FTDX10 Setup for the field

The majority of my activations are successful. In fact so far (knock on wood), I have had only one failed attempt and that was because I started too late and didn’t get my 10 contacts before the new UTC day. The time I spent in the Army was mostly with ready reaction forces or rapid reaction forces. This often entailed us getting up at 0300 hrs loading up all our gear and heading for the hills. I was in aviation and that meant a lot of gear that had to be loaded quickly. While the helicopter crews hopped in their aircraft and took off, there were still trucks and semis that had to be ready to go. This same equipment was also used in day-to-day operations so it wasn’t just sitting there waiting for something to happen. It took organization. “A place for everything and everything in its place.”

I keep my field gear packed but accessible. My big radios go in this box.

Permanent residents of the box are loosely stored with the caveat that if I take something out, I put it back when I’m done. You will notice in the bottom picture there is a bag marked IC-7300. That is all of the peripheral stuff that goes with the IC-7300/LDG Z-11 Pro to the left. When I get the FTDX10 ready, it will have its own clearly marked bag. Whichever radio I take, I can quickly see if I have the proper bag to go with it. The radio that is not in use will go in a smaller storage box to help keep things together. The antennas I use stay with my truck, always ready.

One of my first projects for the FTDX10 is the power cord.

It’s not zip cord like the Icoms, so it can get jumbled up pretty quick. Also, when operating in the field my battery or power supply is close to the radio so I do not need a long run.

The first thing I did was add heat shrink tubing to keep the wires together. Loose, they seem to tangle no matter how hard you try to keep them straight. Make sure you put the heat shrink on before you make any connections.

The butt splices are covered with heat shrink tubing so that after they are mechanically crimped, they are sealed to the wire insulation.

The finished cable is about 18″-24″ long. I guesstimated. I use Anderson Powerpole on all of my radio gear. I have been using them since the mid-2,000s. My power supply and batteries all have Powerpole connections. It’s a very safe way to keep the electrons flowing in the right direction.

With the leftover cable, I applied heat shrink tubing and Powerpoles to both ends. This gives me an extension should I ever need one.

There’s the completed project. Ready to rock.

In a couple of days, my side rails will be here and then I will see how the radio fits in the box. The FTDX10 is a little wider than the IC-7300 so it may be a tight fit. If it’s too tight, I will have to figure something else out.

So far, I am enjoying the radio and I am looking forward to getting it out in the wild. 73’s de Scott

My Field Radios

Taking a little break from activations and hunting, I thought I would showcase my field radios as it stands today. I recently culled the herd and this is what I ended up with. The power draw was measured using a Watts Up inline meter, something like this: https://tinyurl.com/yc6yfvsd. Not lab quality, but certainly enough for this article.

Most of my recent activations have either been camping with my little teardrop camper or in my truck for a day trip. The desire to trek to a destination is not as romantic as it used to be. Often my radio time is fitted in with my other responsibilities.

Before I go down my list of radios, I want mention that my modes of choice are CW and Digital with CW generally being my preferred mode. When band conditions are poor as they have been these past few months I use FT8. Some might say that FT8 is easy or point and click, but to be a successful FT8 operator does take some skill.

My first radio is my IC-7300. Because of band conditions these past few months, it was my radio of choice because it is a 100 watt radio. In the field, I normally operate in the 5-10 watt range, but when the bands are bad I am in the 25-35 watt (and sometimes more) range. I also want to note that over the past few months I was working on my N1CC award which is working 10 bands at 10 different parks. Most parks are a couple of hours drive away from me so I try to get my 10 bands over the course of a weekend. Because gas prices are elevated, returning to some parks may not be an option.

I’ve had this IC-7300 since 2017. It’s a great radio and a great field radio. I have 4 radios that share much of the same menu system so I do not have to relearn the radio everytime I take it out. The filtering is excellent. The noise floor is lower than many other radios by a factor of 4. I have worked stations were the meter is not moving indicating a less than S1 reading.

