09 January 2022

Pandemic Radio

I'll likely expand on this topic in a later post, but I think it's important (and hopefully interesting) enough to do an initial report on.

Greetings from COVID land

A week ago I got a call that my sister, who lives by herself in Philadelphia, had been hospitalized with COVID-related pneumonia. She wasn't doing good. At all. She has very complicated underlying medical conditions that make her a prime target for any respiratory ailment, and Omicron hit her hard. As I headed to the hospital all I knew was that she was in a step-down ICU COVID ward and not doing well. Thank you, you CHICOM bastards.

I knew my trip would be open-ended; I could be there for days, or weeks. I packed a laptop so I could get work done, enough clothes to last me a week, then took a pause. This would not be my first trip to Philly in response to my sister's health issues. I knew that between hospital visits, doing what work I could remotely, and regular household chores around her apartment, there would be a lot of down time. I thought about bringing along a ham radio. I didn't want to schlepp it through TSA security, answering endless questions from clueless TSA 'professionals' (who, in ATL, are anything but...), so I knew it would have to go into my checked baggage. But could I fit an HF station (radio, battery, tuner, antenna, cables) into my one checked bag?

Everything had to fit into one checked bag...

Yes. This is another area where the tiny Elecraft KX2 absolutely shines. A KX2 with an internal tuner and batteries (two of them), a 20 - 40 meter vertical whip, an end fed half wave wire antenna, a counterpoise wire and 20' of ultra-thin 50 ohm coax fit nicely into a small carry bag that, with enough squeezing, fit into my checked bag. The radio had enough padding around it that I didn't worry about rough handling. I was really more concerned about a baggage handling monkey opening up my bag and saying "Oooh, this looks interesting". Yes, it does happen.

Everything arrived in Philly just fine. I dropped my bag off at my sister's apartment and headed to the hospital. It was rough, but she eventually pulled through and was sent home a few days after I arrived. Her care requirements, my work requirements and just the stuff of daily life - grocery shopping, doing laundry, preparing meals, etc. - meant I only got one chance to operate. My sister's apartment is actually a condominium in a high rise that was built in the 60's very close to Independence Hall. The 31st floor is a large community/party room that opens to a sun porch. The sun porch area was closed for the season, and it would have been too cold to operate in the open anyway. So I set up in the community room and had the place all to myself for an hour or so.

Conditions were tough. More accurately, my conditions were tough. Five watts, a compromised vertical antenna, inside a steel reinforced concrete structure, with hurricane-proof windows that only opened to the south, and shielded by metallic blinds. I was lucky to make the one contact I did - the USS New Jersey Battleship Museum's ham radio station, NJ2BB. The ship was just across the river from me, in Camden NJ, operating 800 watts into the ship's iconic bow mounted discone antenna. 

The USS New Jersey's iconic bow-mounted discone antenna.
This antenna was fitted to all Iowa-class battleships during their 1960's
refits for fire support service off the Vietnam coast

It may seem silly to put the antenna just in front of the guns, but the big 16" guns
never fire directly forward. They always fire to the side. The antenna is actually in a very
safe location

At 800 watts you can bet I heard him just fine. To my surprise, he heard me just fine on 5 watts! We had a lovely QSO, and I bagged a contact with one of my favorite museum ships. I heard a few other stations on 20 meters, but virtually nothing on 40, and I copied the daily 10-10 net on 10 meters but didn't try to check in. 

I'm happy with just that one contact. Why? Well, it proofed a concept. I can travel by air and carry along a complete and effective station that fits into a checked bag. I plan on visiting my sister again in April, when the sun deck will be open, and I plan to have my Elecraft along. I'm excited to see just how well I can do with a 20 & 40 meter vertical at 400 feet above ground level, in the open air. Stay tuned!

W8BYH out

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