My First Sonde Chase

Happy Pete 2After watching the progress of a predicted evening landing on Tuesday the 29th near Waikerie I called Ivan VK5HS and he was already thinking what I was thinking. This is close enough to do a recovery.

So on Tuesday evening Ivan and I headed off towards Waikerie. Due to Danny VK5DW not having the time or energy (Editor (VK5DW): very funny Pete!!!) to come along with us my wife Nat decided to tag along to see what I was so excited about.

We arrived at Waikerie at about the same time the Sonde launched and parked in a rest stop with some lighting. Ivan and I set up for tracking putting magnetic antennas on the roof and booting the computers up. Within a few minutes we were locked on to the Sonde and ready to roll. I sat in the back seat with all the gear and became the back seat navigator. After getting an update on the landing site I decide to head to Blanchetown and wait on this side of the river and re assess from there thinking the Sonde might land on either side of the river.

After arriving at the Murray River Blanchetown I was confident we could head toward Nottswell the predicted landing site. I chose a route which looked good on the map until we came to an intersection with a set of gates and a house number which made it look like a private road. Not wanting to knock on the door late at night I decided on an alternative route.

After only a few minutes heading North the decision was made to turn around and go back the way we came as the alternative route would require a possible long walk of 3 or 4 kms (Editor: SOFT!!!).

Arriving back at the same set of gates and house driveway as before, on closer inspection one set of gates was actually a public road. As the landing time as getting very close we moved quickly to a position on the road directly under the predicted flight path with about 3 minutes to spare before landing.

We had been tracking the Sonde on a 5/8  wave antenna with good success but now the Sonde was getting very close the Degrees of elevation was increasing rapidly and when it reach about 35 Degrees we lost the signal Ivan had put an antenna switch on the tracking setup so with a quick flick of the switch we change to the Crossed dipole and had the signal again.

I stood outside the car shinning the torch into the sky hoping I might be lucky enough to catch the reflector in the beam Ivan saw a quick flash of light but I was not quick enough to follow it.

Once the Sonde landed we checked the last GPS coordinates which we received at 60m altitude I entered the coordinates into Hema maps on my iphone and plots the location 1.1KM in from the road. Ivan also confirmed the direction with his hand held yagi and portable radio.

All 3 of us headed in the confirmed direction using both tracking methods. We were pretty lucky it was easy walking with very little scrub. We wTopo Mapere also lucky it was still transmitting as the paddock was full of small white limestone rocks making it hard to see a small white box among them. Using a good high power torch was great and about 200mtrs from the Sonde we could clearly see the light shining on the reflector. After taking the obligatory photos we headed back to the car. The route back to the cars was slightly longer than the route in due to me not following the GPS and thinking I could just head back the same way See pic. If you get the opportunity to do this I highly recommend it even if you have no technical interest my wife still found it interesting and fun.

Happy Pete 1

Editor (VK5DW): Pete VK5PE on the left is still smiling. Well done you three and great story Pete. Thanks for the contribution.

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Two Park Sunday… VK5LA

On Sunday the 27th, I decided to head out early and spend the day activating 2 parks for the WWFF program.
The 1st park was Hogwash Bend Conservation Park VKFF-0892. This park is located on the River Murray, near the town of Cadell, in the Riverland region of S.A. It is approximately 75 Km from my home and I arrived at around 9:00am.
 
Screenshot 2018-05-29 21.27.52
Activation Spot
 
I travelled along the western boundary, it was well signposted but all the access gates were either locked or fenced off. I ended up walking in to the park after parking my car at the end of Hogwash Rd, near the entrance to the walking track. The red dot shows my operating position

 

The Wikipedia page has a good description of the park and the reasons for its existence https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hogwash_Bend_Conservation_Park

The park is adjacent to the popular “Hogwash” camp ground that is a Mecca for skiers and day trippers. The place is also packed at Easter and most long weekends. (when the water is churned to foam by so many boats)

Hogwash Bend Pk Sign

I set up my station just inside the park boundary, a few metres from the information bay in a clearing to the right of the walking track. You can just see my table set up on the right of the picture.

 
The weather loomed ominous, with threatening clouds, but any rain around either held of or missed me.
For the antenna, I set up the End Fed Half Wave I have been experimenting with. This antenna is approximately 40 metres long making it a 1/2 wave on 80M, 1 wave on 40M and 2 waves on 20m.
 

