Start: 21-01-2003 End: 28-01-2003
Through my relations I have been in contact since the mid 90’s with the authorities in Sudan who are responsible for frequency management and licensing. I knew that this would be a long process but that at the end, there would come a time that we would succeed. During this period, my good friend Amin Bashir of ACCESS Trading Co.Ltd. and local representative of Yaesu gave support. He finally managed to get my license application approved with the call sign ST2X.
Although I had received already a verbal confirmation that a license would be issued, I waited until a fax of the license was sent by the National Telecommunications Corporation (NTC). This was the moment that I could start to make a fixed plan and finalize my preparations. This was the time that a news release could be distributed to the DX news bulletins to inform the amateur radio community.
From my experience during the time I was living in Sudan (1987-1991) I knew how customs were working and how things could go wrong for al kinds of reasons. Furthermore, bringing radio equipment and antenna’s into the country was not common business and should be done with great care. For those reasons I decided a low profile expedition would be the best approach. Another even more important issue is that an expedition by foreigners to a country where amateur radio is just taking up should not generate negative publicity or create problems with the authorities which could have its impact on the situation of the local amateurs and their position in the community. Because amateur radio has just re-opened for foreigners I decided to go as soon as the license was on hand.One man expedition
I decided to organize a one-man radio expedition as this did not require any planning with other operators and I could respond quickly on changing circumstance and avoid delay. Moreover, I had accommodation available for myself and this was possibly not sufficient when going with more people.Limitations
he decision of a one man expedition brings a number of limitations. The main constraint is money/weight as there is a direct relation between both. Antennas should be limited in size and weight and the same was applicable for the radio equipment and furthermore it should be transportable as normal luggage on an airplane. So antennas would be simple and no amplifiers would be used. This would result in a weak signals in certain parts of the world but knowing that other operation were scheduled to take place, I thought it was justifiable to have a simple station setup. My goal was to give people a first time new one and completion of 5BWAZ or 5BDXCC would come at a second place.
First thing was to have a small radio that could easily fit in my hand luggage. I contacted Yaesu Europe and discussed the use of the brand new FT-897 for this purpose which is an ideal expedition transceiver. Yaesu supported the idea but actual delivering the equipment was difficult as the distribution was just about to start. Just a few days before departure the FT-897 and the FP-30C switching power supply were on hand but the automatic antenna tuner was not yet available. At the last moment I ordered the MFJ-901B which is a very small ATU and suitable for the work.
In the meantime I started to prepare my own Cushcraft R7000 vertical for quick installation by marking the tubes with colored tape. To transport this antenna on an airplane is a challenge as the base assembly is at least 1.60 meters long. I had no original packing anymore of the R7000 so I constructed one from card board. It measured about 12x12x160cm. Once all the antenna parts were packed in the box, it was slid into a bag that fitted tightly. The purpose of the bag was to avoid the box losing parts in case of rough handling during transportation.
As an alternative, I also bought a G5RV dipole which only weights 1.5 KG and could easily be transported in my suitcase. These two antennas would allow me to anticipate on the different circumstances I may encounter once being at the spot. I was taking in account that in a city the vertical could be more sensitive for the electrical QRM than a dipole.
Preparations and what to bring along?
Logging for the expedition would be done with CT and I had downloaded the latest version that works under Windows (9.84). All software was installed on my laptop and the testing of the interface cables could start. For keying of the rig I had a LPT keying interface cable. This is using two opto couplers and works already for many years at home. The data interface cable which I normally use for my FT-920 did not match the FT-897 as it has different plugs. At the time I received the radio, there was too little time to fix this problem so I had no automatic band change available and should pay attention to change bands on the rig and in the logging simultaneously. Aditional software for conversion (from BIN to ADI) and preparation for the log search applet of G4ZFE was installed.
Although keying would be done from the laptop, an external keyer (ETM-8C) was added to my equipment list for sending additional messages.Packing
Once I had the complete list of materials ready, it was a matter of packing all the stuff and make sure that I could get it all along on the airplane. From previous experience (BV0AA) I learned how this could be done. Pack all you heavy materials in your hand luggage and the rest in the suitcase. This makes that the lowest weight will be checked in at the counter and will determine if and how much overweight you have to pay. In practice you hand carry the ‘actual over weight’. So the radio, cables, coax, keyer, antenna wire, etc. were packed into a trolley with a size that is allowed to be carried into the cabin. The laptop, paperwork and personal things went into a backpack and would also be carried into the cabin. Total weight of these two was about 20KG. Most of the personal stuff, tuner, sharp instruments like knife, screwdriver, etc. (they are not allowed in hand luggage) and a FT-840 were packed into a normal suitcase. The suitcase and antenna together were about 35 KG. This made it a total of 55 KG.
