2019: A35JT OC-049 Tonga
Andrew VK5AKH was a first time FT8 operator on this expedition. It all started however when he tuned to 160m early in the expedition during the US morning greyline.
Here is the screen recording my first ever attempt to run FT8 in normal mode, was not expecting that many stations to start calling… was a lot of fun running FT8 on 160m and a bit of learning curve… now to learn morse code before the next DXpedition and work a few more de VK5AKH
By the end of it he was running three stations concurrently using VNC to network the other two laptops back to the central Station 1 machine. With synchronized calling three bands could be active without local interference.
A35JT’s journey to running 6m EME from Tonga has been a long one. It began at the end of 2018 with an email from Lance W7GJ encouraging us to give it a go. Little did we know what that would trigger!
Over the following 12 months, we conducted two trials of the EME gear in VK before the final activation in Tonga in September 2019. The first trial was in February 2019 where we successfully contacted 6 stations over a moon rise and a moon set from the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia. The second was in July where we contacted one station from Lake Alexandrina before suffering gear failure.
Finally, in September 2019 we shipped the gear out to Tonga. The result has been to work 25 stations via the moon from “A3”, and receive calls from a further 28 stations. For a group of 6m EME newcomers, we couldn’t be happier with this result.
The team must thank everyone in the 6m EME community who supported us in getting the EME gear to Tonga. Without your help and encouragement, this part of the DXpedition project would never have happened. Thanks definitely goes to Lance for giving us the nudge to try and give this a go!
6m EME in Tonga: a Bumpy Road
The first trial from Yorke Peninsula was made from Corny Point on the tip of Yorke Peninsula approximately 3.5hours drive from Adelaide. We worked 6 stations across Europe, Japan and the USA that night, which lit the fire to give EME a serious try during the A35JT DXpedition. Everything ran surprisingly smoothly and set the scene for what we hoped would be a successful project.
Choosing a site in Tonga
The heart of any remote activation is getting a licence and choosing a site. Things had been progressing in this area, however not everything went to plan. Our original site on Tonga became unavailable just as we were about to book it. That prompted a scramble to find an alternative. We finally settled on Teukava Beach Oasis on the far North West tip of the island of Tongatapu. The owners were very accommodating of our strange requests to set up a radio station across their resort. We also took the step of renting the entire 3 cabin complex so we could control our noise environment as well.
As it was about as far out as you could get from the centre of the island even that presented us with logistics challenges to solve just transporting gear from the freight depot and the airport out to the resort. Fortunately we were introduced to Christian, A35CS, who was a great help in solving our logistics problems.So that solved our location and part of the transport story.
Trials and Tribulations: regulatory hurdles and gear failure during testing in VK
For a time it seemed that road blocks kept being laid down as fast as we could clear them. Just getting regulatory approval to run high power 6m EME in VK was an ordeal that took 4 months with the ACMA. Operating EME portable is something the regulator struggled to comprehend it seems. It is clear more work needs to be done to improve this process in the future.
Finally at the start of July, with our ACMA approvals in hand, we set out for Nanda Farm, a farm-stay house located on the shores of Lake Alexandrina about 90 minutes SE of Adelaide. By now we had solved our antenna and mast mounting problems. SpiderBeam helped us out greatly with one of their 10m aluminum retractable masts. There, we erected the station and began our trials.
Just as we completed the first EME contact of the test, catastrophe struck. We were using an SPE 1.5-kfa linear amplifier running 1kW to run the tests. Much to our dismay, the amplifier failed after 3 hours of operation. The precious blue smoke escaped with a pop, and that was the end of the EME testing from VK. It actually put the entire project in jeopardy when it became clear several weeks later that the amp was not coming back from repairs in time for our departure for Tonga in September. So, we started looking for options.
Thanks to Bjorn SM7SJR’s impeccable timing, (he was selling a suitable replacement amp just when we needed one) we bought his M6-1k2 1kW amplifier in early August, thus restoring plans for EME from Tonga. We must give many thanks to Peter VK5PJ who donated a 50V power supply to run the amplifier and to Bjorn who helped cover some of the freight costs of getting the amplifier shipped to Australia from Sweden..
Shipping the Gear – Customs Worries
The final hurdle was simply getting the equipment to Tonga. The original plan of taking it as excess baggage was set aside after warnings from Air New Zealand that the risk of it being offloaded due to weight in Auckland and being delayed was real. So instead we resorted to airfreight. This cut our preparation time but allowed us to have the time for the air freight network to fit our shipment into their manifests.
The donations received helped cover the extra freight costs of getting the 6m antenna equipment out to Tonga from Australia and back. The total weight for the 6m antenna system and feedline came to ~40kg.
