RaDAR – Moving amateur radio stations

RaDAR

Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio

Introduction

Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio, often referred to by its acronym RaDAR, is a concept for operating an amateur radio station anywhere, anytime and even in adverse environmental conditions. This concept supports the amateur radio service’s emergency communications mandate.

Where the concept originated

Radio amateurs from South Africa came up with a concept to build a comfortable portable radio station capable of operating for extended periods while walking or stationary after walking to a specified site.

The idea was discussed in an open forum and ideas gleaned from many of the local hams, some prototyping was done and the “Shack in a Sack” (SiaS) concept was born.

In August 2009 RaDAR – Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio, was launched – a more professional version of the SiaS concept.

Natural evolution

Rapid deployment of an amateur radio stations was the goal of RaDAR. Initially it was a requirement to walk at least one kilometer carrying all station equipment, antennas and logistics to the operating position. This was no different to any other similar outdoor amateur radio activity.

The need to be different

There was no time limit set for an initial deployment so the essence of deploying quickly was not quite there, it was simply too easy.

Some experiments were done and RaDAR once again evolved into a more refined idea by having to move station for a required distance depending on the mode of transport after every five contacts. No other amateur radio activity in the world works this way. RaDAR is different.

The concept adapted

Rapid deployment and indeed rapid re-deployment is what makes RaDAR different otherwise it would be just the same as all the others – nothing different to what has been done for a 100 years.

RaDAR has evolved into something where movements are the highlight. It is therefore more than just making QSO’s, it’s a challenge to decide quickly where and how to set up an effective station, proving it works by making 5 contacts, packing up making sure nothing is left behind, moving and doing it all over again.

Sure it’s a different challenge including repeated physical activity. It’s also a method of learning, practising and finding what works and what does not.

Modes of communication

RaDAR promotes the use of voice, digital, point to point VHF and UHF communications and even satellite communications. The use of terrestrial repeaters is however not allowed, for contest purposes at least.

The future of RaDAR

Many looking to practice amateur radio in different ways will see it’s value and the extreme fun it can be. The highlight is the “moving” aspect of RaDAR which is what makes RaDAR different to all other amateur radio activities.

A slogan was appropriately recently developed, “RaDAR – daring to be different”.

A few comments from RaDAR operators worldwide:

I love the challenge of the RaDAR contest because it’s different … It keeps me on my toes!”

Every time I set up outdoors, I am practicing for RaDAR.”

Some runners may not run a marathon each weekend but they train with the marathon in mind. I actually find the moving fun in itself.”

Whilst I am not a true RaDAR operator in the sense of moving after every 5 contacts, I like field operating and if conditions are favourable for me to keep moving, then I will do so.”

RADAR is like a parachute, if it is not there when you need it, the chances that you will ever need it again is very slim! Radar concept plays a vital role in times of disaster and during Search and Rescue operations!

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RaDAR – It is what it has become

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Today became a day of truth. I was saddened to hear the comments from some of my ham friends while discussing the state of amateur radio in South Africa. The discussion moved to RaDAR and they were honest about their views. I respect them for that.

My friend Pierre, ZS6A asked, “Tell me how many R2R (RaDAR to RaDAR) stations have you worked?”

I replied, “Well there was John MW/ZS5J in the UK (Wales) – true inter continental RaDAR to RaDAR (Extraordinary) and yesterday with Andries ZS6VL on a hike near Heidelburg with two young radio amateurs. ZU6M and ZU6BV, practising RaDAR and having FUN! Mike ZS6AKU and Jaco ZR6CMG …… missing my usual friends in the list!”

Pierre commented further, “Working John ZS5J from the UK R2R now that is the real deal ….. Oh for me the “moving thing” that simply has zero appeal to me.” 

I replied again, “The “moving thing” is what makes it all that more FUN Pierre otherwise it’s just the same as anything else. That sense of URGENCY I experienced getting to the next point (3km on the mountain bike) to make contact with John ZS5J was an experience second to NONE! Hey Pierre, I’ll never forget the time you sat in your chariot and still supported RaDAR!!! (I had a QSO with Pierre while he was flying over Mozambique in his Boeing during the November 2013 RaDAR contest – true RaDAR ground to air comms!)

I commented further, “RaDAR is as wide as it gets and more! Yes, it’s sometimes a number game and chasing goals. I like RaDAR because it’s more than just the QSO’s it’s the whole thing from beginning to end.”

John, ZS5J commented, “Regarding RaDAR, I am with Pierre – I LOVE radio in the outdoors, and operating QRP from a field or the beach….I am just not keen on packing up after 5 QSO’s all the time. I would prefer to find a good location, deploy, and stay there for the duration of the contest.”

I was saddened from what I read but I have great respect for these two gentlemen. They are extremely good radio operators and ironically have given me some of the best experiences I have ever had while practising RaDAR!

I explained, “It’s that what makes RaDAR different otherwise it would be just the same as all the others – nothing different to what has been done for a 100 years. RaDAR has evolved into something where movements are the highlight. It is therefore more than just making QSO’s, it’s a challenge to quickly decide where and how to set up an effective station, prove it works by making 5 contacts, packing up making sure nothing is left behind. Sure it’s a different challenge. It’s still good to know you guys are there on the other side and of course that’s part of RaDAR too.”

I have chosen to travel the road that RaDAR has become. Many looking to practice amateur radio in different ways will see it’s value and the extreme fun it can be – daring to be different.

This was a summary of the conversation we had together. It highlighted the “moving” aspect of RaDAR which is what makes RaDAR different to all other amateur radio activities. John and Pierre are fortunately radio operators that still enjoy the great outdoors and the challenge of QRP – they just don’t like to have to deploy and redeploy which is a test in itself, RaDAR.

73 de Eddie
Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio

Daring to be different

RaDAR – The first deployment

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The transition behaviour during the four hour period is what counts. The initial deployment is however ambiguous.

Being away from home at 14:00 UTC would make you a portable station, if you’re still at home, fixed. That’s if you start operating at precisely 14:00 UTC.

I drove to my first position on the MTB and was ready for comms at 14:00 UTC but that really effectively means I’m portable not mobile! The second point could be counted as mobile as the bike was the transition method.

It’s a technical point we need to resolve for the future. It hasn’t been really that much of a critical thing but as RaDAR grows into something bigger and we start to split hairs, it could become an issue.

Either we accept a transition method directly before 14:00 UTC or we don’t. That would mean transitions (or not) need to take place at 14:00 UTC to determine the multiplier.

I’d like to give stations the benefit of the doubt by accepting whatever transition took place before the first contact even if it be in the first minute of the contest.

I kind of like the variety in deployments.

Arriving by car, climbing on the bike – going in the direction of a river, climb into a canoe and paddle downstream and cross to the other side, land, proceed on foot – stealth mode to the next deployment point etc.

It’s simple to take the points related to the transition to the operating point for calculation of the multiplier – if that’s important.

 

RaDAR – Not for the faint-hearted

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Calling frequencies are there as a central watering hole otherwise we would need to scan too wide a range to find each other. We don’t have to stay on the calling frequency. I moved down after 3 QSO’s during the recent challenge and broke into a net to get two QSO’s that I could move to the next position.

Conditions and propagation play an enormous role. It’s a very real situation and it’s never easy – it’s how it should be.

The times were specifically chosen in South Africa  to bring the challenge of night time into the equation – it brings it’s own challenges and again, also very real. Yes we do need to consider the safety aspect, especially in our beloved country.

RaDAR is global now in different time zones. There will probably be a third challenge coming from the Americas in July I think.

RaDAR is different to other armchair, comfortable shack, type challenges / contests – too much of the same thing.

RaDAR is – daring to be different.

RaDAR – It’s more than just radio

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I was sitting and thinking just now. Most people know what RaDAR is but there is more to it than just radio.

It’s been a few months build up to the contest date. Many radio amteurs spend their time experimenting, testing, discussing results and making new like minded friends.

RaDAR has it’s monthly get together on various frequencies and we’ve all tried to make it work and still do. There are on going discussions and motivations taking place on the Google + RaDAR group. Many hams write their own blogs about their RaDAR experiences. It’s about sharing ideas and learning from one another. RaDAR just gets better and better and it’s because so many people believe in it.

RaDAR is different and forever changing, improving, taking the lead and daring to be different!

Then contest day arrives and it becomes more than a day, more than an afternoon as the excitement builds up by preparing and strategizing. Each very different from the other challenging themselves against whatever nature throws at them and yet all succeed. Certainly in this environment, practice makes perfect!

Then after the contest, exciting discussion on what went right, what went wrong and ideas for the future – to be better. Blogs are written, feedback is given in text and video all sharing very different stories.

What is really great is that RaDAR is global and we have become friends no matter how far away. The Internet and modern social media has certainly been used in the way it should – bringing people together. There is great strength in numbers and many minds with new ideas only make RaDAR even better!

RaDAR – Further feedback on yesterdays ops

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After my rather challenging and most important contact with John, ZS5J resident in the UK I set up station for digital communications.

From past experiences, I was concerned about RF feedback but the 10m wire J-Pole did not cause such effects.

