October 2020: Restart in difficult times

After Helmut DK8SG died last year we did not only lose a good friend and great radio amateur, but also the owner and driver of our van and a lot of the equipment we usually use for the DR9A activities. After a couple of meetings we decided to nevertheless try and engage again in the contest business. Some preparations were already done during the winter and we discussed with the new owners of the equipment how we can use it in the future. Then came Corona…

During summer the situation in Germany and the rest of Europe was a lot better than in spring, so we decided to give it a try. Alex DL2GWZ not only is a specialist for microwave QSOs but also happens to have a valid driver’s license for trucks >7.5 t. So we managed to get the van to the mandatory main inspection in July - after we managed to loosen the clutch that got stuck after almost two years and one hour of pumping up the tires. It was decided that the October UHF/SHF contest was our only option, as the September VHF contest would have required too much work on the 2m equipment that was always maintained by Helmut mostly alone in the past. Stefan DL2OCB, Jens DF5HC and Alexander DL8AAU worked hard to get the new surplus watercooled 70cm SSPA running - in the hope to do the first ever contest without tube amplifiers. Many small problems, but the amplifier finally sort of worked on the weekend just before the event. Unfortunately no 6 and 9cm due to lack of time preparing and 24 GHz had again a defect - this time with the transmitter: only a few mW available, but at least the RX worked as expected.

Expecting many of these small problems we decided to start on Thursday already with driving to Hohloh with the van and starting with the 70cm antennas. We had a slow start unfortunately as the battery of the van was flat somehow and we exhausted two battery jumper cables trying to get the engine running. A 6l Diesel from 1965 is a different beast than your average modern engine… Now we know that there are special cables with higher ratings especially for vans.

But despite the delay and some trouble with the new way to install the 70cm antennas and of course our lack of experience with the hydraulics of the mast, Alex DL2GWZ, Helmut DB1TP, Henning DF9IC, Martin DL5NAH, Stefan DL2OCB, Alex DL8AAU and Martin DL4ZX and later Dirk DL2EAA not only managed to get the 70cm antenna up, but also the 23cm antenna until it was too dark to continue. We had mostly rather good weather with just a bit of rain.

Friday was also pretty productive, Jens DF5HC joined us, Alex DL2GWZ wanted to rejoin on Sunday. We had some trouble to get the van levelled (and did not really succeed in hindsight) and installing all the bits and pieces of the 1.6m and 1m dishes for 13cm and 10/24 GHz takes ages. But we manage to have everything in place in the late afternoon. Unfortunately the wind was already getting pretty strong and we did not manage to pull up the mast to full length: at some point the wind was pulling so strong that one section of the mast jammed in the joint. We decided not to push any further, pulled back the mast into place with the guy-wires and fixed them. Probably a wise decision given the strong winds expected on Sunday night.

Due to the new way to mount the 70cm and 23cm Yagis, we finally had the antennas above the trees again, but microwave and the Quados were pretty low

Saturday passed with preparation for the contest. Vodafone installed LTE locally on the Hohloh, so finally we have no problem with internet access anymore - but of course we also had our stable Wifi link to Herbert DK8IP nicely as in previous years, thanks again for providing it! We started in time and especially on 70cm activity was very strong (112 QSOs in the first hour is very good for our QTH), but as on 23cm the average distance was low: many people who usually would have been QRV from their contest sites chose to stay at home. Despite some scattered rain there was no real rain scatter - Dirk tried and did not find anything useful. 13cm was ok, not more. We saw on the livescore that we were in lead on 70cm and 23cm - but not with a lot of margin - and behind on the other bands. Slowly the average distance improved and on 23cm the first skeds kicked in. Far less planes available as usual but still not as bad as we thought. 9A2SB on 23cm this time in SSB(!) on a nice plane. Shortly after on 13cm, too. CW, but loud enough for an easy copy.

The early morning shift left on the early evening to get some sleep, Suad DK6XZ came for the night shift on 70cm. After 01:00 the wind got stronger and stronger and got our antennas dancing in the wind. We really feared that they would break - wind peaked at over 80km/h at 4h in the morning!

Frustrated as the QSO rates dropped (no planes anymore), strong wind threatening the mast and antennas and tired after many hours of operation, we asked our friends from Schneekopf DL0GTH for QSOs on all bands. They were very strong on 10 GHz, so we asked them for 24 GHz. Of course we did not expect to see more than some scattered traces on the waterfall - after all it is 279 km and NLOS. But against all odds, we could copy a very strong signal from them, way above S9! We contacted them again on 13cm to ask them to listen for our broken TX (20mW) - and to our surprise they could copy our faint signal, too. So we spent the next 10 min to repeat our data for DL0GTH and finally made it. Of course our ODX on this band! No idea yet, what propagation mode this was, probably some rain scatter, although there was only some rain clouds over Frankfurt, not really on the path directly.

DL0GTH booming on 24 GHz:

The next morning was ok on 70cm, but 23cm was struggling: the Yagi group to the east was moving inside the rotator, so we could not control it anymore. The Yagis to the west work to 150° only, so no S5, 9A and of course no OK/OM anymore. DL0GTH and OK4C overtook us in livescore. 13cm also died: somehow, when we tried to transmit, the telemetry would die. Not clear at all what was causing this. So only 70cm and 10 GHz left.

The wind slowly weakened in the morning, allowing us to go to Hohloh tower and try 24/47/76 GHz. We finished QSOs with DL0LB and Walter DL6SAQ on all bands. DL7QY proved to be too weak - he was loud, but has far more power. DR5T and Konrad DL6GCK worked well - NLOS, so lots of QSB, but not a big problem. Of course it would have been easier from the mast-installed 24 GHz TRX, but 20mW would not have been enough for sure. Ewald DK2DB went into the log on 24 and this time also on 47 GHz - not a big distance, but NLOS.

We could “defend” the lead on 70cm until the end of the contest, but had no chance to beat DL0GTH on the other bands.

Helmut and Alex came for de-installing. As so many people were helping, we managed get everything done by 20:00 already, only 4h compared to the two days it took to get everything installed…

We are very happy that we managed to successfully participate in the contest. The new 70cm SSPA proved to be a solid worker, the water cooling is far easier to handle than we thought.

From left to right: Henning DF9IC, Martin DL4ZX, Alexander DL8AAU, Stefan DL2OCB, Helmut DB1TP, Dirk DL2EAA, Martin DL5NAH, Jens DF5HC, Alexander DL2GWZ

Raw results:

432 632 2 90 219447 347.2 HA6W 895km
1296 187 3 53 58513 312.9 G3R 877km
2320 34 1 21 12209 359.1 9A2SB 846km
10G 30 0 16 6893 229.8 OE5VRL/5 437km
24G 9 0 4 907 100.8 DL0GTH 279km
47G 3 0 1 189 63.0 DL6SAQ/p 98km
76G 2 0 1 160 80.0 DL6SAQ/p 98km

1296 MHz:
2320 MHz:
10 GHz:
24 GHz:
47 GHz:
76 GHz: