Sunday, 29 November 2015

Aurora On The Move

A recent posting to the Pacific Northwest VHF Society's reflector brought my attention to an interesting article describing the southward migration of the auroral zone.

According to the research paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the earth's magnetic field is gradually growing weaker, thus affecting its interaction with the solar wind.

The paper indicates that our present, abnormally high magnetic field, forces this interaction (auroras) to higher latitudes and as the field strength gradually weakens to more long-term average levels, auroras will be seen further south than we have been used to. The field has already weakened by about 10% over the past two hundred years and will continue to do so. Apparently it's all related to the regular 'flipping' of our magnetic field, with the most 'recent' flip taking place about 780,000 years ago.

So what does this mean for radio amateurs? Probably not a lot, in the immediate future but the unwanted effects to disturbances in the geomagnetic field will eventually be felt further and further to the south. Radio propagation in southern British Columbia has always been particularly sensitive to even very small disturbances in the field, particularly on the LF and MF bands. I am constantly amazed at how regions only 150 miles to the south or southeast of me are so much less affected than here, in the southern fringes of the auroral zone. VE7's don't claim to be in radio's 'black hole' without good reason.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

630m WSPR

                    Happy Thanksgiving to those of you in the U.S.A.

It seems that the 630m WSPR digital crowd is growing quickly, with more new stations showing up every evening on the web's WSPRnet activity page. Most nights see activity from 80 or more stations, either transmitting or listening in WSPR mode on 630m!

WSPR is the 'Weak Signal Propagation Reporter' beacon-only mode being used by many of the stations presently transmitting on 630m, especially the U.S. experimental stations.

Those with the WSPR software (freeware and easily installed) usually have the program automatically upload their spots (stations being heard) to the WSPRnet page so that the transmitting stations are able to see where their signals are being heard. It also becomes quickly apparent, when examining the various spots, just how good or bad propagation might be at any given time.

WSPR Waterfall Displaying Detected Signals
Since WSPR is a non-QSO mode, the ability to observe propagation conditions, is its major feature. With transmission periods of just under two-minutes, and a very narrow FSK data information stream, WSPR can dig into the noise and copy signals that are often inaudible by ear ... some 15dB or more, past the audible level. Of course, audible signals are also demodulated as well, and will appear on your list of spotted stations, on the WSPRnet data page.

If you choose, you can also see your spotted stations in a Map mode, as shown at the top. This map shows the stations that I was hearing last night on 630m.

Along with the call and grid locator of the station being heard, the WSPR software also indicates several other bits of information, including the signal-to-noise ratio as heard at your location. Shown below is the decoded output from several stations following the two-minute transmission period.

06:58 WH2XXP 0.475662 -13 0 DM33 5 VE7SL CN88iu 1909
06:58 WG2XXM 0.475709 -6 0 EM15lj 5 VE7SL CN88iu 2610
06:58 WG2XKA 0.475723 -9 0 FN33lq 1 VE7SL CN88iu 3833

Note the SNR reports ... usually, signals stronger than around -14dB will be just detectable by ear with anything in the + range being pretty strong.

Shown below are the Tuesday night reports of local station, VE7CNF, and indicates the extensive area over which his WSPR beacon was reported. Toby is running a modest 5W eirp station from a suburban-sized lot. Analyzing the reports, it is apparent that many of these stations rose to audible signal levels at various times throughout the evening and would have probably been workable on normal CW mode ... even from the 'burbs!


There are probably many of you already listening to WSPR signals on HF and have yet to venture down to 630m to see what can be heard. The improved propagation conditions of late make this an ideal time to have a peek at 630m and see what you can spot.

Your low-band wire antennas can often hear surprisingly well below the broadcast band and you may be surprised at what WSPR can detect. Use the USB mode with your receiver set to 474.200 kHz and, if possible, upload your 630m MF spots to the WSPRnet. You can also follow up-to-the-minute activity on the 2200m/630m ON4KST Chat page which is always interesting.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Hunting For NDBs IN CLE 200

XX - 344 Abbotsford, BC
How time flies ... it's CLE time once again! For you low-frequency buffs, another challenge awaits.

This month's frequency range covers 335.0 - 349.9 kHz.
Conditions have been very good this week ... hopefully this will continue.

A good CLE target this time is 'XX' on 344 kHz near Abbotsford, B.C. It has been heard throughout North America and can be a good prop-indicator for eastern listeners.

From CLE coordinator Brian Keyte (G3SIA), comes the following reminder:

Hi all:

Our 200th Co-ordinated Listening Event is only a few days away.
Just a normal CLE using a busy range of frequencies which usually
attracts a lot of interest.

First-timers' CLE logs will also be very welcome, as always.

Days: Friday 27 November - Monday 30 November
Times: Start and end at midday, your LOCAL time
Range: 335.0 - 349.9 kHz

Please join us wherever you are - just log the NDBs you can identify
having their nominal frequencies in the range (it includes 335 kHz
but not 350 kHz) and any UNIDs that you come across there too.
(A good way for some of us to unwind after Thanksgiving?)

We last concentrated on these frequencies in CLE185 in Aug. 2014.

Please send your CLE log to the List (no attachments and ideally in a
plain text email) with CLE200 at the start of its title. Show on each line:

# The Date (or Day No: 27 to 30)
# The Time in UTC
# kHz - the nominal published frequency, if known.
# The Call Ident.

Please show those main items FIRST. Any other optional details such
as Location and Distance go LATER in the same line.
If you send any interim logs, please also send a 'Final' (complete) one.
And, of course, tell us your own location and brief details of the
equipment that you were using during the Event.

You can find full details about current and past CLEs from the CLE page including access to the CLE200 seeklists
for your part of the World prepared from the loggings on Rxx.

Good listening - enjoy the CLE.
From: Brian Keyte G3SIA: <ndbcle'at'>

Location: Surrey, SE England (CLE co-ordinator)

(If you would like to listen remotely you could use any one remote
receiver such as for your
loggings, stating its location and owner and with their permission
if required. A remote listener may NOT also use another receiver,
local or remote, to make further loggings for the same CLE)"

These listening events serve several purposes. They:
  • determine, worldwide, which beacons are actually in service and on-the-air so the online database can be kept up-to-date
  • determine, worldwide, which beacons are out-of-service or have gone silent since the last CLE covering this range
  • will indicate the state of propagation conditions at the various participant locations
  • will give you an indication of how well your LF/MF receiving system is working
  • give participants a fun yet challenging activity to keep their listening skills honed

Final details can be found at the NDB List website, and worldwide results, for every participant, will be posted there a few days after the event. If you are a member of the ndblist Group, results will also be e-mailed and posted there.

The very active Yahoo ndblist Group is a great place to learn more about the 'Art of NDB DXing' or to meet other listeners in your region. There is a lot of good information available there and new members are always very welcome.

If you are contemplating getting started on 630m, listening for NDBs  is an excellent way to test out your receive capabilities as there are several NDBs located near this part of the spectrum.

You need not be an ndblist member to participate in the CLEs and all reports, no matter how small, are of much value to the organizers. 'First-time' logs are always VERY welcome!

Reports may be sent to the ndblist or e-mailed to either myself or CLE co- ordinator, Brian Keyte (G3SIA), whose address appears above.

Please ... do give the CLE a try ... then let us know what NDB's can be heard from your location! Your report can then be added to the worldwide database to help keep it up-to-date.


Saturday, 21 November 2015

CW Practice With RufzXP

Lately I've been playing with a very helpful piece of CW-training freeware called 'Rufz', an abbreviation of a German word meaning 'Listening to Callsigns'. Rufz is the brainchild of Mathias Kolpe (DL8MM) and Alessandro Vitiello (IV3XYM).

RufzXP is the latest version, compatible with most operating systems from Windows 98 to Win 8.1.

RufzXP is not a contest simulator with QSB and QRM. The program simply sends 50 calls at random, one at a time, starting at your chosen speed. If you correctly type the call, it will increase speed slightly to send the next call. The speed will continue to increase as long as you correctly copy and type the call ... if not, the speed will decrease to the previous level.

This pattern continues until all 50 calls have been sent. The program then displays all of the calls sent, along with the calls that you typed, as well as the speed. You very soon realize the threshold level between copying comfortably at near 100% and where you start to drop off quickly. It really is a great eye-opener and a wonderful way to increase your copying (and typing) ability.

