Net Control, Anywhere!

Making the Simplex Net happen each week requires the volunteer services of at least four net control operators that are spread out throughout our working footprint. So what happens when we run short? Somebody has to pick up and move their operations to a suitable location. Last week (5/23/2020) our existing Southern net control operators were unavailable due to other personal commitments and radios that were out of service.

To keep the net running, Mike (K3MJN) visited Rawlinsville to set up an improvised operating station for the Simplex Net’s South control station. Now that we’ve crossed this threshold, it’s time to start looking for other great sites for net control!

Special thanks to Chris Bunting (N3FYI) for allowing us the use of the repeater site during the Simplex Net. We couldn’t have pulled it off without you! We didn’t use his tower, but it certainly made it easy to find the location even during a foggy test run on Friday night.

Lessons Learned

  • Find a great spot. Operating from the N3FYI repeater site made for fantastic coverage in the Southern half of Lancaster county. Good elevation and the furthest south we’ve operated so far allowed us to get net participants down to the Maryland state line. When you’re planning for simplex operations, a topographic map is one of your best friends.
  • Reach for the sky. The original plan was to operate using a Nagoya UT-72 mag mount antenna on the car’s trunk lid. The UT-72 is pretty decent, but even on top of the car it was still just 4-5 feet above the ground. The N9TAX Slim Jim is a fantastic antenna, but didn’t perform much better at a similar height with the tripod. Elevating the Slim Jim to 12-15 feet with some painter’s poles taped together provided for a gain of 2 S-units to receiving stations during our tests.
  • Know your gear. The antenna “lash-up” was tested at home and in the field prior to the day of the net. It was ugly and built with junk from around the house but it did the job. Being improvised, it was a little finicky the first couple times. Familiarity with the assembly process was important when Mike got stuck in traffic on the way to the site and arrived with only ten minutes to spare before the start of the net. Let’s just say the duct tape was really flying and he was able to get on-frequency with almost two minutes to spare.
  • Bring a flashlight. Arriving on-site before the net there was plenty of light. After an hour of net operations followed by a half hour of after-net chatter on a local repeater, everything had to be disassembled and stowed in the dark.
  • If one wrap of duct tape is good, three wraps is better. During the net a strong breeze showed up and one piece of duct tape did break due to the amount of leverage placed on the tape. Luckily the high-end engineering team had anticipated this eventuality and built in two extra pieces of duct tape for fail-over. The antenna did shift when the tape cut loose, but it didn’t fall over.
  • Keep experimenting. Make incremental improvements. The three painter’s poles have been replaced by a single telescoping 20 foot fishing pole (it has more reviews from hams than fisherman). This looks much less “junky” and is easier to load into the car and carry in the field. Next up is to build a drive-on mast mount rather than use that tripod.

Parts & Pieces

  • Location: N3FYI Repeater Site at 917 feet above sea level
  • Radio: Leixen VV-898E 25W mobile
  • Antenna: N9TAX Slim Jim @ 15 feet above ground
  • Antenna mounting: duct tape, an old camera tripod, and three painters extension poles
  • Logging: Google sheets accessed via Laptop w/ iPhone hotspot

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