First U. S. HSCW Portable Operation
by KM5PO / KD5BUR, Jim McMasters
Click on thumbnails for full size images.
Yaesu FT290 sits atop TE Systems amp to the left. HSCW interface box
is between the keyboard and monitor.
The operation is powered entirely from the vehicle. TE sys amp developed
325 watts. Antenna is aimed North-North-West.
Portable High Speed C.W. in the U. S. became a fact on Sunday, March
15th, 1998. This is the first of what will no doubt be many many DX-peditions.
This trip was intended to test out portable HSCW operation in anticipation
of the trip to Atlanta, GA. coming April 3/4 where we plan to demo HSCW
on-the-air. This demo comes in conjunction with the Southeast VHF Society
Conference where I will be presenting a visual and audio program on HSCW.
My wife and I will make this trip to Atlanta in our Dodge Intrepid so it was
important to know that all the ham gear including the antenna could be
transported at highway speed. This required me to build a special rack for
the antenna mast and the antenna parts themselves.
Because I had work duty all night, I could not leave my home (Texarkana, TX)
for EM32 (Shreveport, La.) until approximately 1130z or 5:30am local time.
I used a checklist but still left home without the portable antenna mast base.
This is an absolute necessity so after traveling 15 minutes out, I had to turn
around and go back home!
I drove alone, in the rain, and as early light dawned I almost
fell asleep at the wheel. Carl McNair, KB5WMY, who lives a few miles from
the portable site, was up at 3am local to check on the threatening weather
conditions. He drove to the site for the portable operation and found a
covered area out of the elements. We made contact via FM repeater over the last 20
minutes of the trip. I broke out of the rain 15 miles from Shreveport and
conditions were "puddly" but dry, windy and cool the rest of the day.
We set up the station fast but I still had to delay the first sked by 15
minutes. I relayed info back and forth via my xyl to the MSROCKS page. All sked
frequencies checked out free of birdies.
The first contact with W7XU was
very encouraging with an R26 received only 10 min. into the delayed sked. A
few more exchanges and we were complete. I enjoyed sending and receiving
73's over and over after that. Carl got to hear the frequent pings from
Arliss on an amplified speaker system tapped into the interface box. I
prefer headphones, but with this setup bystanders can hear the real time
events and the MSDSP playback. It was noted however, that 2 watts
amplification is not enough unless you are sitting right in front of the
speakers. It will take more like 20 to 40 watts to handle a small group of
The next sked was with John, WA8CLT. Nothing heard 'til 11 minutes into the
sked. I was beginning to think that we had good rocks on the NW path and slim/none
on the NE path but I was wrong. John came rolling in on the pings and bursts,
with final Rogers issued 20
minutes after our callsign exchange. Again, an early completion considering the
skeds were set-up for 1 hour. It was apparent to me that the nice launch
area to the north from the portable site was contributing to our success. Conditions
(number of meteors) were no doubt better than normal also.
After the QSO with John, I turned off the Auto Period function on the MSDSP
program and started recording (by pressing REC) so that I could hear the
white noise background. I also changed frequencies for the upcoming sked
with N0KQY. I got up to stretch my legs. As the time got near to the sked
start I sat down to the computer to find that MSDSP had locked up tight as
a drum. This is the only time that I had a lock-up during 5+ hours of
operation. I have seen this happen before when the program is used in long
term recording with Auto Period turned off. During the re-boot, the cpu clock
lost 3 seconds which I did not discover until I was into the next sked. It
would be nice to have a way to update the clock from the executing MSDSP
program. This would be useful when you have back-to-back skeds or while
I found myself very busy, even with Carl there to help. For instance,
without the usual antenna rotor, the yagi had to be sighted-in on bearing
between skeds. We were using duct tape to hold the heading at the point
where the mast was bearing in a hollow pipe base. The wind was sufficient
to move the antenna at times with the duct-tape-brake setup. This is one
area that must be improved. HINT: if the pings totally disappear, check the
antenna heading hi hi.
