20 May 2017


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No extensive blog entry this time. I just wanted to share this 1965 CQ Ham Radio cover. To me, this is one of the most iconic photos in ham radio. It shows Sako Hasegawa, JA1MP (sk) founder of Yaesu Musen Co. Ltd at the dials of a Yaesu FL-200B transmitter and a FR-100B receiver

10 May 2017

My first SOTA and CW activation

Last edited: 12.05.2017

One of my favourite aspects of ham radio is Summits on the Air (SOTA). With this blog entry I will not go into explaining as to what exactly SOTA is, as most of my readers already know or otherwise will be able to find more information on the official SOTA web page or on this Wikipedia page. Beside that I will also do a special "sticky" blog page about SOTA in general another time soon.
So this blog entry is not about SOTA in general, but rather about my CW activation of SOTA summit PA/PA-004 Torenberg in specific.

I've been a SOTA chaser for some time now, mainly using CW. As a chaser I can do the basic "rubber stamp" CW QSOs, i.e. copy the activator's call, send my call, copy my call, copy the signal report, send a signal report, send 73 and TU. I can also easily copy and send some basic abbreviations like GM, GA, GE, UR RST, BK, GL, FB, etc. Basically this is all one needs to make SOTA QSOs as a chaser, or to make QSOs with DXpeditions or DX stations for that matter. In less than two years, with probably 99% of the SOTA Qs in CW, I earned my SOTA chaser Shack Sloth award and the HB9SOTA Edelweiss award. Using only SSB this might have taken ages. But I wanted more, just basic CW skills is not enough, as I was also aspiring SOTA CW activations.

The radio shack out in nature. SOTA PA/PA-004.
Equipment used on PA/PA-004 includes a Yaesu FT-817ND running 5 Watts into a portable lightweight version of the HyEndFed 10/20/40 wire antenna, a 10 metre telescopic lightweight fiberglass pole, a gel cel 7Ah battery, and a Palm Pico paddle. There are two things I learned today: I need a narrow CW filter for the FT-817, and I need to save for that portable, self-supporting HF-P1 antenna I've been looking at for some time now; fixating a 10m telescopic pole out in nature can be quite a hassle.
So meanwhile I kept practicing my CW skills using the Koch method at 25 WPM. The Koch method for me has been the ideal way to learn Morse code. A Koch app on my smartphone lets me practice whenever and wherever I want. I tried and still try to do at least 15 to 20 minutes of practicing each day. Over time I also managed to add some variations to the rubber stamp QSOs. For instance, in the QSOs with them I also started sending the personal name of the regular SOTA activators I'd made acquaintance with. "Dry practicing" I also built confidence in sending random callsigns, words, letters, and numbers. For SOTA CW activations I knew, at least sending wasn't going to be a problem.

One of the motivators to keep up the essential self discipline to practice CW every day has been the aspiration to do SOTA activations. The lightweight QRP equipment you take on a summit activation is so much more effective in CW than it is in SSB. Doing a CW activation however is a totally different ball game compared to chasing!  Not only you'll have to leave the comfort of your shack and ascend the summit and set up your portable station there of course, but also you'd have to be able to quickly copy the different callsigns and messages coming at you in fast pace from random SOTA chasers. As a CW chaser before making the QSO you have the advantage of having the time to listen for the activator's callsign, just one callsign, and if you don't copy it completely the first time, you'll listen for it a second, or even third time. When activating it's a complete different situation.

For today I'd planned an activation of the Dutch SOTA summit PA/PA-004 Torenberg. It would be my first SOTA activation. The Netherlands is not a mountainous country, but there are some hills in the eastern and southern part of the Netherlands, and under the special SOTA P100 rule, five of them qualify as SOTA summits, were included in the SOTA programme, and were given a SOTA reference number. However, after a careful check of the P100 rule, it was decided to retire two of them as of 31 July, 2017, including PA/PA-004.
My initial plan was to do the activation in SSB only. But I remembered my last QRP SSB WWFF activation in which I needed many hours to eventually make just 16 Qs. A SOTA activation in CW would be so much more effective, and not in the last place so much COOLER!. For an activation though, at higher speeds I'm still not confident enough about my CW skills.
But then I realized, for my first CW activation I just could go QRS! At 12 to 16 WPM I'm much more comfortable and confident. Chasers that want to work me will adapt to my speed. When a callsign is not copied completely the first time, I can always do a "..--.."
Then coincidentally, some days ago Polish ham SQ6GIT started the thread "SOTA CW for beginners" on the SOTA Reflector.  SQ6GIT is planning a SOTA activation in Ukraine and wants to do it in CW, but he has the same doubts about his CW skills that I have about mine, and he asked the SOTA community for their opinion on doing a CW activation with limited CW skills. The SOTA people all reacted the same: Take the plunge! Just do it! Just go slowly, go QRS! One SOTA activator reacted "The best training method when aspiring towards CW SOTA activations is: CW SOTA activations! And it's true, taking the plunge and jumping into the big ocean often is the best teacher!

