Monday, June 27, 2016

First Field Day as a CW operator

Field Day 2016 with the Knightlites QRP club

I had the privilege to be part of the Knightlites WQ4RP 2016 Field Day event.  They are a great bunch of folks dedicated to QRP radio.  They operated CW and SSB on 80m, 40m, 20m, 15m, 6m, 2m and 440.

After listening to CW for nearly 19 hours straight; my brain is turning even normal sounds into morse code...  I may have had a psychotic break.  

Gary, N3GO, operating 80m straight through the night without leaving the oh-so-comfortable lawn chair

My 80m/15m station

This is my first year operating CW and my first full, field day event.  I've dabbled in field day (FD) in the past but did not work it as part of a club.

For this FD I was responsible for supplying the equipment to get a station on the air for 80m and 15m.  The WQ4RP club operates QRP only using battery power, so anything associated with transmitting was to be battery powered including the computer.  My Elecraft KX3 was powered by a 12 year old 50ah UPS battery and the laptop was powered using an inverter with a large deep cycle battery.  Following 20 hours of operation the UPS battery had only dropped to 12.2v  The Elecraft KX3 is frugal with power even after hundreds of contacts.

My antenna was the one we'd previously installed at Excalibur during the spring.  Paul brought it down for us to use at the FD site.  We cut the 40m part of the fan dipole to work for 15m. Tall trees on either side of the tent provided the antenna supports and the tent was positioned to be close to the feed point of the ladder line.

80m - 15m Fan dipole with home brew ladder line

Honda generators powered the lights in the evening and fans/AC during the heat of the day. Honda generators are quiet in both the audio and radio spectrums.  Three Knightlite stations used Honda generators to power equipment not related to transceivers.

Power was supplied to all stations by Honda i-series generators

Operating CW during Field Day

Unfortunately for FD operations I'm the opposite end of a CW contester.  Since starting my CW/Morse Code journey last year I've just worked at getting my ragchew (conversations in CW) skills improved.  I practice listening to the most common 500 words and listening to e-books sent as Morse Code.  I'm not good at copying calls, when they are sent at 25wpm.  Compounding my new(ish) operator struggle is that FD uses an abbreviated exchange, so it was tough going for me when operations kicked off at 2PM local time Saturday and the exchanges began flying by...

A Field Day CW exchange

Calling Station sends an abbreviated CQ, sometimes the CQ and the ending FD were omitted:
Answering Station sends call by itself, repeating as necessary:
WQ4RP (repeat call after a brief pause if no response)
Calling Station sends my call back to me then his station class and section:
Answering Station sends station class and section:
Calling Station sends thank you and that's it, you're done:
Since we were operating QRP we often had to repeat our call and our class and sections.  I don't have much experience at copying calls at speeds above 20wpm.  The 15m band was weak and most signals were no better than S2 or S3. I was trying to copy calls sent at speeds higher than my norm with QSB (fading) and I was getting frustrated.  Paul came and sat beside me to coach and provide some encouragement.  He is a patient tutor.

I was advised to operate "search and pounce" rather than sending CQ myself because I needed to hear a caller complete a QSO once or twice to copy their call and their response but even then copying the section was often harder for me than the call.  Many of the sections are 3 letter designations that I was unfamiliar with (i.e. California has 10 sections abbreviations).  Between QSOs Paul would explain where each of the sections were located. I should have studied up on this stuff prior to FD.

I'd hear the station class (a number and a letter) and then while my brain was chewing on that I'd miss the section.  So I was sending a lot of AGN? to get the stations to repeat their response. Sometimes I'd finish a contact and realize I'd mistyped part of the response so I would wait and listen for the caller to go through another contact to hear what they sent to copy it correctly for the log. I wasn't really racking up the contacts.

This type of operating is very challenging for me.  While I can understand why contesters enjoy honing these skills, for me, it was stressful and wore me down mentally.  I took breaks at least every hour and asked other, more seasoned operators to take the helm (errr. key) while my brain cooled down.

