RaDAR Challenge – The logbook says it all

I uploaded my log to qrz.com and various other online logbooks this morning using the Android app, HamLog. I only had nine entries but the logbook tells a story which I will share with you here.

The 2nd of April 2016 and the long awaited RaDAR Challenge date arrived. The challenge is different to any other ham radio activity or contest and puts the participant under pressure other than just communicating via radio and doing a limited exchange of information.

My grandson woke me up on the Saturday morning a little later than I wanted to but I had comfort in knowing my kit was ready and initial deployment plans were achievable. We had breakfast, young Eduan excited to join his granddad on the voyage to the first deployment area …… He was the “captain” and I his signaller. I “walked the mile” to grid KG34ac18px and he idled along next to me on his size 24 mountain bike.

2016 - 1

I set up the communications infrastructure deploying my ZS6BKW open wire fed multiband dipole, my two painters poles serving as a lightweight mast an excellent and proven configuration for any field deployment. I set up the camera tripod which served as a convenient “table” for my rig …. the battery lay on the ground and power cables in between ….. not an ideal setup from a RaDAR perspective but it’s something I wanted to try. Excellent of course for any standard way of operating a ham radio from the field or doing SOTA / GMA operations.

2016 - 2

I tuned up on 40m, the antenna was resonating well without the need of the LDG z817 ATU. I browsed the band and called on the SSB and CW calling frequencies ….. nothing! I placed messages on Facebook and Whatsapp to make my presence known ….. nothing! Then I went up to 7.140 MHz and broke into the Antique Wireless Association’s net ZS0AWA, operated by Rad ZS6RAD. Signals were good and Rad gave me a 57 and he was 59. He was acting as the net control station. After an exchange of one or two “overs” I assumed there was no opportunity to exchange information with others on the net so I thanked Rad for my first QSO and QSY’d down the band ….. I needed another four contacts.

Back to Facebook …. Jaco ZR6CMG said he’d give me a call in 10 minutes time. I waited and then heard him call. We exchanged information and then there was a bonus, his son Christopher ZU6CC also gave me a contact! I now had three! Max ZS5MAX called and we had a QSO but lost each other along the way. I later heard from him via Facebook that I had faded into the noise ….. could I count the contact or not , a dilemma? Then I tuned down to the CW portion of the band and heard my friend Monk ZS4SF calling CQ. We had a QSO exchanging grids – we were both 599. Then on 7.090 MHz I heard the faithful RaDAR / QRP supporter, Johan ZS4DZ working from grid KG31wc59tt. I was impressed with his 10 digit grid locator! I think Johan was working from a fixed location but certainly his cheery voice was keeping the band alive with RaDAR activity!

I could move, or needed to move after 5 (or possibly 6) contacts. I walked back “home” alone, my “captain” had become bored with his radio operator concentrating solely on the task at hand (*smile). I had a sked with Kieth ZS6TW for two satellite passes. An exact science and exact times too!

New grid KG34ac19fi and I set up the Arrow antenna on the tripod. I set up the THD7A(g) talkie for SO-50 SatComms and checked all the frequency settings. I also set up the FT-817ND too for FO-29 SSB SatComms and checked the split frequency options and correct sidebands for the uplink and downlink. My “captain” / cameraman was there to record the event. This time I strapped the battery to the tripod with cable ties.

2016 - 3

Right on time but Kieth just making sked on SO-50 as he had a fire problem with his car earlier and let me know via Facebook. I was battling to activate the satellite but I’m sure Kieth was the one who got it right. We had an excellent QSO which I recorded and can be heard here exchanging grids and signal reports. A few minutes later after the SO-50 pass, we had a successful QSO via the FO-29 SSB satellite. Fortunately Kieth is a good satellite operator as I was working “half duplex” (unable to hear the downlink) and using a fixed uplink frequency while tuning the downlink for doppler. It takes a little practice but one can do RaDAR SatComms this way.

I had lunch with Elrika and Eduan. The plan was to move to a new grid afterwards and prepare for an AO-7 satellite contact and a possible R2R with Greg N4KGL at 15:00 local time on 24.906 MHz CW. AO-7’s pass was more or less the same time and I wanted to achieve success with both. I “walked the mile” to grid KG34c19pa and set up station there for RaDAR SatComms and HF the same as before. It was a load of baggage having to carry the standard kit, Arrow antenna, tripod and painters poles …… not ideal from a RaDAR perspective but it’s what was needed to achieve the goals.

2016 - 4

AO-7 was a little late or so I thought? I heard a faint beacon on the 2m downlink. I called Kieth ….. nothing. According to reports it would be on Mode B. Then I heard some activity and tuned in the SSB signals. Kieth had found an unexpected DX station on the satellite, FR4OO and they were battling. The satellite audio was unstable but I could hear both of them. It was not an ideal situation for SSB, half duplex, RaDAR SatComms and I was alternating between 12m and the satellite frequencies. Just 3 kHz below 24.906 MHz there was a rare station working the world, listening DN. The band was wide open and powerful DX stations could be heard calling. No one was on 24.906 MHz CW. All this trouble and not one contact made ….. I went to 40m and was pleasantly surprised.

There was Sid ZS5AYC doing mobile RaDAR down the south coast with his XYL Adele (who is also a ham) with a few friends Jan and Louie. Sid was operating from KF59dc71ne …. also a 10 digit grid locator! Sid’s signals were good and I made a recording using the MP3 recorder which I carried in the RaDAR kit. The recording can be heard here

That was pretty much it for me, I packed up and went home. Elrika and Eduan were already preparing supper on the braai (Barbeque). There were still a few hours left for the challenge but I’d done enough for the day ….

Incorporating too many options has it’s pro’s and cons. I’d say for the next challenge I will concentrate on a specific method of communications, being it digital, satellites or CW / SSB. With each challenge I learn new things. It’s different to doing standard amateur radio activities.

73 de Eddie ZS6BNE



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