So I did. Today I activated PA/PA-004 in CW, only CW, no SSB at all! I made 8 contacts on 40m including one "Summit 2 Summit" with HB9AGO/P in Switzerland! The transceiver's keyer was set to 12 WPM. Some "E E E" were needed a couple of times, but for a first time, and despite being very nervous, overall I think I did well! I must say SQ6GIT's post on the SOTA Reflector came just in time and gave me the push I needed. The chasers all were very cooperative and patient and adapted their speed to mine. And guess who's one of the chasers I made a QSO with! It was SQ6GIT, adding another special touch to this story! My initial fear is gone, and I hope to be able to do some more CW activations soon!

PA/PA-004 Torenberg is located in a forested area called De Veluwe near the town of Apeldoorn. Its summit is 107 metres a.s.l. It's quite an odd summit and it can't be reached legally as it's located on land owned by the Dutch Royal Family and in a no-access wildlife area with many wild boar and deer. So to keep it legal I decided to activate from the forest at the Aardhuis on the Aardmansberg at 102 metres a.s.l. The Aardhuis is the former hunting lodge of King William III and was built in 1861. It's now a visitors centre and museum. Some of the rooms remain furnished as in historical times when it was still King William III's hunting lodge. The Aardhuis is a couple of hundred metres away from the the real Torenberg summit, but it's within the closed 90 metres elevation contour line around it (and with 102 metres elevation not in a dip) and therefore complies to SOTA rules and the SOTA definition of the activation zone (max 25 m vertical distance from the summit). It feels a little ackward to do a SOTA activation at such a big distance from the actual summit, but I guess that's what you get in the "Dutch Mountains". The Aardhuis is also on the same land owned by the Dutch Royal Family, but for a small fee you're allowed to freely wander around on the forested land around the lodge. The fee also includes a visit to the museum and the Aardhuis wildlife park.

The Aardhuis at 102 m elevation
Inside the Aardhuis. At the right, King William III's original guns.
Wooden "Aardman". This Aardman has been guarding the lodge since 1861!
Topographic map of the area with the 90 m contour line in red as provided by PA3Q. The Torenberg and the Aardhuis are also indicated. As can be seen, the Aardhuis lies within the 90 m contour line around the PA/PA-004 summit. (source)
Addendum 12.05.2017
Those aspiring SOTA CW activations and looking for some practice might find the CW practice audio files on the site of ON6ZQ to be very useful, I did and still do. On this particular page you will find links to CW audio files as well as other CW practice tools. There's also a CW audio file with real SOTA chaser callsigns which can be played at various speeds. Check it out!

For those wondering what Koch trainer I'm using, it's IZ2UUF Morse Koch CW for Android. It's a great app, and I can really recommend it. More information can be found here.


2 May 2017

Whispers from Nunavut

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In the field of WSPR (a.k.a. "Whisper"), PA7MDJ mainly is a transmitting-only station, but every once in a while I also like to do a listening session, when there are special WSPR projects in progress (High Altitude Balloons, maritime mobile WSPR stations, floaters, etc.), but also just to see what my simple wire antenna is capable of, and to do my part in the efforts of the countless stations listening to create a worldwide WSPR monitoring network.

Today, while doing one of those listening sessions, on the 20m band, I caught a WSPR beacon from the Eureka Amateur Radio Club, VY0ERC which is located in the Canadian Arctic at the Eureka Weather Station on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut Territory.
To be precise, VY0ERC is located about 11 km from the Eureka Weather Station at the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) Ridge Laboratory (RidgeLab) at 80º North in grid locator ER60tb, just 1,100 km from the North Pole. At the RidgeLab observatory, situated at 600 m a.s.l. at the top of a hill, with a large complement of instrumentation, atmospheric studies can be conducted from ground level to a height of about 100 km. It's a self-contained scientific laboratory, but personell usually live at the Eureka Weather Station.

Arctic landscape at Otto Fiord, Ellesmere Island, Nunavut Territory (source)
The photos of the RidgeLab and the Eureka Weather Station, as can be found on VY0ERC's qrz.com page and Twitter, showing the isolated and in ice and snow covered station buildings, are really impressive, especially for a polar enthusiast like me, and I'm really excited about the reception of the weak signal beacon from Nunavut. The signal was received with an SNR of -24 dB, and according to the transmitted spot, at the RidgeLab a power of 10 Watts (40 dBm) was used.

VY0ERC also is a WSPR monitoring station, and I hope my 200 mW beacons reciprocally will be picked up on Ellesmere Island some day. It will take some better than average propagation conditions though. Polar paths aren't the easiest.

RidgeLab at 80º North (source)
VY0ERC heard by PA7MDJ (and a lot of other stations)
Screenshot of the WSPR program as running at PA7MDJ on May 2nd, 2017
The weather at Eureka at the time of reception (17:00 UTC is 12:00 CDT), temperature -18ºC


1 May 2017

New QSL cards arrived

New PA7MDJ QSL cards fresh from the printer in Bulgaria. Another great printing job by Emil, LZ3HI of Gold Print Service. The "Night Owls" front design is by Jeff Murray of K1NSS design. See also this blog entry.

