First U. S. HSCW Portable Operation
by KM5PO / KD5BUR, Jim McMasters 03/17/98

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.
Click on thumbnails for full size images.

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 on-lookers.

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 contesting.

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 contact.

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.


Jim McMasters KM5PO / KD5BUR EM23wk

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