My son and I set up a portable operation at Loft Mountain Campground for ARRL Field Day 2020 [FM08PF]. We operated solar/battery powered on 6M/40M SSB S&P, and on VHF/UHF FM Phone. We operated Sat from 6pm to 1030pm EST (shutdown to observe quiet hours), and on Sunday from about 11am to 3pm EST. We logged 64 QSO’s, all voice.
The weather was beautiful, especially in the evening when temperatures were 55-60 degrees F overnight with a light 5-10mph breeze. If only we could have brought some of that evening weather back in a jar! The closest storm was north of us in Luray, VA (~30m north). The campground did not have online reservations, we went very early Friday to get a site (first come, first served) and by 1130am the campground was Full for Friday/Saturday.
My Tundra pickup truck bed held the antennas: 14′ of 1″ guyed PVC with my Elk Antenna Log Periodic Antenna mounted vertically for FM. I worked stations using this setup being a bit over 3,200ft ASL, it’s proven its worth before on other portable trips. On HF, I spent 2h+ Sat trying to tune a Hustler 4-band vertical antenna/coil setup using a Rig Expert AA-600. I made a few 6M and 40M SSB contacts on the Hustler setup but I switched to the HF antenna I was going to run on the mobile for VaQP (pre-covid) so I could field test its operation: A 104″ SS Whip from DXEngineering and a Wolf River Coil (Silver Bullet 1000) (picture on QRZ.com). Once tuned for 40m SSB, I received great feedback on the whip/coil HF antenna setup at 75-100W. I did not work 6M once I placed the SS Whip/coil in-place on 40M.
Visitors: I had two people (a ham and his girlfriend) sign a sheet that they visited our site (first name, town), I did not think of that until others had left. I talked to more than 20 people as my truck/antennas were right at the road in the campground. That was just as enjoyable as operating the radio, that actually surprised me. The questions about what the antennas were for were amusing: Is that for cellular ? – that was my favorite and the most common one although several people (hams) knew what FD was but they had forgotten it was that weekend and did not even have an HT on them (yes I shamed them and sent them on their way, HI HI). I did not let anyone operate my gear, COVID was not worth the health risk.
Power: We operated as 1B, battery. The battery I have is a 30Ah LiFEPO4 from Bioenno Power, it normally runs the radio in the shack and is solar charged. The West Mountain Radio Epic PwrGate has jumpers inside to set it to safely charge this battery (it is not set that way by default, RTM or you’ll damage a LiFEPO4 battery if you do not change the jumpers inside) and it has a USB interface if you care to set different charging parameters.
Operating in the NRQZ (National Radio Quiet Zone)
The campground is inside the NRQZ (National Radio Quiet Zone) so one week prior [earlier is better], I contacted them to notify them of my intention to operate portable inside of the NRQZ so they could check for any potential impact on their schedule based on my plan (an example follows). Once approved by email, they handled notifying Sugar Grove, no response came back from them so I was clear to operate. The NRQZ is a very large area in VA and portions of other states, if you operate inside the NRQZ area please see their site for the boundary, rules, and contact information. Please note that my permission for Field Day 2020 is not transferable to any future operation by me or others; fines and penalties are steep to include seizure of all gear, your ham license, fines, and I think potential jail time -it’s just not worth ignoring and you’ll see in the example below how easy it is to obtain permission for licensed portable/mobile ham radio operations.
My initial email and reply to NRQZ Coordinator on 6/22/2020 follows as an example:
Email Title: NRQZ: Amateur Radio Field Day [June 26-29, 2020] Amateur Portable
I am writing again to inform you of my request to operate portable amateur radio gear within the NRQZ. All portable antennas, nothing aimed directly western.
June 26-29 (ARRL Field Day Weekend)
Shenandoah National Park, Loft Mountain Campground
Approx GPS Coordinates: 38.246706, -78.670701 [center of mountain top, campground area]
The park is not reserving campsites online so I selected the approximate center of the top of Loft Mountain for this request as it represents the worst case interference profile wise, etc. If GPS selected coordinate is an issue, I am usually 100-200′ lower on the S-SE side of Loft Mountain.
Antennas – omni directional
– FM, 5/8 wave 2m/70cm on my mobile for VHF/UHF voice, 5-50w [2m: 3dBi, 70cm: 5.5 dBi]
– HF/6M, 104″ SS Whip on mobile [parked] and a wolf river coil for base loading [2-3.5 dBi]
Antennas – directional
– FM, 2m/70cm Elk Antenna [gain: 2m: 8.7 dBi, 70cm: 9.0 dBi]
– 6M, 2 element antenna, approx 120 deg ‘beam like’ antenna (moxon) [~ 6.3Bi gain]
(Any directional antenna will be pointed North to East to South, 15-23dB loss to rear of ant)
– flexible on these directional antennas, on 6M power 5-20w [or less]
– [note: I did not use the moxon for 6m]
6 meters (USB modes)
50.125-52.500, analog voice, 20-100w
50.260-50.326, digital, FT4/FT8/JT9/JT65/MSK144/PSK31/PSK63, 5-20w
6 meters (50 mhz) to 80 meters (3.5 mhz)
Typical bands/modes, General Class Licensed Amateur Station
5-100w (analog voice), 5-20w (digital modes)
antenna: 105″ SS Whip, Wolf River Coil (base) – omni antenna (6m-80m)
daytime: in the daytime, both digital or analog voice modes are planned
night time: due to noise regulations, digital modes would be used 9pm-7am [not all night]
Please advise if any parameters above need adjusting, I can request an eastern campsite that would be 100-200′ below the summit of the GPS coordinate above (depending on availability when we arrive Fri). If the campground is full, we will operate elsewhere (mobile).
The reply from the NRQZ Coordinator was received by email on 6/23/2020 [<24 hours later]:
I’ll make a note of it and advise Sugar Grove.
Looks like we have at least one good obstacle in the way for both the Observatory and their site as well.
Be safe in your travels and thanks for the notification.
That is how simple it is to remain legal inside the NRQZ. Feel free to use this format, it is one I wrote on my own and the format is used every time I have operated in the NRQZ, including being less than 15 miles away from the telescope at Middle Mountain Cabins, WV. You may encounter issues using larger antennas, beams pointed at them without any mountains, and if you fall into a fixed antenna category they will have a spreadsheet for you to fill out so for /P or /M operations stick to verticals or wire dipoles and coordinate your operations.
All in all, a great trip, great weather, campsite, food, and ham radio -what else is needed?
Our next trip: The ARRL September VHF Contest [6m ft8, need more FFMA grids]