On Saturday this past weekend I did so many ham radio activities I had to split them across two blog posts. Yesterday I wrote about the 17 foot antenna I installed on top of my house. Today, I’ll regale you with tales from Field Day 2008.
Field Day is an annual 24-hour North American amateur radio event running from 2pm on Saturday to 2pm on Sunday. Amateur radio clubs and operators all across the nation set up stations off the grid as an emergency preparedness exercise and public outreach event. Contesting is a large part of it, with the goal being to make confirmed contacts with as many other Field Day stations as possible. So after finishing setting up our own antenna, and after grabbing a quick bite for dinner, my dad and I headed over to Montgomery Amateur Radio Club’s (W3EXP) Field Day location at the Montgomery College campus in Germantown, Maryland.
The Field Day setup was quite impressive. Antennas were everywhere. Many temporary masts, some guyed, some not, filled two different parking lots, a gravel area, and a field. Longwire antennas were strung between trees and in giant inverted-Vs off masts. Altogether the setup had eight separate antenna systems and at least fifteen towers/masts. Two gasoline generators provided electricity for all of the equipment. Three separate rental vans were set up as operating stations, with the radio stations inside of them shielded from the weather (they had a bad experience last year with the weather).
When we arrived, W3TDH was still working on setting up a 20m Yagi on a 50′ crank-up military mast made of aircraft-grade aluminum left over from the Korean War. Unfortunately, we never got that antenna up, because about an hour before dark a vicious thunderstorm blew in. Luckily, being at a ham radio station is about the best place to be when inclement weather is coming in, because everyone was kept apprised with up-to-the-minute weather information using the club’s repeater (it seemed like everyone there had a handheld VHF radio). I was also getting weather reports off the National Weather Service’s channels and the Blumont, Virginia ham radio repeater (147.300), which runs a SkyWarn net during inclement weather. As the storm came in, we shut off the transceivers and most of us headed into the nearest building on Montgomery College’s campus.
However, before I started to go inside, I had the immense “pleasure” of watching two guyed masts come down in the gale-force winds just forty feet away from me. Apparently they had been put up with only two guyed tiers (against W3TDH’s recommendation to use all three), and they came down quite quickly in the high-speed winds. It was a sight to see. The bottom sections of the masts, which were not secured to the ground, blew sideways, either coming undone from their locking joints or snapping right off. Then the entire masts toppled over sideways, straining against their guy anchors, many of which came ripping right out of the ground. Guy wires flew menacingly across the darkening sky. I was very fortunate not to be downwind of the masts when they blew over, because I was closer to them than they were tall. After this, I dithered no further outside.
After weathering out the storm inside the Science Building at Montgomery College until it was merely raining, we emerged to survey the extent of the damage. Those two masts were the only things that were damaged by the storm. Everything else survived just fine. Unfortunately in the meantime darkness had descended, and making progress on putting up that 20m Yagi became nearly impossible. Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »