This weekend was the annual ARRL Field Day. Celebrated by hams across the country, the (24 hour) event is part contest, part emergency exercise. Groups obtain a higher score the more “off the grid” they are. Point bonuses are awarded for alternate energy sources, such as portable generators, solar, and battery powered transmitters. The idea is to demonstrate to the public – A. We’re geeks and we’re having a good time. AND B. We are the people that will be relaying a message to your loved ones when the power goes down due to a natural disaster, etc.
I went into my first field day weekend with a little trepidation. I tried to figure out what the activities were going to be (of the various clubs in the area) before spending a full weekend with one particular group. My objectives were: Have a good time, learn more about ham radio, tune my homebuilt antenna, learn more about satellites, meet some folks, play with APRS, have a good time.
Later Friday night after visiting some other field day sites, I stopped by The Southern Orange Amateur Radio Association’s location. A relaxed group of folks, SOARA held their field day activities in Mission Viejo’s Gilleran Park. Friday was merely a get together BBQ to plan the various stations and activities for Saturday. As I pulled into the parking lot I saw a familiar face. Tom AE6SH, who volunteers as an EMT/ham for many rallies in the Southwest, greeted me with an: “I know you!” I was quickly introduced around to club members and started to get an idea about what field day was going to be like with SOARA. Three towers. All modes, all bands, APRS, D-Star, satellites, etc. When I asked what OSCAR satellites would be worked, Vlad KI6BLP said only: “All of them.” To which I could only respond: “Awesome!”
Saturday morning, up at 6:30 and off to Gilleran Park. I helped string lines and lift towers. At 11:00AM K6SOA was on the air! Everything was well planned and well placed. They use a contest tracking program on wireless laptops to log every contact and check for duplicates instantly (reminder: this is in tents – in a park – on generator power ). I grabbed my headphones and jumped in with Greg N6REG on the BIG 20 Meter antenna. He logged a ton of voice contacts while I typed them into the laptop. Stations were calling “CQ Field Day” from all over the US. I got excited when we heard from Western Florida, even more excited when we talked to Western Massachusetts!
Later in the day, I cracked out my home built ‘handi-tenna‘. This antenna is based on K5OE’s design for a small, portable, cheap – satellite antenna. The only tiny problem is you need an expensive analyzer to tune it. Up until now I was unable to find someone with the right equipment. In a matter of minutes I had a device in my hand that told me my antenna was tuned to 420Mhz. As the birds are on 436Mhz, I would have to trim it a little. (Birds = slang for satellites) An hour or so of fiddling and I had it set in the 435-440 range. Thanks Richard K6RBS for the analyzer!
I took a break and went and grabbed Christine. I convinced her to come back with me to field day and she brought some ‘busy work’ just in case she got bored. The good news is, after listening to some contacts and hearing CW (morse code) on 20 meters, she enjoyed hanging out and logging with some of the SOARA operators. I know she was most excited working with me operating on 40 meters when we made a contact with a station in Nevada, as it was the first one from that state.
The work on the handi-tenna payed off later that night, when I was able to track and listen to SO-50. I won’t go into all the details of how an FM voice satellite contact works, but I was able to hear Vlad KI6BLP call the clubs K6SOA callsign FROM the satellite. This is with my $11 antenna, handheld radio, and headphones. Thirty minutes later an even better pass of AO-51 came over the ocean. I was able to copy dozens of callsigns from Southern California to Washington State a lot clearer then I ever expected. Previous to this I had tried working satellites on three separate occasions with no luck. To learn more about amateur radio satellite communications, click here.
We left the site around 10:00PM and headed home for some sleep. I returned on Sunday morning to help for the remaining four hours of the contest. I helped Heiko AD6OI and Patti AD6OH on the 6 meter antenna. It was pretty quiet on the band and only after calling “CQ Field Day CQ Field Day this is Kilo Six Sierra Oscar Alpha” about 30 times did we make a few contacts. I got to check out D-STAR with Biran NJ6N’s setup. We watched a webcam broadcast from a field day site in Washington – over the ICOM ID1’s internet connection.
Tear down was quick and everyone pitched in to carefully pack the towers, rope, cable, and radios back into storage and the various vehicles that had brought the equipment. I had an awesome time and I want to thank and shout out to: AD6OI, AD6OH, AE6SH, AE6H, KI6BLP, NJ6N, K6RBS, and N6REG! I look forward to participating more in SOARA’s activites in the future!