The American Radio Relay League sponsors “Field Day” as an operating event to exercise Ham Radio communications under austere, grid-down conditions. Such as in an emergency when mass consumer-grade communications systems are down, overloaded or re-prioritized for government health and safety agencies only.
This exercise is also advanced training for our participation in CERT – Community Emergency Response Teams and the County Sheriff’s Office ACS – Auxiliary Communications Service (formerly known as RACES). The main difference here is the use of robust military communications equipment versus commercial-grade radios, repeaters etc.
So the West Coast Military Radio Collectors Group – Detachment Alpha (FWD) participated during a 4 day camp trip, from a very remote place in the Sierra Nevada mountains in California. Equipment was rugged old military radio gear operating on the Ham bands. Good fun, good practice. WAY off the grid; 15 miles from the nearest cell phone connectivity and 10 miles from the nearest paved road. Oh, and the chow was great!
Grid? We don’t need no stinkin’ grid!
Above: FOB (Forward Operating Base) Shangri La – a room with a view. Spring is just starting to arrive in late June up here. Those are mostly permanent snow fields in the distance as Earth continues to rebound from the most recent Ice Age.
A hasty campsite on an unnamed mountaintop; rig the antennas, make initial radio checks, get chow started, crack a survival cylinder.
Above: The altimeter reads 8149 feet AMSL up here, the air is getting a little thin, cooling fans spin noticeably faster. This spot is probably buried under 25 feet of snow in the winter, but great weather in late June. That’s the RT-70/VRC-7 mounted on the transmission hump; the CW key is for the GRC-9.
The Red Light is for night ops during General Quarters.
Above: The mobile GRC-9 mounted behind the passenger seat. Always reliable. A very versatile and fun HF field radio, fixed-portable or mobile. The DIY power supply is mounted under the seat. Not enough room in here for a DY-88. But I do miss the precision hum of the dynamotor – The Song of Our People.
Aside from the weekly MRCG AM Net there were no Field Day AM signals to be heard. Not surprising.
Working the PRC-174 on the Military Radio Collectors Group AM net on 3985 kc. Good comms up and down California with 5 watts AM to a dipole. A TRC-77 at the ready, here in CW Station #2. The PRC-174 and the low dipole also provided reliable comms with Andy on 5357 kc USB – who was also running a PRC-174 – in the back seat of his 1942 MB Jeep.
Which was parked exactly 157 miles from here.
I mostly used 60 meters to keep in touch with my wife, who, bless her heart, had upgraded to General. She was running the PRC-47 for Strategic Comms back home at HQ.
Night Ops in the boondocks. Very low noise levels up here. Always good to hear the voices and the familiar CW “fists” of friends rolling in.
Above: CW position #1 includes a TRC-77A driving a separate coax-fed dipole. Here chatting with Andy (who was also running his TRC-77A).
Operating on “mainline” CW frequencies like 7050 during a contest is problematic with low power and these old, wide receivers. The GRC-9, GRC-109 and TRC-77 have receiver passbands about 9 kc wide. Fine for their intended applications and casual Ham ops, but tough during Field Day. Generally, moving up higher in the CW bands helps due to fewer nearby signals.
Included at this position is the PRC-25 for local VHF comms coordination. We heard many undecipherable SSB stations on 6 meters with the FM sets but very few FM stations working Field Day. Good interoperability with the PRC-6 and VRC-7 however.
Above: The trusty TRC-77A. Powered by two, paralleled 12 volt gel-cells mounted in the DIY battery box. It provided very reliable CW comms with Andy near Coalinga in the morning and late afternoon/evenings on 3550 kc; 7050 kc mid day. That’s a 157 mile NVIS shot, no problem. The receiver ran about 14 hours per day, for 3 days, plus lots of CW Field Day contacts without a need to be recharged. I brought the solar panel, but didn’t need it.
A great 10 watt CW field radio. We made every Comm Window (sked).
One of the many strengths of the TRC-77 is the extremely low current requirement for the receiver. It draws only 15 milliamps at 12 VDC. For a field station, that allows the receiver to run 24/7 for over a month continuously with this 16 amp-hour internal SLA battery set. So you can leave it on the Alert Net and just copy the mail while flipping the steaks – and never miss a call. There is no real need to ever turn it off in a camp like this.
I don’t know of any other military receiver that gives you that capability.
Above: Tea Time. Chop up some White Pine needles, rinse, let them steep for awhile in hot water. Pretty good stuff, lots of Vitamin C.
Then you have to eat breakfast (it’s a rule..). Sierra Sammitch – Bacon, tomato and mayo on a steak bun. Maybe some grilled peppers from last night. Bear attractant.
What’s the difference between a Landing Zone (LZ) and a Forward Operating Base (FOB)? An ice chest.
Back to business. Rigging additional/backup antennas.
Bush antennas: A beautiful thing. We had NVIS (low) dipoles on 80/60/40 meters, plus the vehicle HF whip and the AB-15/MS sectional whip on 6 meters VHF. We had an additional dipole rigged for 80 meters at CW position #1. Plus random wire antennas for surveillance receivers.
Above: A field-expedient antenna bandswitch. Drop the 80 meter dipole and disconnect the wires across the boot lace insulators to switch to 40 meters operation during the day. Hoist it back up. Improvise, adapt, overcome. The 60 meter NVIS dipole is flying high in the background.
Above, some of the antenna systems on the Stealth Bronco. Center-loaded HF whip portside aft (MP-57 and MS49, 50 and 51 sections) patched to the GRC-9. VHF whip (AB-15 /2 MS sections) starboard side aft patched to the RT-70/VRC-7. CB whip for 10 meters and trucker/civilian intel intercept. VHF/UHF scanner whip topside for situational awareness and a GPS antenna under a radome for when the GPS constellation is still operational. AB-85 mast sections lashed to the canoe rack for a 25 foot mast bolted to the spare tire carrier. Mounts dipoles, yagi’s, ground planes, wires. etc. Very handy in treeless environs. Like the desert.
Backwoods mid-air refueling siphon rig. Needed to refuel up here, a long way from the nearest POL supply point. Inline filter at the Aux Tank filler port.
Above: Then you have to eat dinner. (It’s another rule). Boonie Sausage & Peppers; corn and potatoes still in the coals. Bear repellent in this case, but it will keep your fire lit all night.
We also experimented with the VRC-7 (RT-70) working the PRC-6 while my buddy hiked down to the creek. Solid comms out to 1.75 miles over rolling, densely wooded terrain. Gotta check the RT-70 power output to the vehicle whip – the PRC-6 seemed to have better range while portable. Always a learning experience but this pair would have done the job back in the day, weight notwithstanding. We also tried the BC-611 and PRC-174 combination on 3885 AM. That worked well but the 51.0 mc FM circuit worked better.
Reconning the local water point. This was snow-melt another 3 klicks up the canyon; a good spot to chill the refreshments. There be trout here…
Crossing this creek further downstream in the late afternoon was fun. After the sun beat down on the snow fields all day.
Time to QRT and exfiltrate back to HQ.
Packed out and heading back down the mountain after a fun Military Field Day. We’ll be back.
Hoping to hear all you guys out in the bush running your military field gear in the future.
NO SHELF QUEENS!