28 April 2017

How the world learned about the Falklands War

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Penguins on the Falkland Islands. Land mines placed by the Argentines are still present today (source)
The Falklands War was a ten-week war between Argentina and the United Kingdom over two of the British Overseas Territories in the South Atlantic: the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. It began on April 2, 1982 when Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands in an attempt to establish the sovereignty they had claimed over the islands. The invasion had caught prime minister Thatcher by surprise, and even though the war was short, it turned out to be a deadly one.
I was still at a very young age but I remember it very well. It was probably the first time I heard about the existence of the Falkland Islands. I have been fascinated by the archipelago ever since, for its geographical location, for its remoteness, for its subantarctic character and rugged nature, and for the major role the islands play in the operations of the British Antarctic Survey.

In March of 2014, then still with my novice licence and PD7MDJ callsign, on 10m SSB, I managed to work Bob McLeod, VP8LP located in Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands. It was my first contact with the Falkland Islands, and I was ecstatic! You can listen to a recording of the contact here at my SoundCloud page.

I didn't know then about the major role Bob McLeod had played at the beginning of the war as the only news source on the Falkland Islands, as the only link with the outside world. It was Bob McLeod who with his ham equipment first confirmed that the Falkland Islands had been taken over by Argentina, and who via ham radio provided BBC journalist and fellow ham operator Laurie Margolis, G3UML in the UK with the scoop. Margolis broke the news on the BBC Radio 4 PM programme that same day. The fascinating story, as found on the BBC News site, can be read below, or you can find the original article on http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/6514011.stm.

Stanley, Falkland Islands (source)
There seems to be circulating on the internet a tape recording of the radio communications of VP8LP with the UK during the war. According to this forum http://www.shipsnostalgia.com/showthread.php?t=96066, the recording here is a recording of the actual QSOs with Bob McLeod on April 2nd, 1982, the day of the invasion. Intelligibility is poor at times, unfortunately.

My radio friend Alan from the UK told me he remembers during the conflict that the UK Government contacted all UK hams and gave them a phone number to call if they heard Bob or any other Falklands hams on the air. He also told me that during the war the UK Government had set up a broadcast station on Ascension Island to broadcast to the area, because the BBC World Service wouldn't allow itself to be used for any propaganda purposes in case this affected its reputation for impartiality. The Media Network programme with Jonathan Marks did a feature about Radio Atlantico del Sur, as the station was called, which can be found here in the Media Network Vintage Vault.

The Falkland Islands is IOTA SA-002 and forms a separate DXCC entity. Bob McLeod's wife Janet McLeod also is a ham operator and holds callsign VP8AIB. I managed to work her in late 2014 with the special callsign VP8AIB/100, commemorating the WWI Battle of the Falklands.

How BBC man scooped invasion news
By Laurie Margolis
BBC News (April 2, 2007)

Walk down London's Portland Place, heading south from Regent's Park towards Regent Street,and you come to a kink in the wide road.

Immediately ahead of you is the plush Langham Hotel, very expensive and also one of the most haunted buildings in London.

To your left, BBC Radio's headquarters at Broadcasting House. This busy location, on the northern edge of London's West End, was the focus of the way the story of the Falklands invasion unfolded exactly 25 years ago.

Back in 1982 I was a BBC journalist and also an amateur radio operator - I still am. That means I have a call-sign - G3UML - and some expertise in long-distance short-wave communications.

At the very end of March, 1982, I was working on the Golan Heights, hearing on the BBC World Service a bizarre story about Argentine scrap metal merchants taking over the British dependency of South Georgia.

Invasion claim

I returned to London on the morning on 2 April, and went into Broadcasting House to work on a documentary. I was met by scenes of near panic in the radio newsroom.

The Argentines were claiming to have invaded and taken over the Falkland Islands, the 2,000-strong British colony off the south-eastern tip of South America.

Argentine soldiers took control after a few hours' resistance

The newsroom had Argentine claims, but nothing else apart from a laconic message from the Cable and Wireless station on the Falklands - "we have a lot of new friends".

At that time the Langham Hotel was a dreary BBC office block and, in a dusty, junk-filled attic room - number 701 - the BBC's own amateur radio club had a shortwave transceiver. With a big aerial on the roof, it worked pretty well.

My senior editors wondered if there was any way I could contact the Falklands through amateur radio. Nothing else was working. It seemed a possibility. The remote nature of the islands meant that radio was important, and for the small population there were a lot of radio amateurs down there.

'A true scoop'

So I took up a vigil in room 701, listening carefully across the 14, 21 and 28 megahertz bands for anything from VP8 - the international call-sign prefix for the islands.

And about six hours later, I struck gold. On 21.205 megahertz at 1600 London time, that rather distinctive accent, a bit West Country - a Falkland Islander.

And what a story he had to tell - a true scoop, an exclusive of the greatest magnitude.

The voice was that of Bob McLeod, and he lived in the settlement of Goose Green on East Falkland. His call-sign, I realised, was VP8LP but he was anxious that it shouldn't be used. I have much of what he said that day recorded on an old-fashioned audio cassette.

"We have now been taken over. The British government still denies it but they have no contact I believe with the Falklands, and this is probably why they are still denying it.

"But we have been taken over. There is an aircraft carrier and I believe four other boats - I don't have the details on them - but they do have heavy armoured vehicles in Stanley, details I don't know, and quite a number of personnel.

"They landed approx 0930 GMT this morning in landing craft and stormed the capital Port Stanley and have taken over the government office, they landed with heavy armoured vehicles.

"We're now under their control. They are broadcasting that all local people will be treated as normal. Fairly peaceful in Stanley at present time."