With Icoms, antenna tuner integration is a simple cable connection and will also power the tuner. The only mod to the radio is I added a set of Portable Zero 7300 Escort guards https://portablezero.com/icom706.html. The radio rides in a Dewalt Tough Sytem medium case with no additional padding https://tinyurl.com/2sw8u9ub. The guards protect the knobs from bumping into the sides of the case. They also make great handles. Power consumption for this radio at idle with nothing connected to it is 0.81 amps or 810 mAh. For a 100 watt radio, that’s pretty darn good. The paddle I use with this radio is a Begali Traveler Lite. I am a fan of Begali paddles.

The next radio is my current favorite QRP radio, the IC-705. This radio is brillant. Icom packed a bunch of goodness into a samll package with an idle amp draw of 220 mAh with the charger off and 360 mAh with the charger on. That’s right down there with many other QRP rigs.

My 705 travels with a 3D printed cover for the face inside a MTM Ammo Crate https://tinyurl.com/y4j6t4nu. These are great cases for small radios and their accessories. A nice feature for this radio is it and be linked/controlled via Bluetooth. I have run FT8 and logged on my iPad using an app called SDR Control https://roskosch.de/sdr-control/. Another brillant feature of the IC-705 is it can be recharged via USB. That means both my iPad and the IC-705 can use the same charger. Some complain that the IC-705 is too heavy. When you realize that you do not need an HT for VHF/UHF (plus you get 10 watts of power), no cabling needed to hook the radio up to a laptop and as a bonus can use an iPad, and, can be charged via USB, you may have an actual savings of weight. No, it doesn’t have a built-in tuner and that has never bothered me. I have the AH-705 tuner and it is amazing. I use it to tune random wire antennas and can tune them without a UnUn or Balun. I would say the AH-705 tuner is on par with an AH-4 or even an SG-237 albeit at lower power.

The paddles for the 705 are Begali Adventure Dual. Big performance in a small package. Like all Begali products, they must be tried to be appreciated. I also use the Begali stand for the 705, it does a good job preventing the paddle from moving without adding a lot of weight. The screwdriver is a Nite-ize KMT-11-R3 that I modified by narrowing the screwdriver blade. I also have the begali base so I can use the paddle with other radios.

The paddles are stored in a little 3D printed box which holds the paddles, the base and the screwdriver. To the left of the box is another steel base from American Morse Equipment. The Begali base is a little light but has magnets on the bottom to attach to the AME base. Together, they work perfectly.

Last but not least is my Lab599 TX-500. This is a great rig for many reasons. Lightweight, simple to use, weather resistant and draws less than 100 mAh idle. It includes a waterfall on the easy to read LCD display. The receiver specs are pretty decent and I have not had any issues using it. I normally pair it with Elecraft T-1 tuner and Bioenno 3Ah battery. For travel I use 3D printed covers.

The paddles I use for this radio are Larry’s N0SA SOTA paddles. These are great paddles but last I heard he is no longer making them.

What is nice about these paddles is they are easy to hold in the hand and can be mounted to a flight deck.

These are my current radios and the paddles I use with them. Is this list set in stone? Of course not, you never know what you might find just around the corner. However, I could be quite happy with these. They are all good perfromers that give me a lot of latitude when operating in the field. Now that my N1CC is complete, I can worry a little less about quantity and a little more about quality. Hope to hear you out there — 73 Scott.

POTA Activation Florence Marina State Park K-2174

Thursday I made a quick trip to K-2174 to finish up my N1CC award. I needed one band. My wife and I made a day of it since it’s about a 2 hour drive each way. I made 43 contacts mostly on FT8. The bands were in fair shape and we were done in about an hour and a half. Here is a QSO map.

The antenna was my 29′ random wire antenna with a 17′ counterpoise. I really like this antenna. It is my current favorite. The radio was my IC-7300 running about 25 watts. While FT8 is a great mode to use when band conditions are poor, it is not my favorite. Now that my N1CC is complete I will go back to focusing on CW and QRPish. What made FT8 a good fit for N1CC was the ability to find contacts on all the different bands needed. What I didn’t like about FT8 was the lack of cohesiveness between hunters and activators. I have seen on Facebook where activators didn’t care if hunters contacted them or not and some don’t even call CQ POTA. That is not me. Below is a short video of the activation. Enjoy and 73’s — Scott

POTA Activation K-3683 Choccolocco WMA

This past weekend was a busy one. Saturday morning The West Georgia Amateur Radio Society provided communications for the Semper Fi Century Bike Ride. We covered routes from 33 to 100 miles on hard surface and gravel roads. It was a good opportunity to get out. This weekend was also one of the POTA Support your Parks on the Air weekend so after the bike ride, many of us headed out to Choccolocco for an overnight activation.