It also was the first time I had tried using international airfreight. This was a learning experience indeed (next time I will send the keys in advance to the destination to help with customs inspections). It took a lot of phone calls to put everything in place to satisfy the customs department in Tonga and have them clear the shipment. It actually came down to the final 3 days before we arrived before the freight was released, but finally everything was done – setting the rest of the expedition up for success!
A huge thanks to the Mary and the team at Pacific Forum Line Freight handlers in Tonga for helping get this over the line!
The Station we took
The final station we took to Tonga comprised an InnovAntennas LFA2 6 element yagi, (giving us 12.5dBi gain). With the Spiderbeam 10m aluminium collapsible tower we set up the array next to the radio shack in Tonga and waited for the moon to rise.
The rest of the equipment included an Elecraft K3S transceiver, Elecraft W2 watt meter, M2 Systems M6-1k2 linear and 30m of Messi & Paoloni Hyperflex 13 feedline (sponsored in part by RF Solutions in Brisbane) which was supposed to be equivalent or better to LMR600 but with less weight. The system power supplies were a Codan 3020 12V 30A unit for the driver and an Eltec 2kW rectifier module for the 50V supply. The software was WSJT-X v 2.1.0 running on a Windows 10 instance within a Macbook Pro laptop.
Finally Ready to go on the air
Once we got to site things finally started to go our way. The beam was unpacked and assembly and erection went smoothly. We were able to locate the antenna relatively close to the radio hut which made for fairly easy beam steering manipulations as we manually tracked the moon.
It seemed however that Mr Murphy would not leave us alone. He wanted one last game with us, as just as we were about to start, a noise source appeared that took the noise floor up to S5-6 on 6m. It wasn’t there when we set the station up, and given the work around the site to remove other noise sources we had control over (LED lights being a principle source) we were suddenly panicking that everything to this point was about to come to naught. After a scramble to turn off anything we could find, we tracked this last problem down to one of our laptop power supplies which had failed during the evening, radiating spurious everywhere as a result. Fortunately we quickly tracked it down and were back in business, although it did give us a scare just as the moon was coming up over the horizon the first night.
The final problem was the HF station activity. We found we couldn’t run EME and most HF bands concurrently (we had suspected this might be the case). So, we had to curtail HF operations during the EME windows (which wasn’t popular with the rest of the crew after 4-5 days). That problem solved, we were then set.
First contact was made shortly after moon-rise on Wednesday 25th at ~3am local Tonga time. We made 6 contacts the first night of operation elevating the station to ~35deg in the process (thanks to a tilt bracket built by Peter VK5PJ following a design by Lance W7GJ).
The later days saw fewer stations worked each pass, most likely due to the sporadic E and TEP propagation around on the Thursday and Friday. We also came to the conclusion that we didn’t have the antenna gain needed for successful elevated contacts.
For the last few passes we just worked the 0-20deg horizon band with greater success. To the east we found we needed about 5deg moon elevation before we were working stations. To the west (which was a clear shot over the ocean) we could hear people down to ~1deg elevation. The best signal we heard was from G8BCG who we copied at -18. Most signals were between -26 and -30dB with a small number in the -22—25 range.
The Results – Who did we work and who did we hear?
The end result: we worked the following stations over moon rise/moon set between Wednesday 25th and Sunday 29th of September.
OH6MIK, G8BCG, KG7H, GM3POI, G4BWP, W7JW, K2ZD, K4PI, K5NA, W6UC, OH2BC, UR0MC, OH7KM, ON4GG, S57RR, ON4IQ, JA7QVI, N8RR, K5DU, SP4MPB, I4YRW, ES6RQ, NJ6P, N7IP, ZS4TX
We also heard the following stations but were unable to make contact with:
NN7J, VE1JF, HA0DU, *****, WA1MEK, ******, UT7QF, I2RV, GD0TEP, PA5Y, N3XX, W5ADD, N8JX, W0VTT, KA9CFD, OZ4VV, G8VR, EA8DBM, OE3MPL, LY2WR, S51DI, I4EAT, YL2AO, IW5DHN, JG2BRI, SP7VC, ZS6NK, SP3RNZ
Thanks everyone who took an interest in our EME activity and attempts. I know Andy VK5AKH and I in particular learned a lot about it and have a lot of ideas now for how we might improve it in the future. You never know, I may now consider it next time I pick a Pacific Island for an expedition. How many need 6m EME from VK9N (Norfolk) or ZL7 I wonder?
Congratulations to those we did manage to work or hear via the moon. Next time, I will see that we can take more elements so we can hear and be heard better.
Clearly not an easy path to Europe. Thank you to the JA stations in particular who stood by when asked by the team as we attempted to work these very weak stations.
