Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Why is QRP DXing an Adventure?
I liken the pursuit of amateur radio contacts to the analogy of flying a commercial plane to go somewhere versus flying your own plane to go to that same place. On the one hand, it is so much more convenient to pay some airline company to fly you there. However, there is something in one to challenge one self to study, take the instruction to learn how to fly, take the tests, pass the tests and one can then have the privilege of flying there while piloting a plane you either own or rent. It is your own mind and hands that guide the plane to get you there. Similarly, for amateur radio, why study to operate equipment, pass certain tests and be given a license to operate and transmit when you can more easily and conveniently call someone on the cell phone? The answer to both questions is adventure. In an adventure, there is the element of uncertainty. The higher the uncertainty, the greater the reward. The same thing in flying even among private pilots, one can certainly rent a Cessna or one can build an ultralight. The one who flies the ultralight will perhaps experience the greater emotional reward or sense of accomplishment because reaching the destination requires not only the skill to pilot a plane but also the skill to build the plane in the first place. In amateur radio, the greater level of uncertainty lies with those who pursue making the contact with power of 5 watts or less - otherwise known as QRP, because there are more variables at play to overwhelm such a diminutive signal. Even with all the knowledge of signal to noise ratio, the prevailing A-Index, the propagation path, the band, the time of day, the solar flux intensity, the certainty is quite unknown. Yesterday, I spent a half hour chasing an amateur station TY2AC in Benin in Africa - bearing about 93 degrees from due north. His signal was strong enough, maybe S4 without the preamp, and I was on my 2 element beam, and the noise from atmospheric static was low on 17m. Could he hear me? I was not sure, yet I kept trying with the belief that if I can insert myself in between the much stronger station, perhaps he can hear me. As long as he was going to call CQ, I was going to keep trying. He announced that he was quitting - or as they say in amateur radio vernacular in morse - QRT. He then disappeared. I humbly accepted it was not my day. I saw another spot on the same station perhaps an hour later. He was back. I said maybe, just maybe, I can get through this time. He kept working stronger stations one by one. Each time when he finished his QSO, I would send my call. Call it timing or call it luck, my signal went through. He called in Morse, NY4? NY4? I replied NY4G twice. He replied NY4G NY4G 5NN. I replied TNX, UR 599 OP ARIEL TU 73. He replied TNX QSO OP NICO 73. I was happy because my adventure had a good outcome and another contact with a needed station for my DX Marathon. Somedays, like tonight, it is just futile to get on the air with such little power because the band noise is high on 40 meters and the higher bands are dead for any needed contacts from the east coast where I live. Under such conditions, the possibility of a contact is not only uncertain, but practically impossible. Yet band conditions change because of the nature of the physics that enable the ionosphere to be a refractor of radio waves. You are at the mercy of the vicissitudes of ionospheric propagation. Therein lies the adventure. Then there are those, in the amateur ranks who reduce the uncertainty by building large antenna arrays and running gobs of power through linear amplifiers. Yes they can improve their odds and their DX counts are most certainly higher than mine. Yet I enjoy the self imposed power limitation, because with greater uncertainty comes greater reward.