Sunday, August 17, 2014

US Northern Command MARS (Military Auxiliary Radio System) Testing/Training

I am a Cyberspace Operations Planner in the USNORTHCOM and NORAD Operations Directorate (J3). Most days my job is very boring but sometimes you get to do something cool. Although my definition of "cool" may differ from yours. In addition to an office hike up Mount Herman I thought it would be a good time to demonstrate the deployable US Northern Command M.A.R.S. Station. The icing on the cake is Lynn, KC0YQF, was able to join us and was on hand to make sure I used the KX3 correctly.

Our command is licensed under Army M.A.R.S. with the call sign AAM8N and is the brainchild of Mark, WA6MVT. Mark is about as enthusiastic an Amateur and Communicator there is. He was unable to make our training but he will make it up in the future.

Our office is composed of operational planners not communicators so we would not be the ones deploying with this equipment save Mark and I. Of course what makes M.A.R.S. different from other forms of military and civilian communications is the amateur radio licensing requirements. If you want to know more about Army M.A.R.S. they are under NetCom and here is a link: Army Mars

Incidentally I have been licensed and a participant of Navy US Marine Corps M.A.R.S. at Camp Lejeune, NC and United States Air Force M.A.R.S. during most of my career in the USAF. This is my first time with Army M.A.R.S.

Our M.A.R.S. station consist of an Elecraft KX3 modified for M.A.R.S. frequencies (incidentally, it is the only radio that met all requirements), Buddipole A123 battery source and a Buddipole Antenna system. We did not have the Buddipole Antenna along on this demo as I wanted to show that it is possible to reach out and touch the far reaches of the country with a simple wire antenna without any support infrastructure. While my buddipole vertical is setup for this type of work (see some of my videos on my youtube channel) I did not feel like hauling out the commands system for this training.

USNORTHCOM and NORAD J3 Cyber Planners (and Scout)
Bill and I discuss how to install the End Fed
Explaining propagation
My plan was to actually check into a MARS Net but I was thinking on the way up that a SSB Summits On The Air activation would yield a more impressive capability demonstration. I do not have to explain to the regular readers of my blog how SOTA is the epitome of agile and viable communications but from the layman perspective it helps to be able to listen to an actual pileup of stations across the country calling.

Using my call sign we talked to other Amateurs in the following states in about 10 minutes:

North Carolina
British Columbia

I think that shows the viability of the commands deployable MARS Station. Now if we could only convince them that a stations is needed at Headquarters with remote capability from other areas.

USNORTHCOM Mr. Potato Head ensuring fun was had by all
A fun Video:

As we grow this capability I hope to do more informative videos on net procedures, winlink, ALE and other forms of data communications. My goal is not to convince anyone to join MARS but more to just be aware of the capability and how it fits in a disaster response. 

73 Frank

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Lynn's Birthday SOTA Activation

For Lynn's birthday we decided to do Traychte Knob near the KOA in Cripple Creek Colorado. I have never been impressed with this KOA, as far as KOAs go, but it is under new management and I am confident that it will thrive in the future. The great thing about this KOA is a gate that leds to a trail head of  a Horse Trail around Traychte Knob and that I have followed the three times I have activated this summit. After a few hundred feet on the trail it is a bushwack to the top.

We decided to get an early start to beat the afternoon storms that are comng earlier everyday. We ate breakfast on the trail and took a nice break to enjoy the views. While this is not a long hike it does get a little steep in places and total elevation gain is about 800 feet or so.

Cloud Cover

Summit in view
Te hardest part is the boulder field near the summit. There is a false summit that I managed to avoid this time but I think we had to tackle more of the boulder field. Once on the top the views are great and we enjoyed a leisurly activation while checking the clouds building to our East.

Mushrooms everywhere
Lynn worked the folowing stations on 20 meter SSB and many wished her a happy birthday which made her happy:


KC0YQF, Lynn, working the SSB pileup

I was able to snag Guy, N7UN using callsign NS0TA on W0C/PR-031 while he was running a CW pileup then I moved up in freq clear from him to start our CW portion of this activation. I worked the following stations:

NS0TA Summit to Summit

Unfortunately I had about 20 minutes of video I wanted to use that I was unable to use due to technical issues. In other words I thought I was recording but actually wasn't. At over 10,000 feet in altitude my brain cannot process all the gadgets beeping at me so I am sure I missed a beep and was not recording.

