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W3AO Field Day The 2017 Edition

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Another year goes by. This  is the 8th time I have supported Amateur Radio Field Day here in Howard County. It’s the 20th anniversary of W3AO being on the air for the 24 hour event.

I want to write more about what goes on, down in the trenches, to make any large event like this, composed completely of volunteers, successful. I could call this year’s effort “Doing More with Less”. Less people in total. Less stations set up. This year the club dropped down to 16 Alpha. That means, capability to simultaneously transmit on 16 radios, using generators as power.

A cheat sheet on one of the computers. You try to contact as many regions, as many states and provinces, as you can, during the 24 hour operating period. When you establish a radio contact, you exchange the following information. Their call sign. Their number of transmitters and a letter that tells you if they are using generators, batteries, are mobile or at home using commercially supplied power. Their section. We are MDC, Maryland/District of Columbia region.

The interesting thing about our set up is the sheer number of portable crank up towers. Twelve in all.

On Friday, three small teams of volunteers put up the towers, build the antennas, roll out the coaxial cables and it all fits inside a 300 meter diameter circle on the property between two county schools. They also string wire antennas between some of the towers. Additionally, we set up a satellite communication capability.

It’s fun to head down there when a satellite comes within range and watch them track and make contact with other operators while the satellite remains “open” to both stations.

Things inside the main tent are also interesting. It’s a juxtaposition of really old and really new. As in the Windows dinosaur computers, in order to use logging software, called CT. It doesn’t work on newer operating systems. Put that next to a “K3”, one of the fanciest radios out there, and it becomes one very jarring visual.

Band captains bring their own radios. Their keyers. Their headphones. Sometimes their monitors and other accessories. They don’t mess around.

We set up three generators, and the county loans us a spare, in order to power all this “Stuff”.

And you thought setting up your TV/VCR was complicated?

Really, though, I have such a great time watching this all come together in order to have a successful weekend.

It’s a great team. More in another post in the next few days. Incuding, logistics, and scoring.

Otherwise, the official team photograph.

W3AO, It’s All About Logistics

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After sleeping almost twelve hours, we sort of feel like human beings again. One of the most important aspects of planning and executing an event of the size of Field Day is this. You can always improve your performance with advance planning and, when operating almost non-stop for 50-60 hours, you need to pace yourself and not overheat, dehydrate or work when you are exhausted.

There were many new helpers and many more people at Field Day this year. Lots of younger people, thankfully, for us old folks 😉 to help us out. And many interested dedicated workers who help make this event a huge success.

I already posted once the team picture just before the start of the event. There were at least 10 people not there, who were out in the field making last minute set up adjustments.

These did not include a large number of people who came Friday to set up, and who returned Sunday to tear down. Set up and tear down teams help relieve the operators who were there almost round the clock starting Friday.

Advance prep like having the more than 2 miles of coax ready to go, already designated for where in the field each roll is placed. At tear down, they are rolled back up meticulously and marked so that the following year there is no delay to figure out where they are placed.

AB-577’s otherwise known as rocket launchers, are pre-loaded for quick slide off at marked sites. Everything is ready to bring into the site with no loss of time for sorting or handling. This year, the club had volunteer help in sorting, repairing, lubricating and repacking all twenty-two kit bags that contain the guy wires, couplers, rings, cranks, stakes and nails that were dropped behind the launchers, presorted and ready to install.


In Process

Tower, gear and antenna arrive in sequence and are ready to assemble by roving tower teams.

We have an amazing member who brings all the generators and keeps us powered up for the 48 hours. Three generators. We even had the Chief of Howard County Emergency Management checking them out in detail Sunday while he was visiting the site. Sunday I ended up so busy cooking, I forgot to take enough pics of the event and tear down. But, without reliable power, this event could not take place.

IT support is also important. Networked computers. Coordination. Again, dedicated club members keep all this organized and use a system to track what gets down where and how.

And, all good armies march on their stomachs, right? My contribution to Field Day (surprised?) is assistance to the food tent, ably executed by the wife of one of the club members who organizes the event. I have been assisting now three years. Every year we get more efficient and make constant adjustments in keeping 50-75 people fed and hopefully, very happy. Enough of them say we do, so I think we succeed.

Friday Night Pizza while still setting up

Saturday Lunch

Saturday while last minute preparations go on, we set out a cold cut, sloppy joe, salad, veggies/chips and dip, luncheon bar for people to grab and go, or take a break before the two o’clock start. It is nice to have good generators to power the crock pot. And, to allow us to hook up a Keurig in the evening for all night long fresh brewed coffee.

