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Saturday, July 14, 2018

July 2018 Meeting

With the temperatures in the mid-90's, it was a great time to gather together some 20 members of the WVDXA for a FANTASTIC meeting.  The venue this time was the QTH of Roger, KD8BZY, and Becky, KD8IZK, near Sissonville.  Roger and Becky have a really nice place and although the parking was a little limited, we still managed to pack their house full of hams.  So many that the cat was totally confused by all the people!  Those attending were:  KD8BZY, KD8IZK, W8TN, WA8WV, W8IW, KC8BFF, WW8RT, K8KT, N8RR, K8YYY, WA8ZDL, W8OM, KA8SYV, Paula Wildi, W8OI, KD8IPW, K4JWA, K8ZDL, WV8FV, and WV8RC.


Food was in abundance and very tasty!  Roger and Becky supplied the hamburgers, hot dogs, buns, trimmings, corn on the cob and even the cold beer!  Others brought a huge fruit salad, baked beans with little wieners, and the dessert table had cheese cake, Mary's (WA8WV's XYL) cake, Evelyn's (W8TN's XYL) brownies, cherry pie, apple pie and probably more things that I can't remember.

For a "program" W8TN gave a brief demonstration of the WVDXA Chat Page using his cell phone and the cell phones of others who were there.  Tim, K8RRT, although stuck at work, responded during the demonstration from his cell phone (PSSSST, don't tell his boss!)  There were about 5 people present who were not signed up on the Chat Page so they got a look at some of what it can do and I expect several will sign up soon.

The first order of business was by Charlie, N8RR.  Charlie discussed the history of the WVDXA "Japan on 6-M" pin.   Pete, K4OM, was (to the best of our knowledge) the first person in WV to work a station in Japan on 6-M.  Club member Phil, W8UV, (then K8UNV) had previously worked Japan on the Magic Band but Phil was living in Ohio at the time.  Pete, K4OM's QSO took place 10-years ago.  At that time, Pete had a badge made that said, "I Worked JAPAN on 6-M!"  He wore it proudly to emphasize his accomplishment.  I believe Greg, W8GG, (also in Ohio) worked a JA in 2009 but I don't know if the badge was passed to him before he became a SK.

Then in 2010, Charlie, N8RR, managed to make a QSO with Japan on 50 MHz. and Pete passed the badge to him to be worn until someone else in the WVDXA worked Japan.  Charlie worked a 2nd station in Japan on 6-M in 2011 but no one else in the group managed to make a contact. 

Well, Charlie has had the "burden" of carrying that badge for 8 years until this summer, with the advent of WSJT-X and the FT8 mode making it a little easier to work the very difficult path to Japan.  You can see Charlie at today's meeting wearing his badge in the photo on the left.  (Click on any photo to see a larger image.)

Then on June 19th of this year, things opened up and Charlie with his big EME array, managed to decode several JA stations and to work JA7QVI.  The next day he hit the "Mother Lode" and worked 13 JA's.  The big antenna system was proving it's worth.  Then, another couple of JA contacts came the following day.

But, things were looking up for the rest of us as Tim, K8RRT, decoded 3 JA's and called some plus his signal was decoded in JAPAN!  This proved that those of us without the EME size array have a chance.

Finally, on June 29th, it happened!  THREE WVDXA members, W8TN, W8OI, and W8HC each worked JA stations on 6-M!  And on July 9th, TWO more WVDXA members, WB8CQV and KA8SYV both managed to score their first 6-M QSO's with Japan on 6-M.

So, in the space of 10 days, FIVE WVDXA members managed that most elusive of 6-M contacts - Japan!  Well, this placed Charlie in a dilemma.  To whom was he to pass the "Japan on 6-M" pin?  As usual, Charlie (a born problem solver), came up with the most elegant solution.  He had badges made for EVERYONE who worked Japan on 6-M!  In the photo on the right you can see three of the five recipients of those badges.  Charlie also planned ahead by having an additional 5 badges made for the next WVDXA members who make the contact!

To summarize, the WVDXA Summer Bash was a HUGE success!  No one left hungry and all had an amazing time.  Our THANKS to Roger and Becky for opening their home to the group and for all the work they did preparing the food and their home!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

April 2018 Meeting

On short notice, the WVDXA gathered together at the Golden Corral restaurant in Cross Lanes, WV, for one of our irregular meetings.  This meeting was to allow the members to view an exciting presentation by Hal, W8HC, on his recent DX'pedition to 3YØZ, Bouvet Island.  Since the date was picked quickly, we were at the mercy of the restaurant as to what times they had available.  The only slot left on Saturday, April 21, 2018, was from 11 a.m to 1 p.m.  But, even with those constrictions, we had a really good attendance.  Nineteen persons signed the attendance list and included: Clark, W8TN, Paul, WV8PR, Tim, K8RRT, Eric, K8OHZ, Marissa Mynes, Seth, W8FG, Charlie, N8RR, Karl, K8KT, Alan, W8OP, Lonny, WA8ZDL, Garry, W8OI, John, WB8CQV, Jonathan Jones, Janice Jones, Steve, WW8RT, Tom, AB8RL, Terry, AA8WZ, Hal, W8HC, and Terry, WV8V.  You can see a few of those attending in the photo at the right.  This was taken during Hal's presentation as everyone was paying apt attention to the screen.  Click on any photo to see a larger image.

The Golden Corral has a very nice meeting room which has doors that can be closed to keep the noise from the rest of the restaurant from being a distraction.  Plus, there are blinds on the outside windows which worked great to keep the sunlight from interfering with Hal's presentation.  A special thanks is due to Becky, KD8IZK, who provided the laptop projector and screen for the presentation.

Upon arriving the members picked their meals from the buffet and we arrived at that time when both breakfast and lunch foods were available.  While eating there was a great deal of interaction between club members.  This is one of the best aspects of the WVDXA meetings.  Lots of good information was shared at this time.

Just after noon, Clark, W8TN, presented the Treasurer's report on behalf of the Club Treasurer, Dave, WA8WV, who was unable to attend.  Once that piece of business was out of the way, he introduced our own internationally recognized WVDXA member and DX'peditioner Extraordinaire, Hal, W8HC!  Hal's presentation included slides and video/audio which detailed the planning and execution of the recent attempt to activate 3YØZ, Bouvet Island.  Bouvet is the second most needed country in the world and this was the most expensive DX'pedition ever mounted with a budget of $750,000. 

It was amazing to see the planning, preparation, staging, moving, traveling, training, and just flat-out effort these people engaged in for the sole purpose of activating a rare DX entity.  Hal gave us a peek into the "behind the scenes" activities which most folks are never aware of but which happen on nearly all DX'peditions.  Hal shared his insight and knowledge freely with the WVDXA and his presentation was very informative as well as entertaining.  Hal shared facts with those attending that were not made available to the regular ham community and the very real dangers faced by this group of intrepid DX'ers was staggering.  To travel to a location where there is simply NO OTHER LAND withing 1,000 miles puts you in a very lonely and dangerous place.  Then to have a failure of one of your two engines followed by a failure of the only spare replacement part, leaves a sinking feeling in the hearts of those involved.  The word used most often by members who attended to describe Hal's presentation was "AWESOME" and that is a fact!

Above, on the left, you can see a photo of one of the slides from the presentation which shows the DX'pedition members onboard the M/V Betanzos surrounding a Banner for the WVDXA.  In addition, all the members of the 3YØZ DX'pedition signed the WVDXA Flag and in the photo below, you can see Hal presenting that to WVDXA President, Clark, W8TN.
I expect that those who saw this presentation will be forever changed in how they view DX'pediitons in the future.  For that, the WVDXA gives a very big THANK YOU to Hal, W8HC.

Monday, December 4, 2017

December 2017 WVDXA Meeting

Who would have guessed that we could have a wonderful get together at the home of Jim, Mary and Hunter Adams?  Well, we did - AGAIN!  This meeting was scheduled on Sunday due to the fact that Jim, K4JWA, was working all available Saturdays.  With a nominal start time of 1 p.m., folks started arriving before 12:30 p.m. obviously anxious to take advantage of the camaraderie that always exists at these events.  When I arrived, Hunter, KD8SZF, met me in the driveway and directed me on where to park plus he carried in my items for the SwapFest.  The Adams' home was ready for the influx of hungry hams with tables set up, a laptop/projector/screen ready to go, and even the Christmas Tree was decorated.

Before the afternoon ended, we had a total of 27 in attendance: W8IW, Janice Poe, K8KT, W8TN, Evelyn Stewart, WV8FV, W8OM, K8YYY, W8HC, K8TW, W8OP, KA8SYV, Paula Wildi, WW8RT, K8ZDL, W8OIW, W8OI, Nancy Ritchie, K4JWA, KD8SZF, KD8IPW, WV8RC, KD8VNN, Connie Hardway, W8JA, Oleta Aeiker, and W4ER.  Unfortunately, 7 folks had to cancel their attendance due to colds and personal issues or we would have had 34 in attendance.  Only 16 folks are shown in the above photo because several had to leave early before we got around to taking the group photo.  Click on any photo to see a larger image.

Note that in the photo above, you can see our Brand New WVDXA Flag!  I was not scheduled to receive this flag until this coming Tuesday but it showed up late Saturday afternoon.  As produced, the flag only had 2 grommets so Evelyn quickly sewed a couple of backing strips to the corners without grommets and my grandsons, Owen & Grant, installed new grommets at those corners.  At the meeting, we presented the flag to Hal, W8HC, who will be one of the team on the 3YØZ DX'pedition to Bouvet Island.  He will take the flag to Bouvet where it will be hung in one of the tents and later signed by the team members!

The food at this meeting was outstanding!  We had pulled pork BBQ with buns for sandwiches, Cole slaw, potato salad, three kinds of brownies, chips, dips, Salsa, white Coconut cake, chocolate chip cookies, French Vanilla and Coconut Creme pies, shrimp cocktail, vegetable tray, iced tea, sodas, and water.  YUMMM!  Believe me, NO ONE left hungry!

We had three presentations at the meeting.  First, Hal, W8HC, showed a video of a helicopter circling Bouvet Island.  This video was just shot just a couple of months ago.  Team SubICE was there drilling the first ever ice core on Bouvet Island, as part of the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE.)  Here is the link to to that 6-minute video on YouTube:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zirAkuCK8Jw

Next, Karl, K8KT, and Clark, W8TN, gave a PowerPoint presentation on their trip to Sweetwater, TN, back in August to view the Total Solar Eclipse.  Karl showed a printed photograph of the "Diamond Ring" photo they captured.  See that photo on the right.

Last but not least, WVDXA member, John, W4ER, came from Mobile, AL, and gave a presentation on QRP/Portable operation.  John had a PowerPoint slide show with photos showing several of the places he has operated (43 states and, I think, 8 countries!)  He also brought a half dozen QRP radios that he has used over years and after showing them and describing their features, he passed them around for all to have a "Hands On" experience.  John is Jimmy, W8JA's, brother so with his visit here he was also able to bring their mom, Oleta, so she could be part of our meeting.

Below is the "No Dues" DUES REPORT submitted by the WVDXA Treasurer, Dave, WA8WV, who was not able to attend because of a cold:
Since starting this great group in 2003 we have collected $1800.00 more or less. Thought I would give you an idea of what our "NO DUES" DUES have covered:
-    Placed a brick in The ARRL Diamond Terrace as a memorial to Al, W8AH
-    Made FOUR donations of $100.00 each to Club Log.
-    Purchased W8AH QSL’s  ***Have a few for those who have not seen the cards.   
-    W8AH Incoming  Bureau expenses
-    Paid the W8AH licensing fees
-    Placed a WVDXA advertisement each year in the State ARRL Convention booklet
-    Paid for the WVDXA shirt setup expenses
-    Miscellaneous meeting and club expenses
-    Purchased the WVDXA Club Flag

Today the balance is $170.01
At today's meeting we collected $50 in donations to the WVDXA Club Treasury bringing the current balance up to $220.01 total.  Eight donations were also collected for the K1B (Baker and Howland Islands KH1) DX-pedition.  Roger, KD8BZY, who is collecting those donations was not able to attend so those donations will be forwarded to him.

After the presentations, a door prize drawing was held with W8OM and KD8IPW being the winners!  The door prizes were donated by Tim, K8RRT, who was unable to attend today's meeting because of work.

Finally, the SwapFest met with some success.  Jim, K4JWA, sold a few items (I bought some heatshrink and Evelyn bought a desktop organizer), plus I sold my West Mountain Speakers.  I'm not sure what other transactions may have taken place at the SwapFest but those who did buy or sell something should forward the appropriate "selling" and "buying" fees to Jim, K4JWA.  Yeah, I'm sure ya'll will do that, right?

From the comments that were posted on the WVDXA email reflector after the meeting, I think pretty much everyone had a FABULOUS time - as we always do.  This is such a great group to belong to that we should get some kind of award don't you think?

Saturday, July 29, 2017

WVDXA Fall "Hot Dog" Meeting

WOWZER!  Another fantastic WVDXA Meeting at the QTH of Frank, KA8SYV, and his wife, Paula.  Their hospitality was "second-to-none" and the food (oh, boy) the food was wonderful.  Several members were over-heard to mention they were attending WeightWatchers but I won't tell if those people exceeded their daily Point Count or not!

In the photo at the right (click on any photo to see a larger image) you can see Paula at work making the Hot Dogs and the Hot Dog Chili.  In addition there were Hot Dog buns, coleslaw, onions, mustard, ketchup, etc. plus two different versions of baked beans, potato salad, a vegetable and cheese plate, chips and HOT cheese dip, and I'm sure I'm forgetting even more goodies.