I enjoy these weekends. Yes, sometimes it’s a little less activating and a little more kibbitzing, but we need that in our lives, don’t we? We all set up in one of the primitive campgrounds. Everyone pitched in and brought some food for the group. My donation was chips and my wife’s fabulous Graham Cracker Cookies. They are liked so much, I no longer ask what I should bring.

Operating. This weekend I was working on finishing up my N1CC award which is working from 10 different parks on 10 different bands at each park. For this park, I needed 3 bands. My weapon of choice was FT8. FT8 does a good job of reaching out and there are plenty of folks on it so getting the numbers is a little easier. I will say that over 90-95% of my contacts are either Park to Park or from me calling CQ POTA. I want hunters to get the opportunity to get points as much as possible.

Equipment. For this trip, I brought my IC-7300. It does a great job and I can bump the power up if need be. I normally run it a about 35 watts. My antenna was my 29′ Random wire with a 17′ counterpoise. The antenna was configured as vertical using an MFJ pushup pole. I used a homebrew 9:1 UnUn and a 1:1 current balun to keep the RF where it should be. With this antenna, I can tune from160-6 meters though 160 is a little sketchy. My computer was my Thinkpad T14. Since we were at a primitive campsite which meant no power or water. I ran everything off of battery and in the end, had to crank up the generator for a little while. Digital Mode really uses power.

How did I do? Not too bad. I started Saturday afternoon and operated on and off until about 0100 Eastern Sunday morning. I made 100 contacts from 23 states and 18 countries. Here’s a map.

Unfortunately, later Sunday morning I got rather ill and had to leave early and head for the house. The rest of the group hung around until Sunday afternoon. There are already plans for a Spring campout. I am excited. Camping out is always good, camping out with friends is even better.

What’s left. I have one band at one park to complete my N1CC. Of course, I will have to make 9 other contacts but hey, that’s what we do. After the N1CC I will probably go back to QRP CW. I feel there is more community there. It’s like Cheers, “Where everybody knows your name.”

Final. Here’s a short video of the activation.

POTA Activation K-2939 Cumberland Mountain State Park

I try to get out camping about once a month. It’s good for the soul. While out I am often activating the park. Also fun and relaxing. I book my campsites 3-4 months in advance to ensure I have a place to go. Campgrounds in the southeast fill up fast. This trip was up into Tennessee to the Cumberland Mountain State Park. It was a lovely 4-hour trip with only 44 miles being on an Interstate Highway. The park is located in the Cumberland Plateau Region of Tennessee and my drive included driving through Sequatchie Valley. The valley is rather narrow and you can see the walls of the valley on both sides. I couldn’t ask for better weather. Highs in the 70’s and lows in the ’50s. After a hot summer, it’s was a welcome relief.

The campsite was cozy. This park had a higher density than I normally like, but there was lots of foliage and greenery around to set my karma right.

Band conditions were not that good and I operated FT8 on this trip. I am working on my N1CC award which is working 10 different bands from 10 different parks. Because the park was so far away (200 miles) with gas prices what they are, I wanted a one-and-done which is why I stuck to FT8. My setup was what I have been using on the past couple of trips.

The radio was my IC-7300 and the tuner was an old LDG Z-11 Pro. Since I had shore power, I used a Powerwerx Switching power supply. The computer is a Lenovo Thinkpad T14 which I bought refurbished from Lenovo. It’s a really nice computer. The mouse is a Logitech Pebble which is Bluetooth. For FT8 I also use a GPS dongle to keep the clocks on my computer and radio synced. On FT8 the further you drift from the actual time, the probability to connect to another station goes down. Even at home I sync my computer every day that I use FT8. I also keep a flash drive plugged into the computer. I use ACLog and I have it set up that it makes a backup copy to the flash drive every time the program shuts down.