Foreign Office call

The Argentines had still to reach Goose Green and so Bob was able to transmit his bombshell.

He was getting information from local radio, which broadcast a commentary as the invasion developed early that morning, and then carried on, under Argentine control, transmitting messages of reassurance. The islands' VHF radio network was also buzzing with the story as it developed.

By then my dusty attic was busy with BBC TV crews and newspaper people who'd been told it might be a good place to be.

I went onto the Radio 4 PM programme at 1700 London time with an account of what I'd been told. A few minutes later I was rung by the Foreign Office, who understood I'd been in touch with the Falklands and wondered what they were saying. I gave them a bit more of Bob.

"Damage we don't know, shooting around a very rough guess approx two hours. Three deaths of Argentineans [sic] in the Falklands, one believed to be very senior.

"The English marines and local defence forces - we have no information. Took over Government House, and then taken over all of Port Stanley. And I believe they shot up the Cable and Wireless transmitting station.

"Helicopters flying around Stanley. 500 personnel in Stanley, and aircraft carrier believed to be carrying 1,500. Flying Hercules aircraft, one has come in."

It clearly made an impression. Within an hour the Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, was on his feet in the House of Lords confirming a massive British humiliation.


QSL cards from Bob and Janet McLeod



27 April 2017

Interesting WSPR projects

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Fleet II
The 45 ft sailboat "Fleet II" is currently crossing the Atlantic from the Caribbean to the UK via the Azores. The skipper is ham operator Peter Baker, G4HSO. The sailboat carries a QRP Labs U3S WSPR transmitter which every 10 minutes on the 20m band sends the callsign G4HSO/M (the WSPR protocol doesn't allow a /MM suffix) and the 6 character grid locator. The power is 500 mW fed into a simple mobile whip antenna mounted on the boat's stern guard rail. Yesterday evening I already managed to receive the WSPR beacons from the sailboat lying in port at the Azores in grid locator HM58qm. I hope to be able to receive more WSPR beacons later when the Fleet II is at sea continuing its voyage to the UK.

More information can be found here.

The Fleet II (source)
PA7MDJ hearing G4HSO/M
Mikael Dagman, SA6BSS has launched another High Altitude Balloon carrying a WSPR payload, the BSS5. It's currently over Siberia.

More info can be found here on the BSS5 thread on the QRP Labs forum. See also my blog entry about an earlier HAB launch of Mikael Dagman, the BSS4, here.

ZL1SIX Ocean Floater
An ocean going marine buoy built by Bob Sutton, ZL1RS with GPS and a QRP Labs U3S WSPR transmitter has been released into the ocean over 11 months ago, and has been adrift and transmitting WSPR beacons from the South Pacific since. And it's still going strong! Little chance of picking up its signals here in Europe, but still a very interesting project to track!

Check out the project's webpage here.

Drop-off of the ZL1SIX Ocean Floater on May 17, 2016 from the yacht Windflower in grid locator RG93sq (source)

22 April 2017

Franz Josef Land - A DXer's dream

Last edited: 24.04.2017

A DXer's dream! Franz Josef Land, "Strange islands lost in the Barents Sea", as the archipelago is called by the Ultima Thule blog, shown here in an iconic National Geographic photo with a polar bear on Rudolf Island (source)
All ham operators have a clear recollection of their most special and memorable contacts and moments in amateur radio. Ask any random ham for it and the stories will be coming at you non-stop. Often these special moments are related to a goal or a wish made a long time ago. Probably most hams when they start out in amateur radio, and all future hams still studying for their amateur radio licence, secretly have some goals in mind that they're going to try working towards. And once reached, the achievement, the radio contact, or the resulting QSL card or award feels like a medal for all the hard work delivered to get there, a trophy that fills the radio amateur with pride, recognizing his skills and perseverance. To me, one of these moments was working Franz Josef Land.

The much coveted QSL card from RI1FJ and the book about FJL published by the Norwegian Polar Institute.
One of my goals, or maybe it was more of a wish, or even a dream, from the beginning was making a contact with Franz Josef Land. Being a polar enthusiast, I've always been fascinated by this frozen, barren Russian archipelago at 80º northern latitude in the High Arctic. The archipelago is the closest land to the North Pole in the eastern hemisphere. Just 900 km of sea and ice separate Franz Josef Land from the top of the world. I don't know where the fascination for the archipelago exactly comes from, maybe it's the mysterious sounding name, maybe it's the photos I've seen of the beautiful, desolate Arctic landscape providing the backdrop for the shabby huts of a remote Russian weather station and roaming polar bears, or maybe it's just something undefinable.
Whatever the case, my fascination was already there in the 1990s when I bought the book shown above edited by Susan Barr and published by the Norwegian Polar Institute. I believe it's quite a rare book, as it's probably one of the few books about Franz Josef Land published outside of Russia.

After I got my amateur licence in late 2012, the years went by with Franz Josef Land being shrouded in nothing but radio silence (1). The last time I heard a signal from Franz Josef Land was in the 1990s when I was active as a shortwave listener and had managed to receive Sergei Tsybizov, R1FJZ.

