Sunday, January 29, 2012

NAQCC Member Spotlight

I was randomly selected by the NAQCC for a member spotlight piece and it finally came out. The URL for the newsletter is as follows:

Got several complimentary e-mails - NU7T Steve and K4BAI John. John is one of the best QRP contesters I know so his compliments are a good boost for enthusiasm.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Last State for SKCC WAS

Finally made the last state for the SKCC WAS Award - AC0BQ-was working QRP from Lebo KS on a K2. I gave him a 449 report and he gave me a 559. We were both working K2's QRP. Sent application to Urb Lejeune - WAS Awards Manager via e-mail. Will send QSL card to Johnny for this milestone. Thanks Johnny if you read this

New DX - Cyprus on 15m

Saw 5B5AHL on the K3UK Page and requested a contact on 15m. W#e found 21065 to be clear. I cranked up the K2 to 100 watts. He was coming in just above the noise floor. We were able to exchange info before QSB kicked in. Thanks to Dave for Cyprus. That makes for 110 in the DXCC list and he does LOTW so that is great as well.

How do Solar Flares Affect Propagation

This is from Paul NA5N explaining how all this works in the Elecraft reflector - and so I am re-posting here for posterity

And I realize we have many new hams who are learning how propagation works on the HF bands, now that the solar flux is above like 65 :-( and of course what all this solar flare, CME,
geomagnetic storm stuff is all about.

So here goes.

Friday, there was a fairly large X2 (X1.7 to be exact) solar flare on 27 January at 1837Z. An X-class flare is the highest category and can cause radiation storms on earth and effect HF propagation - some of it good. Go here to see the x-ray emissions from this flare: The first chart is the x-ray emissions as detected by two different sensors on the GOES-15 satellite. The X-class flare is easily seen towards the end of the UTC day on 27 Jan. X-rays are ionizing radiation, that is, they can knock electrons away from their host atoms and molecules. In our upper ionosphere, this ionizing radiation knocks electrons away from oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen atoms. These electrons just roam around in our ionosphere, being knocked around by the ionizing radiation from the sun. For this reason, they are called "free electrons," not currently being associated with a host atom. The more free electrons in the ionosphere, the more reflective are the E and F layers, and the higher the maximum usable frequency (MUF). During a solar flare, ionizing radiation increases almost immediately, producing more free electrons in our ionosphere, making the E and F layers even
more reflective, and often raising the MUF. This condition quickly improves HF propagation.

Therefore, for QRPers, solar flares are often a good thing. From the time of the flare until local sundown, enhanced HF propagation will be present. With higher reflectivity, this means QRP signals get reflected more efficiently for an environment of working longer skip distances (and new DX) than normal. Once the sun goes down ... that is, when the ionosphere above our heads is no longer illuminated by the sun and receiving the solar x-rays, the free electrons recombine with their host atoms, reflectivity and the MUF drops, and we fall back into normal night time propagation. The lack of ionizing radiation and free electrons is why the MUF drops at night, and the higher day time bands shut down. During the day, this ionizing radiation penetrates deep into our ionosphere, causing a layer of free electrons we know as the D-layer. Seldom do our signal bounce off this layer, but penetrates it. Unfortunately, the electron density of the D-layer does eat up (attenuates) some of our signal. At night, solar radiation and ionizing radiation is gone. The E and F layers combine, and with no deep penetrating radiation, the D-layer disappears. Without the attenuation of the D-layer, this is why signals appear stronger and less noisy at night - because they are!

As stated above, a solar flare is often a good thing from the time ofthe flare until local sundown ... except in those cases of a very strong solar flare. Its radiation can be so strong that the D-layer becomes nearly saturated with free electrons, such that signals can not pass through at all. Higher above our heads, the E and F layers are also saturated with free electrons and the MUF drops quickly, sometimes to a few MHz or less, or below the lowest usable frequency or LUF. This is a radio blackout. The D-layer consumes virtually all of your signal power, and the MUF can fall to below 3 MHz. This extreme case of a total radio blackout is fairly rare.