The antenna is my homebrew random wire. It’s a 29-foot wire setup as a vertical using an MFJ-1910 pushup pole attached to my truck’s trailer hitch. I use one 17-foot counterpoise with a homemade 9:1 UnUn and a 1:1 current balun for a choke. I highly recommend a choke on any portable operation. Keeping RF at the antenna prevents all sorts of things on the radio. I really like this antenna. It has become my go-to antenna. I have probably made over 1,000 contacts with it from all over the world. Since there are no holes in the ground or wires in the trees, the park staff remains happy. On this trip, my campsite was next to the campground host. I can’t say enough about the antenna, it just works, it goes up and down in a couple of minutes, and didn’t cost that much to make. You do need a good tuner though. With this antenna I managed to get my 10 bands. 6-meters was dead the whole weekend so I had to to the other end — 160 meters. On digital modes, my antenna can tolerate about 65 watts max before toroids get saturated. On 160, it’s more like 35 watts. 160 was looking a little sketchy, however, I managed 2 contacts, here is one. I have used this antenna from 6-160 meters.

The IC-7300 has become one of my favorite field radios. Compact, lightweight, and full of features. It has never let me down. I bought mine back in 2017. The only protection I use on it is a set of Portable Zero rails. When I transport it, it rides in a Dewalt Tough System box with no additional padding. Every time I pull it out and plug it in, it works. I have had other brands of radios, but I always seem to head back to Icom at least for HF.

I operated from Friday afternoon until Saturday night. I made 350 QSO’s from 43 States and 18 countries. I worked them from 10 meters to 160 meters. It was a blast. I now have 8 parks with 10 different bands. I have one with 9 and one with 7. I should be able to wrap those up in the next couple of weeks. Then I think I’ll go back to low power (less than 10 watts) and get my CW mojo back in order. See you out there — Scott

POTA Activation Choccolocco Wildlife Management Area K-3683

Today I was lucky enough to get away for a couple of hours and play radio. I chose Choccolocco Wildlife Management Area which resides within the Talladega National Forest for a 2-fer. The trip gave me an opportunity to try a new configuration on my laptop. I recently purchased a Lenovo ThinkPad T14s. It has 3 available USB ports. Two type A and one Type C (Thunderbolt). There is another Type C but as far as I can tell it is used for power delivery.

When I operate in the field, I use a flash drive to give ACLog a place to store a backup file when it shuts down. Makes no sense to have the backup file on the same drive. I also use a GPS dongle along with the GPS2Time app to keep my computer’s clock synced. It doesn’t take much of a time difference to lose a contact. That used up my Type A ports. To hook up the radio, I bought a USB type B to USB type C cable and tried it out. I first in error plugged the type C connector into the power delivery port and of course I had problems. When I figured out my mistake and plugged it into the correct port, things went swimmingly. It’s always good to experiment on smaller trips.

Here is the setup in the truck.

I normally have the radio setup where I can better see it, but this was a quick activation. If I ever try a RADAR event, it might look something like this.

The radio was my IC-7300 with the LDG Z-11 Pro riding piggyback. The antenna is my 29.5 foot random wire antenna with a homemade 9:1 UnUn and choke. I use a 17′ counterpoise. The coax is RG316 with BNC connectors. I was running somewhere around 40 watts. Here is a previous picture of the antenna.

The antenna is hoisted in the air via an MFJ-1910 33′ pushup pole in a trailer hitch flag holder. Nothing fancy, but gets the job done. I have since replaced the 3D printed winder with one made from ABS to resist heat better.

How did my little setup do? I think pretty well. Bands were up and down but I managed 26 contacts without breaking a sweat. I did jump around the bands a little bit, trying to get set up for 10 bands for N1CC. I managed to make it to 7. Six meters was dead and it was too early for the lower bands. My club has a campout planned for the fall Support your Parks weekend so I should be able to get the rest. I worked a lot more DX than I thought I would which was a pleasant surprise.

Thanks to all the hunters who worked me and for your patience as I tried to work through some of the pileups I had. It was a fun little trip hopefully with more in the future. Until then — 73, Scott

POTA Activation K-2174 Florence Marina State Park

Wow! What a weekend. 438 QSO’s successfully uploaded to POTA. What a blast it was. I had a great time, got little sleep, and tried some new gear. Thanks to all who worked me and thank you for your patience as I worked through some of the pileups. Mode this weekend was FT8. I was going to try some CW but FT8 was running non-stop. Much of the time my WSJT software looked like this.