Saturday during the most active ops time, we bring in Mexican food. Easy to grab and eat, soft tacos, beans and rice, brownies, grapes, strawberries, all minimally interfere with calling CQ. We even deliver to the operators at their stations if they are holding a frequency and don’t want to lose momentum by taking a break.

Sunday breakfast has become simpler, since I cook it at home and drive it up the road a mile to the site. The site is near the top of one of the higher points in Howard County. We live near there (so do lots of other club members since HAAT is important). It means many things can be transported to the site easily, and for me as cook, it means they get hot bacon and eggs on Sunday morning after operating all night. I cook four pounds of bacon Saturday night, and 4 1/2 dozen scrambled eggs Sunday morning.

Get it all there 10 minutes before the 8AM breakfast call. Coffee is perked. Toasters are ready. Love having enough generator power for fresh toast. We were so busy serving, I forgot again to take pics.

Lunch is grilled burgers, hot dogs, smoked chicken, salads, toppings, all the leftovers as well.

After 2PM, it’s off to tear it all down and put it away for next year. No pics of that either as we were all busy.

A few random pics of the fun times.

Jim, far left, happy after blowing the air horn for 1800 UTC start of Field Day

My OM taking a two hour nap before tear down. Behind him the trailer for the towers, and the camper that is parked right in the middle of it all on Friday night to provide security before everyone arrives Saturday morning to complete set up.

Some of the youngest GOTA operators enjoying themselves Sunday morning.

Another good year. Lots of memories. Tired but happy people from all around this area. Who says there’s nothing to do in Howard County? Anyone interested in joining the fun, check out the Columbia Amateur Radio Association for local club events, county event support, emergency service support and other interests. Potomac Valley Radio Club, more widespread than just Columbia but with lots of local members, does lots of contesting and has social events in the area.

73 de PVRC and CARA


Whiskey Three Atlantic Ocean

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The start of Field Day approaches. This is the second of three reports about how PVRC and CARA put together a large auxiliary communications set up and operate for 24 hours. W3AO is the call sign. Using our adaptation from the NATO phonetic alphabet, which would be Whiskey Three Alpha Oscar.

For those CW cognizant, we are:
Dit Dah Dah
Dit Dit Dit Dah Dah
Dit Dah
Dah Dah Dah

Let’s start with the team picture. Just before starting out. A few missing as we were still setting up minutes before the start.

Last minute set up still going on at the VHF tent.

We know we are ready when Maurice gets the flags raised at the VHF site.

The Calm Before the Storm. I even got LPL to smile. 🙂

And, they’re off. More later after we finish today and clean up.

Come out and visit. We love having the community there, and you can operate the GOTA station. Get On The Air. You can’t miss us. Look for all the antennae in the fields. Triadelphia Ridge Elementary School. Triadelphia Rd. off Rte. 32.

73 de W3AO.


CQ Field Day, CQ Field Day

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Sometimes I think this phrase is imprinted in my brain for weeks after we finish our annual foray into supporting a traditional and interesting tradition among amateur radio operators.

Field Day. A twenty four hour period where amateur radio clubs and individuals across the USA and Canada practice their communication skills using auxiliary power. It is meant to keep them capable to support natural disasters, loss of communications or power, or assist emergency officials in the event of a large scale incident that requires support of communications.

We have one of the largest and most innovative collaborations here in Howard County.The T shirt from 2010 shows 11 years of making the most contacts in our class. This year’s shirt is simple. Front and back alike with no scores. But, we are now at 13 years running of working the most stations and last year set a new record for number of contacts. This is pretty much a Type A personality group. Striving for better performance year after year.

The shirts include the phrase “48 hours” which means 24 hour set up and 24 hour operations. A few shots of set up are included here. I will have more when we finish tomorrow. I just fried four pounds of bacon and need to get up at 0 Dark Hundred to scramble 4 dozen eggs to take breakfast up there. They are set up a mile up from the road from us. Lucky me. I get to avoid the spot a pot.

This is Columbia’s club testing out our satellite communication capability to see if everything works.

This shot I like particularly because it shows how much fun the younger family members of current operators are having while learning to put up temporary towers. He was not the only young person we had out there Friday.

Yes, we are crazy. We put up eleven of these using old military surplus crank up towers. Here are a few. we had other wires and crank ups as well. We operate as 27A, which means 27 simultaneous transmitters using generators.

The clubs are operating until 2PM Sunday. Come out and check it out. Anyone can Get On The Air (GOTA) at our station designed to get inactive licensed operators on the air, and to introduce unlicensed operators to the hobby. We are at Triadelphia Ridge Elementary School on Triadelphia Rd. just off of Rte. 32.