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Summary of FG/W9AE AO40 operation

Here is a report of the FG/W9AE AO40 operation from Deshaies, Guadeloupe

177 contacts logged (161 SSB, 16 CW)
169 unique callsigns (8 stations logged on both CW and SSB)
24 DXCC entities contacted
34 U.S. states contacted
125 grids logged (did not get the grid of 3 stations)

Saturday, 22 February:  I got on the air a bit earlier than announced, and
made 33 contacts in about 2.5 hours.  Mostly with the U.S., but my first
contact was with Argentina.  Lost the satellite at about 21 degrees
elevation (0100 UTC) behind the roof of a nearby bungalow up the hill.

Sunday, 23 February:  I made 106 contacts in about 9 hours.  Mostly Europe
at first, but then only North America near the end.  Signals were very weak
at first, despite the high elevation and moderate squint.  I had occasions
of very weak signals due to palm branch obstructions.  I had expected to
stop operating at about 2100 UTC, but signals were incredibly strong at that
time.  So I kept operating for 3 additional hours until the transponder shut
off at MA230.  Signals were so strong from MA180-220 that I suspect alon was
greater than the announced 10 degrees.  A lot of European stations had
extremely strong L-band uplinks.  But most signals were in the S1 to S2
range for me.  I worked a LOT of stations that were weaker than my own
signal, which was reported to be 10 dB below the beacon.  The Mode S/K
experiment from MA160-170 was a surprise to me, and took away some of my
limited window with Europe.

Wednesday, 26 February:  My original plan was to start operating at 2300
UTC, but I actually got on the air at about about 1730 UTC.  I made 38
contacts in about 7.5 hours.  I had a window with Europe for the first 2
hours, but I only managed to work 3 new European stations, even though it
was evening in Europe.  Compared to the previous two sessions, it was much
harder to find "new" stations to work.  Signals became gradually stronger
until I lost the satellite behind the nearby bungalow up the hill.


Yaesu FT-847 (with 144 MHz TX inhibit modification)
Astron SS-30M switching power supply (switch set for 220V)
Heil ProSet headset with HC-5 microphone
Sony stereo headphones
DYC-817 speech processor w/ added PTT sw & Heil mic connector
Palm CW mini-paddle
9-foot U.S. extension cord with a 2-pin Euro plug adapter
40-foot headphone extension cable
7x7 RHCP Arrow antenna for 435 MHz uplink (39 inches long)
45 feet of "Flexible 9913" coaxial cable
G3RUH 2-foot dish with patch feed
Transystem AIDC3731 downconverter (powered by FT-847)
45 feet of RG-6 coaxial cable with a SSB Electronics "protector"
25-inch wooden crossboom
Velbon DF-60 camera tripod
Cloth drawstring bag filled with 20 pounds of "local" rocks
Compass and protractor for initial az/el setup
Toshiba 300 MHz mini-laptop running SatPC32 and LogWindows
USB-to-serial converter and serial cable for Doppler tuning
RCA phono cable for 144 MHz TX inhibit

The FT-847 "LSB TX carrier point" menu was adjusted to reduce transmitted
bass frequencies somewhat.  That combined with the speech compressor and the
articulate Heil microphone gave me a very "punchy" signal.  I was truly
amazed at the signal reports I received.  Nevertheless, I ran the FT-847 at
maximum power most of the time and never had to worry about activating
LEILA.  I connected the 144 MHz TX inhibit cable directly to the 12V power
supply to disable the 144 MHz transmitter for the duration of this
operation.  That combined with the SSB Electronics "Protector" kept my
downconverter VERY safe from accidental transmissions.

I should have used a preamp because I didn't seem to hear as well as I could
transmit.  All previous operations with this setup had opposite subjective
results - I felt that I could hear better than I could transmit.  Perhaps
the new speech processor and LSB TX carrier point adjustment improved my
uplink significantly.  And the dish is now slightly misshapen after several
trips with the heavy coax cables inside the dish.  The antennas were
manually aimed by plugging headphones into the 40-foot extension cord and
swishing the antennas for best beacon reception.

There were no disasters, but I did have a few problems.  Before making the
first contact, I tripped on my headset cable and broke 2 wires in the
headphone plug.  So I wasn't able to use the headphones portion of my Heil
headset.  But the headset's boom microphone was my only microphone, and my
PTT switch was on a 3-inch cable from the microphone connector.  I was
forced to either transmit 2-handed, holding the headset in one hand and the
PTT switch in the other hand, or put the headset on the table and bend over
uncomfortably to get my mouth near the boom microphone.  Most of the time I
bent over to the microphone to have a hand free to tune the radio or type on
the computer.  On any future trip I will definitely bring a hand microphone
as a backup.

The other problem was physical obstructions around me.  My bungalow was
surrounded by palm trees, and there was a steep hill and other nearby
bungalows up the hill to my southwest.  So I wasn't able to work AO40 to the
west when the elevation was below about 21 degrees.  That made contacts with
Australia impossible, and shortened each planned evening operating sessions
by about an hour.  Even when the satellite was at very high elevations
(60-70 degrees) I had to occasionally move the antenna tripod around to
avoid certain palm branches.  My hilltop location was very windy most of the
time, so I also got occasional "dropouts" when a palm branch momentarily
blew in front of my antenna.  I used 20 pounds of rocks (instead of my usual
15 pounds) in a drawstring bag hanging from the tripod to keep the antennas
from blowing over in the wind.

A minor problem was the open design of my bungalow.  With open walls, there
was often loud ambient noise from wind, road traffic, and a few times from
airplanes.  I used closed-ear headphones, but the ambient noise was still
very loud sometimes.

This was my first time to use computer logging for a portable operation.  It
worked well, especially with 2003 Callbook data on the computer's hard
drive.  Much of the information for each log entry was filled in
automatically after I typed a callsign.  It was fun to see the number of
contacts, and query the log to see the number of states, countries, and
grids worked.  SatPC32 worked great for satellite tracking and Doppler
tuning.  I used a beta version that corrects for "today's" downconverter
frequency with a single mouse click.  I would activate Doppler tuning,
manually tune to find the beacon, and click the "correct" button.  Then my
transmit frequency would always be within a few hundred Hz of correct on the
very first transmission.

It was interesting to note the high elevation of AO40 at 17 degrees North
latitude compared to my home QTH at 42 degrees north latitude.  It was very
difficult to adjust the tripod to elevations greater than 60 degrees because
the tilt/pan control arm interferes with the tripod legs and various gizmos
protruding from the tripod between the legs.  I could saw off the tripod's
bubble level in order to have one "gap" between legs that allows the
tilt/pan control arm to go further down (antenna elevation further up).
Another possibility would be to rotate the crossboom mount 90 degrees so
that the tilt/pan control arm moves in the "up-to-level" range instead of in
the "level-to-down" range where the tripod legs interfere.

Some comments about the "pileup" messages I read on amsat-bb after returning
home.  Out of about 17 hours of operating, there was only about 1 hour of
what I would consider to be "pileup" conditions (more than 2 stations
calling).  I never felt it was necessary to work split or go by numbers.
During the pileups, the stations calling me tended to shut up immediately
when I came back to a specific callsign.  That's one advantage of working
full-duplex (assuming the DX station's uplink is strong enough to be noticed
in the pileup).  From my end, the pileups weren't really a problem, and most
of the time I wasn't conscious of stations running excess power to get my
attention.  In fact, my "beacon -10dB" signal was louder than a LOT of the
stations I worked.  Overall, I would judge the pileups to be reasonably
well-behaved, and I think it was obvious to most people that it would only
take a few minutes for everybody in the pileup to make their contact.

I carried my FT-847, laptop computer, digital camera, and some magazines in
a carry-on bag.  I had NO problem getting the FT-847 through the TSA airport
security inspections in Chicago and San Juan, and no problem with the French
security inspection in Guadeloupe.  Carrying the 26-pound bag around the
airports was really a chore, though.  All the other equipment was in a
suitcase and in my custom 25x25x7 inch plywood antenna box which were
checked as luggage.  The total weight of my checked luggage was 85 pounds,
so it was a good thing my wife didn't have much stuff.  The airlines now
charge a very high fee if you check more than 70 pounds of luggage per

Getting home from Guadeloupe was a little bit more exciting than expected.
Both of the highways connecting our remote location to the airport were
barricaded by striking employees of a rum factory.  We ended up hiring a
small boat at an exorbitant price to take us around the barricade.  And then
we had to take a very expensive taxi ride from the boat dock to the airport,
arriving in the nick of time.  It's a good thing we rented a car at the
nearest town, because it was impossible to return a rental car to the
airport on the day we departed Guadeloupe.

QSL to Wayne Estes, 18673 W. Meadow Lane, Mundelein, IL 60060, U.S.A.  I
will design a custom QSL card and get it printed as soon as possible.

Somebody else needs to go to Guadeloupe so *I* can work it!   : )

Wayne Estes W9AE
Mundelein, IL, USA

Sent via amsat-bb@amsat.org. Opinions expressed are those of the author.
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