FSQ: Digital Field Day on the Baltic 2017

I can’t even begin to tell you all what a magnificent time I had at Digital Field Day 24 June 2017. I guess from the outside looking in, everyday is field day at 65°N, but this time was a little different. This time, rather than the ARRL contest format, my goal was focused on comms preparedness, establishing Communications with two specific stations. One in southern Norway, the other one in Netherlands, (LB9YH & PE4BAS). The mode was FSQ, and the goal ( from my perspective) was to establish some effective low power data comms, between our three stations, “from the field”.

A coupke of shoutouts
First of all I need to reach out to flexsolarcells.com who got the PowerFilm F15-1200 to me in time for this test run, and before the larger deployment up north. It’s a very basic website, but their customer service is second to none!

Second Bas PE4BAS has also written a blog about our field day experimentation. You can find it here

Adding a little more detail to my goals, I needed to test the new much more portable gear that I’m now using, before the big 3 day deployment up north (very far north) coming up. Much of this gear is new to me but more importantly, the way I operate had to change to accommodate the much more portable operating style. You often hear me talk about maximizing capability but minimizing gear. Well putting this methodology in practice is in part, what this digital field day was all about. I’m just lucky to have had a couple of operators willing to give their time to help me in the field.

Here’s a breakdown of the goals

  • Testing FSQ for Effective low-power data Communications in the field. This is much different than the random chance contacts we normally do in amateur radio, since my focus was on two unique stations. FSQ is less of a mode and more of a system incorporating functionalities that we normally associate with individual modes respectively. FSQ gives us the ability to bounce our signals off of strong stations, chat with one or more stations simultaneously, send files or images to one or more stations , …
  • Testing the PowerFilm F15-1200 to ensure it could keep the Genasun GV-5 happy, not only during beautiful sunny days, but also during overcast, low-level light, or less than optimal conditions. 
  • Testing the Genasun GV-5 with a 4s LiFePO4 packs. Its job was to keep the 4S lithium iron phosphate packs happy (individually of course).  It also had the thankless job of regulating the voltage between the solar panel, battery pack then out to my Yaesu ft-817nd and laptop.
  • Testing the effectiveness of the Chameleon P-LOOP 2.0 with the Booster kit. This was a critical component in the field deployed system. I wanted to ensure that the magnetic loop antenna in this configuration, would allow me to reach out to Kenneth in Southern Norway,  Bas in Netherlands  and if necessary, NVIS range stations participating in our little exercise. Having tested the MPAS & MP1C both in vertical and dipole configurations, I found they could be configured for NVIS or DX but not both. They could both be configured for some sort of inverted L,  but that would require some sort of support mechanism. The loop should solve this problem.   
  • Stress testing the little Yaesu FT-817nd at a full 5w of torturous data Communications over 4 hours. Normally we are told to run 50% power with the Yaesu ft-817nd when using digital modes. Operating QRP at 65°North is challenging on the best of days, but sometimes we need to push our little rigs quite a bit further. Since replacing the finals is a simple job, I took the risk to see how much abuse this little radio could take.

Gear loadout

  • Yaesu ft-817nd
  • Chameleon P-LOOP 2.0 with tripod 
  • Asus EeePC
  • PowerFilm F15-1200 
  • 4S 3.4Ah batter pack
  • Genasun charge controller 
  • ZLP MiniProSC audio interface

 I also carried with me a table and chair. These were Creature Comforts made possible by the Subaru Outback. The rest of my gear could be easily carried in a day pack, with room to spare for water, stove, and something to eat.

Operating Notes

  • Off-grid power: the solar panel, charge controller, and Battery pack worked flawlessly. I know it’s cheating from someone’s perspective in the south, but not taking advantage of the 24 hours of sunlight we have here, would have been silly to say the least.  Taking advantage of the Midnight Sun meant I could carry a smaller capacity battery augmented by the 20 watt solar panel.  Naturally I’ll have the opposite situation in the winter, when I’ll have to double up on my solar panels, and increase battery capacity. 
  • Yaesu FT-817ND: Try as I may, I couldn’t destroy the little Yaesu ft-817nd. Sending SSTV images, sounding every minute, answering queries from Bas and Kenneth @ 5w for 4 hours, didn’t kill this little radio. People often complain about the price, but I used this radio at its highest output power, under the sun, Outdoors, using an extremely difficult digital mode,  and it never complained. You tell me if it was a success or not.
  • Chameleon P-LOOP 2.0: it would almost be a shame not to include something about the Chameleon P-LOOP 2.0. As I mentioned earlier in this article I used the magnetic loop antenna because I wanted to get both intermediate range and NVIS range stations respectively. I also chose this antenna for several other reasons.
    – Not having filters installed in the Yaesu ft-817 the High Q of the magnetic loop antenna allowed me to operate effectively although rtty stations, were operating all around me.
    – Installing the booster kit gave this magnetic loop antenna additional performance capabilities which should be taken seriously, or at least considered. 
    – This is an extremely quiet antenna. I think this helped reduce operator fatigue during the 4 hours I was operating out in the field.  
  • FSQ for Effective field comms: In my opinion FSQ was the hero of the day. I should seriously start to consider producing a video for this mode on the channel. Although it has similarities to Olivia, the other features it incorporates makes it act more like a system than a mode.
    – One of the useful features for a field operator, is the ability to ask other stations  for my signal report, without its operator having to lift a finger.
    – Another useful feature is asking a remote station what stations it can hear, then allowing me to route through the station I can hear, to the station’s I can’t hear.
    – The mode also gives you the ability to send images, files, chat with a group of users, or just one, …If you haven’t figured it out by now, FSQ is an amazing mode for those of us who are using amateur radio as a utility. You can think of FSQ in terms of Skype or the old icq type Chat systems. By itself it is a social media platform for amateur radio.-More on FSQ Where are the Android developers? FSQ is a perfect companion for an Android tablet and WolphiLink. In facrpt, this mode coupled with a qrp rig is exactly the type of innovation we need in the community. Moreover, yhis mode us the perfect companion to keep survival and preparedness communuties in touch with minimal gear. We all need to push a portable version of FSQ! 
  • QRP. Early in the day communications between myself Bas and Kenneth we’re very far from effective. Kenneth and I could communicate all day long but conditions to Bas didn’t work until later in the day. That’s not to say he station couldn’t hear me, or that I couldn’t hear him. Both of our stations we’re at all times in the monitor window of fsq. In my opinion it’s even a miracle that we were able to work each other at all with the conditions as they were at the beginning of our day. Before I packed up and headed for home I did have both stations in at plus DB levels. Once I got home I used the terminated dipole to continue testing with these two operators. Conditions picked up and at one time I had Bas in of 19 DB. Communications with Kenneth remained consistent and effective throughout the day. Given the opportunity to try this experiment again, I would hope for more stations, and perhaps consider using a 20 watt radio like the ft-897 or 857 on battery power.

I would say all in all the experience was an excellent learning experience and at least in part confirmation of valid equipment choices.

de oh8stn 

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