LX & 3A Ops
Created 5 February 2001
A short trip to Luxembourg (LX) turned into something rather more exotic for the DX hunters with a bolt on goody of Monaco (3A).
I originally intended to operate the less exotic birds like FO-20/29 and maybe even the FM sats, with which I do have experience, but the suggestion of AO-10 got me rather intrigued - even though I've never operated AO-10 portable before. Very good perigee pass allowing a low power portable station to operate.
A quick preview of the passes showed that I'd need a good horizon due West for AOS, and then towards the South West and South for the rest of the pass. Cetainly for US DX operation a clear horizon due west was required due to the relatively short time West coast US stations and Europe would have mutual visibilty.
Operations in LX on 2 February 2001 were extremely hampered by treacherous driving conditions from the airport to the hotel leaving no time to survey for a good location to operate. Luckily there was a park directly behind the Hotel with a mediocre horizon to the West and South West. I heard the satellite and even got my own downlink for a couple of minutes (using my knee on the CW key), but not enough to make contact. A W?8KW station was _very_ loud. In the hurry I'd failed to turn on the sound recorder.
Well it was all to the bad anyway as I'd failed miserably - bad weather, bad planning, bad operator. And the equipment was suffering in the snow. I hadn't bet on snow!!
I tried too. And so did the photographer.
Much better planning this time. I had a great terrain map. I had all day (4 February 2001) to prepare.
Map of Monaco
You'll see there's a ridge running North-South at the West of the map. There's nowhere in Monaco where you get a view of the due West horizon without France getting in the way. So I chose a spot where it looked like I'd get the minimum elevation to the west at the southern most tip of Monaco, which by luck turns out to be an open air parking lot. Even here, a quick bit of trig showed a 10 degree horizon at AOS (almost due West at 269 degrees). Here's a picture taken due West of the southern most tip of Monaco showing the ridge:
View due West of the Ridge from Southern most tip of Monaco. France is at the other side of the red circular sign. The figure walking is within 2 seconds of being in France. Note the flag pole at the right...
...here's the proof it's Monaco!
Yours truly - BTW the heliport is the shed on the left.
Audio working W8WRP note my deliberate mistake quoting YN33 instead of JN33 - 1636UTC 4 Feb 2001. You can hear me echoing as I'm not using headphones.
Audio Working KB8VAO I can't hear my own downlink except towards the end when I was off frequency, but you can hear Steve acknowledge & then hand over to Bruce KK5DO to no avail (sorry Bruce) 1650UTC 4 Feb 2001
I heard many stations and called a few but not being at all used to these conditions I'm afraid as a single operator I did struggle a great deal as you need to search for your signal each time the bird comes out of a fade every couple of minutes.
Use of IRC during the event was very handy. However I can well see that people might think of it as cheating.
Next time I'll take a proper pair of headphones. There were helicopters taking off every five minutes less than 100 yards away.
I'm also considering another way of tuning in my downlink. The CW key ended up on the ground and I used my foot to key up to get the downlink. But before this you have to go through the motions of changing mode to CW to hear your downlink and then back to SSB for a further tune. Now what I really want is something that auto switches to CW when I key the CW key, and then back to SSB again. Even better, add a tuning indicator to show the _exact_ centre frequency when I'm dead on with the CW.
Alternatively even to that, an _accurate_ computer controlled doppler tuner which tracks what I'm doing.
Think of all the things you have to do on the fly:
Retune due to doppler and fading almost continually in case the bird comes out of a fade
CW key operation (I used my foot) for doppler tuning above
Continually switching between CW & SSB on uplink for doppler tuning above
Point and orient the antenna (armstrong method is the only way I know portable I'm afraid)
Key the mic (use a boom mic and latching switch to save a hand)
Logging (I used a voice recorder with a date/time facility)
Operate IRC (I found this more helpful than not having it - a kind of reassurance factor that I wasn't on my own - I think I'd still have made the same QSO's without it though)
Check antenna heading every few minutes (a lot of this can be planned for)
Remember your new locator (I should have written it down in big characters)
Hold a QSO
Handle a pile up
For a short pass, preparation is everything: the location, knowing what to expect etc. I've never been the subject of a pile up before, and I really did find it very difficult not knowing which direction to tune. Europe was out of control. As soon as I'd tune one way to try to hear one station, and try to get a downlink on frequency, another station would come up and I'd have to tune again. That's experience (or lack of it in my case). The US stations on the other hand would individually call continually for perhaps 20 or 30 seconds which gave me enough time to match their downlinks (switching in and out of CW and tuning) and also point my antenna. Unfortunately, more often than not by the time I got there the bird would fade and we'd have to start again. Well I'm just going to have to work on that one.
A lot of fun. Thanks to all who had a go. Must do it again sometime.
Mail Howard, G6LVB