Fall 2006 Issue

Homing In

Medals and More at the National and
World ARDF Championships

By Joe Moell, KØOV





Jay Hennigan, WB6RDV, tests his 2-meter RDF Yagi at a practice session in Bulgaria before the 2006 World Championships. He made this antenna using fiberglass elements covered with braid. (Photo by Richard Thompson WA6NOL)


“These were the most difficult courses that I have ever seen!” That’s how Charles Scharlau, NZØI, described the 2006 World Championships of Amateur Radio Direction Finding (ARDF). Charles and his wife Nadia had just returned from Bulgaria, where for the 13th time, the world’s best on-foot transmitter hunters had gathered to see who would capture gold, silver, and bronze medals.

ARDF, also called foxtailing and radio-orienteering, is a worldwide sport among radio amateurs and SWLs. The goal is to find up to five hidden transmitters in a large forest, each keying for a minute at a time in sequence on one frequency.1 A continuous transmission on another frequency helps foxtailers find the finish line. There are separate events on the 2-meter and 80-meter bands.

As a nation, the U.S. is a relative newcomer to ARDF. The first World Championships took place in 1980, but the U.S. didn’t participate in this biennial event until 1998. This year marked the fifth time that stateside foxhunters have gone up against the rest of the world, and for the first time the Stars and Stripes were raised on the podium during the awards ceremony.

Bearings on the Black Sea

ARDF teams from European countries usually travel to international championships as a group. By contrast, Team USA members came from eight states and arrived in Bulgaria over a six-day period. The closest major airport is in Sofia, necessitating a seven-hour bus ride cross-country to the coastal resort village of Primorsko. Only weeks before, its beaches had been blanketed with vacationing Europeans.

Seven Team USA members participated in training sessions provided by the Bulgarian organizers. For up to a week before the championships, they joined dozens of others who were working to improve their RDF and orienteering skills in woods and fields next to the Black Sea. Unfortunately, some of the early arrivers encountered contaminated food in the cafeteria. On our team, Harley Leach, KI7XF, and Vadim Afonkin came down with severe stomach and intestinal symptoms that lasted through the 2-meter competition day.

The first formal competition was September 14 on 2 meters. AM transmitters with tone-modulated CW and horizontally polarized antennas are the international standard for ARDF on this band. The courses were a bus ride away from the coast and encompassed more than 4800 acres of well-mapped forests and fields. The shortest point-to-point distance for the full 5-fox course was 7.5 kilometers.

Bob Cooley, KF6VSE, finished ninth in the category for men over age 60, finding all three of his required foxes and missing a medal by less than 31/2 minutes. “The first two foxes were easy, but #5 presented much more opportunity for error,” Bob wrote. “I should have gone northeast to bypass most of the medium green2 on the map and get on the trails going toward that fox. But I followed the bearing north and spent more time in the medium green than I should have.”

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