Flight of the Bumblebees 2022 — AAR

My station and operation position for the 2022 Flight of the Bumblebees contest. Yep, that’s a dog’s tail in the bottom of the frame.

This year, 2022, was my first Flight of the Bumblebees contest. This is a QRP (low power, usually 5w for CW mode) and has been going on for a number of years.

I planned to work the contest for the last few weeks. I decided to operate in the field (of course) from Washoe Lake State Park, which is also a Parks-on-the-Air park (K-2640). I often activate the park as it is only a short drive from my home and The Girl and I love to walk there. It is a win-win for both of us.

I picked up my friend, Diana (KJ7GVY) about 0900h and we made the short drive up to Washoe Lake. I prefer to operate on the west side because the take-off angles are better and there are a lot fewer people. We picked a spot and started setting up the equipment.

I elected to hang a tarp over the back of the 4Runner to provide extra shade as it has been very hot in the afternoons here. Although there was overcast, the wind was down and the humidity was up. By the time we got the station set up, I was quite soaked in sweat. This is unusual for me.

The station was my Elecraft KX3 at five watts to an end-fed half wave antenna. The antenna is built on a Balun Designs 49:1 matching transformer, but I cut the wire and counterpoise for the antenna and tuned them.

Aside: I have in mind another design for an EFHW. After reading a paper on these antennas, it seems that a 36:1 matching transformer with a 200pf capacitor about a third of the way from the feed point will make a 40m EFHW work better on the upper bands. I am going to try one. I just about have everything I need to build the transformer and radiating elements.

I think I started operating about 1030h local. I heard nothing on 40m. I was hoping for some California and close-in Oregon stations, but nothing heard. The 20m band had quite a few operators around 14.060MHz. I chased a couple of them and then looked over at my friend.

“I’m going to run a frequency. I think I’ll do better if I just pick and place and go.”

So I found a place about 14.062MHz and started calling CQ CQ BB de AG7TX AG7TX/BB AR. After a few calls I started picking up some callers and worked them as I could. I am still learning CW and CW operating practice. This was the first time I ran a frequency in a CW contest.

But all the practice running a frequency for POTA and SOTA activations paid off. I picked off call signs or fragments and worked the callers. It is such good brain work and I had a blast.

Each time the well ran dry, I would check another band. I worked a friend on 40m, but I’m confident he was running more than five watts. I also worked him on 20m, but he never got below 20w. So he does not count for the contest (but will get a POTA credit).

The 20m band was the band to work here in western Nevada. I made a total of 35 contacts, dropping those that I did not get a power from or that I new were operating more than five watts. This included 19 Bumblebees.

After the contest ended, we walked The Girl a bit. Then we headed back to Carson City and made a stop at the Sonic. The chili dog and shake just topped off the day. The Girl got a few tater tots for her contributions as well.

I had a blast. It was a good day. Life is good.

Mormon Station SP POTA

Here is the operating position for my activation of Mormon Station SP.
On Thursday, 30 June 2022, The Girl and I visited two Parks On the Air parks — Mormon Station SP in Genoa, Nevada and Washoe Lake SP in Washoe Valley. After the intensity of the last several months, I did not get enough of other-than-work time on Field Day. My Field Day AAR still needs to be written. I will get to it, probably over the weekend.

I find Mormon Station difficult to activate. It is a small park. There is a lot of traffic at the park. There is a lot of traffic through Genoa. So there is not a good place for a good antenna and there is lots of audio noise from all the traffic.

For this activation, I set up on the south side of the park, just outside the timber wall. A handy timber in said wall provided an excellent anchor for a 10m telescopic mast. The random wire antenna I keep in my kit was the right length to connect directly to the Elecraft KX2 via a binding post to BNC adapter. The counterpoise wire was laid on the ground out of the way of any potential foot traffic.

When I turned on the radio, there was some noise. A quick look around revealed overhead power lines across the street. I already had noticed the electrical equipment 20 feet from my operating position.

