[amsat-bb] How to avoid Black Friday, working satellites... (long)

Patrick STODDARD (WD9EWK/VA7EWK) amsat-bb at wd9ewk.net
Sun Nov 27 19:18:17 UTC 2016


On Friday (25 November), I didn't want to stay home. I wasn't going to
visit stores or shopping malls, where I'd have to deal with crowds on
"Black Friday". With decent weather throughout Arizona, and especially
no snow on the highways in northern Arizona, I made a quick road trip
to operate from some rarely-heard grids. I also wanted to operate from
a national monument for another National Parks on the Air activation.
Even with the cool weather in northern Arizona, it was a fun day to
work satellites and do some sightseeing before the snow arrives.

I had originally planned to visit the Walnut Canyon National Monument,
east of Flagstaff along the I-40 freeway. I had been to this site in
June, trying to make a NPOTA activation then. I came up short of the
minimum number of stations I needed to work for an official activation
(10), but wanted to rectify that before the end of the year. Walnut
Canyon National Monument is in grid DM45, a rarely-heard grid on the
satellites, so a trip up there would satisfy operators on two fronts.
Then Steve N9IP mentioned on Twitter earlier in the week that he needed
grid DM44. I started looking at pass predictions, trying to see how I
could work a stop in grid DM44 along with working at least a few passes
from Walnut Canyon. Seeing that SO-50 would pass by in the morning, and
not be available later in the day at Walnut Canyon, I planned an early
stop in DM44 to make this happen.

After waking up to a 5am (1200 UTC) alarm clock, I was on the road by
1245 UTC. The first SO-50 pass was due to pass by around 1418 UTC, and
I could be in DM44 at a point about halfway up the I-17 freeway between
Phoenix and Flagstaff. With some hills to the east in this area, the
best spot to work from DM44 was actually on the DM34/DM44 grid boundary,
on a wide shoulder next to Cherry Road (AZ-169), just west of I-17. I
had about 20 minutes to find the spot I wanted to use, document my
location with photos, and set up for the SO-50 pass. I did all of that,
tweeted photos showing my location, and I was ready for SO-50. I also
had to change from a light windbreaker to a heavier jacket, as the
temperature was around 43F/6C at the start of the pass with a stiff

The 1418 UTC SO-50 pass was a 16-degree pass to the northeast. Once I
heard the downlink, I started working stations across the USA, along
with Canada and Mexico. I have operated from both DM34 and DM44 earlier
in the year, but there is almost always someone looking for either of
these grids - or both of them. N9IP was the fourth of the 13 stations
I worked during this pass. After LOS, I quickly put the radio and
antenna back in my car, so I could finish my drive up to Walnut Canyon.

When I arrived at Walnut Canyon, I went to the same spot I used in June.
I parked just off the main road between the I-40 freeway and the visitor
center on the edge of the canyon. The national monument includes a strip
of land that connects the visitor center to the freeway, and the spot I
used has a Forest Service road that cuts through the national monument
about a mile north of the visitor center. It is also at 6600'/2011m, and
a bit cooler than it was at the DM34/DM44 grid boundary that was just over
4400'/1341m elevation. The temperature was down to 26F/-3C, something I
rarely see in the Phoenix area. The heavy jacket I put on for the earlier
stop was definitely necessary here.

The first pass I worked from Walnut Canyon was a western SO-50 pass just
before 1600 UTC. This was a surprisingly busy pass, with 13 stations
worked - an official NPOTA activation, just with one pass! I didn't stop
with this pass. A few minutes after SO-50 went away, FO-29 came up a few
degrees to my east. The satellite went up to a maximum elevation of 8.6
degrees. Even with the low elevation, and trees around my location, I
logged 3 QSOs.

During the week leading up to this trip to Walnut Canyon, the 145.825 MHz
packet digipeater on NO-84 had been turned on. It was still on while I
was at Walnut Canyon, and made use of it. The first of two NO-84 passes
was a 28-degree pass. NO-84's digipeater has a weaker downlink than what
we used to hear from the ISS on the same frequency, so it is more of a
challenge to make QSOs. Fernando NP4JV and I made what was my only QSO
on this pass, near my LOS.

About an hour later, there was another pair of passes - FO-29, followed
by NO-84. It was also starting to warm up - the temperature went above
freezing, up to 37F/3C. This time, just before 1800 UTC, FO-29 was
passing very high over northern Arizona. I was able to work 7 stations
from coast to coast in the continental USA, and one Canadian station.
The NO-84 pass around 1820 UTC had a little more activity. I was able
to work both KG6FIY and KK6OTJ in southern California via APRS messages.
Thanks Endaf and Mark for those QSOs! For these trips, working the
orbiting packet digipeaters is just another satellite or two, and it
was fun to have a total of 3 QSOs via NO-84 from Walnut Canyon.

By midday (1900 UTC), the outside temperature had made it up to a
comfortable 53F/12C. The heavy jacket went in the car, and I put my
windbreaker on instead. I had two more passes I planned to work,
one more FO-29 pass at 1935 UTC followed by AO-85 just after 2000
UTC, before heading to Flagstaff for lunch and the drive home.

The 1935 UTC FO-29 pass favored the west coast, and I worked just 2
stations. The AO-85 pass just after 2000 UTC passed across the
continental USA, making for a busier pass. I worked 10 stations from
coast to coast, including AI6GS who was also at an NPOTA site in
southern California (Joshua Tree National Park). This pass would
have made an NPOTA activation by itself, and it has been fun to make
park-to-park QSOs during this year.

After AO-85 went away, I packed up for the drive to Flagstaff for
lunch, and then the drive home. It was a nice day to be in northern
Arizona, as there should be snow falling up there today or tomorrow -
and I don't like driving in northern Arizona snow. Road conditions
were good all day, even for the drive up in the morning with below
freezing temperatures. The only snow I saw was on the tops of the
San Francisco Peaks that overlook Flagstaff, and that's OK with me.

I made a total of 38 QSOs from Walnut Canyon National Monument: 13
QSOs on the SO-50 pass, 12 QSOs across 3 FO-29 passes, 3 QSOs on 2
NO-84 passes, and 10 QSOs on the AO-85 pass to wrap up this NPOTA
activation. Along with the 13 QSOs made from the DM34/DM44 line
earlier, a good day to be on the satellites.

All of the QSOs I made from the DM34/DM44 grid boundary, as well as
those made at Walnut Canyon, are in Logbook of the World. If anyone
who worked me wants a QSL card, please e-mail me directly with the
QSO details. If you're in my log, I'll send you a card. No card or
SASE required. Working from rarely-heard grids is always fun, and
NPOTA has added to that in 2016. I still hope to make it to one or
two other NPOTA sites in the last few weeks of the year.


Twitter: @WD9EWK


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