Bexar Operators Group – Balloon Vertical At Choke Canyon

Below are a series of pictures from the Bexar Operators Group 160 meter CQ WW SSB contest. 

We traveled to the Calliham Unit of Choke Canyon State Park, about 15 miles west of the town of Three Rivers, which is about 80 miles south of San Antonio.

After checking in, we went to our screened shelter (cabin) only to find that they all had been completely refurbished since our last visit. All the cabins had large air conditioners and two beds! No more blowing up our queen sized air mattress or lugging our window AC unit in the summer.




As you can see, they allow pets, and our two dogs quickly staked out a bed they wanted. I began the task of setting up the radio gear while my XYL, KD5YTN, Krissy, completed her chores of getting the rest of the camping gear out of the truck and assembled.  

We had a problem and had a tough choice to make. It was a very windy day on Friday, with gusts over 25 mph. We decided to wait and see if the wind would die down, as was predicted for Saturday. So, we erected a 160 meter dipole antenna to work the first half of the contest. I would have preferred a loop, but we had neither the real estate nor the time to plot one out and set it up.

The first evening of the contest was a reminder of just how poor many ops are. They run full power (1500 watts) but never learned either how to listen for replies or didn’t have a decent receive antenna. They lacked both the skill and knowledge of how the low bands work and didn’t even leave enough time for reponding stations to throw a call back. We call this being “deaf” and believe me there were plenty of deaf stations out there. Contacts were very few with the poor operators and it became very frustrating.

Thank goodness the “comfort food” Krissy made helped bring me to a “happy place”.  She made her old standby meal “hobo dinners” which never tasted better! 

The next day, with the wind reduced, we set to the task of flying our vertical antenna. Our pink weather balloon (pink to show our support for Breast Cancer Awareness) filled quickly, but next time I am going to devise a special fitting so we don’t lose too much helium during inflation.

The balloon only had to be filled to about 6 feet in diameter, and not the 9 feet it could have been, to pull our antenna skyward. We used pink ribbon to secure the pinkish antenna wire to the balloon. We put out several ground radials and as was expected our signal increased dramatically.

The experiment was a success and we even were able to deflate the antenna for future use. (We have two of these just in case the first one burst or got away from us.)

Lessons learned:

  • Bring a larger tank of helium as we cut it very close with inflation.
  • Make an adapter so balloon inflation (it has a very wide “throat”) is easier.
  • More radials probably have helped with our signal.
  • Using 100 watts, although a noble effort, just couldn’t fight through a lot of the poor ops with high power signals and no skills.
  • The receive was quiet as I had theorized being out from the man-made electrical noise of the city.
  • I can always count on Krissy’s “hobo dinners” to make me happy!

Our set up, operations and breakdown team worked great due to the experience of going out and doing this and other events. (Krissy took the pix but didn’t want the ones I took of her posted, so I didn’t include them.)


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