When checking-in at the counter at Schiphol airport, there were no problems. The antenna box had to be placed in a special carriage for odd sizes (as it would otherwise block the transportation belt for luggage) and that completed a very easy check-in. I was flying from Amsterdam via Frankfurt and Cairo to Khartoum. At arrival I had to declare the radio’s at customs. After finalizing customs and other facilities, I was welcomed by my good friend Amin Bashir who was working with me during 1987-1991 in a telecommunications rehabilitation project in Sudan. It was a great feeling to be back in Khartoum after 12 years.The work starts
The next day we visited the National Telecommunications Corporation (NTC) to obtain a letter for clearing my radio’s and went directly to custom’s office at the airport to clear the radio’s. The FT-897 should be imported temporary and the FT-840 had to be imported normal as it would remain in the country.
Although I was in the warehouse of customs and was just 2 meters away from the radio’s, we were not able to get them out. After some negotiations all was ready for release but as the cashier was not at his desk we could not pay our duties and so the radio’s had to remain in the warehouse. This was a serious drawback as it suspended my appearance on the air and shortened my air time. I did not want to think about what could happen the next day and fully trusted the capabilities of Amin who is very experienced in handling these situations.
For the rest of the day I spend on buying food supplies and preparing the operating site which was a house and used as an office and located in New Extension, a quarter just outside the city centre of Khartoum. This is mostly a residential area with a limited number of multi story buildings. I had one of the offices in the house at my disposal, completely furnished with desk, table, cupboard, bed, air conditioning, fan and could also use a telephone line for my internet connection and had a mobile phone available. This was certainly one of the best operating facilities you may find for an expedition.
I had the availability of the roof of the office and the adjacent house for fixing my antennas. I could easily install the R7000 to the surrounding structure of the roof and it did not take long to have the installation finished. For safety reasons I fixed 4 small guy wires in case we may have some strong winds.
The evening was spend having a diner at my friends house. I really enjoyed a relaxed evening as I was forced not to operate and this was the best alternative.
The next day, we were very excited when the radio’s arrived around 10 o’clock at the operating site. It did not take long before I had the radio installed and hooked up to the R7000 vertical antenna. There was quite a high noise level (sometimes up to S9) but I was able to copy the signals and the first QSO was made on 21 January at 10:24 UTC with OK1QF on 15 meters.
Just a little later I was visited by Mr. Eng. Hassabo and Mr. Mohamed of the National Telecommunication Corporation (NTC). They were eager to see the station and how my operation was going. We had a very pleasant meeting and discussion about the operation and the setup of the station. For the rest of the day I continued to operate. As Murphy can always strike and jeopardize the operation, I gave the highest priority to making contacts. All other things could be done later.
Tuesday, 21 January
As I presumed that the G5RV would be less sensitive for the noise, I decided to install this one as well. Amin had arranged two metal pipes for me that were already located on the roof. If I was going to use just one metal pipe, it could cause some problem with the feed line of the dipole. When I asked for the availability of bamboo poles in the market, Amin answered that that was difficult but he had two glass fiber masts of his surfboard next to the house.
This was a great solution and soon we were fixing the fiber pole to the structure of the roof and fixed the G5RV in top guided the feedline along the pole. Amin had a piece of RG213 coax available that was long enough to run the feedline to the operating position. The dipole was hanging east-west with a radiation pattern north-south. With US, Eu and JA being within an angle of about 90º (see also the map below) and Europe exactly north, you understand that this would make it difficult to separate working JA and US stations from Europeans. This also proofed to be the case during the following days.
The only way to use the directivity of the G5RV was to move the legs of the dipole and this became a regular excercise in the morning and evening. On the receiving side I did not notice any difference but for transmission it must have had at least some effect. The great circle map shows the world centered on Sudan. With a dipole (blue) running east-west, you cover US, Europe and Japan. This makes it particular difficult when the bands are open to all three areas at the same time, which happens quite often.
On 30 meters I experienced a natural selection of these areas as at the beginning of the evening I could work Europe, followed by Japan becoming stronger en Europe getting weaker. Later the US started to appear as well which allowed me to work Japan and US at the same time with so now and then a strong European station. This was really a fantastic experience and lots of fun to work. As happens with many expeditions, people sometimes wonder why you do not work them as they experience a great opening and strong signals. As jsu explained, this can happen at the same time also to others at the other end of the world. With my very simple antennas, there is not much you can do to select certain areas and you simply have to work whatever you can.