We are pleased to announce that OQRS (Online QSL Request Services) are now available for those who wish to request QSL cards. These are provided via our QSL manager Charles M0OXO.
We have completed background extraction and comparison of the WSJT internal logs with our main database and tracked down about 120-130 missing contacts. Most of these occured when one of the systems was running an old version of the software in the first 2 days. Others were when we broke the network apart to separate contesting from standard operations. These have been added to both M0OXO and to Clublog.
If you still cant find your contact please lodge a busted calls request with M0OXO and we will try tracking it down. Note however that we will be following DXCC rules. If it doesn’t have log evidence for the contact then sorry we will not be able to help you.
Thank you Charles!
The team wishes to give a big thank you to Charles for his continuing service as our QSL Manager. I have worked with Charles now on 3 expeditions as well as having him handle my own domestic logs. He does a stellar service and I can’t recommend him more highly if you are in need of QSL Manager Services. Thank you Charles!
Along the way during our journey we have had help from many people.
We would particularly like to thank Christan Sakalia A35CS in Tonga who helped with transport to and from the airport across the island, as well as sorting out a number of logistics issues for us prior to the trip.
We also want to thank Jean-Philippe ZL1RPL who helped with transport for the team from Auckland Airport on Monday night. Your contributions both made a difference to the smooth running of the expedition.
I also again must thank Mary Mahe from Pacific Forum Line who helped the “crazy Aussies” in our madcap adventure with freighting our antennas to and from Tonga. I also want to thank Mala Sjarif from Tayper Freight Forwarders in Australia for her help on the VK end with the transport arrangements.
It is this sort of support that helps make these expeditions possible. Thanks everyone!
Folks from all of us at A35JT it has been a pleasure bringing this DXpedition to you. We just went out with a bang on 17m calling Europe, Japan and everywhere. We have made over 15000 contacts and worked over 132 DXCC entities since arriving in the Kingdom of Tonga 2 weeks ago. Thanks everyone for your support, encouragement and most of all your contact with us in one of SSB, FT8, CW, PSK, RTTY or EME.
A special thank you to our sponsors and donors too. Without your help we would not have made it to Tonga in the first place. In particular a hige thank you to EUDXF, GDXF, SDXF, CDXC-F, CDXC-UK, RSGB, SpiderBeam, RF Solutions (Brisbane), HF Radio Solutions (Riverland), Messi & Paoloni, UX5UO Print and the Amateur Radio Experimenters Group. We must also thank our off island team, Charles M0OXO our QSL Manager, Bjorn ON9CFG our chief pilot, and our regional pilots in Steve N2AJ, Joe JJ3PRT, Ricardo PY2PT, Jim AC3EZ and Chris VK5SA. Without that off island support a project like this is much harder to achieve.
To the EME community a huge thank you too for your support and faith that a couple of EME novices could pull off EME from a remote south Pacific nation. It has been a privilege to attempt 6m EME communications for the very first time from Tonga (A3). Thank you for your support of us in attempting this.
Finally, a full report will be prepared shortly. Meanwhile it is dark here already and we have 12 hours to complete tear-down, pack-up and get our equipment to the freight handlers, and ourselves to the airport. Time to go and load the last cases.
73 all from the team at A35JT – Grant VK5GR, Oly VK5XDX, Andy VK5AKH, Steve VK5SFA, Sharon VK5FSAW and Amelia…
One of the projects we embarked on for the expedition was to take a 4-square antenna for 40m with us. Then we added 30m to the mix as well. These two antennas have really taken the stations capabilities to the next level. Without the 40m one in particular our SSB activities towards Europe would have been very difficult indeed.
During the CQ WW RTTY contest the 40m 4-square was invaluable in trying to separate the simplex pileup on RTTY as well. The power to switch in 20-30dB front to back and add gain to the signal was fantastic.
Oly VK5XDX took the lead in developing the 40m 4-square antenna and did a fantastic job. Based on 4x 12m fibreglass fishing poles, he used an elevated radial system to maximise efficiency.The controller and phase shifter was all home brewed especially for this expedition.
What we hadn’t bargained on initially, but which has been invaluable in the expedition has been the power to take one of the 40m elements by day and tune it to 15m as an omni. We used this to great effect to enable multiple high band stations on the air at the same time using the antennas we had.
The 30m 4-square was the brainchild of Steve VK5SFA. Using similar fundamental designs as 40m, Steve developed this antenna using 10m fibre glass fishing poles. Again an elevated radial system was used and results were also impressive.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to capitalize on this antenna for a long. Initially due to running out of space on the site, we installed it across the driveway. That proved a problem when rapid access was required for the fire truck. After hastily being lowered to the ground, it was decided to re-erect it as a single 30m vertical which is what we have run for the rest of the expedition. It was disappointing that we couldn’t use it longer but it worked great when it was in the air.