I don’t think I’ve ever done digital on 10m and only just recently discovered the default frequency being 28.120 MHz.The 10m band was crowded with PSK stations. My strategy was to work between 1000 Hz and 1500 Hz, even outside those ranges there was little space to call CQ. I had two possible QRZ’s but overrun by stations a few Hertz away.

I hadn’t really planned to use 15m or 20m but made up a 10 meter length of wire for the Fuchs just before leaving for the ops area. I usually use a length of 21 meters. I replaced the J-Pole with the 10 meters of wire and connected the Fuchs tuner. I could just not get the SWR down, 15m and 20m digital was loud and clear!

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End feds have worked for me in the past and certainly have their place but the magnetic loops are looking all that more attractive. I have learnt a lot from friends in the RaDAR group.

I have just received a reply from John MW/ZS5J for a confirmation on his deployment methods – John has been with RaDAR since the early SiaS days! Did we achieve the ultimate goal? Yes, we did!

“Hi Eddie – I was only just able to hear you with all the European QRM we get here. I used my IC-703 with 5 watts and put up a 10 meter fibreglass pole with vertical dipole hanging off it. It was strapped to a fence post on top of a hill. Worked about a dozen USA QRP hams on 29.060, but you were the only South African I could hear.”

 

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RaDAR – Feedback on today’s ops

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I stood in the dark alongside the Molopo river, the air a pleasant chill, and I admired the stars above, the milky way, and I hoped to see a moving object amongst the many millions of of tiny lights. I thought about today, RaDAR day, many looked forward to it for months now.

Today started a little early, 10:30 local time to be exact. I had a sked with Etienne ZS6Y to work Funcube, AO-73, a little cubesat. I could not pack my RaDAR kit for I use it for satellites too. I deployed outside, my Arrow dual band yagi mounted on a tripod and the backpack with FT-817ND on the ground standing there like a dog waiting for it’s master’s commands.

Sure enough, AO-73 was right on time, I could hear Etienne on the downlink, 145.960 MHz USB +- doppler. I called on the uplink, my 817’s VFO A set to 435.140 LSB, the centre of the transponder’s passband and set for split mode. Etienne heard me and I completed my first cubesat QSO – ever!

No points could be claimed for this historic QSO as a RaDAR contest QSO it did not fall within the contest period. Nevertheless, it was a point for RaDAR SatComms – it’s been  a while!

Later this afternoon I drove out to my RaDAR ops area. The idea was to get my trusty mountain bike ready to move out to deployment point 1, 3 kilometers away. The first time I’d used a bike during a RaDAR contest.

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This is an old bike with perma-tubes (solid rubber!) and not easy to ride, nevertheless I had goals to achieve and I was driven to succeed. I deployed at the first deployment point. I used a fixed tuned end fed for 40m as a sloper the far end held high on the ten meter high Klaus mast strapped to a fence post.

My first contact was Dirk, ZS6AKU, also a Comrades runner and supporter through many a RaDAR activity. Then there was Jaco, ZR6CMG calling CQ RaDAR on 7090 kHz.

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To my surprise, Gert ZS6SMI from Lichtenburg called, and we had a successful QSO.

I was running out of time, I had seen on Facebook that John ZS5J would call me from the UK at 15:00 UTC on 28.060 kHz as MW/ZS5J ….. I broke into a net on 7085 kHz and worked two kind gentlemen, Chris ZS6GM and Barney ZS6TQ – I was heard by Alex ZS1L so I heard later tonight – it was time to pack up and move!

I had a half an hour to get to the next point and deploy in time to listen out for John. I climbed on the bike and started pedalling, moving at 6 minutes a kilometer …. it’s possible to run faster than this! My legs were cramping and it reminded me of many a close finish during marathons and some not close enough but I had to get to the next point in time …. there was no other way and I pedalled!

The deployment point I chose was a mistake! I was hoping to use a perimeter fence below my 10m J-Pole for what it was worth. I was joined by a few young interested children who weren’t doing my mission and focus much good.

I got the Klaus mast up with the 10m wire J-Pole hanging from the top, coax fly leads in place and I tuned to 28.060 – POWERLINE NOISE! My heart sank – how would I hear a weak signal with this noise but there was John calling! I battled to hear him for the young children were asking numerous questions – I answered John barely hearing my own side tone and the paddle was sticking – I’d be pretty embarrassed about the quality of my sending.

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I must still talk to John but as far as I know he a deployed as a RaDAR operator on a different continent to his motherland and that could very well be an inter continental RaDAR to RaDAR QSO – we sent locators, mine was KG34ac19fk and his grid IO71ls.