The highest that I have been able to log a few correct calls is at 54 WPM but I can see that with a few minutes of practice each day, this number should continue to improve. Hopefully my ability to type the calls will also improve as my present keyboarding skills are probably being stifled by my 'hunt and peck' style of typing ... I really should have taken typing in high school and have regretted it ever since.

The website for RufzXP contains a wealth of inspiring data, from sound files of various speeds to lists and photos of various high-speed aficionados ... with an impressively large number being European teenagers. It seems that High Speed Telegraphy World Championships are very popular in Europe and many of the champions are quite young. Have a look at some of the teens, aged 16 or younger (both boys and girls) who are copying over 100 WPM ... several of them not even hams.

A particularly interesting page lets you play the word 'PARIS' at various speeds.

Here it is at 20 WPM:


... and again at 50 WPM:


... yet again at 100 WPM:


Now....listen to 'PARIS' being sent at the present record-holding speed of 200 WPM:


I have no idea how anyone could copy CW at this speed but apparently YT7AW was able to correctly copy one call out of seven, sent at this speed ... incredible! Perhaps it is the subconscious mind operating at this level.

You may be interested to see someone copying at just over 140 WPM!

If your CW skills need honing, RufzXP might be just the thing you need.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The 1929 'BK' QSO Party

The month of December will soon be upon us and that means it's 'BK' time once again! The Bruce Kelley 1929 QSO Party is the annual two-weekend event celebrating the sound of amateur radio as it was in 1929.

At no other time of the year can you tune across the bands and hear the melodic sound of radio as it once was ... before the days of crystal-control, when most hams were using self-excited one or two-tube transmitters.

With antennas blowing in the wind, these directly-coupled oscillators often make the band sound like a musical symphony gone wrong ... the wonderful whooping, chirping, buzzing, clicking, drifting, swishing, swaying, warbling, and other interesting sounds of '29, when amateur radio was in its infancy.

If you've ever considered joining-in on the fun, then you still have a few weeks to slap something together for the party ... it need not be 'pretty', but it must be 'compliant'. That is, the tube (or tubes) that you use, must have been available in 1929 or earlier. For receiving, use anything you like ... modern or vintage, as there are no restrictions.

I've penned several blogs on popular circuits and tubes that are commonly used among the BK regulars and they can be viewed here:

Building '29 Style

Building '29 - What To Build? - PT.1

Building '29 - What To Build? - PT.2

More BK Building

With the usual propagation of early December, it is not surprising that many transcontinental QSO's are made every year, even with the little two or three watters. Considering the 10 watt power input rule, it is surprising how strong some signals from across the country can become on the lower bands, especially on 40m.

Please consider rolling-up your sleeves, heating up your soldering iron and putting something together for the BK fun, especially if you are on the left coast ... and don't be the least concerned about how it looks!

For a gallery of inspiration from individuals that were too weak to resist the temptation, have a look at some previously built '29 time machines.

For the first time, I'll be using my newly constructed MOPA, a two-tuber that will hopefully reduce my annual BK windstorm angst. It seems that every BK weekend, I have gale-force winds here on the island, making my signal a little bit 'too musical', although some '29 diehards still claim to love the sound ... for them, there is no hope.

Monday, 16 November 2015

630 Crossband Excitement

In spite of the mediocre band conditions, this past weekend's 630 crossband activity was a great success. Firstly, it was gratifying to see so much activity from the VE7 region. Last year, it was just John, VE7BDQ, and myself, holding the fort, but this year saw new activity from VE7CNF, VA7MM and VE7CA. If this rate keeps up, the band will soon be getting crowded and wouldn't that be great!

It was only a few short months ago that VE7CNF and VA7MM began tinkering on 630m, their signals barely out of the noise here on Mayne Island. How quickly their stations have evolved into systems now capable of working several thousands of miles on the new band. To make the weekend even more special, Markus, VE7CA, had his first-ever 630m contacts on Saturday, working all of the locals and later in the evening, pushing his 14 watts down into Tahuya, WA, working K7CW on crossband. I'll wager that Markus will treasure that first 'DX' QSO for some time.

Conditions from VE7 on Friday were poor, and although somewhat disappointing, not entirely unexpected after watching the sun play tricks on our geomagnetic field all week long. The only path that seemed somewhat normal was the north-south one, yielding contacts with the Californians. As the K-index briefly dropped to '1', Saturday's conditions were much improved, showing short-lived glimpses of normality both to the west and to the east.