I was QRV from Friday 1800 hrs Zulu until Sunday 0500 hrs Zulu. Band conditions were good. I didn’t see as much DX as I have in the past, but I still managed to work quite a few. This time I got about 98% of my contacts by activating, that is calling CQ. I did hunt a few, mainly P2P and a few call signs that interested me. So, you don’t have to hunt to get the Q’s. The secret is picking a frequency and holding it. There were times I held a frequency for hours.

GEAR
For this trip and the past few, I have been bringing my IC-7300. I am trying to complete my N1CC award and having a few extra ponies under the hood helps. There has been some discussion about packing radios. I put mine in a box with the rest of my stuff. I do have Portable Zero Escort side rails, but that’s about it https://tinyurl.com/45dcupe5. They keep the knobs away from the box sidewalls.

Shack setup is pretty straightforward.

I can be QRV within 30 minutes from the time I pull into the site. The computer is a Microsoft Surface Go2. I use a USB hub to attach everything to it but if to jiggle it even slightly, it drives WSJT software bonkers. I may look to replace it. The tuner is my old LDG Z-11 Pro which I have had for over 15 years. It takes a lickin’… For coax, I run RG-316. I don’t see the need to use anything bigger. After this trip, I am redoing my radio box. After every trip, I do a mental after-action report. This time I decided I am bringing too much stuff.

What is new? This time I brought the KK4Z enhanced random wire antenna. This is a 29.5′ random wire antenna with a 17′ counterpoise. Same old, same old. What is new, is I added a 9:1 UnUn rated at 250 watts PEP and a choke balun.

I use my truck hitch and an MFJ-1910 – 33′ pole to get it up in the air. No holes in the ground, no rope in the trees.

This was a pretty exposed campsite. I had Park Rangers and Camp Hosts drive by all day long. All they would do is wave at me. The other secret is don’t make excessive noise. With FT8 I keep the volume turned way down and with CW I use Skull Candy Ear Buds https://tinyurl.com/2p89mz8u. The benefit of this antenna setup is the amount of power I can use. With my Chameleon transformers, I am lucky to run 35 watts and only 6-80 meters. With my antenna, I can run up to 65 watts without anything getting warm on 6-80 meters. On 160 meters, I have to reduce the power down to 25-35 watts. A larger choke balun may solve that problem. This past weekend I was running 50-65 watt range just to see and I had no problems. This antenna will become part of the Frankentenna system. So I guess I have a new favorite antenna. It gets the job done (see map above) and it keeps the campground staff happy. One of the real benefits is how little space it takes up and its low visual profile. If I am beyond the eyes of those who care, I can easily sling it up into a tree.

I do have a short video about the activation on YouTube.

POTA Activation Kolomoki Mounds State Park K-3726

I decided to try a park in SW Georgia and Kolomoki Mounds State Park looked interesting. It was about a 3 hour drive traveling back highways and byways. I spent two nights there with my wife and it was a very nice experience. The campground was quiet and the restrooms were clean.

Hot! it was hot and very humid while we were there. My little camper has AC but everything got damp in that kind of humidity. Ambient temperature was in the low 90’s and the high humidity made it feel hotter. I plan on going back there but maybe in the fall or winter.

The propagation gods were angry. While there, I suffered from R1 radio blackouts mainly due to flare activity. The bands were mighty quiet; however, I was still able to make 100 contacts over the weekend.

Testing! Test,test. I brought a couple of antenna projects with me to do some field testing with. These included some of the 9:1 transformers I wound. I will report on the results in a separate post.

Setup. This weekend, I brought my IC-7300. I brought it for a couple of reasons. I hadn’t used it in a while so it deserved an outing. Plus, I had foreknowledge of the possibility of poor propagation so I brought it to run FT8 and have a little more power. I ran it in the 25-35 watt range and the 7300 can run like that all day long. However, the antenna I used is happiest when the power stays 25 watts or less on digital. This was fortuitous, CW, my preferred mode, was non existent at my location. I made one CW contact on 60 meters. The antenna I used was my POTA standby, my Frankentenna.

