Even after five decades of contesting, there is always something new to
try. My first attempt at remote operation turned out to be an amazing and unique
adventure. My tale below is rather long - there were so many twists and turns.
First a few words about HH2AA, a station that has been on the Remote Ham Radio
(RHR) network for a few years. This is a proof of concept project supported by
RHR in cooperation with the Radio Club of Haiti. All proceeds
from station rentals are returned to the people of Haiti through donations to
the Haiti Air Ambulance Service organization -
. The station is a test platform used to try
out off shore construction and operation techniques. It is located on a
mountain at 6,300 feet ASL near Port-au-Prince, Haiti, solar powered, and
remotely controlled using proprietary RHR software.
Station assets include an
Elecraft K3 running up to 100w, a Cushcraft A3
tribander fixed NW (USA/JA), a Cushcraft A4 fixed NE (EU), and a 160M OCF wire
antenna. All antennas are mounted on a Rohn 45G 80 foot tower. A rotatable
mulit-band antenna is planned in coming months. There is fiberoptic internet
service to the site. All HH2AA contacts are uploaded to LOTW almost immediately and QSL
cards can requested from NR6M. The grid square is FK38uk.
Pictures and additional information about the station can be found at these URLs:
I sincerely thank the owners of RHR for providing this unique opportunity to
test drive HH2AA during the 2018 ARRL DX Phone contest. The
original plan was to set the station up at the site of my own future 'remote'
KU2C/3 in Finland, PA. As you will read below adapting to rapidly changing
circumstances can be an important part of this game we call contesting.
Timeline of Events Leading Up to Operating HH2AA:
Tuesday 2/21 Received the green light from RHR to use HH2AA during the ARRLDX
Wednesday 2/22 Determined my 15 year old Dell laptop lacks the necessary
horsepower to handle the task.
Saturday 2/24 KU2C comes up with a more powerful laptop and extra monitor
Tuesday 2/27 Lee, WW2DX at RHR and Pete, KU2C run proof of concept tests -
Thursday 3/1 Set station up at KU2C's QTH using my K3S. Test several
microphones. Dial in the VOX settings. Integrate Win-Test.
Everything is ready to go! My K3S and Win-Test control the K3
at HH2AA perfectly. Make 100 contacts to get the feel for remote
operation. Leave KU2C that evening feeling totally upbeat.
Friday 3/2 10:30 a.m. Impact of a predicted major coastal storm begins
to be felt by mid-morning. Snow and high winds start to make
travel by automobile difficult.
3/2 11:59 a.m. KU2C sends a text to tell me he's lost commercial
power due to downed trees. Estimated time to repair unknown
(repairs were not made until late Sunday afternoon).
Concurrently, while on the FRC Slack Chat Channel, developed
a Plan B - I'll travel the 37 miles to KU2C, pick up station,
and relocate to K3WW who has emergency power and internet.
3/2 2:30 p.m. Set off on the trek to KU2C/3 allowing several extra
hours for possible travel difficulties. My projected ETA is
3/2 5:35 p.m. Lee at RHR calls to tell me connectivity to HH2AA has
been lost. It is a local Internet Service Provider (ISP) problem
on Haiti. Tech will visit site in the morning. We discuss
possible operation using another RHR site within FRC club
territory until fate of HH2AA is known.
3/2 6:30 p.m. Have now been on the road for four hours and advanced
just 25 miles. Have seen over a dozen cars and school buses
off the road, many snapped utility poles, downed power
lines, uprooted trees, experienced blizzard whiteout conditions,
and most importantly have yet to find a plowed or treated road
surface. Traffic is at a total standstill in the area
of Perkesie, PA. Routes 313 and 113 are parking lots.
3/2 6:40 to 7:10 p.m. Take refuge in a restaurant and have dinner.
Nothing is going well as you can tell.
3/2 7:15 p.m. Back on the road. Finally find a way to get beyond a
major hill that has prevented me from reaching KU2C, only to be
detoured again twice by downed trees and wires.
3/2 9:30 p.m. After seven hours finally reach KU2C in Finland, PA.
We load the station into my car and I set off for K3WW.
Immediately encounter another blocked road - tree down.
Will this horror show ever end?
3/2 10:25 p.m. Reach K3WW. Driveway is blocked by nearly
three feet of piled up snow. Call RHR. All NY stations are now
off the network due to storm related problems (no power,
no internet, etc.) Decide to drive home to NJ. You can't
fight mother nature.
3/2 11:55 p.m. Arrive home after over 9+ hours of travel. Road
conditions magically improved as I crossed the bridge between PA
into NJ. Contemplate what to do in the morning.
Saturday 3/3 9:00 a.m. Talk to Lee at RHR. Technician has been dispatched
by ISP to diagnose problem. ETA on-site is unknown. No guarantee
internet service will be restored. Consider going to the W2CG
M2. Set the station up (laptop and K3) on the dining room table
"just in case" connectivity is restored.
3/3 2:00 p.m. Lee calls from RHR. HH2AA is back up on the network.
EUREKA! We run through the setup procedure and quickly discover
the ISP technician had mistakenly reset a critical
on-site RHR router that was configured to provide external rig
control and logging program support. No way to resolve
this problem until Monday.