Match Trans 220180516_200335

To match it I used a 3:24 turns ratio autotransformer to match the very high impedance of the end fed ~3000 ohms to 50 ohms our rigs like to see. I had the transformer at the base of the Squid pole and the 40m length of wire vertical for around 7M and the rest tied of to a distant tree above head height. at around 40M long its a large antenna.

A quick check showed the VSWR on 80, 40, 20 and 10 M to be below 1.5:1 on all bands. no tuner needed! This was a very pleasing result as I meant I wouldn’t have to touch the antenna to change bands.

On switching on the radio I tuned the 80m band and was pleased that the WIA Broadcast relay, via John, VK5NX (in beautiful uptown Surrey Downs) was coming through very nicely. It had actually been many years since I had called in on 80M. The radio was also seeing a very low VSWR at 80M, 1:1.2 with out the tuner engaged.

 
Come callback time John’s signal was S9 as were the other callers. Rob VK5TRM from Loxton was the strongest Riverlander with a terrific 59+15dB signal, all others were very strong as well. My signal was heard very well by all parties.

I then commenced my activation and spent the next 2 1/2 hours getting my 44+ contacts to qualify the park. I was able to swap between 80 and 40M effortlessly, very convenient!
I did pull the EFHW down with about 15 contacts to go and put up the Linked dipole to check if it was any better. I wasn’t seeing/hearing any stark improvement, in fact I reckon signals on 40 were about the same, but without the convenience of instant band changes I couldn’t tell on 80 or 20M.
 

The next step is to have both the Link dipole and the EFHW set up together so I can do a direct comparison with a switch, which I will do soon on another activation.

I managed 49 QSO’s across 80 and 40M, covering VK1,2,3,4 and 5.

I packed up after 50 contacts and headed to the town of Morgan, for a bite to eat before heading to the next park. I ended up at the historic Terminus Hotel for lunch, one of the two classic old Aussie pubs in Morgan.

 

I decided on a stone grilled rump from this classic county Pub. The meal was great and the super friendly publican was a good laugh!

Lunch

After lunch it was of to park number 2, The Morgan Conservation Park, VKFF-0911.
This park is located south and east of the big bend in the river at Morgan, details here…https://www.environment.sa.gov.au/parks/find-a-park/Browse_by_region/Murray_River/morgan-conservation-park

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After leaving the hotel and crossing the Ferry I turned hard left, which puts you in the park. I drove past the Park sign and followed the road down past the many shacks that dot the river, hoping to find a nice clear section with some river frontage to set up the antenna. Unfortunately the track tuned to sand and I didn’t want to risk getting my Falcon bogged, so I found a clear area of the old Cadel Rd in which to set up for the remainder of the afternoon. The red dot indicated my operating position.

 

 
At this location, I set up out the back of the car and used a tree stump to attach the squidpole. I used a different autotransformer, this one having a 2:14 turns ratio, and using an FT140-43 mix core material, rather than the unknown core from the original
Autotransformer (AT) I wound that was salvaged from a commercial broadband HF antenna. The only difference in the actual antenna deployment was instead of having the AT at ground level I attached it at around 1 metre off the ground. I felt that the antenna seemed to work slightly better in this configuration. Further research confirmed my thoughts, others have confirmed there are less ground losses when the feed point is elevated,. 
 
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Match Trans

 
 
Car and Antenna
 
 
 
I was soon underway, activating 80/40/20 throughout the course of the afternoon, 20M did seem a little flat, but I did hear a VK6 Station calling CQ. I was chuffed to give Jason, VK6YTS a 55 report on a fairly flat band. He also reported he wasn’t hearing much, and gave me a 52.
 

I felt that the antenna seemed to work slightly better in this configuration, rather than with the Autotransformer/feedpoint at ground level. Further research confirmed my thoughts, others have confirmed there are less ground losses when the feed point is elevated,. 

Again, the convenience of not having to touch the antenna to change bands was a very handy thing, and made operating just that bit better.

I will have to conduct more experiments with the Autotransformers and EFHW wire, hopefully the next park will also be close to one of our lovely old country Hotels that do our state proud, even better if it’s lunchtime!

