my toolbox and possibly get a screwdriver just for the stereo as the one component is finicky and jams sometimes. I need to bring my nut drivers home and gather my portable soldering tools. I also need to get fuses for my one multimeter since I managed to blow it. I will also be bringing my handheld radio in case communications on the repeaters are needed. I also have sunscreen and bug spray from last year that I should be able to use as well.

Computing and commercial communications:

I usually try to bring a computer and tether it to my smartphone (likely portable hotspot) in case someone needs information from the Internet. I will bring my Acer Chromebook with my for that. Also may bring my tablet. My Samsung S4 smartphone will provide commercial cellular Data, SMS, and Phone communications including the data connection to the other devices.

Snacks and Drinks:

While the club provides the dinner and some snacks and sodas, I always bring my own to drink. I will be bringing Pepsi and bottles of water to drink as well as some salted snacks such as Chex Mix to eat. Not sure what if anything else I’m bringing for food/drink.

Camera Equipment and setup:

I’ll be using mostly the same equipment as last year with my Canon EOS Rebel T5 (which will be synced with the computer for time beforehand) and my lenses. I now have a flash for the DSLR so I will not be limited to the internal flash, slow shutters, or my film camera after sunset. Power will be provided to the camera body by Canon lithium ion batteries and the flash will be powered by either (or both) Lithium Primary cells and Low Self Discharge NiMh cells. I will also bring my Targus Tripod in case it is needed.


In an earlier post I had stated that I would be donating fuel in addition to being the photographer and one of the GOTA station coaches. It appears that the fuel donation will not be necessary. I will still be the photographer and provide GOTA station coaching.


Oops, haven’t been updating the blog as much as I should have and therefore some updates are in order.

JFK Race:

Last time I posted I was talking about going to provide communications for the JFK Ultramarathon. Things did go well. The only issue I ran into was my own fault. I did not bring a spare battery with me and my battery was running low later in the race when I needed communications. This has been fixed. I was able to spend more time in my car to keep warm between races this year, so I was able to keep warmer than last year.

New (to me) HT:

I finally got a better unit than my FDC160A. Not only does this one have better quality as it is an older Yaesu, but I have more batteries for it and it is easier to maintain. I also have a high gain (Relative to a rubber duck) antenna on the HT to also improve communication and likely will be able to keep communications established on low power. The FT-490 allows me to operate using various different battery packs. I should be able to operate from the 7.2 volt packs on low power, in addition I have three packs (2 7.2 volt and 1 12 volt) and am able to purchase a AA alkaline pack to use with the HT.

RadioShack Stores Closing:

Most of the RadioShack stores near me are now closed. During this time I have purchased batteries, chargers, many parts, an Arduino Mega, a TFT shield for Arduino, and many various parts and bits. While the nearby stores are closed. There is one remaining open within 30 miles so I can still get things from RadioShack, it will just be a longer drive. Hopefully some items will become available when the online store comes back up.

Field Day 2015:

Yes it is that time of year again to start thinking of Field Day. I will likely repeat most of the same things I did last year, EXCEPT, this year I will be donating fuel for the generators and bringing my wonderful girlfriend along. Photos should be posted here to the blog sometime after Field Day.

JFK Ultramarathon It’s going to be Cold

Every year we have a local ultramarathon named after President Kennedy. During this event the local amateur radio club is called to provide safety communications. Amateurs throughout the area including myself volunteer for radio communications for this race. I am stationed at the second aid station at the top of a mountain.

