Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Flagg Mountain, Dipoles, and Frustration

Weeks have passed now without a single new grid being worked on VHF or higher. This is due to a number of factors:

  • Limited Operating Time. Perhaps the biggest reason of all. Just haven't had time to be at the radio. Responsibilities at work, home, and serving as Section Emergency Coordinator for ARES take their toll. Missed a nice tropo opening on 2 Meters for instance.
  • Finances. IRS tax bill and other expenses related to the sale of my business meant selling my Icom 910-H. I'm making due with an Icom 746 Pro and Yaesu FT-857D. It's also limited my ability to try new things to improve the station.
  • Truck Lease. I'm blessed with a company truck but the lease is running out on May 25th. We're purchasing a new truck, which means rebuilding a portable VHF station in the next few weeks prior to the June contests.
  • Location, Location, Location. The noise floor in my HOA neighborhood continues to rise as more homes are built. 6 Meters on the attic antenna is almost unusable for anything other than e-skip. WJST modes from that antenna are usually impossible due to the noise floor.
But I'm not quitting now. Time to change my strategy and see if I can improve the grid totals that way.

One option I'm seriously considering is operating from a portable location during the June Contest. As long as it's within a 100km radius of my home QTH, I could still count any new grids worked towards VUCC. One location that we scouted last week is in Coosa County, AL called Flagg Mountain. It's at 1,140 feet and it's the highest Southern peak in the state.

I'm hoping that it would give me more access to much needed grids in Florida and into Georgia. Other options included Cheaha Mountain in East Central Alabama, which is the state's highest peak. The issue here in the South is getting above the tree line for a clear view. Almost impossible to acheive 360 degree views here. But I'm checking out several sites in the next two weeks.

Another option I'm experimenting with tonight is "temporary" antennas on push up masts. I plan to deploy a 6 Meter Hamstick Dipole along with an Arrow Antenna 4 Element beam tonight to test how it works. I'll set this up in my drive way after dark with a short run of coax back to the station. I can compare the noise plots with ones I've already done on 6 and 2 with the indoor antennas.

To give you an idea, my noise floor will vary as much as 11db in some directions on 6 Meters, and as much as 8db on 2 Meters. This limits my operating directions for weak signal work.

I'm hoping that moving the antennas away from my own home will reduce the noise, and getting them clear of the roofing materials will boost signal levels a bit. If it works, I'll try it again with a 7 element 2 Meter beam and a PAR Moxon antenna for 6 Meters. This "temporary antenna" set up may become a mainstay of my operation on the low bands.

222 and 432 grid chasing may be relegated to portable hilltop operations.

I hate to admit defeat, but my patience for indoor operations is lagging. Portable operation seems to be the best bet. The Flagg Mountain Tower, pictured above, is privately owned by a group that is restoring the tower and some cabins at the site. Access to the summitt is possible, but it requires a million dollar liability insurance policy and a lot of pre-planning.

We'll just have to see if that's in the cards for June or not. VUCC on VHF from indoor antennas is certainly possible. I've worked 149 grids on 6 Meters is less than a year. 91 Confirmed.

Two Meter has yielded 40 Grids worked, with 20+ confirmed. 222 and 432 in the teens. A great e-skip opening on 2 Meters could double those totals in an afternoon, but that doesn't happen very often.

The noise floor limits my "secret weapon" of Meteor Scatter via WSJT to a just a few directions. Limited participation hurts even more. Time to change the game.

Another option that I'm kicking around is EME. Currently running 200watts on two meters into a 7 element beam. 1/2 hardline and an SSB Electronics pre-amp. In theory, it's good enough to work several of the big gun eme stations. But it remains to be seen what the actual effect of the roofting materials are, even in favored directions.

Plus I know almost nothing about EME, so the learning curve is steep for an operator with limited time to devote to the effort. Anyone know a good EME mentor or one of the Big Gun stations who might be up for the challenge of working EME on Indoor Antennas?

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