 

Tech Night – May 2018

Its been a while since our last posting so a quick update on the our Club members builds on their Crossed Yagis.

DSC_0743It was the Riverland Radio Clubs monthly Tech Night tonight which was scheduled for a bring in whatever you want help with night. So Ron VK5MRE and Rob VK5TRM both finished off their take on the build design of Danny VK5DW.

Ivan VK5HS bought in the ‘shorting’ bars for Ron and Rob to complete the Gamma Matches while both Ivan and Danny bought in their antenna analysers to help the lads give the yagis and tune.

20180326_211630Both antennas tuned up quite well and of course not solely satisfied with just an analyser saying the antenna is good to go, a few on air tests just had to be done to prove the point. So out in the car park of the SES Headquarters at Berri there we were trying to throw a signal into a couple repeaters around the area.

After the field tests which included trials of front to back and polarity attenuation, which all seemed quite good, we retired back to the comfort of inside. By now the Sonde WX balloon had been launched from Adelaide, so it was time to get out with Rob’s VK5TRM antenna configured in the 5 element 70cm format to see if the Sonde could be heard.

Adel_BerriYep sure enough it was there, given we are about 200kms away and on the wrong side of the Mt Lofty Ranges we were getting the Sonde from the SES car park with a hand held antenna with the Sonde at only about 4500m elevation. Yep Rob seemed happy with that.

Once again we returned inside for a bit of a chat before retiring for the evening.

Thanks for reading,

Danny VK5DW

Pooginook Conservation Park VKFF-0929

Map ImageOn Saturday 5th of May I activated another park for WWFF and VKFF.
Pooginook Conservation Park is a plot of mallee about a 45 minute drive, approximately 50 km west of my home QTH.

From the National Parks website…
“The dense Mallee scrub in the northern part of the park provides shelter to a range of wildlife, including Kangaroos, Echidna, Hairy-Nosed Wombats, Fat-Tailed Dunnarts and the rare Malleefowl. In contrast, the southern section features open Mallee as the area was once largely used for wheat farming.

The park provides good opportunities for bird watching. Keep a look out for Black-Eared Miners, Honeyeaters and many other colourful Mallee birds. During spring the park blossoms, displaying a variety of colourful Mallee plants. The park’s camping ground is accessible to conventional vehicles, however, some sections of the boundary road are only accessible by 4WD.”

I drove in to the park from the Goyder Highway, it’s signposted but the sign is old and faded and is white on a brown background. As I pass this sign regularly for work road trips, I knew it was there but if you’re unfamiliar with the area you might miss it.
file5The Park sign itself is old and dilapidated, I’ve noticed a lot of the South Australian Park signs have been upgraded to nice clear easy to read Green/white signs but this one hasn’t made the grade yet…

I only had to drive in a short way until I found a nice clear area to park my vehicle and set up the station…

file1Although the signs have long disappeared I’m fairly sure this is one of the designated camping areas in the park. If you do come here to camp overnight or longer, you will need to bring absolutely everything, as there are no facilities here.

 I wasted no time in setting up the station between my car and a convenient tree. The weather was perfect for a park activation, around 22 degrees with a coolish, light south westerly breeze. Although there were some visible 22Kv power lines running east west about 500 metres away to my north , I hoisted my Link dipole up on its Squidpole so that both legs were at 90 degrees to them to hopefully quench any noise they might generate. I didn’t have to worry however, as the noise floor was non existent, the joys of a quiet park!

 

 

This activation was an interesting “first” for me. This was the first time I would be using a logging program on my iPad to log the Park contacts, instead of the usual paper logs. I hate paper logs, and the work involve in getting the contacts into a computer and emailed off to the right people.

I had done a fair bit of research in looking at a log programs that would be suitable for a park activation. My requirements were quick entry capability, support for VKFF/WWFF and generation of the correct ADIF formatted logs for direct emailing off to the coordinator. There didn’t seem a lot out there.

I was at the stage where I was considering buying an Android tablet so I could run the most excellent VK-Port-log (http://vk3zpf.com/vk-port-a-log). After registering and downloading the app from the files section of the yahoo group, I gave it a try on my android phone. It’s very good but the phone format I find is a little small for the eyes and fingers.