On both evenings, the HF bands (and probably 630m to a lesser extent) seemed to be very 'long', with few continental signals being heard. The long skip made it very hard, in some cases, to hear close-in callers on both 40 and 80m ... callers who would normally be 599. Particularly absent where callers from the closer WØ states and the easier W7 regions such as Nevada, Utah and Arizona ... areas that have been easily worked on previous crossband nights. It was also disappointing to not have anyone from the other VE regions call in. I hope it was just conditions and not from lack of trying, as it has been a struggle to generate much interest in the western provinces so far.

The biggest surprise and the highlight of the weekend was most assuredly the crossband contacts between the VE7 stations and Hawaii, with VA7MM, VE7CNF, VE7BDQ and VE7SL, all working Merv, K9FD/KH6 in Maunaloa on Moloka'i Island. Merv noted that all four VE7's were worked within a 25 minute window and all peaked at different times. A few minutes later, the 'tranpacific' path turned 'transcontinental' as NO3M in Pennsylvania, called VE7SL and exchanged 559/549 signal reports ... who would have thought that 630m could generate such magic! This band has so much exciting potential for amateurs, even for those confined to normal suburban backyard locations. Activity will surely skyrocket when U.S. amateurs get access to the band ... hopefully soon.

Several SWL reports were received from the U.S., with one of the most interesting coming on Saturday night, from the maritime operators at KSM, near San Francisco. As well, the Red Oak Victory shipboard station anchored near San Francisco, KYVM, sent a detailed report of several VE7 stations that they had heard.

Crossband Summaries


VA7TA CN79 Courtenay, BC 
K6LG DM13 Riverside, CA
VA7MM CN89 Port Coquitlam, BC
VE7KW CN89 Port Coquitlam, BC
K7HV CN87 Seattle, WA
VE7CA CN89 North Vancouver, BC
VE7CNF CN89 Burnaby, BC
VE7SL CN88 Mayne Island, BC
K7CW CN87 Tahuya, WA
VA7JX CN79 Campbell River, BC
VA7DXX CN89 Ladysmith, BC
K9FD/KH6 BL11 Maunaloa, HI
K7SS CN87 Seattle, WA
K6AIG DM04 Mandalay Bay, CA


KK7UV DN36 Missoula, MT
VA7MM CN87 Port Coquitlam, BC

K6GZ DM14 Esperia, CA
VA7TA CN79 Courtenay, BC
K6LG DM13 Riverside, CA

K7CW CN87 Tahuya, WA
VE7KW CN89 Port Coquitlam, BC
VE7BDQ CN89 Delta, BC
VA7DXX CN89 Ladysmith, BC
WØYSE CN85 Vancouver, WA
K9FD/KH6  BL11 Maunaloa, HI


VE7KW CN89 Port Coquitlam, BC
VA7TA CN79 Courtenay, BC
K7CW CN87 Tahuya, WA
K9FD/KH6 BP11 Maunaloa, HI
WØYSE CN85 Vancouver, WA
K7SS CN87 Seattle, WA
VA7DXX CN88 Ladysmith, BC


VE7SL CN88 Mayne Island, BC
VE7CNF CN89 Burnaby, BC
VE7BDQ CN89 Delta, BC
K7CW CN87 Tahuya, WA
VA7MM CN87 Port Coquitlam, BC


VE1VDM FN85 Onslow, NS
VO1BQ GN37 St. John's, NL


VE7KW CN89 Port Coquitlam, BC
KK7UV DN36 Missoula, MT
VA7MM CN87 Port Coquitlam, BC
K6GZ DM14 Esperia, CA 
VA7TA CN79 Courtenay, BC 
K7CW CN87 Tahuya, WA
K6LG  DM13 Riverside, CA
VE7BDQ  CN89 Delta, BC
VA7DXX CN88 Ladysmith, BC
VA7JX CN79 Campbell River, BC
K9FD/KH6 BP11 Maunaloa, HI
NO3M EN91 Saegertown, PA
K7SF CN85 Portland, OR
K7SS CN87 Seattle, WA 
KGØD/7 CN88 Sequim, WA
W2VJN CN83 Roseburg, OR

It is readily apparent that acres of antenna space are not needed to enjoy 630m ... all of these stations operate out of normal-sized residential lots, with antennas planned and built well enough to exploit the propagation characteristics of 630m.