After my bitter cold experience last year I learned a few things:

  • It WILL be cold. So cold that I spent the rest of the day in bed to warm up.
    • Hats, gloves, and a coat are not enough.
    • Standing outside for several hours takes a toll.
  • I will not be able to go warm up on site.
    • This may change this year, there are two operators staged at this aid station this year, in addition there is about a hour and a half between sets of runners.
  • A headlamps is nice, but it can get into people’s eyes.
    • Adjustment solved this issue.
    • Many people will ask where you bought the headlamp and insist on more information even after you say it cost $50.
  • Parking in the one pull in space is not acceptable.
    • There is a small parking lot, but last year I did not know if that was related to the private property nearby or for the historical site. The parking space was needed
The cold is the hardest part, getting long johns in my size is not easy. I will make adjustments on my radio so I can operate with a gloved hand. I also bought a Zippo hand warmer to help keep warm this year. Everything was brought into the house this afternoon to make sure it is warmed up before I leave tomorrow. I don’t need to don a cold headlamp.
The headlamp will be turned off until it will do the most good. This way I won’t have to keep asking people if I’m blinding them. I have some white glow sticks in the car for emergencies. They expire in May, so I am going to use one as part of rotating the stock and to provide some light on site. The other one will be used during field day as they are good for quite a while after expiration.  I will order some more, Gander Mountain charges a lot for those. I need to find out where people can get the headlamp in case I am asked this year, Gander Mountain doesn’t sell them anymore.
Parking is no longer an issue since I know where to park. I just hope that I get their early enough so it is easy for me to park without having to navigate around other vehicles.

Field Day 2014 Follow Up

As you may remember, last weekend was ARRL Field day, and as you may remember I have stated that I was participating with the Antietam Radio Association with their Field Day activities in Leitersburg, Maryland.

Enough Rambling, let’s tell this story with photos

Here our 20 meter phone and all band digital station is being set up in the pavilion. Also shown is a spare radio, which while we needed it, we actually did not push into service.

Here the tent for the 40 meter phone station is being set up.

In this shot we see the setup of the VHF beam antenna, the VHF Station and the raising of the VHF beam antenna.

As usual we operated using emergency power throughout field day with the exception of those contacts made using solar power.

The VHF station, almost complete, commercial power was used for testing purposes only.

One of the many antennas used was a set of 40 meter hamstick antennas back to back on a mast.

The local TV station came out to check out what we were doing. Here they are preparing to film a pre-field day contact which later made the final story.

Our get on the air (GOTA) station is almost set up. Getting close to starting time here. Generators were started shortly afterward.

Here is the VHF station operating on solar power making field day contacts. Nothing is connected to the extension cord connected to commercial power.

Here is our satellite station waiting for the first field day pass. The computer you see is tracking the satellites using satellite tracking software (which works offline) and controlling the antenna rotor. The radios are controlled manually.

Here we have our CW station making contacts. We don’t have many operators that specialize in CW contacts, but we do have a CW station.

While just another view of our CW station, this brings the computer into view. Our CW station this year also was testing computer logging.

While not in operation during this shot, we have our 75 station and operator being shown. The radio here is owned by the county emergency management agency and is being loaned out for testing purposes. We had two of the units, one (not shown) was inoperable.

Here we have our 20 meter phone and all band digital station in operation. It appears at this point that digital contacts were being attempted here.

As happens many years we get a visit from our ARRL section manager (right). This time he and his crew came in around dinner time.

Speaking of dinner. We had a LOT of food this year. We had many things including fried chicken from a local convenience store chain.

After a few hours the generator powering the pavilion needed refueled. Also shown is another generator that was probably used on Sunday. The fire extinguisher was later moved so that it would be usable in case of a fire.

Cooking was done using crock pots (on commercial power) and using a camp stove. The camp stove is pictured during startup.

The sun is getting ready to set and the pavilion lights are powered on using commercial power. We are getting ready for the night shift.

Still preparing for the night shift. Very little operating was going on at this time.

And of course the night shift has arrived. Since it was unlikely that any proper GOTA operation was to occur overnight the GOTA Station was re-purposed as a normal station to cover for the station that did not even make it to air. A tip for the photographers, this picture was taken without flash.

I went to bed at about 0100 local on Sunday morning and got back up for a while. I then slept a little longer, but left at around 0630 local. Due to trouble sleeping on site, next year, I am considering leaving at around 0100 hours to go home and returning at around 0600 hours to finish out field day before going home for a nap.

