Last Saturday (26 March), I had an AMSAT table at the Radio Society of Tucson's annual hamfest. This year's hamfest was at a new location, at a Target store on the east end of that city. Even with the new location, there was a nice turnout. And, unlike most hamfests in Arizona, the organizers were most truthful with the hours for the hamfest - 6am (1300 UTC), which was just before sunrise, until 11am (1800 UTC) when most are leaving for lunch or to pick up with the rest of their weekends. I took advantage of this, and will go into my post-hamfest activities in a bit.
I arrived in Tucson the night before the hamfest, and saw a tweet asking if anyone would be on an AO-85 pass just before 0500 UTC. I had arrived in Tucson about 90 minutes before that pass, saw a Wal-Mart store near my motel, and decided to give it a try. A nice pass, where I worked Fernando NP4JV about 60 miles south of me and Paul N8HM in Washington DC. I also copied telemetry, which I uploaded after the pass back in the motel room. A good pass, and a good way to start this rapid-fire trip to Tucson and beyond.
The hamfest had a crowd showing up just after 5am (1200 UTC), including me. I had my AMSAT table ready, and my station set for the first of two AO-85 passes at 1330 UTC. I worked stations from coast to (almost) coast, using my IC-2730A FM mobile radio as the transmitter and my SDRplay SDR receiver and 8-inch Windows tablet as the receiver. As with other recent events, using an SDR receiver brings out lots of questions. For Saturday morning, this meant I missed working the 3 XW-2 satellites that were passing by after this pass. After talking about SDR, and mentioning I would use the SDRplay on the second AO-85 pass a few minutes after 1500 UTC, I had a larger crowd around for that pass. Not as many stations on as with the earlier pass, but still enough to demonstrate satellite operating and how well the SDR receiver worked with the AO-85 downlink.
With the earlier ending time for the hamfest, I saw an AO-73 pass after 1630 UTC that would be another pass I wanted to work as a demonstration. Even though the Tucson morning was comfortable outside, not requiring a jacket, I left my Windows tablet outside in the sunlight. By the time of the AO-73 pass, it shut down due to overheating. Instead of using the SDRplay on another pass, I quickly brought out my second Yaesu FT-817ND to go with the FT-817ND I already had out as my transmitter on the AO-73 pass. I was able to work a few stations, and then answer the differences in operating on a linear transponder in SSB compared to an FM satellite. I worked 3 stations, almost coast to coast across the continental USA, on this AO-73 pass.
With the early end to the hamfest, I was able to start driving a little earlier toward my goal for the afternoon - a point about 15 miles/25km west of the New Mexico town of Deming, on the DM52/DM62 grid boundary. On the way out there, I made two stops to work FO-29 passes. The first FO-29 pass, just after 1900 UTC, was a quick stop in the hopes of working Paul N8HM on the National Mall in Washington DC. I stopped at an exit off I-10 about 25 miles/40km southeast of Tucson, still in the same grid DM42 as the hamfest, and was able to work Paul and Clayton W5PFG on that pass. I did not stick around to work the entire pass, as I was trying to make the 200-mile/320km drive from Tucson to that spot outside of Deming in time to work some SO-50 passes starting in the mid-afternoon.
Just after crossing the Arizona/New Mexico state line, a few minutes before 2100 UTC, was another FO-29 pass. I stopped at a place I have operated from in the past, the small "town" of Road Forks, about 5 miles/8km east of the state line. Road Forks is pretty much what the name implies - a fork in the road for the old US-80, which ran through this part of the country before the interstate highways were built. I parked at an old truck stop, and worked a few stations from here. Road Forks is in grid DM52, just over 60 miles/100km west of the DM52/DM62 grid boundary, so I still had to do more driving to reach the grid boundary.
I made it to the DM52/DM62 grid boundary in a little less than an hour's drive from Road Forks, and spent a few minutes getting situated to take the obligatory photos to document my location on the grid boundary. Along with photos I tweeted, my TH-D72A HT was able to transmit my location to the APRS network in this part of the country showing where I parked. In doing this, I did not have a chance to work an AO-7 pass that started just after 2200 UTC, but was definitely able to work an SO-50 pass starting around 2222 UTC. In fact, I was able to wake up SO-50 very early in the pass, as I was in a location where the nearest hills and mountains were very far in the distance. In the next 10 minutes, I worked 13 stations from coast to coast in the continental USA, and Dani TG9AMD in Guatemala City. A mostly good pass, with my activity along with Dave KG5CCI and Clayton W5PFG also working portable (KG5CCI in EM24/Oklahoma, W5PFG in EM02/Texas).
With a heavy wind blowing across the desert, and not wanting to be out in the southwestern New Mexico desert after dark, I decided to only work one other pass, a western SO-50 pass just after 0000 UTC. But before that pass, I saw a tractor-trailer come off the I-10 freeway with its trailer heavily damaged. The center of the trailer looked like something heavy dropped on top of it, collapsing the trailer's roof. I also saw an interesting car chase speed by on the I-10, with 3 New Mexico state troopers chasing a Fiat westbound - and I'd see those troopers, and a couple of others, with that car later on when I started driving back to Arizona.
The later SO-50 pass started around 0004 UTC, 6.04pm local time in New Mexico. Although I only worked stations as far east as Arkansas and Tennessee, I was able to work a total of 12 stations on this pass. Mostly stations along the west coast and west of the Rockies. It was nice to hand out contacts with these stations, since almost nobody gets on the birds from these two grids any more unless someone travels to or through them.
After this SO-50 pass, I started my drive back home - a drive of over 250 miles/400km. After passing by the spot where that car chase ended a few miles west of the DM52/DM62 grid boundary (the Fiat looked like it spun out into the median, where the state troopers surrounded it), I kept going west on I-10 about 150 miles/250km until I reached the small Arizona town of Benson. This town, about 40 miles/65km southeast of Tucson, was a good place for me to get a late dinner, fuel for my car, and there were two more passes I wanted to work to wrap up my operating on this trip. Benson is on the north edge of grid DM41, and I saw I could work both AO-73 and AO-85 in the span of about 25 minutes around 0330 UTC from this spot.
The AO-73 pass was quieter than I expected, but I worked 3 stations - Nick KE8AKW in Ohio, Hector W5CBF in Louisiana, and Brent VE5SWL in Saskatchewan who had tweeted he would be on this pass. AO-85 came by a few minutes after the AO-73 pass, and I added two more stations to the log (Jerry N0JY in Texas, Frank K6FW in California). With this, and that late dinner I needed, I went back on the I-10 to finish my drive. Benson was almost exactly the halfway point between the DM52/DM62 grid boundary and home, and the last 150 miles/250km went by in about 2 hours. Speed limits on the rural parts of I-10 in Arizona and New Mexico are 75mph or 120 km/h, in case anyone was concerned that I tried to set new land speed records for my driving on I-10. :-)
Thanks to everyone who called and worked WD9EWK during the passes I worked from the hamfest! I do this on a regular basis, and many of you already give more than just a call sign and grid locator - your city/town and state, a brief rundown on your station, etc. which the crowd is listening to and appreciates hearing. All of my QSOs from this trip to southern Arizona and over to New Mexico are in Logbook of the World from 4 different grid locators (DM41, DM42, DM52, DM62), and I am happy to send QSL cards to anyone interested in a confirmation of a QSO from this trip. Please e-mail me directly with the QSO details. If you're in my log, I will be happy to send you a card. No need to first send me a card or SASE to get my card from this trip.
Patrick WD9EWK/VA7EWK http://www.wd9ewk.net/ Twitter: @WD9EWK