QSL card from R1FJZ received for an SWL report back in 1995.
Then in 2015 the news appeared that soon Eugeny Chepur, UA4RX would be active from Heiss Island, one of the islands of the Franz Josef Land archipelago, signing as RI1FJ. I was excited! In the summer of 2015 Eugeny was delivered to the island by the icebreaker MSV Mikhail Somov, but the months following, Franz Jozef Land just remained hidden in its usual radio silence. Until suddenly in the summer of 2016, not long before Eugeny would depart from the island again, spots started appearing for RI1FJ on the DX Cluster. Apparently Eugeny has had some technical problems, which had prevented him from getting on the air until resolved late June 2016.

But propagation conditions were terrible, and when I tuned in to the spotted frequencies, mostly I could not hear the signals of RI1FJ at all, or they were too weak to be workable. On the rare occasions that the signals were good enough, I just didn't manage getting through the pile-up. Until August 1st that is, the day that luck was on my side, and in the very nick of time! RI1FJ was on 20m CW working simplex and with relatively good signals. The pile-up was big but not extremely, and there were some promising gaps in it. I started keying my callsign trying to squeeze it into the gaps, and then suddenly there it was; Eugeny had picked up my signals on that barren, frozen, mysterious land in the High Arctic, and back he came with my callsign and a signal report! After my reply, the 2-way contact was completed with a 73 from Eugeny. One of the most special 73s I ever got! What a thrill to know my signals reached Franz Josef Land, the northernmost location I've ever made contact with. A look in the August 19 news update below shows that indeed it was a contact made in the nick of time; Eugeny went QRT just a day later on August 2nd! How much more luck can a ham operator with just a simple wire antenna and 100 Watts ask for!?

Krenkel weather station on Heiss Island, Franz Josef Land (source)
Eugeny was active from the Krenkel Meteorological Station in grid locator LR90ao on Heiss Island. The station is built around a shallow fresh water crater lake. Krenkel Station was established in 1957/58 during the International Geophysical Year and abandoned in 2001. It was reopened in 2004 with a smaller modern station set up between the old buildings. The new station is manned year-round by about 5 persons. The old complex of buildings housed about 200 station personell and seasonal researchers.

Iceberg at Heiss Island (source)
Franz Josef Land is IOTA EU-019 , forms a separate DXCC entity, and was an ATNO for me. The archipelago consists of 191 islands. In 2012 president Putin signed a decree on a major clean-up in the Arctic, including at Franz Josef Land. Before the clean-up there was about 90.000 tons of scrap metal left at the old Soviet and Russian Polar stations on Franz Josef Land alone.

Soon after the contact, when Eugeny had arrived back on the Russian mainland, the QSO was confirmed in Clublog and on LotW. The much coveted QSL card took a longer wait though. It was already mailed to me in August 2016 but had gotten lost in the mail. QSL manager Victor Loginov, UA2FM recently sent me another one at no additional charge, and it was finally received a couple of days ago. Spasibo, Victor and Eugeny!

On qrz.com the QSL manager of RI1FJ regularly posted updates on the activities of Eugeny:

19 August 2016
Eugeny RI1FJ safely arrived at Archangelsk Port. His 2016 operation lasted  from 27 June 18.31 UTC to 02 Aug 2016, 16.18 UTC. No ham operation is expected from the island until probably next expedition in August 2017 - August 2018.

RI1FJ log uploaded to Clublog.org. Otherwise use OQRS form on this page.

73 de UA2FM

14 August 2016 update
Gentlemen, Eugeny RI1FJ left the island on 5-6th August. He is onboard RSV Somov, sailing home. Watch Somov route at As soon he is on the Internet, I upload his log onto clublog.org, and everyone will be able to use OQRS form on this page as well. Please be patient, all requests will be replied! :)

73 de UA2FM

3rd July update
This afternoon I got information (thanks R6AF) that Eugeny stays on the island until end of July. After that he sails home onboard icebreaker RSV Somov. Watch Somov route at

RI1FJ goes QRT soon after Somov arrives on the island.

73, de Victor UA2FM

2nd July 2016 update
Eugeny RI1FJ suddenly showed up on the air late June. I have no e-mail communication with the Island, as there are no post/telephone/transportation services there, but company satellite forbidden for private use. I was neither notified by Eugeny of his QRV, nor about problems he had during this season. The only thing I know, - it's him who signs RI1FJ, as many hams worked him reported this.

I do not know whether Eugeny is able to send his ADIF logs through his @winlink.org address as we did in his previous operations. I was told all steel and metal materials and equipment was removed from the island before summer 2015. Perhaps this was the reason of RI1FJ silence.

Gents, please keep working RI1FJ on the bands, but be patient with QSL requests until I establish log exchange procedure. I'll be back with more information as soon I have it.

Thanks, Victor UA2FM

December 2015 update
Dear fellows-amateurs,
Many of you asked me to update RI1FJ info. His license reissued from 01 August 2015 until 31 August 2017. To be honest, I expected that Eugeny would start his activity early August, since he came on the Heiss Island.
He works as lead of Sevmeteo weather group for 2015-2016.
After his arrival on the island, I tried to get in contact with him using non-amateur communication, to make clear why he is not on the air.
There is no direct communication with the Island. The only possibility is to send telegraph message through official Company address, that was what I did. No reply.
After that, I tried to understand the situation in other ways. The last reply I got from Sevmeteo management, is that Eugeny is alive and well, he carries out his duties, but he has no technical possibilities to be QRV.
There is no regular transport with the island until safe Arctiс Ocean navigation in summer 2016. I do not know how I can help Eugeny.
So guys, let’s hope Eugeny will solve his technical problems until the end of his 2016 employment.