Friday's X-class flare was associated with a CME - a coronal mass ejection. As the name implies, a CME is where the flare belched out copious amounts of solar mass - mostly electrons and protons. This is usually an explosive event, forming a shock wave as the CME travels outward from the sun. While the x-rays from the sun travel at the speed of light, reaching the Earth in about 8 minutes, a CME travels much slower than light speed, reaching the Earth in about 3 days ... if the flare and the CME is located near the center of the sun. If the flare is located near the edges, or limbs, of the sun, the CME will travel outward into space, but away from the earth.

Today's X-class flare was a doozie. The shock wave was measured at 1,532 km/sec., about 950 miles per second, and about 3.5 million miles per hour. Anything over about 1,000 km/sec. is considered a strong shock wave and almost guaranteed to trigger a major geomagnetic storm about three days later - if it hits the earth.

Friday's X-class flare occurred in region 1402, located on the limb of the sun. In fact, that region will rotate out of view by tomorrow. Therefore, this strong shock wave is traveling away from the sun and away from the earth. It will not hit us, so it will not trigger a geomagnetic storm. If it were to hit the Earth, it would have produced a severe geomagnetic storm, the type that can even shut down portions of our power grid and knock satellites out of orbit. We escaped this one.

Go to:

The map of the sun on the left shows where the current active regions are located on the sun. As you can see, region 1402 is on the extreme edge of the sun and rotating out of view. Region 1408 is smack in the middle of the sun. Should a flare occur from 1408 in the next couple of days, that shock wave will hit the earth. (1408 is a weak, unorganized region and not likely to produce a major flare at present). Region 1410 is just now rotating into view and will be towards the center of the sun in a few more days. That is the area to watch for it to grow into an active region capable of producing flares by early next week.

NOAA issues a daily summary of solar and geomagnetic activity, and a forecast for the next three days, located at:

In Section IV "Penticton 10.7 cm Flux" you will see today's solar flux was 142 and the forecast for the next three days (i.e., the weekend) is 120, 120 and 120. Why would the solar flux drop from 142 to 120 so quickly? Like overnight? The reason is because Friday's X-class flare was also characterized as a "Ten Flare." This means the flare was so strong, it affected the solar flux as measured at 2880 MHz, or 10.7 cm (the Ten Flare thing), where the solar flux is measured. Thus, today's daily solar flux was elevated (contaminated) due to the enhanced ionizing radiation from the flare. Tomorrow, back to normal solar radiation and back to the normal solar flux of about 120. Though, that is still fairly high for the higher bands to be open during daylight hours.

So if you want to work into areas where your QRP signals don't normally reach, start keeping an eye on the solar x-ray emissions (at for an M- or X-class solar flare. For the rest of the day, you will most likely experience good signal propagation with perhaps an opening of the next highest band. For those of us who still work, I've noticed the good flares always happen like2-3 in the afternoon with only moments left in the day by the time I get home :-(

At the VLA radio telescope, we were observing today at L-band (1-2 GHz) and S-band (2-3 GHz). The solar flare did affect observing for about 20 minutes in that the "sky temperature" suddenly increased due to the flare. Our switched noise source calibration, which constantly measures system temperature, detected the sudden rise in sky temperature and flagged the data so it was not used for science for the duration of the flare. The biggest problem at the time is nobody knew what caused a 200 degree K shift in system temperature. Basically, the electronics system is always blamed until they realize it was a flare!

Keep an eye on the sun. Solar activity can be advantageous to QRPers if you learn a little bit of the physics and learn to read the "tea leaves." Don't let the news reports of solar flares scare you off the bands.

If you have any questions, ask them on the group and I'll answer, or one of the other seasoned QRPers.