3/3 2:20 p.m. The only option left - use the basic RHR functionality
regularly available on their station control page which provides
antenna selection, band and mode selection, PTT, basic frequency
control and tuning, output power monitor, a beta version voice
keyer, and a basic logging program.
3/3 2:22 p.m. I weight my options and immediately decide I'll go
forward with the operation. Being DX is far more fun than
being a W2 during this event.
3/3 2:29 p.m. Began operating on 21.420. Called CQ just once.
pileup - the power of being a needed multiplier is immediately
The Operating Experience
Starting a contest nearly 20 hours late dictates some mental adjustment and
recalculation of goals. I'd missed the entire first night (80 and 40 meter
prime time) and most of the best running hours on 15M the first day. Came to
the conclusion the best score I could hope for would be achieved by simply
running on the band with the best rate and not worrying at all about
(hoping they would find me). Besides, without contest logging software I was
operating "blind" with no idea of what multipliers were needed on a
band or how many contacts I might have on any band at any point in time. No
contest software also meant no access to Super Check Partial to confirm call
signs. At least I wouldn't be manual logging. :-)
It took a few hours to get comfortable operating without what over the years
have become basic tools. I was probably bothered most by not having VOX. Have
never been a foot switch guy and having to manually press the CTRL button (PTT)
on thekeyboard for every transmission took some adjustment. The other thing I
probably missed most was not being able to move between log entry fields by
pressing the space bar key ... something I've done for over forty years using
CT, NA, Win-Test and other loggers. It took several hours to automatically press
'Tab' key after entering a call ... but it took concentration! Later on into
the contest having to enter report data for EVERY contact (no report pre-fills
after working a station on another band) became rather tedious.
Being the only station active from Haiti certainly attracted a crowd. It's
probably been a decade or more since I've had Aruba all to myself in a major
contest. I knew what to expect and was prepared for the massive initial
response. This was one of the reasons I decided to proceed with the operation
even with a somewhat limited tool set... I'm a rate junkie at heart and the
prospect of big pileups was terribly appealing!
Needless to say I was not disappointed. The first five hours on 20M Saturday
afternoon were consistent 150 hours ... the adrenaline rush was spectacular.
Then as I transitioned to 40M and then 80M the pileups continued to be
impressive considering I'm running just 100 watts to a 160M OCF wire through an
auto tuner. It was heaven!
The only serious shortcoming of the station is the noise from the solar
system which covers 160 meters with S9 garbage. The RHR guys think they have
a fix but it will have to wait until their next visit. On CW this racket is
less disruptive when using narrow filtering. Only K3WW made it through on Top
Band in a 'move' QSO from 80M. I tuned a few times, thought I heard K3LR and
CQing, but never well enough to attempt a QSO.
The Sunday morning sunrise run on 80 and then 40 was better than I had expected
but then the morning doldrums set in. Both 20 and 15 opened to EU from the US
which forced those of us to the south to take a back seat. The rate dropped
like a rock - 20 an hour was the norm until about 1800 when the floodgates
on 15M, yielding an exciting 177 hour - my best of the contest.
I set up a cluster window on a 2nd laptop during the slow period Sunday morning
and watched ten meter call outs all day. Never saw a single spot for the HI8
KP4 guys so had low expectations for an opening but kept trying some CQs from
time to time each hour. There simply was never propagation from HH to the US -
disappointing to say the least.
So what about the internet latency issue? To tell you the truth it was rarely
noticeable. At times the internet would burp or my laptop would become over
burdened and slow down, but this never stopped me from making contacts.
Sometimes I'd simply hit a key that I shouldn't have on the keyboard and I'd
up disconnected and would need to restart. But in general, I found remote
operation very easy and not all that different than the real thing. Using PTT,
I had to be somewhat careful not to let up on the CTRL button too soon,
otherwise the final "A" in HH2AA would get cut off (suspect if I had
VOX working correctly
this would have been a non-issue). No one complained that my audio was
unintelligible at any point. And probably most important of all I felt LOUD
of the time. The HH2AA location is a winner.
When the bell rang at 2359 UTC I had absolutely no idea how I'd done in my 23
hours of on time. The RHR logger doesn't have a contact counter so the total
number of QSOs logged was unknown. Monday morning Lee at RHR sent me a file of
ADIF contact records. It was apparent there were almost 2,500 contacts but
work was needed to create a log in valid Cabrillo format. During the contest
I'd mistakenly entered report data in the wrong log entry field for about 400
contacts near the start, and without an edit check, throughout the weekend at
least 50 section abbreviations were entered wrong but still accepted. These
minor things really, but time consuming to fix manually. I used a freeware
converter to migrate from ADIF to Cabrillo format records. Fellow FRCer KE2D
helped me correct some record format errors. Finally by late Monday evening,
(early Tuesday morning), I had a log file I could load on Win-Test and obtain
statistics. As expected 20M was my big band but I was impressed by the 40 meter
multiplier total given the limited time spent there. I can't help but wonder
what the score could have been if the original setup that had worked so well
Thursday afternoon were available all weekend.
Bottom line, to me the HH2AA remote operation was an unqualified success despite
the 19 hour delayed start and not having basic accessories. I'd love to do it
again. Thanks RHR for this opportunity and for your first class support every
step of the way!
John, W2GD aka P40W/P44W