I highly recommend this summit because there is never anyone else on it but that being said someone decided to post their underwear for all to see, for some reason.

Not sure why someone would want to fly their skivvies (someone in the Navy perhaps)

Here is a video of our activation:

73 Frank

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Chief and Squaw Mountain SOTA Activation 25 July 2014

Chief and Squaw are two summits I have wanted to get back to since wG0AT took me out there last year. My thinking was that Lynn would really enjoy these two summits. The summit of Chief Mountain is just neat with a lot to explore and Squaw Mountain has a Fire Tower which I thought Lynn would really like. In the past, Steve and I did both summits but not on the same day, mainly because of my abilities not Steve's.  I was cautious about tackling these two in one day.

dedication plaque on Squaw Mountain

K0JQZ on Squaw Mountain
K0JQz and KC0YQF on Chief Mountain
our route in white

The video at the end of this post really tells the story but a few things. I have been doing this blog for a year this month and have had over 20,000 hits. That is not much to some people but a lot for me as most of my post are ramblings and I am not really doing any "DIY" post. I appreciate everyone that stops in and takes a look and leaves comments. I am really appreciative to the youtubers that subscribe to my youtube channel. That is something I did not think I would like doing but it is a lot of fun.

When we got up to Chief Mountain summit we enjoyed the views and setup the End Fed antenna in short order. We chatted with a few other people on the summit. This summit is big and has a lot of places to setup an antenna and station.

When I got the antenna hooked up I heard another station on a different summit so in my excitement I called him to get the Summit to Summit QSO and forgot our summit reference number so I had to dig through my pack to find that and I handed the mic to Lynn so she could get the S2S QSO as well. Summit to Summit QSOs are a special thrill because another ham has hiked a mountain and setup a station just like you did at the same time. What fun. Thanks KY7S for your patience with us.

In my excitment I also forgot to hit the record button on the audio recorder. Not the first or last time that will happen. I think Lynn's new job will be to remind me to hit record.

When we got back to the TH for Chief we had a decision to make. Do we go right and hope to hit the road that goes up Squaw (my GPS and topo map showed that the trail and road did intersected).  Or do we go left back to the Jeep and drive back to the Squaw Mountain trail and up the road a ways. We decided to go right. I am glad we did. It reality shows how much Lynn and I have improved and the fact that we were able to do both summits and 9 miles in one outing really pleased us.

The Fire Tower on Squaw Mountain came be rented and we decided to rent it next year for Lynn's BDay. We will have to haul food, water, bedding etc up to the fire tower a little less than a mile on a steep road but I think we can do it. I scoped out the area thinking about the antennas I can setup and we can do a multi day SOTA outing on Squaw with multiple antennas and shelter. Plus the cool factor of staying up there over night. We are looking forward to it.

We are grateful for the young couple that rented the Fire Tower for letting us setup on the bench and letting us shelter the from the hail and rain in Fire Tower itself.

About a mile from the Jeep the skies opened up and we donned our rain gear and kept going. I talked to Lynn about it and told her that if we had a long way to go or were out overnight that I would have setup a shelter and waited it out. Storms in Colorado come and go quickly and it was not soon after we got to the Jeep that it stopped raining. Rain, Hail, Thunder and Lightning along with great views and no extreme temperatures plus a few Summit to Summit QSOs. A lot of fun was had.

The next day we relaxed and went to the local Hamfest in Colorado Springs. It is not a very big  hamfest and does not offer a lot but I got to run into a few old friends and even my boss from the early 90s when I worked at HQ Air Force Space Command.



New Toy

I have been think about getting a new scanner for about a year. I sold my old one as it was not that capable and an absolute nightmare to program. I guess Uniden heard my complains and those of others and introduced the BCD536HP.

It is so simple to start listening. Just enter the date and time along with your zip code and all the local scanner frequencies are populated and you are listening to the first responders. Like everything else these days it is much more capable than my abilities and I have just scratched the surface on its usability.