I did notice that Karl, K8KT, took a seat right at the end of the massive dessert table.  I didn't think anything about that until it was brought to my attention that when my XYL, Evelyn, was cutting the desserts, any broken or sub-standard pieces from those desserts were hand-fed by her to Karl.  NOW I understand why he took that seat!  You can see where Karl sat in the photo at the left as Evelyn is cutting the apple pie!

The WVDXA gained two New Members at today's event!  Amanda Ritchie, KN4EBF, and Zach Litteral, K8ZDL, both expressed interest in joining the group.  As per our rules (or lack of same) - BANG, ZOOM, they are both now members of the West Virginia DX Association.  You can see the two of them in the photo on the right.

The presentations at today's meeting were nothing short of Top Drawer!  Frank, KA8SYV, was up first with a PowerPoint presentation on the latest WSJT-X suite of digital programs especially featuring the very latest protocol, FT8. Frank's talk held everyone's firm attention and generated a great deal of questions and comments.  I am certain that he really piqued the interest of anyone there who had not already become a user of the FT8 digital mode.  After the meeting, Frank posted to the WVDXA reflector some NINE links that are what any new user of WSJT-X needs as references.

After the PowerPoint presentation, Frank yielded the floor to Hal, W8HC, who gave an extremely interesting "Show and Tell" about his upcoming DX'pedition to 3YØZ, Bouvet Island.  Hal showed off some of the cold weather gear he has had to purchase for this trip.  He let us see his parka, sleeping bag, boots, socks, outer-wear waterproof overalls, etc. and described more of the specialized equipment he will be taking with him on this trip.  He discussed many of the details of this dangerous trip to a most remote part of the planet and gave us several details that most of us probably never thought about.  Hal, W8HC, sincerely thanked the WVDXA for the substantial donation we made to the upcoming Bouvet Island DX'pedition and noted that the expenses were still in need of more funding.  Charlie, N8RR, was on-hand and is taking up another collection of donations for the DX'pedition.  He said he received several donations today.

After Hal's presentation, Frank, KA8SYV, had his radio and computer set up for an on-the-air demonstration of the FT8 digital mode.  Many folks gathered around the HUGE monitor to watch and ask Frank questions. There was much more information exchanged here than one could shake a stick at!  And, to make sure those folks were well-fueled for this information exchange, Paula left the dessert bar OPEN and many took advantage of her generosity.  Home-made apple pie made with WV apples, cakes, brownies of several persuasions, OH, I'm getting a Sugar Rush just typing this!

As is many times the case, ALL THREE of the ARRL Card Checkers for West Virginia were in attendance at today's meeting.  You can see in the image at the left, Dave, WA8WV, and Alan, W8OP, pouring over an application and checking the QSL cards.

In attendance at today's meeting were: Clark, W8TN & Evelyn, Eric, K8OHZ & harmonic, Lonny, WA8ZDL, Dave, WA8WV, Bob, W8OM, Gene, W8VZ, Charlie, N8RR, Frank, KA8SYV & Paula, Jerry, KD8UWF, Garry, W8OI, Amanda, KN4EBF, Zach, K8ZDL, Tim, K8RRT, Hal, W8HC, Fred, WV8FV, Rick, WV8RC, Larry, K8YYY, Steve, KD8VNN, Karl, K8KT, Tom K8TW, Adam, KE8GNM, Alan, W8OP, and Steve, WW8RT for a total of 26!

I should also note that Gene, W8VZ traveled from Moundsville, Alan, W8OP, from Fairmont, Larry, K8YYY, from Shinnston, and Tom, K8TW, from Pickerington (outside Columbus) for this event.  That's a lot of miles but DX is always worth the effort!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

WVDXA Continues to Support Clublog

At the May 2017 breakfast meeting, the WVDXA voted to send another $100 donation to ClubLog.  That money has been donated under the account of W8AH (the WVDXA Club Callsign.)  It now shows on the ClubLog page as you can see below and will be randomly displayed with other donors after every upload and expedition log search.  ($100 U.S. dollars is £74.6 British Pounds.)  This brings the total donations to Clublog by the WVDXA to $400 since 2013.

We received a nice Thank You email from the creator of Clublog in response to our donation:

    Hi Clark

    Thank you so much! Please do let your members know, once again, how much I appreciate this support from the club. I am delighted to be able to help the West Virginia DX Association with Club Log!

    vy 73
    Michael G7VJR

It is interesting to note that TWO other WVDXA members just made individual donations to Clublog within the last three days!  I'm sure there are others but these just happen to show on the same page as the WVDXA donation.

 

If you have uploaded your log to ClubLog but your call does not appear in the Leagues, it might be that it is "hidden" from the leagues.  This is usually due to being inactive for 12 months or more, but possibly by choice of the callsign's owner.  You can fix that by clicking HERE and following the instructions.