VA7MM antenna system. More info here.

VE7CNF's homebrew PA. Website here.

VE7BDQ's homebrew 2200m/630m duo-band tx.
There has already been discussion of staging another crossband event in January or February. If you might be interested in participating by listening and calling-in, please let me know. As well, what do you think would be the best way to 'get the word out' in terms of notification for the next crossband night?

Friday, 13 November 2015

630m Crossband - Last Minute Addition

Another VE7 has been added to the group of Canadians who will be active tonight and tomorrow night during the CW crossband activity.

VE7CA will be operational during the evening on 475.5kHz. He will be listening for calls on both 3555kHz and 7064kHz. His hours of operation will be from 0300Z - 0500Z. This will be Markus's first operation on 630m and he would be delighted to work anybody that is able to hear him. He will be running ~ 25W output to a large top-loaded vertical, high on the hills of North Vancouver.

Please give a listen for him and make all of his hard work worthwhile!

630m Crossband Reminder

Just a reminder of the '630 activity event' ... including the crossband CW activity, tonight and tomorrow. The complete operating schedule, showing times and frequencies, can be viewed here.

The sun has been acting-up once again and band conditions have been up and down all week. Another CME is scheduled to arrive at anytime ... the jury is still out on how good or how poor the band might be.

More of a concern is the weather forecast. Very high winds are forecast for the west coast VE7 operators. I'm not worried about losing antennas but more likely, losing the hydro power, as often times the first big windstorm of the fall brings down a lot of branches and  trees ... and that means power outages. So if you don't hear me, or some of the other stations, that may be the reason.

As well, please be patient if signals appear too weak, as the long slow fade-rate on 630m will often result in a huge change just a few minutes later.

If you can possibly give a listen for any of the crossband stations and respond to their CQ's it would be really great ... we hope to see as many of you as possible tonight or tomorrow, weather permitting!

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

New VE7 On 630m

Another VE7 is almost ready to deploy on 630m.

There must be something special in the water in B.C. as it is certainly the present hotbed of 630m activity in Canada!

Markus, VE7CA, in North Vancouver, has been busy building a transmitter and a matching VFO, following the plans of GW3UEP. There must now be dozens and dozens of these robust little transmitters in operation around the world as it is easily reproducible (in various forms) and performs well. See the sidebar links for more details.

As well, Markus has been building the necessary auxiliary gear needed to tune up and resonate his antenna system. His recently constructed variometer and scopematch are shown below.

Some might argue of the necessity for a scopematch, but once you've tried it, you wonder how you could ever live without it ... the scopematch makes tuning the antenna system a very simple step and is an extremely valuable addition to the LF/MF shack.

Markus plans on using his main low band antenna, a large ladder-line fed horizontal loop, as a top-loaded vertical, while resonating the system with base-loading. A homebrew relay-control box at the antenna, takes care of switching between MF and HF.

I had a nice CW QSO today on 476.0 kHz with Toby, VE7CNF. He has made some significant changes at his station and his 20dB over S9 signal reflects his hard work. As well as rebuilding his top-loaded vertical, he has made modifications to his PA. Using a pair of IRFP4227 switching FETs in push-pull, his amplifier now brings him to the maximum EIRP limit of 5W. See a description of Toby's interesting station on his website here. When not on CW, Toby can be heard WSPR'ing, most evenings on 630m.

With the soon-to-arrive VE7CA, we almost have enough activity here in the Vancouver region, for a weekly 630m net or at least a good chance of a random 'CQ' garnering a response. How great it would be to have a VE6 or VE5 to join-in ... what say fellas!

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Upcoming 630m Crossband Weekend

This coming weekend will see the annual '630m activity event' on Friday and Saturday night.

There will be a lot of activity from both the U.S. experimental stations and from a group of five Canadian amateurs who will be seeking two-way CW 'crossband' contacts.

The five Canadians will be transmitting on 630m CW but listening for answering stations on various HF (QSX) frequencies. Last year's one-night event was a great success ... hopefuly the two-night event this year will lead to even more participation by interested amateurs in both Canada and the U.S.