Read about the Uniden bCD536HP here

Here is a picture of mine in the shack:
the scanner at work
Of course I had to put up a decent antenna and after some research I picked up a radio shack 25Mhz to 1300Mhz wideband antenna. It can also be used to transmit on 2 meters, 70 centimeters and 6 meters but I have a vertical and delta loop for those bands although they are either not up or not working right now but I will get around to them.

antenna on back of deck up around 17 feet
I really like having it turned on while editing videos or doing other things in the shack. I hope to learn how to use it a bit more as I really want to listen to rescues in the mountain and be aware of happenings in my local area.

Since my HF vertical is down at the moment as Lynn and I attempt to landscape our backyard this is really the only working radio, save the Collins R388, I have in the shack at the moment.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Estes Park Colorado: Prospect Mountain and Lily Mountain (W0C/FR-069 and W0C/FR-050)

I realized late Saturday that Lynn and I both had Monday off so we went to Estes Park Colorado on Sunday thinking that the 4th of July crowds would be gone or leaving. We ran into the usual flatlanders having trouble on highway 36 into Estes Park but we made it there in time to do at least one and maybe two summits.

Estes Park and Lyons Colorado were devastated by flooding last year. Lynn and I were shocked at the level of the devastation and also impressed at the rebound these two towns have taken in the last few months. There is still some road construction but traffic moved right along. In contrast, Colorado Springs has yet to open the area from the Waldo Canyon fire two years ago and the Old Stage area remains closed with a new estimated opening date of Sep 2014. That is almost a year and a half to repair ten miles of dirt roads!

The flooding in our area washed out parts of Fort Carson (near to us) and was called Lake Carson for a while. Fort Carson, like Estes Park and Lyons Colorado have bounced back and in my opinion, better than ever. Our hearts go out to the people that lost so much.

We took the tram up Prospect Mountain. Lynn loves these things and they are a lot of fun but cost money (12 dollars a person with military or senior discount). As always there is a lot of wildlife in the area around Prospect Mountain and we spotted a few deer and chipmunks which is always fun.

I was able to self spot although our activation time was pretty close according to the alert I posted. Even if my activation time is spot on I still like to self spot Lynn on SSB just to let the chaser know where she is. It is just common courtesy when people are looking for you and highly encouraged.

With CW it is easy as the Reverse Beacon Network will pick me up automatically as long as I am within 1 hour before and 4 hours after the posted activation time.

When packing up I chatted with Bryan, N0BCB on 2 meters and he was coming down from another summit. We were both trying to beat the storms!

After Prospect we checked into our hotel room and walked downtown for lunch. When we returned to the room around 1500 and Lynn said; "hey, lets do another summit" so off we went to Lily Mountain.

I have done Lily Mountain before and it kicked my butt. It is a 4 pointer but do not let that fool you, the last mile is brutal with a lot of elevation gain (I cannot remember if it was 1000 or 2000 feet total).

We made it based on pure determination. Since we were pretty late we passed everyone that was parked at the TH coming down. When we summited there was one family still on the summit but they left after a few minutes and we had the summit and the views to ourselves.

Since there is limited space on this summit it is a natural for the Buddipole Vertical and it worked like gangbusters. I have it pre-tuned for 10 through 20 meters by marking the counterpoise with colored beads that correspond to the coil tap colors on the mini-coil. It makes it fast and easy to setup.

We were beat on this summit because we knew we had a long hike, also uphill, to get to the TH. Seriously, the first part of the hike is downhill so you have to go uphill to get out. We went through all our water near the end but still had a grand time. The views from this summit are fantastic and the rock scrambling at the top is a lot of fun.

My video did not turn out how I wanted it and I have been having a lot of trouble with iMovie screwing up the frames. I actually had to totally delete the first draft and start over with no format. I think the format function was what is screwing it up. This stuff is memory intensive but my iMac has 12 GIG of RAM so maybe a faster processor may help. I just do not want to spend the money on a new machine, yet!

Here is the video:

73 from
Frank K0JQZ and Lynn, KC0 Y oung Q uick F ox.....