One other benefit of uploading your log regularly to ClubLog is that it provides a backup of the basic QSO information in your log.  If you should lose your computer (AND the backup you ARE making - right?) you can retrieve the basic info from ClubLog.  You will NOT get back things like Comments, Names, Notes, QSL info, etc. but you will get the basic date, time, band, mode, call and QSL status.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

May 2017 WVDXA Breakfast

Well, for a change, the WVDXA had a breakfast meeting.  Seth, W8FG, suggested that we do this prior to the Hamvention and his suggestion was positively accepted by some 15 members.  We met at 9:00 a.m. at Hardings Family Restaurant at the Mink Shoals Exit of I-79 and everyone stayed for almost 2 hours.

May 6, 2017, WVDXA Breakfast Meeting
Those attending (left to right in the above photo - click on the photo for a larger image) were Dave Ellis, WA8WV, Mary Ellis, David Poe, W8IW, Jan Poe, KC8BFF, Rick Cummings, WV8RC, Charlotte Cummings, Philip Groves, N8SFO, Frank Powell, KA8SYV, Seth Lavinder, W8FG, John Jones, WB8CQV, Becky Thompson, K8BT, Karl Thompson, K8KT, Steve Courts, K8JQ, Charlie Young, N8RR.  And, your scribe, W8TN, who was behind the camera.

Why most were not smiling might have been because the food had not yet arrived.  Why Mr. Ellis had his eyes closed - I don't know.  Maybe it was one of his short naps?

The group voted to again support Clublog with a $100 donation from the Treasury.  The Treasurer (Dave, WA8WV) immediately tendered to the President (Clark, W8TN) the $100 in CASH!  It's no wonder we made him Treasurer.  W8TN will take care of the Clublog donation.

A small flea market followed in the parking lot with Seth, W8FG, disposing of some surplus cables.  Absolutely NO ONE left hungry!  And, I do believe a good time was had by all!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Using HFTA for Site Evaluation - Part 3

This is the third and final installment of the article by Charlie, N8RR, on how to use HFTA software.

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Other HFTA Studies/Uses

Over the years since discovering HFTA, I have reviewed dozens of sites. 

WT8V:  Bart has many friends in the Middle East.  His large triband yagi at 60’ on a nice ridge-top site was consistently down in signal strength on 20M about 10 to 20 dB from WD8CCC to 9K2GS, with both running equivalent power.    This was much more than the gain differential between the antennas. 

An HFTA review of Bart’s site showed a significant degradation of the main lobe amplitude looking at 40 degrees, while the WD8CCC main lobe was the beneficiary of major terrain enhancement.   Ben, WD8CCC, has long had one of the outstanding beacon signals out of eastern North America. 

HFTA was used to identify the potential terrain factor that was impacting performance at WT8V, and to evaluate optional tower sites/antenna heights to  achieve better results.    It was necessary to move Bart’s new tower location 600’ west of the existing tower site to remove the terrain feature that was degrading performance from the signal path, but the new site worked.   Bart had the opportunity to do A versus B tests on 20M and the antenna performance on the new tower, especially to the Middle East area,  was far superior to the tribander, much more than could be accounted for by the antenna gain differential. 

The tower height was optimized for 20M, and later the tower was modified to optimize the height of a JK 404 Grande 4 element 40M monobander on Bart’s  narrow ridge top.   Bart considered stacking two of these JK antennas, but HFTA predicted a single antenna at 70’ on the optimized tower site would equal the stacks on the non-optimized tower site, the only place where such a tower could be guyed.  Currently, Bart just about owns 40M as can be heard by several You Tube videos from the ME and EU on the net.  Here is a recording of WT8V on 40M by 9K2GS.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSyZZ8PDjgs

K8KT:   My friend Karl K8KT has always wanted a huge 40/20M antenna array and decided to install one.  Karl, who lives in a beautiful WV hillside location, has the most challenging terrain we have encountered on an HFTA evaluation.   Truthfully, this was a case where the terrain was so severe, HFTA did not predict the results Karl got with his new antenna; HFTA understated  the performance.  The software did get one thing right, it said for any of Karl’s potential tower sites that were considered,  the higher the antenna the better.  All of the potential base sites were substantially below the surrounding hill tops and were actually located on the side of a hill.

A 150’ self-supporting tower was installed, with a JK 6 element 20M monobander at 160’ on top of the mast and a JK 404 Grande 40M monobander at 150’ on the mast bottom.  These antennas are high enough to see over top of the blocking ridges.  It is clear these antennas are performing at a high level, again based on the recordings of Karl’s signal that are available on the net.  Here is a recording of K8KT and WT8V on 20M in the Middle East.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIdc2JFSXuU

Karl’s case illustrates the difficulty of modeling the antenna performance in the presence of a severe up slope condition using HFTA.   In Karl’s case, heroic (and expensive) steps were taken to successfully mitigate a severe terrain issue.   HFTA did predict improving performance with height, but significantly understated how good the performance would be.   Not many folks are going to do what K8KT did to overcome a terrain situation.   