We also made a modification to this antenna and found that it could be made to run on 10m with a 100:50ohm transformer and a tweak to the element length. It was great to be able to multi-purpose these antennas on site during the expedition.
The team has today passed 12,800 contacts with 123 DXCC Worked.We wish to express our sincere appreciation to amateurs around the world who have taken the time to make contact with us. We have had a lot of fun doing so, including opening some unusual slots such as RTTY and PSK yesterday. The feedback received has been amazing to our little expedition so thank you very much indeed for your support.
A reminder too that we are going to be looking for All Time New Ones (ATNOs) today and tomorrow. We want to give the little stations a chance to get Tonga into their logs for the very first time.
Thanks to our Sponsors
We must again say a huge thank you to our sponsors and supporters. SpiderBeam, RF Solutions, Messi & Paoloni, HF Radio Solutions, European DX Foundation (EUDXF), Swiss DX Foundation (SDXF), Clipperton DX Foundation (CDXC-F), Clipperton UK DX Foundation, German DX Foundation (GDXF) and RSGB. A huge thank you to our individual donors as well. We will acknowledge all donations once we get to New Zealand and have 5 minute spare 🙂
With less than 48 hours to go before we close, pack up and return to Australia our thoughts have turned to what remaining bands and modes we have operators, equipment and antenna combinations for.
Remaining Operating Plans
30m: We know we have requests for more 30m and plan to fill those with station 2 during the Oceania DX SSB contest running FT8 or CW.
160m: We will also make an attempt either tonight (Friday) or Saturday around 1000-1100z for 160m either CW or FT8 seeking eastern North America
80m: We will try and find one more window for 80m FT8 as well (and who knows perhaps even 80m RTTY). Look out after 1130z tonight.
40m: SSB to VK tonight starting sometime after 0900z
Opportunities during the Oceania DX Contest
A35JT will operate this year during the Oceania DX contest on SSB. This will be your last opportunity to work us. Look out in particular for:
20m: We also have requests for more 20m SSB to Europe which again we will look for during Saturday and Sunday evenings here on Tonga (06-12z + 18zboth days).
40m: Europe Sunset greyline
80m: We will be operating 75m SSB one more time also during the OCDX SSB Contest particularly for North America.
As A35JT enters Week 2 things are going well. We are hugely appreciative of the kind feedback we have recieved and wish to thank everyone for your contacts with us from Tonga. We continue to explore different band openings and times looking for the unexpected. We also are capitalising on greyline openings on 160m and will do more on 80m in the next few days.
At the same time we will as far as resources allow target the main EU 20 and 17m openings (noting we cant operate 40-20m together and we cant operate 20-17m together). 30m will receive more attention in the next couple of days as well.
Finally, we have been alerted to some potential 12m and 10m openings to South America around 17-18z through our pilot network. We will attempt to exploit those if they are there tomorrow.
ATNO Friday (UTC)!
We also want to open up some lesser used slots and bring some RTTY back to expeditioning. We continue seeking to target more ATNO QSOs for first time contact with Tonga and will call for CQ ATNO (All Time New One) on Friday looking for the smaller stations seeking their first contact with this DXCC.
Team Member Departs – Week 2 More Relaxed
We also said goodbye to one of our team members last night. Steve VK5SFA was unable to stay for the entrie expedition so we are down to 3 operators. The second week will be more relaxed as a result. We have been working ~1500 stations a day with the full team. We expect that to decrease as we take some time to also explore the island a little. Team leader Grant VK5GR has also been joined by his family and will be taking some time off during the day to be with his wife and daughter. We will still try to maintain 1 station on air for as many hours as we can in the second week so keep looking for us here in the South Pacific.
We are also planning an effort for the Oceania DX contest, but may not be able to run the entire event. The problem we face is the contest finishes at 0800z which is 9:00pm local on Sunday. We fly out at 1.40pm Monday so packup will be starting during the contest.
Our effort in the CQ WW RTTY contest was more to provide multipliers in the end. Too many other demands on the station meant a full RTTY effort was unable to be mounted. We will submit our log as a CHECKLOG due to the number of broken contacts unfortunately caused by DQRM. At least some of the contesters will be able to get verification of working A35JT this way.
Thanks and see you on air!
Finally thanks again to everyone who has donated to the expedition! It is hugely appreciated! Your support both in terms of encouragement and financial is humbling. We are not a big expedition and many of the team members are new to expeditioning. The feedback received has had a huge impact on the team and for that we say thank you!
73 and see you on the air!