I have been a ham since 1973, but was inactive from 1977 until 2001. I got back into the hobby and decided to try DXing. Since July 2001, I have earned 8BDXCC, 1800 towards DXCC Challenge and am three away from Honor Roll – with totals at 332/328.The first 300 DXCC entities were worked with 200 watts or less and home brewed wire antennas. I then had to introduce a small amplifier and some aluminum. At the bottom of the last cycle, I was tested. All of a sudden it seemed that I couldn’t get through the huge pileups – and my confidence plummeted. What worked before no longer seemed to work. What was my problem?
During the bottom of the cycle, and because I was nearing the Honor Roll mark, the entities that I needed were getting much more rare. Conditions were poor – with weak F and F2 layers, and very low angles were needed to work the one’s I needed. What others seemed to hear and work – I could barely hear. I figured there was no way I could get through a massive pileup with that situation.
I then remembered the HFTA program that is in the ARRL Antenna Handbook. This program, written by Dean Straw, N6BV superimposes horizontal antenna models over your actual geographical terrain, and predicts what angles you will need to be able to work a particular direction. I installed it and followed the directions precisely, and it made one thing very clear to me.
I live in a “bowl”. My QTH is at the bottom of an old volcano – which is now the Sibley Preserve. There was no doubt that the surrounding hills were shearing off signals and preventing me from being heard.
I ran analysis on every ATNO that I needed, and found that there were some things I could do. I learned that just adding a 55’ military mast and putting an inexpensive trapped tri-band yagi and adding a 3 element 17M mono band yagi on another mast at 35’would work wonders for my situation.
I installed this system and since then have worked 4 ATNO’s just this year – HK0NA, EP3PK, 7O6T and E40VB. I am sure if I still had the antenna that I had a year ago – I might have only been able to work HK0NA – which was very easy from the West Coast of North America.
For me – HFTA (and YW – which I used to design and build the 17M yagi and also written by N6BV) saved my final road to Honor Roll, and I am again fully confident that I will be on the Honor Roll within the next 2 years.
I will be giving a presentation on this topic at Pacificon 2012 Antenna Forum, in Santa Clara, California on October 12 at 8 AM. This also happens to be the ARRL National Convention. I hope to see you there.
73, Rich, KY6R