General Conclusions Regarding Terrain

HFTA is useful when you have irregular terrain features and options for deploying antennas.   It can be useful for minimizing negative terrain impacts or maximizing favorable terrain features, but only if you have options for placing the antenna. 

Here are some general statements which I believe are supported by experience and HFTA results. These factors can be considered when viewing a site and placing antennas, where there are any options.  Obviously, if there are no options, you make do with what you have.

Sloping Ground: Sloping ground toward the desired direction lowers the elevation angle of the main lobe and provides favorable DX performance in the down slope direction, compared to a flat land antenna at the same height.  This effect can be significant. 

If on a hilltop or plateau, the farther back on level ground from the cusp of the hill the antenna, the less the terrain advantage becomes, and the more height is required to maintain relative performance.  At some point it becomes like a flat land antenna.   The antenna really needs to "see" the down slope in the foreground. 

Any up slope in the terrain immediately in front of the antenna shifts the elevation pattern higher and degrades performance compared to a flat land antenna.  It does not take much up slope for HFTA to predict this performance shift. Generally, if facing a significant up slope in the desired direction, low angle performance can be significantly impacted on an HFTA model.  Going higher with the antenna can compensate somewhat, but cannot completely overcome the up slope degradation.   There is a possibility HFTA results may overstate the negative impact of the up slope in some cases.  See the K8KT discussion above.

If you are looking up hill in a direction, I think you can expect performance in that direction to be down compared to a terrain neutral direction and significantly down from a down slope direction in most cases.   With that said, you will still get out and make Q’s in an up slope direction. 

The optimum location for an antenna in a down slope situation in a given direction is  on the slope, perhaps just past the cusp of the hill.  W3CRA proved this by experimentation back in the 60's.  See "Station Design for DX", a four part article beginning in September 1966 QST.  http://www.rfcafe.com/references/qst/station-design-dx-september-1966-qst.htm
The link is for Part 1.  From the above site, you can link to the other three parts.

A very good description of W3CRA’s terrain situation, including an HFTA analysis, is provided by Bill Tippett, W4ZV here:    http://users.vnet.net/btippett/w3cra.htm

If the antenna can't be on the slope, or to minimize the uphill effect in the reverse direction, put it as close to the cusp of the hill as possible.   To get terrain enhancement, the antenna needs to illuminate the ground slope. 

Although HFTA does not do vertical polarization, my experience is that having a vertical over the down slope in the desired direction enhances performance.  My 4 x 160M inverted L antennas are positioned in each hill quadrant to take advantage of this effect. I usually see several dB of increased signal in the hill slope direction compared to the other antennas.   Sometimes this effect can be dramatic when switching transmit antennas.  

Regarding height over ground, generally higher is better over flat ground or in an up slope situation.  In a really favorable down slope situation, it is easy to be too high.  HFTA predicted this at my QTH.

In a favorable terrain situation, optimum height can be considerably lower than for a level ground installation.

On some hilltop sites, such as mine, stacking is not beneficial according to HFTA.    Due to the poor performance of the higher antenna, the overall performance of a stack is degraded.  On some of the other hilltop sites evaluated, such as WD8CCC, stacking 20M monobanders at 100’ and 50’ worked out.  However, HFTA shows the optimum height on 20M for the WD8CCC hilltop is 70’.  Coincidentally, Ben has a 4 element Steppir antenna on a 70’ tower.  HFTA predicts little if any difference between these two antenna systems, and Ben reports there is seldom any detectable difference in A versus B switching.     The steepness of the slope and the distance to other terrain features seem to determine whether stacking is beneficial or not. 

Overall, I think HFTA despite the limitations was a helpful tool to use for optimizing the antennas on my hilltop site.  In general terms, the antenna performance in the favorable directions is in agreement with HFTA predictionsAfter almost 8 years of DX chasing here, I also conclude the performance in the problem directions is better than the software predicted.  The 12 and 10 meter bands seem most affected in the HFTA models and also in real life compared to the other bands/directions, the difference being I have to wait longer for the prop to favor me, or wait longer in the pileups. When the propagation is marginal, is when the difference between a problem direction and an enhanced direction is most apparent.  I can live with the situation.   

The optimizing work is unfinished.  Several other improvements are planned.  Stay tuned!  73, Charlie, N8RR


Post written by: Charlie, N8RR

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Using HFTA for Site Evaluation - Part 2


We continue with Charlie, N8RR's, article about the use of the HFTA software.  We will publish this in three parts here on the WVDXA Blog.  
This is Part 2.