July 2015 update
2015-2016 weather team is on the way from Severodvinsk to Heiss Island onboard MV Somov. Look for RI1FJ starting early August.

July 2014 update
2014-2015 season weather team delivered on the island. There are no ham operators among the crew. No permanent ham radio operation is expected from Franz Jozef Land during 2014-2015.

All 2010 - 2013 logs are uploaded to LoTW.


Present day Krenkel Station (source)
Abandoned buildings at Krenkel Station (source)
FJL shown on a map of the circumpolar north.

Addendum 24.04.17
(1) I understand Eugeny was also active from Franz Josef Land during 2013 though. It may have been only sporadically, as this ARRL news item suggests, at least during the latter part of his stay on FJL, due to poor conditions. I also wasn't active in CW yet, and I didn't watch the DX Cluster as closely as I do nowadays.



9 April 2017

International Vintage Contest

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Today I spent some hours on the 40m band making SSB contacts in the International Vintage Contest. The International Vintage Contest, organized by the Rimini section of the Associazione Radioamatori Italiani (ARI), encourages ham radio operators worldwide to dust off their vintage transceivers, transmitters, and receivers, and to make contacts with it during the 10 hour long contest held each year in April. This year's edition marked the 10th anniversary of the contest.

I really love vintage rigs. I own one myself, a Yaesu FTdx-100 of over 45 years old. The FTdx-100 was built in the late 1960s and is the predecessor of the legendary FT-101. It's a hybrid type transceiver, partly solid state, but still with tubes in both the driver and final stage of the transmitter. I love the soft glow of the tubes, and making contacts with my FTdx-100 always gives me such a special feeling. The rig, to me a piece of Japanese art, the embodiment of pure Japanese technological craftsmanship, is still fully operational, and occasionally I like to go on the air with it. The Vintage Contest was a good excuse to turn on the "Time Machine" (as I affectionately like to call my FTdx-100), warm up those vacuum tubes, and send some electrons through them again.

Looking at the participants today though, and in the results of previous editions, it looks like the Vintage Contest unfortunately doesn't enjoy too much fame outside of Italy. I participated in the contest "search and pounce", and of the 11 contacts, 10 were with Italian stations. I hope this blog entry will help a little giving this wonderful contest some more publicity. It's a great chance to operate your own vintage equipment and at the same time make contacts with it with other fellow vintage-rig owners. I'm already looking forward to next year's edition, hopefully then with some better propagation conditions than today. It would be nice to participate in CW, but I'll have to look into building or purchasing a keyer to connect to the FTdx-100, as otherwise I will not be able to use my Kent twin paddle key with it. Another option would be to practice using a straight key (I do all my CW with paddle keys, and I have minimal experience with a straight key).

More information on the International Vintage Contest can be found at http://contestvintage.beepworld.it/index.htm.

Below is a video made earlier today of my FTdx-100 receiving the CQs of an Italian contest participant (actually IQ4RN, the station of organizer ARI Sezione Rimini).

Original FTdx-100 advertisement brochure

5 April 2017

BSS4 - Being a modern day, ham radio Phileas Fogg

Last edited: 06.04.2017

Last week was a very interesting week for me WSPR-wise. I've been tracking and monitoring the high altitude balloon BSS4. The BSS4 was launched by Mikael Dagman, SA6BSS from southern Sweden on March 26, 2017. It was transmitting WSPR beacons with callsign SA6BSS on 14 and 18 MHz, as well as JT9 telemetry on 14 MHz.

The BSS4 payload on an electronic scale. Note the light weight! The payload is powered by solar panels, and therefore the 20mW transmitter is working only when the balloon is in daylight.
When it had just been launched, and on the early part of its track, the balloon was too close to the Netherlands to pick up any signals from it on the 20m band. But on March 28th, while the BSS4 was floating in grid locator KN15 over Romania, it had a favourable 20m skip distance, and the first SA6BSS spots appeared in the decodes of my WSPR program!
I've only just recently (when I finished the U3S kit some time ago, see my earlier post) seriously got into WSPR, and for me this was the first reception of a WSPR high altitude balloon. The BSS4 WSPR transmitter was putting out only 20 mW, and I was wondering if my sloper end-fed half-wave wire antenna would be up to the job. It was; with the balloon floating above the far reaches of Europe, I managed to get plenty of decodes! On March 29th and 30th, during my monitoring sessions, the balloon respectively was in grid JN53 over Italy and grid JM38 over the Mediterranean Sea southwest of Sardinia, and again I was able to receive the WSPR beacons. On March 30th, I also monitored for the JT9 telemetry signals, and with succes (see below).
As soon as it had left Europe however, the next day, floating over North Africa, and on the remainder of its track over the Middle East and Central Asia, propagation and/or my end-fed wire were not up to the job anymore; no more spots were received here at my QTH. Interestingly though, PI4THT, the amateur radio club at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, was one of the stations that has been receiving the balloon all the way up to grid locator MN60 over Kyrgyzstan where the balloon's last signals were heard from. Not much later the balloon met its end, probably somewhere in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan where some of the mountain peaks are reaching over 7 km in height. I presume PI4THT have a beam antenna to their disposal, but still I find it quite amazing that it's possible to hear a 20 mW transmitter at over 5000 km distance!