Unlike Canadian hams, American amateurs does not yet have access to 630m as a ham band but ... there will be a large number of U.S. 'experimental' stations (most of them operated by hams with an experimental licence) beaconing and working each other and seeking your 'heard' reports. The Canadian operation will give interested hams the actual opportunity to make a two-way MF to HF CW contact, via the crossband mode as well as provide the Canadians an opportunity to test their 630m systems.

Here are the details of the five Canadian crossbanders:

Station: VO1NA (Joe) GN37 Torbay, Newfoundland
Time: 2130Z - 0130Z both Friday night (Nov 13-14Z) / Saturday night (Nov
TX Frequency: 477.7 kHz
RX (QSX) Frequency: 3562 kHz

Station: VE7SL (Steve) CN88 Mayne Island, B.C.
Time: 0200Z - 0700Z both Friday night (Nov 14Z) / Saturday night (Nov 15Z)
TX Frequency: 473.0 kHz
RX (QSX) Frequency: 3566 / 7066 kHz

Station: VE7BDQ (John) CN89 Delta, B.C.
Time: 0430Z - 0700Z both Friday night (Nov 14Z) / Saturday night (Nov 15Z)
TX Frequency: 474.0 kHz
RX (QSX) Frequency: 3536 kHz

Station: VA7MM (Mark) CN89 Coquitlam, B.C.
Time: 0500Z - 0700Z Friday (Nov 14Z)
0400Z - 0800Z Saturday (Nov 15Z)
TX Frequency: 475.0 kHz
RX (QSX) Frequency: 3570 kHz

Station: VE7CNF (Toby) CN89 Burnaby, B.C.
Time: 0300Z - 0700Z both Friday night (Nov 14Z) / Saturday night (Nov 15Z)
TX Frequency: 476.0 kHz
RX (QSX) Frequency: 3558 kHz / 7062 kHz

All stations will either call CQ or run "VVV" marker beacons while listening on their respective QSX frequencies. QSX frequencies will be included
in the CQ or marker beacons.

Last year's event saw many nice contacts, some of them from coast-to-coast! I really hope that as many amateurs as possible will have a listen and be able to answer our 'CQ's on the various QSX frequencies. Your participation on one (or both) of the two night's activity would be just great.

I will post a reminder of the event again at the end of the week ... in the meantime, try to see what you can hear on 630m (472-479kHz) and arrange your setup so that you can call us on HF as well.

For a more detailed description of the upcoming event, see the ARRL's announcement here.

Friday, 6 November 2015

630m Heating Up

In spite of the sun's nasty and continual huffing and puffing, conditions on 630m continue to surprise many of the nightly diehards. It seems clear, that for the time being, the digital WSPR mode is the one chosen by the majority of operators. I suspect that this will change to a more proportionate mix of both CW and digital, as more Canadians get on the band but more particularly, when U.S. amateurs get permanent access to 630m as a ham band. At present, it's mostly listeners reporting beacons, demonstrating the propagational capabilities to be found at the bottom of the broadcast band.

Last night saw over 80 stations worldwide, either listening or transmitting on 630m, with the majority of them in the 'listening mode' only.


It was particularly nice to see locals, VE7BDQ and VE7CNF being heard in the Cayman Islands and Hawaii, respectively ... both suburban backyard operations. The previous morning saw the experimental station run by Larry, W7IUV in Washington state, being heard in Japan by JA1NQI ... a first from the lower 48 into Japan.

Things over in Europe have also been heating-up and the nightly reports read more like a roster of 20m action. FR5ZX on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean has been reporting many of the Europeans, making things more interesting for the dedicated in that part of the world. All of the reports were on the WSPR mode.

John (KB5NJD / WG2XIQ) in Texas, continues to post his amazingly-detailed nightly updates of 630m action. If you want to know what's been happening both here and in the rest of the world, his daily updates will keep you in the loop ... but be warned, as you will likely find yourself heading for 630m yourself to get in on the nightly activity. In addition, his blog contains a goldmine of information for those wanting to get started with building a 630m MF station. To really keep tabs of real-time happenings, the ON4KST MF chat page is the place to be.

Next weekend, the 630m CW crossband activity will take place, with 5 different Canadian CW stations CQing on 630m CW and listening for callers on various HF frequencies on 80 and 40m. I will have the details up here again shortly, but please give a listen for us on 630m as well as a call on HF, next Friday or Saturday (or both!) nights ... the more the merrier, and tell your friends too!

