Tracking High Altitude Ballons

The solar eclipse provided the perfect reason for a number of amateurs to launch high altitude balloons.   AMSAT-UK is the place to go and read more about amateur radio space exploration and amateur radio satellites.

Southampton space flight launched MAJORA and OLAF (pictures on their website)

Further launches are detailed on the UK High Altitudes website and these included MARVIN, KRYTEN, EAGLE and an APRS beacon GEMINI 1 (Callsign LZ2WIN-11 on 434.5 MHz).

I tracked Buzz, with its altitude peaking at 30 KM above the earth. Using a special version of FLdigi detailed here I was able to track, decode and upload the position of Buzz every few seconds. Buzz at 30 KM


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ARRL DX contest

This weekend saw the ARRL DX phone contest, and with 28 MHz in good shape this provided lots of USA stations. I did hear quite a few M3 and M6 stations (10w) making contact with the USA, so even low power provided results. With many of the big contest stations out this weekend, signals ranged from strong to very strong.

I found the conditions on 14 and 21 MHz to be poor, although I managed a few. 7 MHz provided a few more contacts after dark, and provided an opportunity to test out split working. Many of the USA stations TX above 7200, and listen below 7100.

Using 200w and a ground mounted 5/8 vertical on 28 MHz I managed to work 92 stations, with the remaining 35 being on a mix of 7, 14 and 21 MHz. A map showing the stations work is enclosed.ARRL DX Phone

73 Dave M0TAZ


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Working CW for people that don’t do CW

This weekend saw a cacophony of CW over the bands, as part of the ARRL DX contest. The idea is to work as many USA stations as you can. They send 5NN and their state, and you send 5NN and your power.

I thought the contest would be ideal to try out the radios in built CW keyer, so I programed it up ready to have a go. As some will know I don’t read CW, but as much is sent via machines / computers these days it will mostly decode in DM780 or you chosen data program.


One programed it was just a case of keep track of what I had worked to avoid dupes, and see what I could add to the log. I used 28, 21 and 7 Mhz and over the course of a few hrs worked 100 stations.

Its always interesting to see the propagation change over the course of the day.

usa cw map

Not too bad for a bit of wire and a couple of hundred watts….

73 Dave M0TAZ


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While Dave M0TAZ and John M0UKD were out portable with the 1.8 MHz Contest, I turned my hand at the CQWW WPX RTTY Contest, a yearly radio-teletype contest held on the second full weekend of February.

Sat in my comfortable shack, in the warm, I used my desktop computer running Fldigi 3.22.04 and my Icom IC-7100 at 100W into a doublet at about 15 metres, operating search-and-pounce.  I read the rules to understand what was involved in the exchange – callsign and serial number.

Of course you can use any software for RTTY, my preference just happens to be Fldigi. I set up a few macros and put the software into contest mode. It’s worth spending the time to get the macros correct, since it saves you a lot of time (and panic) when you’re working.  Based on the rules linked above,I had 4 buttons configured:

  • RPT: “XY0ABC 599 001 001 001 TU M1GEO”
  • AGN: “AGN? AGN? AGN?”
  • LOG – which didn’t send anything but increments the contest counter (001) and saves the QSO.

Off air, I played with those and tweaked them a little. If conditions are good, send less, if conditions are poor, send more. There is probably room for another button or so should you feel, but during the contest, for better or worse, they’re not interested in your power, when you were born, and what version of the software your running – just the your callsign and the incremental serial number (signal report is always 599).

The basic QSO is very fast, and goes something like this:

“CQ WPX TEST XY0ABC XY0ABC CQ” – this is called over and over again, automatically.

“M1GEO M1GEO M1GEO” – I answer with my first button.

“M1GEO 599 757 757 757 M1GEO” – they answer with report (599) and serial (757).

“XY0ABC 599 003 003 003 TU M1GEO” – I reply with their report (599) and serial (003).

“M1GEO TU     QRZ? XY0ABC CQ” – They move on to the next person.

The whole contact takes less than a minute. Again, you may see them asking for you to repeat in which case you just send the report again – or you way want to ask them for a repeat (using your AGN macro). Clearly, once you’re happy, you log the QSO and increment the serial counter. Easy!

I started at the bottom end of 40 metres and quickly tuned through the band until I heard my first RTTY signal; RW0A.  I always find the first few QSOs a bit scary – after psyching myself up, I checked the antenna was tuned, and hit the CALL button, sending my callsign. I got a response immediately, and I was away. It went flawlessly.

Screenshot - 160215 - 23:59:24


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1.8 MHz Contest

The RSGB run a number of top band contests through the year. The first is the February 1.8 MHz covering both SSB and CW.  John M0UKD and myself have taken part in these for a few years now, most notably 3 years ago in 6″ of snow, and last year getting the car bogged in the mud.

Thankfully this year was mild, and not so muddy. The contest runs from 9PM to 1AM, and using a top band dipole fed with 300 Ω feeder. The centre of the dipole was at 60 ft (18m), and with a span of 260ft (80m) you need a large back garden (or access to a large field in the country).chart

Using an Icom 7100 and 32w (the maximum for this part of the band) we managed to work 60 stations including England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France, Netherlands and Germany.

Dave M0TAZ

Feb 1.8 mhz

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The Birth of a New Digital Mode SIM31

Read the article on how the mode invented by Nizar Ben Rejeb was developed, and the advantages it has over traditional PSK31.

The article is available to read online.

You can download a free copy of the program, and read more online at ON4NB website.

A handy guide to installation can be read here.

Ive been using it for a few days now, but its too early to test its robustness. Many digital modes come and go over the years, but its always interested to test and understand the advantages and disadvantages.  It certainly looks very much like PSK31, but the program helps identify that by a CW ident SIM and in PSK31 you will decode NEW SIM31 on your screen.

It also has an interesting “beacon mode” that can fully automate QSO. Imagine the joy of leaving that on overnight, and in the morning finding out you have worked 10 new DXCC while you have been tucked up in tog heaven dreaming of that 30 meter tower and 5E stepper IR …

Dave M0TAZ


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