72, Paul NA5N

Friday, January 27, 2012

Sunset at Caesars Head

This was taken from the State Park visitors center parking lot while field testing the KX1

Thursday, January 26, 2012

HK0NA Dxpedition

Saw that HK0NA was calling on 30m. The pileups on HK0NA on 20m and 40m were just too big.
DX Station was working split up about 3 Kc. It took 25 minutes of calling when he finally called me. That is DXCC entity #109 in the books.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Field test of the KX1

It was such a beautiful day yesterday that I decided to take the afternoon off and headed up to Caesar's Head Mtn to try out the KX1. I set up at the visitor center parking lot at the State Park and proceeded to hang my EFHW dipole off a low branch. Elevation was 3000 ft above sea level. Contact was made to KB3AAY in MD. He was also running 4 watts and gave me a 579 signal report. This is one fun rig.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

January NAQCC Sprint

First Sprint of the new year. I started on 80m. I thought I would hold my ground and call CQ for a while as a strategy. Like last time K3WWP was the first contact and then I decided to cozy up to him and call CQ. After things dried up, I did S & P for a while and then decided to go to 40m. QRN and QRM were there in spades and I only found a couple of stations calling CQ. The CA station could not hear me. I managed one contact on 40m. I was on 20m briefly and finding no one - went back to 80m. Managed 20 QSO's for 1040 pts for 2nd place so far but all the logs are not in . I don't know how he does it but K4ORD managed 45 QSO's. SInce I am not here to win but to improve my skills - still had fun. K2 is still holding its own.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Is there a Best Radio and Antenna Combination?

The following are my musings as I consider radios for different purposes:

Most Bang for the Buck, Stealth, Energy Efficiency and Portability:

If TEOTWAWKI happened tomorrow this is the rig/antenna I would like to own. A KX1 80/40/30/20 and a Par End Fed Z half wave dipole. The antenna is purchased as a 40-20-10 multibander - about 40 feet long but can be reconfigured as a monobander dipole for any band for the cost of wire. The radio does cross mode comms, ability to listen to short wave, USB and LSB and transmit CW only. Current draw is 37 mA on receive and less than 700mA on transmit. Will essentially run forever on a 7 Ah SLA battery and a solar charger. Antenna does not require a tuner. The antenna is tuned for minimal SWR by trimming wire lengths. The radio weighs all of 13 ounces - talk about packability. Power output is limited to QRP (4 watts 12V supply) or 2 Watts on internal AA alkaline batteries. You can build a LiPo battery pack to put out 12V for not much more money but one has to be careful as these batteries can explode if charging precautions are not taken.

Cost Breakdown:
KX1 - $384 Elecraft
EFHW Dipole - $75 Par Electronics
KX1 Paddle $65

Most Bang for the Buck, CW Contesting Radio, Portability

Without a doubt a K2. This is ounce for ounce the best ever designed radio to be used for CW contesting while being capable for general HF (SSB, CW) work that one actually solders together from scratch. The base K2 weighs 3.3 lbs without a battery. This also means the 100W amplifier makes it a K2/100 and may be the last radio you ever buy. Since this is a kit radio, it also means that you can fix it since you built it. This is my go to radio for everyday work. Antenna paired up with this radio is a G5RV capable of 80m to 10m operation to 1500 watts. Radio has a signal to noise ratio of 131dB and great dynamic range. This is among the finest in receivers out there and will compete with receivers costing thousands more. Current draw can be as little as 160mA. It draws about 260mA as a K2/100.

Cost Breakdown:
K2/100 approximately $1400 with SSB, Audio Filter, 20W autotuner, battery, and 100w amplifier
G5RV: $99 (base Antenna)
EFHW Dipole Wire: $75 (portable)
Total: $1575

Most Bang for the Buck All Around Radio and Portability

If you do emergency communications work, this is the radio to have. It does everything from 160m HF to 430 MHz UHF, all modes CW, SSB, AM, FM for all bands. It has general receive coverage to listen to shortwave. It has two battery bays that can supply 9 Ah of battery life (batteries not included). The receiver is not that sensitive in terms of S/N ratio as I tested it is at 118 dB but again this is NOT a contesting rig. If I only had to have one radio and the grid stays up, this is the radio. It is small enough to go into a go pack but I would not go backpacking with it, if I had a KX1. It probably weighs 15 pounds with 2 internal batteries. Antennas for this rig depends on how it is applied - whether mobile, base or portable. This radio is so versatile, that I cannot imagine ever selling mine. I actually worked 70 countries with it during a DX contest in 2011 before I had my K2. The SSB digital peaking filter does a great job isolating stations you want to work. Current draw is 450 mA on receive so it is a bit of a power hog compared to a K2. But for all it does and its portability - it is a great radio.