It was while I was looking at the parks and peaks web site where I saw a link to the Parks and peaks iPhone app (https://www.vk5ayl.com/). Sue only had the non logging version available via the App Store so I got in contact with her about the newer V2 version that supports logging. To cut a long story short I soon became a beta tester and was now trying the app in the real world for the first time…

 

 

The app offers spotting and alerting to the parks and peaks website, along with logging of contacts for an activation…

This is all entered as you log the contact, directly into the phone or iPad. It’s very quick and easy to do. Most fields can/will auto populate, for example when you enter a call sign, if there is a matching name in the database (which is updated at the push of a button under settings) it will magically appear in name field.

file11After the QSO’s are done you are left with the log for the activation. You can Scroll through and edit any entry with a double click if you need to.

Then export the log…

file12

It’s really that simple.

Just like Port-a-log has revolutionised portable logging for the Android platform, Parks and Peaks will soon be the go to app for the iOS platform.

Ok, there was a few things about the app that I felt that needed attention and Sue, VK5AYL was most receptive to ideas. I’ll be using this app on all my park activations
from now on, it’s fantastic! No more dread of converting paper logs into the computer. (Yes. There will always be a pen and paper in the go kit just in case)

I ended up with 55 contacts in the log in about 2 1/2 hours. You tend to learn something each activation and for this one, it was “Don’t forget the Aerogard”
I did, and the flies were INCREDIBLY annoying!!

Andy, VK5LA

Recent Andy VK5LA Activations

On Sunday the 29th April I decreed it “Get out and play Radio day”, as it was the last day of a 2 week Annual leave break for me. A relaxing day in one of our beautiful parks seemed like a perfect way to end my break.

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I’m lucky enough to have the Murray River National Park VKFF-0372 within a stone’s throw from my home location, (see the map) so it was a trivial matter to pack up my portable station (more on this later), pack a lunch and put everything in the car and head out.

The Katarapko section features 9,148 hectares of black box, red gum and lignum covered floodplains and wetlands, that are alive with aquatic bird species. Katarapko Creek itself is a significant creek that flows through the park and provides great canoeing All the creeks and waterways in the park are a very important habitat for native fish. The Ngak Indau walking trail is great for viewing the abundant wetland birdlife. Rilli Island, Media Island and Kapunda Island Conservation Parks are also part of Katarapko. These are easily accessed from the River proper, best from the Loxton boat ramp if in a power boat.
Katarapko itself is divided into three sections: Lock 4 section, Eckert’s Creek section and Katarapko Creek section. Each section has a separate entrance with visitors being unable to move from one section to another through the park.
31960740_10214326205221824_4067388592576528384_nhttps://www.environment.sa.gov.au/parks/find-a-park/Browse_by_region/Murray_River/murray-river-national-park#about
Katfish Reach is a community environmental rehabilitation project that encompasses the Katarapko and Eckert Creek area. The area has been identified as a priority floodplain for environmental flows, and for broad‐scale rehabilitation works for native fish.
32073015_10214326166300851_3805240496251469824_nhttp://katfish.org.au/ 
In about 5 minutes I was at the park entrance of the Katarapko – Eckerts Creek section of the Murray River National Park.
 

I wasted no time in setting up after finding a suitable site. I had a brief look at several potential areas before deciding on Campsite 14. This area is marked on the map and is at the junction of the Eckert Wide Waters and the South Arm.

There wasn’t a soul around, and the Squidpole was suitably strapped to a convenient tree and the 20-30-40 Metre link dipole hoisted up and the antenna ends tied off. My portable table was called to arms and the station set up in the shade of a lovely old tree in about 10 minutes.

 

 

 

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After a quick bite of lunch, I spent an enjoyable afternoon, easily qualifying the park, making 77 QSO’s across 40 and 30 metres. The band conditions were quite good, and the super low noise floor of operating in an area with no man made noises from power lines or electrical goods allowed me to work stations low down. Most stations were ‘armchair” copy, 5 by 7 being the normal signal report.

I have often been asked about my Antenna and radio setup by operators I contact on the air during my park activations. My portable station seems to work well. I can usually work anyone I can hear, including DX stations. It is a simple setup, and it’s quick and easy to deploy.

