Winter 2009 Issue

Riding the Terminator
From 6 Meters Down to 160 Meters

A major amateur radio operation from above the Alaskan Artic Circle took place for the first time in many years this past July during the Alaska Convention. Adding to the special aspect of the event was gaining permission to use the call W1AW/KL7. Amateur radio activities took place from HF to microwave
frequencies. Here is the story.

By Gordon West, WB6NOA, and Bill Balzarini, KL7BB



Dalton Highway Arctic Circle road sign. (Photos courtesy of the authors)

In our ham radio hobby, it is rare when you actually get to both see and operate inside the natural medium that supports our RF signals and takes them to faraway places. Such is the case in the far north of Earth’s Arctic Circle. Alaska’s Arctic Circle just happens to be one of the places on Earth to which people can actually drive. Because of the summertime conditions, the Alaskan Arctic Circle has a full day of the sun’s effect on radio propagation. Sunrise, sunset, full daylight, and twilight are the active times in which the 66° 33' N latitude location offers operators of radio equipment a full-day possibility of having their signals reach somewhere far away, DX locations. Depending on the ham bands used, the RF signals can take multiple hops to reach exotic distant locations.

The magic becomes evident when astronomy programs are put to the task of showing (from an outer-space perspective high above any Earth location) the difference between day and night. It is along that magical line where the direction of the RF path really jumps out and gives a very clear picture as to where the paths are pointing. It is best to make 24 one-hour incremental prints of each day’s activity to help with the visualization during the middle of the night, when one is very tired from logging 6- to 10-plus straight hours of contacts.
Also, in that part of the far north, one does not want to spend very much time outside alone, adjusting the direction of a beam antenna, as one could become “dinner” for some foraging bear. It is a fact of life in that area of which one must be very cautious.

Just as with other types of DXpeditions, the signals may not be very strong at the start. It helps considerably that just one station finally receives that all-important first contact and creates a big fuss that alerts all of the masses to follow. Many contacts can follow that first effort, and once everyone has figured it out, you are on the fast track to running QSOs just as fast and furious as you can hear and log them!

I wrote down all of the contacts using pen and paper with a glance at the clock for time. The contact rate was slow enough to use to the closest minute for the log on phone contacts. The CW guys were all electronic in the logging and operational parts of the process. It was very impressive to see the fully automated logging and exchanges with that many stations calling from all over the world.

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