I ran one 50 foot counterpoise off into the woods. In the photo, you can see the lower 2 Buddipole extensions, the blue is pretty easy to see. I ordered 2 black ones to better allow the antenna to blend in. The antenna was fed with about 31 feet of RG-316. The shack looked like this.

I used a LDG Z-11 Pro to match the antenna. To sync time for FT8 I use a GPS dongle I got from Amazon https://tinyurl.com/2p9595sz. I sync the time to WSJT using GPS2Time. I used N3FJP for logging. The set up worked well. Since my little camper has an awning, I stayed in the shade all day and drank plenty of fluids. I lost a pound of weight over the weekend. A side note. When I operate in a campground, I wear ear buds and run either CW or FT8. I do not make “radio” noise. Out of sight, out of mind.

How did I do? Pretty good actually considering the poor band conditions. I am attempting a N1CC award so I was trying to work 10 bands while at the park. Here is a QSO Map from the activation.

It was work. Sometimes I was just banging away and no one responding. The few pileups I had were never more than 3 or 4. QSB would rear its ugly head and I lost a few contacts as they faded away. In the end I made 100 QSO with 20 minutes to spare on my last Zulu Day. I managed 10 bands with my one CW contact on 60 meters which does not have FT8. What was interesting was I worked a couple of stations in Brazil and one in Europe on 10 meters. It was fun while being a challenge. It’s always good to have a plan B. FT8 was my backup, but quickly became my primary mode. In upcoming post, I will spend time going over my antenna results, and a few other kinks I am working on. That’s all for now. 73 Scott.

POTA Activation Flag Mountain, AL

I consider my home park to be Talladega National Forest. It’s the closest park time wise and because it is so large, it offers many opportunities for activation. One of the things I enjoy is the feeling of remoteness driving down those forest service roads. This past Friday (11/26), I decided to try a new spot. It was on Flag Mountain. There is nothing there except woods and the road.

For me, any park activation means about an hour drive each way which eats up a lot of my POTA time. For this activation, I wanted to try an in-truck cab solution to help reduce the set-up time. Since I would probably be along the side a one lane dirt road, it would be safer. As a bonus, I would stay warmer as the temps were in the 40’s throughout the day. This bushwhack style of operation turned out to be fun and gives me more flexibility to work different parts of the National Forest.

Equipment. To be able to bushwhack, I needed a space to operate from when sitting in my truck. I came up with a rather simple arrangement that I built in a couple of hours. It’s a flight deck that sits on top of my center console.

It’s a couple of 2×6’s and a piece of 3/8 plywood that I had laying around. It takes about 10 seconds to install and It is small enough to stay in the truck. In use it looks like this:

It was very stable. I even had my coffee cup on the free standing end and it didn’t tip over. It was very comfortable to use. On the flight deck you see my Rite-in-the-Rain notebook, Begali Traveler Light, and K1EL keyer. I will talk about the paddles and keyer in another post.

The radio was my trusted IC-7300. I normally like to bring one of my QRP radios, but next weekend we rented a cabin at Ft Mountain State Park and I want to try to make some CW 160 meter contacts. My thinking is I may need a little extra power. Next to the radio is a 20 amp/hr Bioenno Battery and next to it, is a LDG Z-11 Pro. On top of the radio is a windshield sunscreen to help keep the radio cool.

The antenna is my Frankentenna. It starts with a MePhoto camera tripod, a home made 3/8-16 to 3/8-24 thread adapter, Chameleon Micro Matching Unit, a Buddipole 7 section lightweight shock-corded whip antenna (12′), and a Chameleon CHA 60′ extra wire. It was fed with 18′ of RG-8x.

Operation. I operated CW with 35 watts. I set my code speed at 16 wpm. I can copy faster, but I find during an activation, slowing down makes it a little easier for me. My hearing is not that good, I do the best I can. How did it do? Very well I think. I was able to work stations from Alaska to France. All in all I made about 42 contacts in a couple of hours time. Here is a QSOMap (I need to get better at these).

Here is a short YouTube video of the activation.

It was a fun half a day. I learned a few thing like wear headphones/earbuds to help with my hearing. Overall, I enjoyed the bushwhack style of operating as it gives me more options for operating out in the wilds. I plan on doing more of this style of activating along with more traditional parks. 73