 

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The Radio
For the majority of activations, where you drive in to the park and set up “Picnic Style” with a table and chair, you can’t beat a 100 Watt class radio. My choice is the Icom IC-7300, a fantastic rig with a large, easy to read display, excellent receiver and punchy transmit audio. This is my preferred rig, 100 watts of TX power seems to be the way to go while the sun is half asleep and conditions are average.
I also have a Yaesu FT817 that has been a trusted companion over quite a few SOTA activations, many, many VHF/UHF Field days and a few park activations. If I need a light weight option then this little Radio is a fantastic choice.

32081608_10214326171180973_8703392690064064512_nThe Antenna
My antenna at the moment is a very simple “Link Dipole”. There is a million pages of info on the internet about these so I wont elaborate here. A picture tells a thousand words. Mine is for the 20, 30 and 40 Metre Amateur bands, and has been adjusted so that the VSWR is below 1.5:1 on each band. This is so it can be used with a Radio that doesn’t have an antenna tuner, like the FT-817.

32080120_10214326172341002_1110940436966408192_n
 
32074746_10214326167580883_4781961727749128192_nSquid Pole
The ubiquitous Squid pole has be a handy dandy addition to the portable Ham Radio station for quite a few years now. Mine is a one of Australian distributor “Haverford”, 7M heavy duty model. This has served me well over the years. It gets strapped to a Tree, post or other support with an octopus strap.
 
The Table
My table is a lightweight fold up aluminium job I obtained from Cheap as Chips around 10 years ago. It packs up into a bag that’s slightly smaller than your average camping chair.
 
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Other things to make life easy out in a park come from experience. The chair for instance, is quite important since you spend a fair bit of time in it. My wife has a very nice “Jetpilot” branded chair that just seems to be 10 times more comfortable than the average camp chair so I take that with me at every opportunity.
I’ve recently begun using a quality external speaker that points at me when sitting at a table, this makes stations easier to copy. What about headphones? Sorry, not a fan of them. Don’t forget your Hat, your sunscreen and the bloody AeroGaurd!!!

 

 

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Thanks for reading,
Andy VK5LA

 

1.. 2.. 3.. Sonde

Ivan VK5HS and I, Danny VK5DW, was out again the morning of Friday May 4th for another hunt of the illusive Radio Sonde. The Sonde was expected to be landing in the Wanbi area near the Karoonda Highway about 60kms South of Loxton.

We were hopeful that Rob’s VK5TRM Auto RX tracking station and Ivan’s VK5HS new Auto RX tracking station would provide reporting into HabHub at relatively low altitude.

20180504 - Sonde Hunt - Mindarie - RFHEAD Prediction

So Ivan being from Renmark picks me up on the way through Loxton. As neither of us have the applicable setup for a chase car we headed out leaving my QTH in Loxton at about 0900 (local) with:

  • Android Tablet
  • Lap Top PC
  • GPS Engine for the Lap Top
  • Mobile Phones
  • 2 x Home Brew Yagi’s (Ivan made his in 30mins)
  • Boefeng Hand Held
  • Icom IC-R10 SSB Receiver
  • a lot of positive thoughts!

As we don’t have the capacity to decode the data from the Sonde direct to the laptop we have to rely on internet services such as HabHub. So here are the problems with relying on internet services.

  1. The Sonde tracking is from fixed ground stations in this case the nearest being VK5TRM station over 55kms away, while VK5HS station is over 85kms away. This results in the last known location and altitude being potentially several hundred metres away and up. This makes the potential landing site less definable.
  2. You need to have mobile phone service to have internet access!

OK so the challenge set we get into Alawoona and pull up to monitor the balloon progress for a bit while we still had internet. With increasing confidence it was going to land around the Wanbi / Mindarie area we moved on to Wanbi pulling over periodically so to hold the mobile phone up out the window to get service and thus updates from HabHub.

20180504 - Sonde Hunt - Mindarie - HabHubAfter a while indications were that we needed to be nearer to Mindarie, indeed a few kms East of Mindarie. So into Mindarie we went then East onto McCabe Rd, Great!!! No internet! Do we rely on Direction Finding (DF) with yagis etc or move back till we find service??? Nope, back to get some internet service, there were simply too much risk of change that we would otherwise miss and render us in the middle of nowhere with respect to the Sonde.

Now we’re back into Mindarie just North of the township by a 100m or so, sitting on a slight rise with mobile phone on the roof of Ivan’s car so we could get a bit of signal for the phone. Ahh that’s better we can monitor what the Sonde is doing.

