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February 2010 - Field test of PFR3 on Florida Vacation
My first 'job' was getting equipment thru airport security. I called the the TSA and they suggested the best method was to put all equipment in a separate bag and send it thru as 'checked luggage.' Trying to take it thru as a carry-on might cause delays getting thru security. As checked baggage, they will see it on X-ray, they will open it and inspect it. Dave from TSA told me "this is no big deal - we do this all the time." They will then leave you a notice that they have done so. I was also advised not to lock the luggage without a TSA approved lock - otherwise they will cut your lock off.
I packed the PFR3, key, earbuds, antenna wire, some tools, light antenna rope, etc into a laptop bag and put that bag in my large suitcase. I also included a copy of the PFR3 manual, a copy of my license, and a QSL card inside the laptop bag where it was easily noticed (like no bad-guys would ever think of that!).
No problems or delays - just like the TSA said.
I had envisioned operating from a picnic table under tall palm trees. Because of the very cool weather and steady wind I decided to operate poolside at our hotel. Our hotel had a second floor sundeck above the pool.
Operating portable - Field Day, backpack portable, etc. - seems to always come down to finding the best way to get an effective antenna up - especially when operating QRP. If you are flying, or traveling on a motorcycle, wire antennas seem to be the first choice since it is easy to carry a spool of thin wire. I was able to run an 80 foot wire (20 gauge insulated) from the railing around the sundeck up to the railing across the pool to the 3rd floor balcony. I then laid a 40' counterpoise out on the sundeck. I used thin nylon rope tied directly to the wire to keep the wire away from the metal railings (very 'stealthy'). These two wires hooked directly up to the balanced line terminals on the PFR3. No coax, no external baluns, etc. No one seemed to notice the wire so I left it up for a couple days and just took the counterpoise wire in with me when I was done operating.
I was quite happy to see that the tuner easily tuned the antenna. The SWR LED is plenty bright for tuning in the daylight - it would be pretty bright in a dark setting. The tuning is pretty sensitive and it took a while to learn how to get the LED fully extinguished indicating a good match. By going back-and-forth between the LOAD and TUNE controls very carefully I was able to get the wire and counterpoise tuned showing no light from the LED. This is a process that you get better-and-better at. I was able to tune all bands - 40, 30, and 20. Also, the shafts on the tuning caps came loose - fortunately I had the small tools that would tighten them up. I think a drop of Super-Glue where they attach to the tuning capacitors might be in order.
The VFO/Display needed to be shaded from the bright sun in order to be visible. I put the umbrella up on the table to help with the sun. The audio level in the earbuds was a bit light. The ear buds are OK in a quiet room but the outside noise and wind made it a challenge to hear weak signals. There are some simple mods for the PFR3 that will boost the level. I will make those mods.
I hadn't taken the time to come up with a good portable paddle so I took my Bencher paddle. Of course it is too heavy for backpacking but it was OK for this trip. By next trip I will have my touch-paddle built and attached to the rig.
During the day I was able to keep a schedule with N9ZI on 20m. He reported that my signal was pretty light but copyable. I had no trouble copying his 100w signal from northeast Indiana. I was able to work into Cuba and Nicaragua on 40m - I guess that is barely DX from South Florida. I Also had some nice rag-chews with some other stations up here in 9-Land.
All in all, the PFR3 did all that it is supposed to do and all in one neat little package. Hook up the antenna, plug in a paddle and earbuds and you are ready to make contacts.