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

DX'ing The 'Utilities' - Pt. 2

Unlike the growing scarcity of good HF maritime DX targets, there is still a large amount of HF aero activity to enjoy! Even with the move to satellite comms, there is still, at any given time of the day or night, hundreds of aircraft using HF radio to communicate with controllers, companies and home bases. Both commercial aviation and the military, as well as many privately owned aircraft, use the HF communication networks to keep them flying safely. From trans-oceanic 777s' and military transports to single engine float planes in the Canadian Arctic and Alaska, the sky is alive with DXing opportunities!

A huge percentage of commercial aircraft are delegated to moving freight and many of them can be heard on HF radio. Many of the planes in use are retired passenger planes that have been reconfigured for moving cargo. Back when I did this type of listening, older DC-8s seemed to be particularly popular, especially on the nightly South / Central America to Florida routes. I suspect that nowadays, these have been replaced with older DC-10's and 747's.

'FINE AIR 432' was logged on March 24,1996 at 0435Z while working Miami Radio on 6637kHz. The DC8-51F (Freighter) was over Bogota while enroute from Lima to Miami.

'NIPPON CARGO 083', a 747-200F, was logged
on 8891kHz working Baffin Radio. They were reporting position "LT", a waypoint above Alert, at 82-31N / 62-12W, westbound on Polar Track "Quebec".
The freighter was enroute Amsterdam to Anchorage.

The Antonov 124-100 is a gigantic Russian built freighter - capable of transporting in excess of
120 tons. This is aircraft "RA-82045" which was logged as 'HEAVYLIFT 878' in June, 1996.

Operated by Volga-Dnepr, 'HEAVYLIFT 878' was working Dakar (Senegal) Aeradio on 6535kHz reporting FL240 and position 13-14N / 24-26W enroute Cape Verde Islands to Sao Paulo, Brazil.

'AFM 01' was a DC8-55F logged while working Brazzaville Radio (Congo) on 8903kHz. It was at FL350, enroute Harare, Zimbabwe to Kano, Nigeria at the "MPK" waypoint, 250 miles east of Kinshasha, Zaire. Brazzavile was advising of 'crossing traffic, same level...please say intentions'... Yikes!
On another evening I heard the Dakar (Senegal) controller advise a British Speedbird 747 to 'go to flight level 330 ... please go now ... go very very fast'. I don't think I'll be flying in Africa anytime soon.

'AFM01' (Affretair) was Z-WMJ, shown here on final approach to Gatwick.

'PACIFIC AIR EXPRESS 3517' was heard on 8867kHz working Brisbane Radio while over the Coral Sea. The Lockheed L-188C four-engine turbo prop was enroute Honiara to Brisbane with a load of fresh tuna destined for the Japanese market. N360Q, shown on the ground at Honiara, was leased from the states and operated by Charrak Air.

The U.S. military is still active on HF radio and some interesting catches can be had. During the testing phase of the 'cruise' missile, the missile navigation systems were tested over the Northern Territories and Alberta. Once dropped from their B-52 launch platforms, the missiles were tracked across Alberta by Advanced Range Instrumentation Aircraft (ARIA). 'AGAR 93' was heard on one such mission on 11176kHz. 'AGAR 93' was # 81-0893, an EC-18 (modified Boeing 707) out of Wright Patterson' 4950th Test Wing. According to the aircraft commander who signed my verification, the aircraft was approximately 1 hour S.E. of Namao, Alberta. One can easily see why # 81-0893, shown here, was affectionately known as "The Beast".

'DOOM 81' was a gigantic B-52H from the 96th Bomb Squadron, stationed at Barksdale AFB, LA. The appropriately named big bomber was heard on 11176kHz while working Ascension Radio and was just about to rendezvous with their mid-air refueler when the mission was aborted. This was the first and only B-52 that I was ever able to confirm.


'ROMA 99' was logged on 17975kHz while working Thule Radio. They were taxiing for takeoff at Dulles International in Washington D.C. and reporting a minor fuel-pump problem. 'ROMA 99' was a KC-135R Stratotanker, # 62-003512, from the 509th Air Refueling Squadron at Griffis AFB, NY.

