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.

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

ANZAC Day Activation 25/04/2018

Chowilla SignAfter a terrific start to ANZAC Day, attending a wonderful Dawn Service at the Loxton Cross Of Sacrifice then checking on my Grandfather and a couple friends at the Loxton Cemetery, I headed of to the QTH of Ivan VK5HS. The master plan was for Ivan VK5HS, Pete VK5PE, Andy VK5LA, and myself Danny VK5DW to all meet up at Ivan’s place and head off to a couple parks that had not yet been activated.

Map - GeneralWith us all loaded up into a couple vehicles we headed North (well Northish) up to Chowilla. Chowilla parks consist of the Chowilla Game Reserve VKFF-1697 and Chowilla Regional Reserve VKFF-1698. These parks incorporate the Chowilla Floodplain which contains the largest remaining natural river red gum forest in the Lower Murray and a range of diverse aquatic habitats. It is a part of the Chowilla Game and Regional Reserve as well as the Riverland Ramsar wetland of international importance. Chowilla is home to many iconic and endangered native species, including the Murray cod, regent parrot and the southern bell frog and is the traditional home of the First Peoples of the River Murray and Mallee region

For more info on the Chowilla Floodplain check out: Chowilla Fllodplain – DEWNR.

Our first place to activate was Chowilla Game Reserve which  is located adjacent to Murtho on the Northern side of the Murray River, North East of Renmark. Shown on the map here shaded blue.

We headed in on the Old Wentworth Rd, nice bit of track that in a 2WD tray top ute!!! Before turning into the Game Reserve back toward the Murray then following Chowilla 20180425_121156Creek along to the Chowilla Regulator. Finding a nice little spot not far from the Regulator we set up a couple portable stations and got to work at about 0000z. Andy and Ivan fired up on 80m while Pete and I went to 40m.

This was a terrific spot along side the Chowilla Creek with great company and a swag of great and most appreciated contacts. The weather was mid 20 degrees a little overcast and a very light breeze. The site was as quiet as a mouse, QRM and people… we didn’t see anyone until we were leaving. Pete and I stayed on 40m for the duration of our activations while Andy and Ivan made their quotas on 80m and 30m. The ANZAC Day privilege of the ‘AX’ callsign certainly got a fair workout as well.

20180425_120929Ivan made 44 contacts, Andy 45, Pete 28, and I made 46. By this time we were all looking pretty pleased with ourselves.

While Andy was working his last couple Pete and Ivan fired up the BBQ and started to cook up a couple snags, onion and spuds.

After we fed the worms (had lunch) we headed off to our next location in the Chowilla Regional Reserve. Have a look over all our pics of Chowilla Game Reserve in this mosaic.

 

OK so now were on our way to the next site, Pete and I following Ivan and Andy in complete faith with only one 20180425_133634little issue… what’s that… Ivan cracking a U-bolt?!?!? Ummm wrong way?

Anyway a little while latter we pulled into the Chowilla Regional Reserve and found ourselves a comfortable little spot under a bit of shade.

We went straight to work and set up a station and Andy got right into calling CQ Parks.

 

Andy12Pete kicked back and just enjoyed the surroundings while Ivan, Andy and I shared the mic passing back and forth. The constant changing of operators, callsigns, slipping the ‘AX’ prefix in, and the odd little pile up proved to make for a very entertaining time. Sorry to anyone that was getting confused. No fear we knew exactly what we were doing… that’s what we kept telling ourselves.

We were having a wow of a time and in no time at all we had over 10 contacts each. Satisfied we decided it was time to retire back to Ivan’s QTH, unpack and call it a very enjoyable day.

Here is a mosaic of the second Operating Location, Chowilla Regional Reserve VKFF-1698:

For a bunch of ratbag friends just having a fun time we think our contact counts are pretty cool:

  • Ivan VK5HS / AX5HS
    • VKFF1697 – 44
    • VKFF1698 – 17
    • Park to Park – 14
  • Andy VK5LA / AX5LA
    • VKFF1697 – 45
    • VKFF1698 – 18
    • Park to Park – 14
  • Pete VK5PE / AX5PE
    • VKFF1697 – 28
    • Park to Park – 1
  • Danny VK5DW / AX5DW
    • VKFF1697 – 46
    • VKFF1698 – 17
    • Park to Park – 12
  • Totals:
    • VKFF1697 – 163
    • VKFF1698 – 54
      • Combined – 217
    • Park to Park – 41

Here are our 2 Operating Locations:

Chowilla Activation Map

Thanks for reading. Please click ‘Like’ and/or leave a comment.

Cheers and 73’s,

Danny VK5DW

Update 27/04/2018 – A couple more pics in from Pete VK5PE: