Three of Mr. Fagen’s beautifully-restored, award-winning aircraft. Photo copied from fagenfighters.com.
Weeks ago I called Fagan Fighters & Warhawks, Inc.
inquiring if they could use help with communications at the Ray Fagen Memorial Airshow
on Saturday, June 16. The answer was yes! They had a gap in their communications between the airport and their remote parking lots. I put out a request for volunteers and started doing some tests. The challenges I faced were:
- Terrain and distance: The first overflow lot was at a casino located quite close to the airport but down in a valley. The other overflow lots were located in the City of Granite Falls itself, down in a valley and far enough away to make it impossible for handhelds to communicate with the airport.
- Intermod: The AWOS (Automated Weather Observing System) station on the airport blows away my handheld on some 2 meter frequencies.
- Manpower: Out here in the sticks finding ham-volunteers is not easy.
Repeater coverage is patchy out here and not an option for handhelds at the airport. It quickly became apparent that to conquer terrain and distance we would need to set up a station on high ground running either as a net control station or as a cross-band repeater. Since I wanted to run a net anyway, I elected to simply run a simplex net. CTCSS would be necessary to combat intermod at the airport. I drove around until I found a likely spot at the top of a bluff roughly midway between the airport and the City of Granite Falls (where some overflow lots were located), and I secured permission from the property owner to set up a net control station for the airshow. After tests demonstrated significantly better performance on 70cm than 2m, I settled on 70cm, specifically MN ARES simplex channel HU-CHARLIE, 443.000 PL 203.5. I worked with a fellow at the airport and tested to make sure we would not interfere with their radios, then announced the plan by email to the group of volunteers who were forming up.
I was overwhelmed by the willingness of these volunteers (KCØPMF, ABØRE, KDØQEA, KCØQNA, KØNUT, KCØYBG and KCØYFY) to drive all the way out here, especially considering that they knew they’d be stuck in parking lots during the airshow. We needed their help since there aren’t very many active hams around here that I know of. Including myself we had eight hams lined up for Saturday morning.
After filling a cooler with water bottles, pop and ice I zipped over to the airport early on Saturday to find out who was in charge of parking. When I introduced myself to him I found out he had not heard anything about our involvement. I gulped, then explained that a ham would be assigned to shadow him and relay messages between him and remote lots. I encouraged him to ask anything he wanted of his shadow and we’d try to get it done for him.
When I set up as net control high on the bluff around 10:30 A.M., I assigned tactical call signs to make things easier: the ham shadowing the parking-director was AIRPORT-1, his partner was AIRPORT-2, the hams at the hayfield lot were HAYFIELD-1 and HAYFIELD-2, the hams at the gate were GATE-1 and GATE-2, and the ham at the casino was CASINO-1. At first I wasn’t sure just how helpful we would really be, but pretty soon we were very busy! Without us the parking-director had no way of knowing how full the lots were getting (information he needed to redirect traffic to the next lot) nor where the greatest demand for buses was at any given moment. We helped him with these things as well as a couple of miscellaneous tasks, including a search for two missing children (who were soon found). We finally shut down at 4:00 P.M. after the flow of traffic died, and then we all met at the airport office for a debriefing.
The parking-director said that at first, when I introduced myself to him that morning, he was a little irritated because he had no idea we were coming. I don’t blame him! My fault for not tracking him down. But after having worked with us, he said, “I don’t ever want to do another airshow without you guys!” He was positively glowing as he continued to praise us. I credited the volunteers who did the real work that day, and I encouraged the parking-director to spread the news about what we can do. This was a great opportunity to demonstrate our capabilities and work out some kinks in communicating in this area, too.
So many things came together to make this happen. Not only did these volunteers drive in from up to 80 miles away, but several others helped me prepare. Alfio Levy, KJ6JGS, went the extra mile and priority-shipped the Kenwood TM-V71A rig I bought from him last week so that I could get it installed in my pickup in time for the airshow. Caleb Streblow, the fellow who is courting my daughter, machined a bracket for me last week so that I could get a dual-band antenna mounted on my pickup. And Andrew Rosenau, KCØYFY, lent me his crimper, supplied me with Anderson Powerpole connectors, zipcord and fusing, and helped me with testing our radios around the area prior to the event. My thanks to all!