Contact with Gary Krenzel, N0KQY came next. Callsigns early on, then weak pings for
awhile, then some strong but short bursts. Took 45 minutes. At only 800 KM,
we are a bit close for easy contact on direct path. I have also learned later from
Gary that he was running with S5 line noise. Another thing that slowed this contact
down was the fact that Gary's signal came on very short pings after the callsign
exchange. Where I was expecting his usual RS2 report, I was finding bits and pieces
of his callsign. I mention this to make a point especially with newcomers (have
already talked to Gary about it on the landline also). Please do not send any more
information than is necessary at the time. Once the calls and initial report is confirmed
ie: Call1 Call2 Call1 Call2 and Call1 report call2 report report FORGET THE CALLS.
The idea is to identify your sked partner. Once this is done, you're ready to fly.
Go immediately into the Roger Report sequence, Roger Roger, and optional 73's.
Matt, KB0VUK was next and once again he eluded me. I am determined to do
whatever I can on my end to get a completion with him!
The next sked started off with a bang. Callsigns within the first 10
seconds from Jay, K0GU and then over and over as the pings/bursts
continued. This sked was complete in 10 min. including 73's !
Now I had 50 minutes to wait 'til the next sked. I called home to relay
with Dee and asked her to post a message to the effect that I would be
cq'ing on the sked freq. W8WN had picked. Shelby was to be the last
I started hearing pings between the CQ's. Turned out to be Shelby. I turned
the antenna a little farther to the East to Shelby's bearing. This heading
was farther East than any previous sked. I found the 9913 coax was too
tight where it had been taped on a guy wire now that the antenna was on this new
bearing. Loosening the taped connections made the coax drape in gentle
loops. I sat down to the computer to find that I now had major RF coupling
into the monitor. During transmit periods, I could barely see the screen
well enough to locate pings in alternate MSDSP buffers. I attempted to
straighten the coax along the guy wire but this caused a tension of sorts
that would move the antenna from NE back to the North. The sked progressed
in spite of me running around in circles. I could tell by Shelby's repeated
transmissions of the same data, that he was not receiving my signal (or
hearing long enough bursts) like the strong signals I was receiving from him.
I thought it best to
change my pre-loaded data in one of the MSDSP transmit strings from "73 ES
TNX QSO" to simply "737373". I reasoned that if my pings in general were
short on his end, I did not want him to get anything other than 73. In the
process of making this change during a transmit period I hit the wrong key
and ended up with 363636. Of course the display was so jittery with RF
coupling I did not notice this mistake. This caused more confusion on both
ends of the QSO, Shelby went back to transmitting R26. At this point I was
so tired that I actually thought there was QRM on the frequency!! But then
the light came on. If Shelby and I were into exchanging 73's then this QSO
was complete, no matter what came after that!
A recap in brief:
Portable Equipment set-up at EM32:
Yaesu FT290, TE systems amp - 325watts
Cushcraft 13b2 at 16 feet.
Pentium 200, monochrome monitor. Both powered by separate inverters.
MSDSP software, homebrew interface VOX box.
Skeds in brief:
1415z - 1430 W7XU EN13 .122zb 6000lpm 1150 Km NNW heading
1500z - 1530 WA8CLT EN80 .145zb 4000lpm 1264 Km NE heading
1600z - 1645 N0KQY DM98 .122zb 6000lpm 834 Km NW heading
1700z - 1700 KB0VUK EN34 .115zb 4000lpm 1236 Km N heading Incomplete
1730z - 1740 K0GU DN70 .122zb 4000lpm 1240 Km NW heading
1800z - 1830 W8WN EM77 .118zb 4000lpm 945 Km NE heading
Several minor problems noted:
The previously mentioned poor braking method on the antenna mast.
Calibration to WWV is a must. My trusty wristwatch broke the night before
the trip! Carl provided a good wristwatch to keep me on time. The Pentium
cannot keep time at all.
RF coupling into the monitor. We will try a color monitor next time. Should
have better shielding. This will require a stiffer inverter however.
The cool wind darkened the LCD display on my DAUPHIN DTR-1 486 notebook
where the sked data was stored. I had failed to write the data down on
paper. There were a few tense moments.
Thanks to all who helped in this effort.
Thanks to Rein, W6/PA0ZN, Shelby, W8WN, and Steve, Ko0u/1 for the space on the HSMW Web hub site.
A complete photo gallery of the portable operation is on my website.
KM5PO / KD5BUR EM23wk