Field Day is SOON

It is that time of year again for ARRL Field Day. Field day is June 28th and 29th this year so it is time to get ready to get some stuff done. It is coming up this upcoming weekend. Let’s not forget what field day is about.

This is the great event where amateurs and non-amateurs alike from all over North America leave their home shacks and go out in the field with portable stations to operate in the field. But that isn’t all. There is much more to field day than meets the eye. Later I will get into more details about what my local club is doing this year.

Field day is a training exercise. Amateurs erect expedient field stations using tents or other buildings, use their mobile stations, or even operate at home. Field day allows amateurs to test their ability to set up a station to operate under less than ideal conditions, ideally in the field, but sometimes at home and even emergency operations centers. This allows amateurs to test their ability to operate using less than ideal equipment, antennas and power sources. Many field day sites use emergency power sources such as generators to provide power even when normal commercial power is available.
Field day is an operating event. I don’t like to use the term contest although it is scored somewhat like one. The operating part of field day involves stations contacting as many other field day stations as possible to earn points. To combine the other aspects of field day there are bonus points for those as well, for example emergency power earns a bonus. Natural (solar and wind) power also earns a bonus as does operating at reduced power. Even a 100 watt transmitter qualifies for operating at reduced power. This combines with the above to allow you to see how well you can contact other stations with less than ideal antennas and equipment as well as operate under crowded band conditions.
Field day is a public relations event. Field day is an ideal time to give amateur radio public exposure, as part of the operating event above you get bonus points for doing this. A field day site ideally is open to the public and the public is invited. A get on the air station (GOTA) is sometimes provided to allow inexperienced amateurs and non-amateurs a chance to get on the air and experience amateur radio for themselves. In addition to inviting the public, it is ideal to invite local politicians, emergency management officials, and the media to cover your event and see what you can do.
Lastly, field day is a good time for fellowship. Many amateurs have other obligations and cannot make the other radio club functions. Field Day allows these amateurs to be able to catch up with the other local amateurs and even partake in other hobbies while there.
I belong to the Antietam Radio Association based out of Hagerstown, Maryland. The ARA was formed originally as a club to get together for field day. While the ARA has evolved since those early days in the 1950s, one thing remains the same, the ARA still puts on Field Day. We are changing it up quite a bit this year though.
In my six and a half years of being a member of this great organization we have traditionally operated field day from the pavilion of the local park which was crowded as well as using the cover of another building. This year we are expanding to other areas of the park as we not only have the pavilion rented we have permission to use the entire park for the duration of both the Saturday and Sunday of field day.
We traditionally have a potluck dinner with sodas, burgers, and hot dogs provided. While we are still doing that this year, we are also having a lunch as well, this expansion will help the people on site remain on site longer instead of having to pack a lunch or leave for lunch.
In addition to all of this operating and fellowship we are doing something completely different this year. At 1000 hours local time we will also be having a Volunteer Examiner session. This will allow people to test to obtain their amateur radio license as well as test to upgrade their existing license. Standard rules and ARRL VEC fee of $15 applies.
Lastly as I have recently gotten back into photography the ARA has appointed me as official photographer this year, so expect to see some photos of field day this year.

The 2014 Great Hagerstown Hamfest is Right Around the Corner

It’s that time of year again for the Great Hagerstown Hamfest this Saturday, May 3, 2014. The Hagerstown Hamfest is a classic hamfest featuring tailgating, vendors, forums, refreshments, and a VE testing session. That’s not all of course.

The Great Hagerstown Hamfest has a few exclusive features. First we have cake, and this isn’t any cake, this is free cake on a first come first serve basis. This cake is provided by the sponsoring club (The Antietam Radio Association) for people to enjoy. We also have an auction at 11 AM that sells donated items to support the sponsoring club, things can be picked up at the auction dirt cheap.

For more information on the Great Hagerstown Hamfest take a look here: http://w3cwc.org/Menu/Hagerstown-Hamfest