'REACH 71839' was heard on 11176kHz while working Albrook AFB, Alaska. Tail # 65-0239, this 'REACH' flight was an aging C-141B Starlifter, at one point, the Air Force's major transporter. 'REACH 71839', out of McChord AFB, was enroute Brazil to Puerto Rico.

There's still plenty to be heard on HF, outside of the amateur bands and a quick internet search on 'Utility DX' will turn up several interesting and informative sites ... each one having an abundance of related links to follow. Here are some that will be helpful:


A freshly updated list of all active HF aero frequencies. Also check their list of active aero 'callsigns'

If you can catch an aircraft's four-letter SELCAL code, often given during waypoint checks, you can search here for more info on the actual aircraft itself: 

The Milcom Blogspot:

Sunday, 1 November 2015

DX'ing The 'Utilities'

After building the house here on Mayne Island, in the early 90's, it was several years until I was able to set up a dedicated station. In the meantime, I limited my radio activities strictly to listening. I had a nice Icom R-71A set up in a hall closet and spent my radio-time, mostly on weekend evenings, listening to maritime CW, HF aeronautical traffic and, of course, NDBs below the broadcast band. My HF receiving antenna consisted of three inverted-V's ... one for 160m, the second for 80m and the third for 40m ... all fed from the same coaxial line at the top of a 70' Balsam. It didn't take long to realize what an exceptional radio location I had, living right at the edge of the ocean, with dozens of miles of saltwater in most directions other than due west.

I really enjoyed following evening airline flights across both the North and South Atlantic, and in the early winter afternoons, following the commercial air-traffic all over Africa. Even though listening on 5 or 6MHz, I was amazed at how strong the signals from airliners over Africa at 30,000 feet or more could become, this far to the west. In the early mornings, directions were reversed and traffic from the far east, right into India, was fairly common. Often, small single-engine planes, usually run by various missionaries, could be heard while on the ground, taxiing at remote field locations and calling in via HF radio to request takeoff and flight-following.

Now, QSL's have always been one of my top radio interests and it wasn't long before I started sending and collecting verifications for both the aircraft and the ships I was hearing ... once I had figured out how to get my reception reports to their proper destinations. A very small portion of my 'utility' QSL collection is shown below. For the most part, it consists of PRC's or 'Prepared Reply Cards', with blank portions to be filled-in by the verification signers. Surprisingly, my return rate was around 90% and verifications were often returned with long, hand-written letters and numerous photographs ... especially from the ship RO's, as I suspect their days at sea were often quite monotonous. Even many of the military and commercial aircraft pilots would return a handwritten note along with the filled-in verification card, which I found even more surprising. It seemed that most were very surprised to hear that their radio transmissions were even making it this far and could be heard so readily.

Some of the most interesting catches came from the Pacific, with a large variety of ships operating out of Japan. There are probably still several maritime CW stations operating in Japan. Many of these were owned and operated by commercial fishing companies and could be heard working fleet vessels throughout the Pacific on their daily CW skeds.

This interesting catch from the North Pacific was the Japanese 'fisheries research vessel' 'M/V FUJI MARU'. She was about 1200 miles NW of her CW contact, JNA in Tokyo.

A Japanese cruise-ship, the 'M/V ORIENT VENUS' was logged early one summer morning while working JNA on 8355 KHz CW. Her position indicates she was in the Mariana Islands.

One of my first catches from the Great Lakes
was the 'M/V Oglebay Norton', a huge bulk
carrier out of Detroit. Her 150W signal was loud and clear late one August evening while in contact with WLC, Rogers City Radio.

The U.S. Coast Guard is still one of the best QSLers around.
Several of their stations will QSL with a nice printed card.
NMC (San Francisco) and NMO (Hawaii) were two
catches, regularly heard on the old 500 KHz calling

Stormy weather often provided a good chance
to catch a search and rescue mission in progress.

'Rescue 6008' was an HH-60J helo enroute from
Chesapeake Bay to Elizabeth City, North Carolina during
a midnight rescue operation.

Although not my farthest HF maritime catch,
this was one of the most surprising. 'C4PC'
was heard early one February evening on 8 MHz CW, when conditions seemed terrible. No other ships were heard on the band at the time. As I learned later, the 'M/V MAIROULI' was at anchor near Beirut, Lebanon, a distance of nearly 7,000 miles from Mayne Island.

                                                                .... cont'd