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How Accurate is HFTA?
In 2007, the answer to this question was unknown to me.  Having operated from hilly terrain for much of my radio career, I had some preconceived notions about some of the terrain effects and the results of the initial HFTA runs looked reasonable to me.  For example, the general positive effect of sloping hillside under an antenna was known to me; I had successfully placed antennas on hillsides for years to favor a desired direction.   The concept of a hilltop antenna being too high was also known; W8NR’s (SK) hilltop 20M monoband yagi was simply not competitive in a DX contest we once operated from his QTH.   Contrast that with observations from W8AH (SK) who had a dominant signal on all bands using antennas that were at modest heights compared to many other big gun stations.  Al Hix figured out long ago how to use the terrain to his advantage. 
The software author made no extravagant claims regarding the absolute accuracy of HTFA predictions.  The software performance in rugged complex terrain was also unknown.   In 2007, I thought HFTA would be useful for comparing antenna locations and heights in terms of gross results but that it could not be used to fine tune choices.  The author did not claim accuracy better than 3 dB.  HFTA was used to judge the gross performance differences between options.   If the software said one option was 2 or 3 dB better than another, I paid attention.   If results were within a dB or so, the result was treated as equal.  
It is now 2017 and many HFTA studies have been done for myself and others.  To verify software predictions, a considerable amount of on-site testing was performed. The software limitations are now better understood.  Overall, HFTA is a useful tool if one has options for placing antennas.   It can also be used to evaluate the gross effect of stacking antennas on existing towers.  Depending on the terrain, stacking antennas does not always do what you would expect. 
Limitations

All computer models are simulations.  The modeling results are only as good as the underlying assumptions and the accuracy of the data input. 
The earth and terrain, especially in front of the antenna, are an integral part of the antenna system.  The main elevation lobe is formed by a combination of the direct ray with the earth reflections from below and in front of the antenna.   The earth reflections reinforce or cancel the main ray depending on the phase relationship.  Standard models show the development of the main lobe over level ground.   If the earth around and in front of the antenna is not flat, the elevation angle and amplitude of the main lobe can be drastically different from the flat earth case. 
The terrain data used by HFTA to calculate the main lobe amplitude and elevation is an approximation.   The software looks straight ahead to points on a given azimuth line, out to about 14,000 feet from the tower base.  The data file for each radial fan consists of a series of 147 spots, each representing distance from the tower and elevation at the spot.  It is these point elevations where the real variability can occur, because they are derived from USGS data which is based on fairly wide intervals.   For example, most elevation contours are on 10 meter intervals and some still use 30 meter intervals.  
The electronic USGS elevation for my tower base was off by 20’ on the low side in the initial runs. The problem was discovered and a new USGS file was obtained with correct data.    Comparing the HFTA results between the two runs, the numbers are significantly different but the general conclusions reached about options were unchanged. 
HFTA can never predict an exact gain or an exact elevation angle, if all else is perfect with the software.   Given the terrain accuracy limitations, HFTA does a good job of predicting performance differences between antenna options in gross terms.   Don’t expect to use it for fine tuning antennas that are within a dB or so of each other. 
The software uses elevation angle statistics calculated by VOACAP for an entire solar cycle on a given band from your general geographic area to a specific target area.  HFTA uses these elevation statistics, which indicate what percent of the time a signal arrives at a given elevation angle, and compares this info to your elevation plot, generating a relative performance rating called Figure of Merit, expressed in dB.   The software will tell you which antenna option will work the best, on average, to a target area (such as EU).  These are approximate because of the terrain limitation AND the elevation statistics are an estimation. The FOM rating is interesting and useful for gross comparison, but I prefer to look at the actual elevation plot.  
What I like to see is a high gain elevation lobe, at as low of an angle as possible.   What one sees in a positive terrain enhancement situation is a substantial portion of the main lobe that falls in elevation below the main lobe of a flatland antenna.  My point of view is that of a DXer, not a contester, who may have other preferences for elevation angle.
There are other limitations which may introduce variability in the results.  The software is looking straight ahead on a line of points.  The antenna is illuminating the ground in a broad swatch.   Terrain behind and to the side of the antenna is not considered.  The software would become overly complex if these other terrain factors were considered. 
When evaluating stacked antennas, the software author N6BV cautions the antenna spacing must be at least ½ wavelength. If closer spacing is used, HFTA will give an inaccurate (inflated) result. 
The most complex part of HFTA was obtaining the electronic terrain file needed to draw the radial fans.  An electronic Digital Elevation Model (DEM) was downloaded for the quadrangle in which the QTH was located.   Microdem, a mapping program that came with HFTA, was used with the USGS DEM to plot an approximate 14,000’ long radial (also called fan) every 5 degrees around the compass rose. 
Using HFTA in 2017 is easier because the process of generating the radial fans has been automated by K6TU.  All that is needed is to enter a set of coordinates on K6TU’s site and within minutes the resulting radial fans will be emailed as a Zip file.  Microdem is no longer needed by the end user and it is not necessary to know the name of your USGS quadrangle.  The K6TU files generate radials in 1 degree increments.  What once was complex is now simple.  This service is free but one needs to register.   http://k6tu.net/
Sample Charts
There was good news and bad news at N8RR.  The good news was that some of the prime directions were predicted to have significant terrain enhancement.  Additional good news was that optimum height for the good directions was fairly low.  I would not need to deploy the stacks as planned.   The bad news was that some directions have negative terrain consequences, worse than a flat land antenna.  In the bad directions, there was nothing practical that could be done to overcome the terrain, including going higher or stacking.   
Based on the initial review, the site would be an excellent location for DXing in some prime directions.  In other directions, it would be average, and in a few it would be at a competitive disadvantage to a flat land station.  
===== Note: Click on any image to see it larger. =====
20 Meters - 45 Degree Azimuth - Stacked C31XR Antennas

