Tuesday, December 17, 2013

WQ6X & N6GEO join up for 2013 ARRL 10-Meter contest

This last weekend wrapped up the 2013 radiosport season by way of the ARRL 10-Meter contest.  This was one of the most active 10-meter contests I have encountered in years; perhaps ever!  There were so many CW stations that they took over the 28.065 - 28.100 RTTY/Data region, extending to as high as 28.135.  SSB activity pushed up as high as 28.700.
After a false start on Friday evening (N1MM software settings got munged from the W.W. Dx contest) we got things in gear and found our 10-meter rhythm.

Using my WQ6X callsign, N6GEO and I operated a FLEX-1000 SDR radio into a cascade of 3 amplifiers: a 5-watt amplifier (boosting the Flex-1000's 1-watt) and a Tokyo Hy-Power  HL-50 (for 50-watts) ending up into an MA-500 amplifier, all to eventually give us 140 watts for the M/S LP category.   Once again we ran all this power into a TH-3 jr. atop  a 22' crank-up military mast.
Because the Flex-1000 is early SDR technology, all manner of things can go wrong, and many of them did this weekend.  For openers N1MM all of a sudden could not talk to the SDR radio at the start of the contest.  Once we got things resolved I was only able to snag 24 contacts (22 on Cw) before the band finally faded out to the depths of the south Pacific.  Luckily, 10-meters was open and active both Saturday & Sunday morning; altho the opening to Europe was stronger and longer lasting on Saturday than on Sunday.

Because we were using SDR technology, it made sense that we pair it up with a CW Skimmer, enabling us to pick off CW multipliers more easily.  Skimmer is essentially worthless on SSB so we had to remember to turn it off, saving CPU power for the SDR.

Operationally, a number of things surprised me this weekend.  For example, many times when running a pileup several stations would call.  After spending 10 - 15 seconds to work the first station, the other stations would disappear.  Why call me in the 1st place if you're not going to stick around for the contact?

Because of its early SDR design the FLEX-1000 has been shown to demonstrate audio latency problems.  Because of that, the 1st letter of callsigns (on BOTH Cw & Ssb) was often chopped, requiring several repeats.  On ssb I would tell people they are "too quick for my vox", and yet even then, they could not wait an extra 1-second before coming back to me.

Similar to 20-meters where we have a beacon network at 14.100, on 10 meters we have a series of beacons in the 28.280 - 29-300 spectrum.  I often heard Kw-level stations near the 28.3 bottom of the phone band.  We have 400+ khz of ssb spectrum on 10-meters, why do we need to cram stations in the bottom 10-khz?  Beacons serve a useful purpose, IF they can be heard.

This weekend was proof of what can be accomplished on 10-meters if we only give things a chance.  Friday evening the band remained open until 8-pm local time.  Both mornings I was surprised to find the band well open at 7-am local time, meaning that I should have started both days a 6-am.  Oh well.... next year. 

Unfortunately, a year from now sunspot cycle 24 could be near the end.  This last weekend we were fortunate to be in the well into what seems to be a double sunspot peak with the flux around 162 and very quiet A/K Indexes.  Next year the SFI could be back to sub-100 status.  Then again, we may well be amidst a unique triple-peak phenomenon. 

So, from now until next December give 10-meters all the attention you can muster during radiosport events.  Our lucky break won't last forever.