80m magic

When dusk arrived 15m contacts were few and far between and I switched to 80m.  Gone were the weak signals and speed demons on 15m.  The 80m band was surprisingly QRN free and stations sending FD calls were stacked like firewood throughout the CW portion of the band.  Our QRP station was also heard better by the callers with fewer needs to repeat the call or the response.  I had more enjoyable time working 80m.  Paul still sat with me and offered advice which I greatly appreciated.

Gary N3GO, loves the 80m band and he is the Knightlites anchor man for running 80m through the night.  Gary sat down at 10PM to begin his shift on 80m and he didn't get out of that chair until 5AM.  I was dozing on and off (more off than on) in the tent and doing my best to head copy what he was working.  Seven straight non-stop hours of CW later Gary needed a break and I spelled him for a while.  After a bit of rest he was back for more and operated until the band gave out in the morning.

N3GO is the anchor man for 80m through the night shift

WQ4RP Knightlites

The Knightlites operate using the club call WQ4RP.  Here are some of the participants from the 2016 FD.
Left to right: AA4OO, WA4GIR, WF4I, (visiting ham in red ????), KD4PBJ, KC4PHJ, AA4XX, AB4PP
Thanks to W4MPS for taking the photo


"JP" AB4PP -- 20m Band captain

 Kurt N4KJK - assisted with 15m CW

6m / 2m / 440 stack - Thanks Alex!

Alex KC4PHJ -- Band captain for 6m / 2m / 440

Joe WA4GIR - 40m band captain

40m Station

40m Loop

Derek WF4I - working 40m at dawn

Sunday daybreak and the 80m station is still cranking

Lots of weed eater support lines tied off at the base of this tree


My first FD as a CW operator was challenging but fun,  The WQ4RP club has some patient and talented operators, many of whom have rarely missed operating a FD since becoming hams.  I enjoyed getting to learn from them.

Next year I will make the effort to practice copying FD exchanges prior to the event so that I'm not so overwhelmed.  It also turned out I'd made a poor choice for logging software.  The RumNLog software for my Mac laptop didn't have a preset for the FD contest.  I had to use a general contest setting and now will have to programmatically manipulate the resulting ADIF output to have the necessary fields for submission.

The Elecraft KX3 is unsurprisingly a good QRP field day radio.  It's small size, low power consumption and phenomenal internal auto tuner made it a pleasure to work with.  It has a knob, button or display element for everything you could want.  For instance, the dedicated knob for changing internal keyer speed was very useful to fit each station we worked during an exchange.  I also used the secondary frequency display area to check on the power supply voltage throughout the event.  The KX3 truly does have the kitchen sink.

Update 7-11-2016

Paul sent me the Knightlites field day results. Lists below.  I'm interested to see how our group fared .

Call Used: WQ4RP     GOTA Station Call: (none)     ARRL/RAC Section: NC     Class: 3A

Participants: 10     Club/Group Name: KnightLites QRP Society

Power Source(s): Battery

Power Multiplier: 5X

Bonus Points:
  100% Emergency power                            300
  W1AW Field Day Message                          100
  Submitted via the Web                            50
Total Bonus Points                                450

Score Summary:
                  CW  Digital  Phone  Total
   Total QSOs    539      0      58
 Total Points   1078      0      58   1136   Claimed Score = 5,680

That's all for now

So lower your power and raise your expectations

Richard, AA4OO


  1. Great story.... love your "just do it" attitude... you may not be the best at copying CW but you found a way to prevail. Kudos!!

    1. Thanks Rob. If I waited until I got good at something before doing it I'd never do anything, haha.

  2. Hi Rich. Great blog and great job with FD. If you haven't already tried it, download Morse Runner (free). It's a great contest simulator, very realistic and would be an excellent practice platform to try before your next contest. CU sn. 72, Marc W4MPS

  3. Richard, Your experience with CW on FD sounds exactly like mine, except I was the only operator in the club using CW. Kudos to you

    KN6DR (FD club call W6ERE Section SJV)

    1. Thanks Tom. Maybe we'll both be better prepared next year.