I decided to try anyway. I ran the KX2 barefoot at ten watts. After a bit more than an hour, I made my required ten contacts. But I noticed the radio frequency noise and used earbuds to mitigate the audio noise (a bit).

The choice of operating position was not optimal. I need to find another place to activate Mormon Station.

The Girl and I drove up to Washoe Lake SP to activate that park too. I prefer the west side of the lake/park as there is less congestion there. For this activation, I set up the Elecraft KX3 and the KXPA100 amplifier. The antenna was the Wolf River Coils vertical with my own ground field.

Not long after I bought the WRC antenna, I read Rudy Severns’ series of articles about verticals and ground fields. So I built a set of 18 radials from cheap lamp cord for my ground field. They connect six into one and then to the base of the antenna via Anderson powerpoles. The entire systems is quick to deploy and quick to tune.

The antenna is not band agile. But if one is running a frequency (like activating a park), then agility is not the most important feature of the antenna. The antenna is resonant on the selected band, so no matching transformer is needed and there is no transformer loss. It will make SWRs of 1.5:1 or less in my location.

I used my 15Ah Bioenno LiFePO4 battery with a 30w PowerFilm solar panel and Genasun charge controller to keep the battery topped off. I planned to run phone first, then CW mode on each band. For phone I run 100w; for CW mode I typically run 50w or less.

The setup took me about 20 minutes. I then checked the solar conditions and decided to start on 40m to see if I could get some California contacts and then move up the bands.

I had a handful of 40m contacts not long into my activation. After I received no more calls in phone mode, I switched to CW and worked a few more stations.

I then moved up to the 30m band and made a few more contacts. Then it was on to 20m where I continued working stations until the well ran dry, or the hole was fished out. You can choose your preferred metaphor.

My buddy Dick texted me and ask “Should I call 911?” He was concerned when he saw me spotted using sideband.

“Not everyone knows Morse Code and phone operators might want to hunt this park. So I decided I might catch more fish if I also run phone.”

Yes, it felt odd calling CQ using my voice. But I got into the rhythm before long and I know there are hunters out there who only do voice comms. I think it was the right decision.

I was about to move up to 17m when I noticed it was about 1500h. I had an exam session last night to give a new operator a chance to earn her Technician class license. I wanted a shower before heading to the exam site. So I packed up the station and we returned home.

I forgot to make an image of my deployment at Washoe Lake. That is too bad as it was another simple setup. It would have made a nice image.

As usual, I learned a few things:

  • I still have work to do to find the best operating point at Mormon Station. There has to be at least one good place to run the radio.
  • It is better to activate Mormon Station away from the weekends. Genoa has a lot more traffic on the weekends when tourists come to town. The park is busier. Genoa is busier. There is a lot more audio noise as a result.
  • I have to remember to make an image of my deployment. There is something elegant about a simple radio setup with the park or surrounding landscape in the background. Washoe Lake was really pretty Thursday. My bad…
  • Including phone operation in my activation is a good idea. Although more and more amateur operators are learning Morse Code (it is part of being a well-rounded operator), there are a lot of POTA hunters that do not know code. That means there are missed opportunities for contacts if I only activate CW mode.
  • I should allow more time to activate more bands. Thursday I did three bands — 40m, 30m, and 20m. While it is true that propagation is not as good on the higher bands right now, it was better and will get better as we move farther into Solar Cycle 25. The higher bands offer good opportunities for DX (long distance) radio contacts.
  • Logging on my iPhone is a Pain-In-The-Ass. But so is setting up a logging computer, even if it is the little Surface Go 2.
  • HAMRS is a useful logging software. It has a template for Parks On the Air (as well as SOTA). That mitigates, to some extent, the PITA nature of logging on my iPhone. (Yes, I know it runs on my Surface Go 2.)

I know there will be more lessons as I learn more about portable operations. Now I think I want to get The Girl out and go play radio for a few hours up at Washoe Lake.