Cost Breakdown:
Yaesu FT897 $800
Internal Batteries: $200 from W4RT
Base Antenna (Home Station) G5RV $99
Mobile Antenna: 2m/440 dual bander $75
Field Antenna: EFHW dipole 40-20-10-2 $50
Total: $1224

2m Mobile Radio
Yaesu FT-2900 - no nonsense 2m radio, puts out 75Watts, very sensitive receiver. If you only have Technician privileges - this is the mobile radio. The heat sink is heavy but the current draw is very decent and will run a long time on a 30Ah SLA or in the car.

Cost Breakdown:
Radio $169
Antenna: 5/8 Wave Magnet Mount for the car $25
Antenna for Emergency Field Use is Twin-lead J-pole (homebrew) - about $5

Ultimate Radio for Contesting Paired With the Best Antennas Money Can Buy

This is the ultimate dream radio if I was independently wealthy. An Elecraft K3 with all the bells and whistles. Base K3/100 with standard filters, P3 Panadapter, KPA500 500 watt integrated amplifier with a beam antenna on a tower for 40m -10m DX work and an antenna farm of dedicated dipoles for 160m and 80m. I have never priced out such a system in detail since I can't afford it it but I can dream.

Cost Breakdown:
Radio/Amp/Tuner: $10K
Rohn Tower and STEPPIR Beam $10K
Dedicated Dipoles and Verticals: $500
Total: $20500
Getting on the ARRL Honor Roll With It: PRICELESS

Fun Week as K3Y/4

It has been a great week serving as K3Y/4 for the SKCC. Thanks to KL7GLL for uploading my logs. It has been a great experience helping people fill out their logs on the K3UK SKED page. It also helped me a lot filling out the bands with contacts. Propagation has not been as good as November and so I doubt I will fill the slot for K3Y/6 on 80m. Same goes for K3Y/KL7 and K3Y/KH6. All in all 100 QSO's as K3Y/4 and a clean sweep for all US K3Y stations.

One can check the leaderboards at and I am glad I made it. Best wishes to all who participated in the K3Y Anniversary event.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Clean Sweep of K3Y Stations

Got the final station for the US Clean Sweep last night K3Y/3 K3NA.

W4CUX K3Y/4 1/13/12
W6KGP K3Y/7 1/12/12
KD5JHE K3Y/5 1/11/12
K1PUB K3Y/1 1/9/11
W9DLN K3Y/9 1/9/11
WI0S K3Y/0 1/8/11
W8TQE K3Y/8 1/7/11
W1DV K3Y/2 1/7/11
KO6R K3Y/6 1/7/11
V31JP K3Y/NA 1/7/11 Belize

Also worked 86 stations operating as K3Y/4. So if you need W4, look me up on the K3UK SKED page and I will be working 2 more nights as K3Y/4

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2011 Amateur Radio Year in Review

Let's see - just what did I do in 2011

Building Projects:
Completed Elecraft K2 S/N 7105 with KAF2, SSB2, KAT2, KBT2, KPA100 (KF4BY)
Completed CMOS4 Logikey - Electronic Keyer by Idiom Press
WM2 Watt Meter by Oak Hills Research
100W Dummy Load by Oak Hills Research
Homebrew White Noise Signal Generator

Operating Accomplishments:
ARRL Worked All States Mixed Mode
NAQCC Worked All States QRP
NAQCC Worked All Continents QRP
NAQCC Friendship Club Award
NAQCC 1000 MPW Award
NAQCC 2-Way QRP Award - 250 Points
SKCC Centurion Award
QRP ARCI Worked All States QRP

Total QSOs 1532
2011 QSOs 1100
DX QSOs - 430
Unique DX Entities Worked - 108
Unique DX Enties Confirmed - 73 LOTW
LOTW WAS CW - 45 States
SKCC WAS - 46 States

Contests Worked
CQ Worldwide DX CW - 130 DX Entities
ARRL 10m Contest - 53 DX Entities
ARRL Rookie Roundup - Placed Second in W4 - See Below
NAQCC Sprints - 4
SKCC Sprints -1
Spartan Sprints - 4
QRP ARCI Sprints - 1
Flying Pigs Sprints - 2
Field Day - BRARS