Screenshot of my WSPR program. My first spot of SA6BSS on March 28th.
Spots for the BSS4 on WSPRnet, including mine. Note that BSS4 has also been picked up at PI9ESA, the radio club of the European Space Research and Technology Center of the European Space Agency in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.
The BSS4 over the Mediterranean Sea being heard by PA7MDJ on March 30th as shown on the map of WSPRnet.
Screenshot of my WSJT-X program with the decodes of the received JT9 telemetry. Beside a six character grid locator (providing a more accurate position recording than the 4 character one in the WSPR spots) the JT9 telemetry also contains information on the height of the balloon in metres. Here the BSS4 was floating at a height ranging from 8931 to 8977.5 metres. The JT9 telemetry was transmitted 330 Hz up from the 20m WSPR centre frequency and can be seen in the wide graph screen at the bottom of the screen shot (the WSPR centre frequency is at 1500 Hz). The shown JT9 frequency of 14.078000 is not correct of course. My Yaesu FT-991 was tuned to the 20m WSPR dial frequency of 14.095600 MHz, making it possible to simultaneously monitor for BSS4 WSPR beacons (with the WSPR program) and JT9 telemetry (with he WSJT-X program).
BSS4 trajectory prediction as regularly provided by Mikael Dagman on the QRP Labs e-mail group.
The last spots for BSS4 on April 2, 2017 done by PI4THT and a station in Kuwait. And it looks like Mikael Dagman has been testing another WSPR payload on April 5, hopefully for a planned BSS5 launch soon?
It was really exciting to monitor the BSS4 high altitude balloon. As written in an earlier blog entry, WSPR high altitude balloons (HABs) are launched regularly, also from other parts of the world. Some of them even manage to circumnavigate the globe! I certainly love them, as WSPR HABs provide monitoring stations like me, and probably even more so to their launchers, a modern day, ham radio version of a Jules Verne adventure novel.

Satellite view of grid locator MN60
Addendum 06.04.2017
Mikael Dagman informed me that the last reported telemetry of BSS4 was received from grid locator MN60mo. The balloon used was a silver 36 inch qualatex balloon filled with helium. The transmitter was a small version of the U3S kit running with the 3.09 firmware version, and with a TCXO added for stability. Below is another photo sent to me by Mikael showing the BSS4 payload.
Mikael also informs me that BSS5 will be launched in a couple of weeks.


BSS4 thread on the QRP Labs e-mail group:

12 March 2017

It's alive!

Last edited: 14.03.2017

After about one and a half months of carefully soldering, assembling, winding toroids, checking joints for shorts with a DVM, fitting everything into and onto the enclosure, and wiring it all together, my Ultimate3S WSPR transmitter (U3S) of QRP Labs is finished. The U3S is a standalone WSPR transmitter not needing any PC to generate the WSPR signals. It's only sold as a kit. The U3S can also transmit in various other modes like JT9, CW, Hellschreiber, and Opera, but most users will use it to transmit WSPR beacons with it though. The U3S can be programmed to transmit a WSPR beacon for instance every 10 minutes. You can leave the transmitter on, go to sleep, do some chores, or whatever, and later check on WSPRnet.org where your signals were heard. It's great to study propagation, do antenna experiments, or just for the thrill of it, to see how far your 250 mW beacons are able to reach. I will not go into explaining the technical and operational details of WSPR here, as this information can be found in abundance elsewhere on the internet.

I bought the following from QRP Labs:

- U3S QRSS/WSPR Transmitter kit
- QLG1 GPS Receiver Module kit
- Low Pass Filter kit 40m
- Low Pass Filter kit 20m

The remaining components I needed for this project, I already had lying around, things like bolts and nuts, wire, buttons, switches, various connectors, and a still virgin plastic case.
I wanted to keep it simple and low cost. The latter is also one of the reasons why I didn't order the special QRP Labs U3S Enclosure kit. The QRP Labs case looks really smart, is pre-drilled, and the kit also contains all the needed screws, spacers, buttons, switches, and connectors. So I must admit that I was tempted to buy the case kit, but since I wanted to have the GPS module (with onboard patch antenna) and U3S fitted together in one enclosure, I had to find another solution anyway as the aluminum case of QRP Labs would prevent the GPS signals from reaching the patch antenna.

In order to increase the chance of the project being succesful, I wanted to keep it as simple as possible. That's why I also chose not to order and install the Relay Switched LPF Board kit. This means that now everytime I want to change band, I have to manually plug in another LPF. It's not a big problem, as the plan was to mainly focus on the 40m band anyway. But still I must admit that now that everything is working ok, I regret a little that I didn't buy the Relay Switched LPF Board as well, as with it installed the U3S can be programmed to automatically switch bands, and to automatically transmit in a specific band sequence of your choice.
To simplify LPF switching, I'm now thinking about making some changes and placing the LPFs in their own small case and connect it to the antenna connector on the outside of the main case, instead of plugging it in on the transmitter circuit board inside.

