Andy VK5AKH driving VK5GR in CQ WPX on the 4-square on 40m
The first major new antenna for the DXpedition has been completed and was taken out into the field for its first on air trials this weekend during the CQ WPX SSB contest.
Our 40m 4-square array, designed and built by Oly VK5XDX will take full legal power and then some. We verified that the directionality definitely works, being able to switch and see an immediate change in received signals between NA, EU and Asia across the contest. Unfortunately for now, switching involves going outside and replugging the antennas into different ports of the hybrid and phase shifter. We are looking at ways of building a relay switch box to add to the antenna so we can switch it back in the shack.
The array is supported by one of our equipment partners. The 75ohm phasing lines between the elements used cable sourced via Messi & Paoloni in Italy, who make foam based light weight coax that can still take the power needed on our station. This contributes to the whole array (minus the star droppers) weighing in at less than 14kg. It was designed to break down into lengths less than 1500mm so that it can be carried on commercial airlines as oversize baggage.
The Ultraflexx 7 50ohm main feeder used also came from M&P. This cable has roughly half the weight of traditional RG-8 – highly important for a weight limited expedition.
Results on the Air
During the contest, we were frequently asked what the antenna was and were complimented on our signals. We were happy to be able to often get stations in Europe and North America to reply with only 1-2 calls, and were pleased to be able to work some small pistol stations on 40m in the USA during the early evening (our time). It all bodes well for our 40m signal on Tonga in September!
The A35JT expedition team is grateful for the tremendous support it has received from the German DX Foundation! With the addition of Steve VK5SFA to the team (who is something of a 160m specialist) and support received from the DX associations, we will be placing some increased focus on our planned 160m operations too!
After several months of communications we have finally been issued with our licence to operate on Tonga!
We had a small surprise however when we looked at the issued callsign. It has now changed and our final assigned callsign is A35JT. Never mind!
We have also confirmed that we are not able to operate on 60m this trip. We have, however, been granted access to 6m to conduct our EME experiments!
So after a quick rebrand of the website, QRZ and Facebook pages our identity is corrected and away we go!
Work on antennas continues
We have also been busy behind the scenes with Oly VK5XDX designing and testing our home brew 40m 4-square array. Weighing in at only 12kg the early tests are promising. We are hoping to run the array for part of the CQ WPX SSB contest at the end of March as a test.
The A35JT DXpedition team is indebted to Carsten VK4OA at RF Solutions for his support of our DXpedition. We have obtained a number of items needed for the DXPedition station through RF Solutions including some of the HYBRIFLEX-13 and ULTRAFLEXXX-7 feedline and connectors for the 6m EME station and the 40m 4-Square array. Team members have in the past also purchased RadioSports Headsets and SPE Amplifiers via his company.
Dealing with a local re-selller has been fantastic for solving customs import hassles and we would heartily recommend them for any VK or Pacific based Amateur Radio operators seeking products from the many brands of equipment that Carsten provides.
This map explains well the difficulties faced by stations in Europe working Tonga. Paths into Germany for example pass straight over either the North or South pole. That is why we are planning directional antennas and amplifiers for our activities targeting Europe. We are planning on establishing pilot stations in Europe to help us identify the best times for openings to that part of the world too. More on this soon.
Please respect our directed calls to specific regions!
We will always be working split frequencies and will use directed calling. We please ask stations in Asia and Japan to please stand by as we call for the much weaker European (EU) signals over the pole. We are hoping to arrange things so that only one of the two stations will be doing directed calling at a time so that if say 20m is open to Europe, we will provide a 30m signal at the same time to satisfy demand from Japan.
On FT8 we will also carry out directed calling – and will only answer stations from targeted areas when we have announced a particular call area. Note our FT8 operations will either be using the WSJT-X Fox and Hound mode or FT8 standard mode exclusively (not the other multi-thread variant that has recently appeared). We will announce our frequency plan closer to the expedition, as we need to coordinate with the ZK3 expedition on band usage.
Please note our QSO policy – we will accept calls from Oceania (VK/ZL/YB etc), Africa and South America at any time regardless of which region we are specifically calling, due to the relatively low numbers of stations active in those regions.
Stations in other regions, please understand – this is not to be taken as an opportunity to ignore the directed calling we are making for other regions at the same time.
Depending on the unique QSO counts, we may also call for ATNO (All Time New One) only. This is intended to give the small stations a chance to secure at least one contact with us.
The team wishes to thank the Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB), the Clipperton DX Club of France and the Amateur Radio Experimenters Group for their generous support of our DXPedition!
We also wish to thank our corporate sponsors who are helping with some of the equipment costs!
Spiderbeam are helping with masts for our expedition. We are in particular using two of their 10m Aluminium masts for our beam antennas (HF and 6m). These are fantastic for their size and enable us to fly on commercial airlines with all of our antennas without exceeding our luggage weight limits.We will also use a Spiderbeam 12m fibreglass mast for some of the wire antennas on the expedition.
Messi & Paoloni are also helping our expedition with coaxial cable. One of the biggest unseen hurdles on a weight restricted expedition is how to take enough coax to connect everything together. Last used by VK5GR on his YJ0AG expedition, Messi & Paoloni ULTRAFLEXX-7 provides us with RG-213 performance at nearly half the weight per metre. We are also using their 75ohm cables for the phasing harness in the 40m and possible 30m 4-Square array.
Individual Sponsors – 6m EME
The expedition is running two separate activities, with HF the main focus, and the second activity being 6m EME (which is possible mostly during week 1 only based on moon predictions). 6m EME has been especially requested as we have been told A3 has never been activated on 6m EME before. Getting the 6m EME antennas out to the island has proved a serious logistical challenge. Through the generosity of individual donors the 6m EME project is now possible and arrangements to freight the antennas and masts are now underway (after some more testing back in VK).
So, a huge thank you to the following who are supporting our 6m EME activities:
There is a lots happening behind the scenes in the past 2 months with preparations for the A35AG DXpedition to Tonga. Our flights are booked, our accommodation is confirmed and the dates are set!
22nd Sept – 7th Oct 2019
We have completed licence application procedures with the Ministry of Communications and have had our callsign confirmed. (Well almost – the original email confirmation from the Tonga MIC stated A35AG was ok – but the callsign on the licence when it finally came through was A35JT – ce la vie!)
We are now officially A35JT!
The team is now seeking sponsorship to help with the transportation and customs processing costs for the trip. We have encountered operational weight limits with the airlines servicing the Pacific Islands. This means that some of the station will need to be separately freighted to Tonga. Early quotes for those additional costs are substantial and are stretching the teams resources. Asking for sponsorship is not something we do lightly either, as we recognize that accepting money brings with it obligations too. Having said that, we want to bring the widest range of DX opportunities possible to all DX Chasers wanting Tonga in their logs. This seems to be the most likely way we will succeed with those objectives.
If you would like to become a supporter of this expedition, please click on the donate button!
All donations will be acknowledged in our supporters page and for donations >$10USD you will receive your direct QSL cards for free.
Planning what to take on a weight limited DxPedition is a serious challenge. Flying in by air means the team has to be very conscious of everything being taken. It is a balancing act determining what is essential verses what can be obtained once we arrive, verses running out of space and weight. We need to pack EVERYTHING into 6x23kg bags. Due to the limits on Pacific Island flights out of Auckland, New Zealand, we cant take more and be guaranteed it will arrive. Therefore, the core station has to fit within those limits.
Currently the plan is to activate the following bands and modes:
Station 1 – Elecraft K3 + KPA500 Linear + KAT500 Tuner + Microham micro KEYER II
Station 2 – Elecraft K3s + SPE 1K5 Linear + Microham micro KEYER II
Antennas currently planned include:
Low Band 160-10m Vertical – modified multi-band CrankIR Vertical with elevated radials and a full size folded 80m monopole + 160m Inverted L mod
High Band 20-10m G3TXQ HexBeam by Ant MW0JZE
Antennas we also hope to take:
Beverage RX Antennas for 160-40m
40m 4-Square Array (with a possible 30m variant as well) – by Oly VK5XDX
160m EFHW wire antenna and balun (using the coconut trees as supports)
6m 6 element Beam for Moon bounce and terrestrial (if any) activity
Currently all of the “wish list antennas” are subject to finding either a cheaper way to freight items to the island or the expedition being able to attract some sponsorship. So far all of the expenses and equipment are being self funded from within the team.
Since the expedition was announced we have received numerous requests to activate certain bands and modes. Some of the common questions are:
Question: Can you operate 160m from Tonga?
Our QTH on Tonga
A common question I receive as an expeditioner is “could I operate 160m please?” Past experience has shown that this is a band that can consume a lot of time and effort for low returns. On Niue in 2017, it took away a lot of valuable EU 20m and 40m opening time. On Vanuatu in 2018, lots of time was lost fruitlessly chasing down RFI that ultimately rendered my ability to use 160m a zero.
The end result for Tonga 2019 is that 160m is planned but will be intermittent Expect most of the activity on the band to be FT8 or possibly CW. If we are running FT8 Fox and Hound mode, look for us down on 1811kHz (which is a frequency available to all countries that have access to the 160m band).
Question: Can you operate 6m Moon Bounce from Tonga?
One of the recent requests received from Lance W7GJ was whether we would consider attempting 6m EME from Tonga. This set the team pondering whether we could!
The first step at least was to learn how it works and what was needed to achieve it. So, after assembling the components required, we headed out into the field, teamed up with a local amateur who had the necessary QRO permits and gave it a go! The result, contacts with 6 countries and 8 stations over one moon rise-moon set. We were duly impressed! It did however reveal how much effort it would take and divert from our primary objectives on Tonga – something we are deliberating on.
Ultimately, for 6m EME to become part of the expedition, direct sponsorship from the 6m EME community will be needed. We have no way of getting the antenna to site within our airline allowances and our early sea-freight quotes have ranged in the order of $1200AUD return. Having said that, investigations are continuing! Your sponsorship support will go a long way towards helping the decision.
Photo by VK5TST – Moonset at 4am after working S57RR on 6m EME during the trials in VK5 – February 2019
Do you have more questions for us?
We are always happy to hear from DXChasers seeking that elusive new one, be it for DXCC, IOTA or any other awards program. If you would like to contact us, please email:
As hinted earlier, plans have come together for our next expedition in 2019. This time I will have company, so that I can both ramp up the radio and have more of a holiday at the same time.
Joining me in the South Pacific this trip will be Oly VK5XDX (past expeditions include Norfolk Island) and Andrew VK5AKH (one of the contest team from the Amateur Radio Experimenters Group (AREG)).
We arrive in Tonga on Monday 23rd Sept 2019 and should be on air that evening. We will be departing Monday October 7th (on air up to 0800 on the 6th at the end of the Oceania DX SSB Contest). As well as being a general IOTA and DXCC activation we are targeting the hard to reach places (such as Europe) as well as participation in two contests – CQ WW RTTY and the Oceania DX Contest as part of our activities. We are planning as a minimum 80-10m SSB, CW, FT8, RTTY with potentially other bands and modes to be announced later.
At this stage, the callsign still to be confirmed, but we will be applying for A35AG. That should be in place early in the new year. (The callsign granted in the end was A35JT).
Looking forward to working you all from Tonga in 2019!
After three successful IOTA activations so far, I have definitely got itchy feet to do another. My current project is to visit Tonga in October 2019.
This time I hope to take a team of amateur operators with me so that we can mix more on air time with more holiday time for the family. It is very early days at this point so no firm commitments. I expect things to firm up after Christmas 2018 when further details will be announced. Loose plans are in place for at least the OCDX SSB Contest and possibly CQ WW RTTY and / or OCDX CW as well.
See you on the air once again from the South Pacific!