There is NO significant improvement to EU predicted on 20M for the stack over a single lower antenna.  It turns out 56’ is about the optimum height on this tower site for 20M.   The single 56’ high antenna was expected to be a great performer to EU on 20M, outperforming the same antenna at 75’ on flat ground by 2.2 dB Figure of Merit (FOM).  The feature I like to see is the shift of the elevation curve favoring lower angles compared to the flat land antenna. 
The next graph shows what the predicted 10M performance of the original stack concept would have been at 100’ and 50’, the performance at 56’ for a single antenna, and the performance of the 10M antenna at 25’:

For purposes of this comparison, a 3 element antenna was used, although the C31XR has 7 elements on 10M.  Note the stack was only 1 dB better FOM than the single antenna at 56’ although the low angle performance was significantly better for the stack. The FOM for both of these options was significantly worse than for a 10M antenna at 25’ on this tower.  The low angle performance of the low antenna was roughly comparable to the 100’/50’ stack.   HFTA was indicating the 10M antenna needed to be lower on this hilltop tower.    The 15M comparison was similar to 10M.  

TERRAIN FACTORS AT N8RR CAUSING ENHANCEMENT OR DEGRADATION
Here is a terrain profile which results in enhancement compared to a flatland antenna, 45 degrees toward EU from the 56’ Rohn 45G tower: 

Note the vertical scale is drastically compressed compared to the horizontal scale, which exaggerates the terrain features.  It is not as bad as it looks!   The dominant feature which creates positive enhancement to low angle radiation is the steep drop in elevation immediately under the antenna.  The situation is not as good as it could be because of the approximate 825’ ASL parallel hill at about 1500’ in front of the antenna and in particular the higher 1,020’ hill about 4,000’ out.  The later terrain feature impinges on the lowest angles and is close enough to detract somewhat from the performance.   As the antenna turns clockwise from 45 degrees toward the east, this particular ridge feature moves closer to the antenna and progressively blocks the lower angles, until at about 90 degrees azimuth the performance is seriously degraded.  On the other hand, as the antenna turns north from 45 degrees, the major blocking ridge moves out of the field and the low angle performance recovers.   Here is the 90 degree terrain profile:

Again, this looks worse than it is because of the compressed vertical scale. However, it is bad enough, and all HFTA predictions looking east show significant degradation compared to a flatland antenna. 

The above chart shows the blockage of low angle signals to Africa at 90’ with the 56’ high antenna (blue line).  The red line shows a 100’ high antenna would be significantly worse than the lower antenna.  The light blue line shows a 100’ antenna on flat ground.  This chart illustrates what terrain degradation looks like.
If we turn toward the north from 45 degrees, the story changes.  Here is a look at 10 degrees:

Higher terrain features are out over a mile from the antenna.  This is far enough to avoid degradation compared to a flatlander and preserve the enhancement from the steep ground slope under the antenna. 
Here is the chart for the C31XR at 56’ looking toward Asia at 10 degrees azimuth, compared to a flatlander at 100’:

Note the big elevation lobe peaking to the left of the flatland elevation lobe.  The low antenna on the hilltop should dominate the 100’ antenna on flat ground.   The FOM, for what it is worth, is 4.5 dB higher for the hilltop antenna.  This is what a favorable terrain situation looks like.

***** This description of HFTA will be finalized in Part 3 *****

Post written by: Charlie, N8RR