After powering up and switching on the U3S for the first time it came alive directly! It was an exciting moment, as with my soldering and kit building skills, it might have sent only smoke signals instead. After adjusting the contrast of the LCD screen, it read "Diagnostic Mode" which was a good sign! The LEDs of the GPS module started pulsing, indicating the presence of serial data bursts and a 1PPS signal, and after clearing the "Diagnostic Mode" screen, soon GPS data with the correct latitude, longitude, and altitude appeared. I was ecstatic; so far everything was working perfectly!

Now I still had to go through the learning curve of how to operate the U3S, which took me quite some time. Once I had the U3S transmitting, I adjusted the PA bias with the help of a Diamond SWR / Power meter. I had programmed my callsign, and the GPS had synchronized the time and automatically set the correct grid locator. But still no spots were appearing on WSPRnet.org.
More transmitting cycles followed, all without success. After each transmitting cycle a calibration cycle follows during which with the help of the GPS 1PPS signal the transmitting frequency is calibrated. I decided to start listening to the signal of the U3S on my Yaesu transceiver in CW mode with a 50 Hz digital filter, and I found out that the U3S was transmitting outside of the 200 Hz wide WSPR band.
I just needed some more patience. I didn't expect that the initial calibrating would take such a long time, and I didn't know that it would need more than one cycle. After reading the manual a bit better and making some changes to the calibration settings in the U3S menu, speeding up the initial calibration, with every transmitting and calibration cycle, I gradually saw the U3S signal getting closer to the WSPR frequency segment of the 40m band.

And then suddenly there it was, more than 20 spots for PA7MDJ, from all over Europe! The next night the U3S and a simple end-fed half-wave wire antenne even managed to get my 40 metre WSPR beacons across the Atlantic to various US States including Florida. The fact that it's just a power of about 250 mW and a transmitter that you built yourself gives it all an unexplainable sense of satisfaction.

The first results
Day one
Crossing the Atlantic on the second night
The power output of the U3S varies for every band. According to my Diamond meter it puts out about 180 mW on 20m and about 280 mW on 40m. It might be a little more or less. For exact values, more accurate measurements with a scope are needed. Although in the 5 W setting the Diamond meter is quite accurate (as tested with a Yaesu FT-817 putting out 500 mW), making an accurate reading from the meter's dial is difficult.

The U3S needs a 5 V power supply, and I was wondering where to get it from. Thanks to a tip I found on the internet I now have a good solution. I connect the U3S to the 12 V switching Power Supply I also use for my other radio equipment. The 12 V is not delivered to the U3S directly though, but via a cheap USB smartphone car charger instead which converts the 12 V to a stable 5.1 V, even when the voltage of the Power Supply is varying. I can also connect the U3S this way to for instance a 12 V gel cell battery. I already had the car charger lying around, but otherwise they often can be found for very little money.

The results of the U3S are really impressive, especially on the 40m band. For both the 40 and 20m band I use a HyEndFed 10/20/40 wire antenna in sloping configuration. On 40m I'm heard all over Europe, and occasionally I reach into Ukraine, Russia, Canary Islands, and across the Atlantic to the US. And who knows where I will be heard next; it's all up to the ionosphere and propagation conditions.
The 20m band has been a little disappointing. I did reach into the US East Coast and states like Alabama and Georgia, and I'm also being heard for instance in the more distant parts of Europe, northern Russia and the Azores, but it's the amount of spots that is disappointing and most of the time is low in number. This has nothing to do with the U3S. It's all about propagation, which lately has been really terrible. Or maybe my expectations for this band were just too high. I also wonder if on the 20m band maybe the loss in the relatively long length of RG-58 coax cable between transmitter and antenna is starting to play a role. I wonder how much of the 180 mW in the end is being turned into Effective Radiated Power.

Reported frequency drift on 40m is mostly 0. Reported frequency drift on 20m is slightly more, mostly -1, sometimes -2. On every first transmitting cycle after the U3S hasn't been used for a while, both on 40 and 20m, the drift is often bigger and up to -4, but this is mostly back to normal levels at the second transmitting cycle. I haven't experimented yet with setting a "park mode frequency", or with putting some insulation around the crystal of the frequency synthesizer to prevent any airflow changing the crystal temperature. This might bring the drift down to 0 on 20m as well.

Last but not least, I'd like to express my gratitude to Hans Summers, G0UPL of QRP Labs for developing and making available such excellent kits, and with very good after sales services and support to boot! A special e-mail forum offers support to U3S builders and users, and is a huge source of technical and operational expertise, coming both from Hans and other U3S users.

Front side. A red LED on the left of the front panel indicates if the transmitter is keyed (see also the photo at the top of this blog). I only had one push button, so the switch on the left toggles the button on the right between switch S1 and switch S2.
The U3S transmitter module. On the left with the three yellow toroids is the plug-in LPF.
Three switches on the rear side. One for switching on/off the unit, one for switching on/off the LCD screen, and one for switching on/off the GPS module.
The GPS module with the patch antenna
Rear side

The case housing both GPS and U3S transmitter. A small window allows checking of the GPS module LEDs.
The magical little box. Size comparison with a match box.
See also my earlier posts about the U3S here, and the U3S used in High Altitude Ballooning here.