Saturday, June 13, 2009

Amateur Radio "Field Day" In Two Weeks!

Being a hard-core Amateur Radio operator, one of the things I most look forward to is our annual "Field Day", which is always the last full weekend in June. This year it's the 27th and 28th. Field Day is supposed to be a 24 hour test of our emergency communications capabilities, so we go "off the grid", and set up to operate away from our usual home stations. It's an excellent drill, as we drag out stuff we've had put away since the last Field Day, set it all up out in the boonies, and try and make as many contacts with other stations as we can. My club, the United Radio Amateur Club is normally based out of the Los Angeles Maritime Museum in San Pedro. For the last 14 years or so, we've been operating Field Day from the Upper Reservation of Fort MacArthur. "Fort Mac" is a really cool place, having originally been a Coastal Artillery base, and then a training base for Army personnel who were headed overseas. it was also a Nike base in the 50's, and is on the list of National Historic Places.
Primary operation on Field Day is "HF", more commonly known as Shortwave, but we also operate some of the more esoteric modes, like digital communications, Slow Scan TV, and satellites. What's that you say? A bunch of AMATEURS have their own satellites? Yep, we hams have been in space since 1961, and actually had the first orbiting satellite capable of actively relaying radio messages, OSCAR-III. We beat the commercial guys by a couple of months, and some of them are still sore about it! How we hitched free rides into space when rockets were still of questionable reliability is quite a story. This link has the best history of Amateur Radio Satellites I've ever found, and is fascinating reading if you're a TechnoGeek like me. I'm the "Satellite Guy" in my club (it's what I do for a living), so I've been getting ready for my role at Field Day. I've spent all weekend (so far) getting my satellite antennas, Azimuth and Elevation positioners and the controller assembled and checked out. I haven't used my "Big Guns" in 4 years, so I had a lot of cobwebs to blow off, hardware to check, and software to update. The girlfriend's backyard isn't quite big enough to mount my full-sized Yagi's on the crossboom going through the elevation rotor, so I faked it with two pieces of mast standing in for the 2M and 70cm antennas. At least it lets me watch the "antennas" follow a satellite through the sky. This is the first time I've had full PC control of azimuth and elevation, and it's pretty neat to watch them "track" a bird going through the sky.
Sunday I'll get the radios and power supplies checked out, and then plug it all together and see how well my laptop controls pointing the antennas at a moving target, and compensating for the Doppler Shift on the downlink.
As we say in the radio biz, "Stay Tuned For More...."!


  1. Enjoy! And yes, I did know y'all beat the commercial guys :-)

  2. Thanks, but things aren't going very well. The antenna controller I'm using is a real PITA to get working with the box that actually runs the rotators and my laptop. I think I'm going to scrap it (EBAY!....somebody will buy it!) and go with manual control of the antennas. My son will be the "Man-in-the-Loop" who keeps the antennas pointed at the satellite. I'm calling it quits for the weekend...just too damn much frustration getting the damn thing to work. It was a project by another ham who has since disappeared, and it's one of those things where he built it for himself, and then decided to sell a bunch of them. The user interface is really crappy, and compared to other controllers I've used, this one is way too much work to get it functioning properly.

  3. Too bad the hardware ain't cooperating. Been there, done that.

    Last field day I went to was about 1992. Priority shift to other pursuits, I guess.

    I was at URAC FD site years ago when I was part of the ARRL aristocracy visiting sites around town. I miss the guys and their radio adventures, but I don't miss the ARRL deal, even though I'm a life member.

    I know Jim and Bev P. and a few other members at URAC.

  4. Oh, yeah, I know Jim and Bev *very* well. The bad thing about the ARRL is that it's changed to a much more political organization over the last 10~15 years. And with that goes all the internal squabbling that a political organization has.
    At this point I'm either going with a Gulf Alpha 2M/70cm all-on-one-boom (think Arrow Antenna on steroids!), and let my son run the azimuth rotor, or use my eggbeaters. For the rest of the time I'm going to concentrate on getting SatPC32 to do the Doppler correction so I won't have to constantly tune the radio.
    More to come, including a basic "What Is...." on Amateur radio......

  5. About all I have right now is a base station CB and some GMRS radios. Would love to get into or find an old HAM set. Sadly,living in an apartment just outside of suburbia kind dampers what you can do. Hell,even my whip antenna is hidden because of the rules.


Keep it civil, please....

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