20180504 - Sonde Hunt - MindarieNow we have service again we watch intently while HabHub predictions show the Sonde landing around Wanbi… are we heading back to Wanbi??? It was about now we got a TXT message over the HF radio from Pete VK5PE saaying it looks like it’s going to land on top of the Wanbi PUB. Do we move or do we not? Nope let’s wait and see for a bit… … … Hmmm it seems to be predicting landing sites closer and closer and closer to us, we’ll site tight for a bit longer.

After a while we found ourselves under the flight path, staying put was the correct call, we were going to be within a km or 2 at this stage. I’m still monitoring HabHub while Ivan is out with his yagi and receiver trying to DF it on its approach. Before long data was showing we were in the hot seat. I jest-fully prompted Ivan to walk West to the train track (dis used) and hold his hands out to catch it.

Next thing you know Ivan asks what directing I thought it was coming in, to confirm his DF skills, then I hear a yell from Ivan… “It’s right there, quick get a camera!” Too late, it’s down! Now we had another issue that in the haste to get a camera, remember the phone is still on the roof, we lost sight of the thing… where is it? OK OK stop laughing!

Right lets see if we can get a bit closer, we chose to drive to where we thought would be closer. So this was another lesson… we weren’t closer!!! Not that we knew that yet.

DannyOk so now we’re out of the car, Ivan with R10 receiver and yagi and I with Boafeng Hand Held Transceiver and yagi, trying to DF the signal. Of course the signal at such close range is quite strong so the signal had to be attenuated somehow. Ivan could use the SSB function and also use the squelch functions. He also used the yagi in horizontal polarisation for further attenuation and ran off the back of the yagi. I used the Boafeng, of course FM only, and progressively de-tuned the frequency to create attenuation, used the yagi in horizontal and off the back. Both methods used by Ivan and myself certainly work well enough for DFing the Sonde.

Well that decision to drive a bit closer didn’t work out that well. We ended up walking about 300m instead of my be 100m from where we watched it come down. Anyway we got it and we were pretty chuffed none the less. All packed up and the Sonde (with string, reflector, balloon remains) recovered we headed home.

20180504_122433Taking the ‘bakery’ lead from Mark VK5QI we called into the Loxton Anzac Crescent Deli for our version, ‘Espresso Coffee Thick Shake’. Liquid gold! A great way to wrap up a really fun hunt.

So the lessons here:

  • Anyone can do this with little equipment
  • Laptop or Tablet with internet access is all that is needed
  • In car and independent tracking capacity is desirable
  • Be patient… Keep yourself best positioned for changing predictions
  • You don’t need expensive kit to DF a Sonde
  • If you see it descending… have your camera ready and don’t look away!!!
  • Don’t always think you can drive a bit closer, especially when you see it land in front of you!

Just a little note and suggestion. Please collect the whole shebang, don’t collect just the Sonde and leave the rest for the farmers, or whoever, to have to deal with.

Thanks for reading,

Danny VK5DW

We Did It Again!

G’day all,

Well we did it again. Our website has again exceeded its previous months results in most aspects.

gold-trophy_1284-1735

We broke into the 1.3k views for the month, increased unique visitors for the month by 70%, almost 30% increase in ‘Post’ Likes, and went from only 4 Countries viewing our site in March to 18!

I prepared a speech…

I’d like to thank Mum and Dad… Seriously though I do sincerely want to thank the contributors to our site, particularly Andy VK5LA and Ivan VK5HS for the articles they have sent in for me to post. Also to anyone that has been behind a camera and sent me their happy snaps that I could use to add that something to the articles.

To our Riverland Radio Club members for getting out and about to give us something to blog about, be it park activations, Radio Sonde Hunting, or project building… thanks!

Special mention to Paul VK5PAS and Marija VK5FMAZ for their photos and some would say relentless commitment to Amateur Radio and the allied WWFF program. They are forever posting and sharing not only their own stories but also sharing ours. So thanks Paul and Marija for contributing to our successes here in the Riverland.

Thanks must also go to our patrons, our visitors to our little site. The Riverland Radio Club says thank you!

Please continue to visit our site, keep clicking those ‘Like’ buttons, and please leave a comment or three as we would love to hear your thoughts.

Cheers and 73’s,

Danny VK5DW