Wednesday, 22 January
The following days had more or less the same pattern. In the morning I started with breakfast and then continued operating. Depending on visitors or power cuts I did operate most of the day and evening. This was only interrupted by antenna works, showering, reading mail and taking food. I had many discussions with Amin and his brother Tarig about amateur radio in Sudan and they were very exited about the progress of the operation.
Every day, I concluded my day by uploading the log files to my web site in order to keep the radio community up to date and allow them to check if their contact was in the log. In the beginning I also place some content on the site with additional information. With the daily progress I could see that it was possible to reach some 7000 contact for the operation which would be satisfactory.
For this operation I used the brand new FT-897 with internal switching power supply. On top is the MFJ-901B antenna tuner with the SWR-meter. This combination is the ultimate expedition gear, providing easy traveling due to small size and low weight and great performance. I was using CT 9.84 on my laptop for logging. Other software was used for conversion and preparation for on-line log search.
Monday January 27
This day we had a meeting with Mr. Eng. Hassab Elrassoul Abulgasim and his staff who requested a presentation about my operation. This showed their interest in amateur radio and is a very positive sign. The presentation included planning, station setup, propagation and the results so far. The rest of the day I spend traveling in Khartoum and visiting some known places and taking pictures. When being back in the ‘office’ I started to work on the radio again as I had not made any QSO that day. That evening I experienced a wonderful time on 17 and 30 meters. Finally I was also able to work K7XB on 40 meters.
Tuesday, January 28
This was the last day and after breakfast I started to dismantle the R7000 and packed it in the cardboard box and made it ready for transport. For the rest I packed and prepared the luggage as much as possible so as to keep the time for final packing to a minimum. During the day and early evening I had to collect my export license for the FT-897 from NTC and visit some friends. During the evening I had to complete my target of 7000 contacts and this was concluded with QSO number 7001 with DJ8RS at 16:45Z on 17 meters. The master file was copied to different media for security reasons. Unfortunately, just before departure, I could not upload the files to my web site due to problems with my hosting provider.
At the last moment, the station was dismantled and all equipment packed again. A last cup of coffee with Amin and his brother Tarig and next we moved to the airport. After several checks and searching of my entire luggage, I finally boarded the plane and flew back to Amsterdam. This was the end of 10 days of excitement and hard work. It was a return to a place where I spend four and a half years of my life and have met so many nice and friendly people. It was great to be back and looking forward for a next opportunity.
This chapter gives an overview of the results and analysis of my operation. The total time spend on the air was 62 hours which gives an average QSO rate of 112 QSOs/hr. As can been seen from the table below, nearly 77% of all contacts were with Europe. In many case JA and the US had to battle with Europeans who are most of the time much stronger. A beam would certainly help to improve this situation. On 40 and 30 meters the propagation was of help in weakening the Europeans and allowing me to work JA and US at the same time.
Some 380 dupes were counted which means these contacts could also allow others to make a “new one” in stead of a confirmation QSO. The daily upload of the log file did not prevent these dupes. Remarkable is the lowest number of dupes on 10 meters.
The table below shows the number of stations that managed to contact me on 1 or more bands.
The chart shows the contacts by band. Finally 12 meters produced the most QSO’s. This is not the result of band conditions but has more to do with the time I spend on that band.
Ten meters has the lowest percentage and 12m the highest percentage dupes. Logging with CT gives you instant information about working dupes. This way I could ignore the dupes but my policy was to work whoever calls as telling a station that I worked him before will most likely lead to confusion and resulting in a slow down of the QSO-rate. So practice was to work everyone.
Without the support of my sponsors, this expedition could not have been taken place. In the first place I like to mention Amin and Tarig Bashir (see pictures below) of ACCESS Trading Co. Ltd. and local representative of Yaesu. They have guided this operation from the beginning till the end and supported me 24 hours a day.
Yaesu Europe B.V. sponsored with the complete FT-897 and donated a FT-840, wall maps and logbooks for the local radio club. Yaesu also provided the QSL cards for this operation. After the presentation at NTC I had the opportunity to hand over the Yaesu FT-840 to the radio club. In addition, I also donated a MFJ-901B antenna tuner and G5RV dipole on behalf of the European DX Foundation.
The European DX Foundation, INDEXA and the German DX Foundation have made their contribution and additional, the EUDXF donated a MFJ-901B antenna tuner and G5RV dipole to the local radio club.