Making amateur radio contacts from a van in Florida during the New England QSO Party

It’s not been that long since I was began operating amateur radio equipment from my van and I’m still working out ways to make it better.

This past weekend there was a ham radio contest involving stations located in the New England states and those outside the area. I decided to try and make some contacts from my van parked in Florida during the New England QSO Party.

Amateur Radio equipment setup inside a van

Using an antenna on the top of my van, and ham radio equipment setup on a folding table inside the back of the van I attempted to make contacts with other amateur radio operators. I’ve decided not to permanently install radios or furniture in the rear of my cargo van so as to mitigate theft concerns and also to allow for maximum flexibility in how I use it.

The photo above shows an Icom IC-7100 transceiver being used with an LDG AT100ProII automatic antenna tuner. Down on the floor of the van there’s a Powerwerx battery box containing a Bioenno Power LFP battery for use as a power source. There’s a small Renogy LED light sitting on top of the tuner but it’s not being used at the time of the photo.

During the contest I made 3 contacts with stations in New England using the microphone of my radio to send the sound of my voice. This mode is called Phone in general and I was specifically using single sideband (SSB). The photo above shows the radio set to 7.248 MHz which is in the 40 meter amateur band but the contacts I made were using the 20 meter amateur band. 2 stations were in Rhode Island and 1 was in New Hampshire.

Three contacts isn’t that good of a result even for only a short time of operating. I also wanted to try a different mode of operating that uses a computer attached to my amateur radio station to generate a signal for transmission and to also decode the signals from other stations that I can receive.

A notebook PC setup for logging ham contacts

I had placed a notebook PC on the table in the back of my van and was using it for logging the contacts I made into the N1MM+ software application. While some ham operators prefer to use pencil and paper for logging most have been using computers in recent times.

On this same PC I have installed a program called WSJT-X which is an application that allows for amateur radio operators to use a variety of digital modes to contact others. I ran this program using a mode called FT8 and was able to contact a number of stations including those in the states of Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, North Dakota, and Montana. I also contacted stations in Puerto Rico, Mexico and Ecuador.

In the photo above you can see the black and red colored Renology LED light and powerbank that is connected to the small fan on the table below it. This does a good job of lighting my keyboard and moving some air around inside the van if I have the windows covered and the doors shut. I also have a number of spare bungee cords hanging up in the back in case I need them.

Making contacts using some radio frequencies requires reflecting the signals off upper layers of the Earth’s atmosphere and having them return to the surface at a distant location. This mechanism is influenced by Space Weather. Here’s to hoping for better conditions tomorrow.

Ford Transit Connect gas mileage – My first tank

I recently refilled the gas tank of my 2015 Ford Transit Connect cargo van for the first time. This was the first full tank of gas that I’ve used since I purchased this used vehicle. I was counting on the smaller size and the smaller engine to deliver better MPG than a full size van.

Ford Transit Connect cargo van

This tank had a mix of highway driving as well as city and also some stop and go traffic. My primary car is a plug-in hybrid so I think I have developed a pretty good sense of how to drive smoothly for higher mileage but this was going to be the first check on how that translated to the 2.5 liter four cylinder engine and 6 speed automatic transmission used in this van.

Gas pump readings

I waited until the gas gauge was down into the red zone above empty, essentially the same place it was when I filled up the tank just after purchasing it. 12.269 gallons of regular unleaded was replaced.

Simple display in Ford Transit Connect XL

The rather simple dash display on the Ford Transit Connect XL model showed 321.2 miles on the trip odometer since I had last refilled the gas tank. Some quick math tells me that I got over 26 miles per gallon. I think the estimation of 393 miles for a full tank of gas in this vehicle is probably pretty close to reality. I reset the trip odometer after the tank was filled and this photo was taken so that I can check my next tank’s mileage.

This is also in line with the EPA MPG estimates found on the sales literature for this vehicle when it was new. I’m glad that it still does that after 109k miles. I should note that I didn’t use the AC all of the time and the back of the van was lightly loaded.

Folks who are considering the “van life” will probably like the better gas mileage a small van like the Ford Transit Connect offers but will have to decide whether the lack of space when compared to a full size van is something they can live with.

Amateur Radio from a van during the Florida QSO Party

There are a lot of different activities that make up amateur radio and contesting is just one of them. Once a year the Florida QSO Party contest takes place and it has stations inside the state of Florida trying to contact as many stations outside of Florida, while at the same time stations outside of Florida try and contact stations in as many different Florida counties

Stations can be fixed, mobile, or expeditions. This year I decided to use my van to operate as a mobile station from multiple Florida counties. On the first day of the contest I operated from Brevard and later Seminole county.

2 different Interstate Rest Areas in FL

I utilized another amateur radio technology which is APRS to track my travel. APRS uses radio transmissions to send your position to other stations. On this screen shot you can see where I began and ended my day in Daytona Beach, with my 1st stop being a rest area off I-95 near Mims Florida.

I-95 S Rest Area Brevard Co near Mims FL

I parked and made some contacts using amateur radio equipment in my van and an antenna mounted on it’s roof. I contacted stations in New Jersey, Quebec Canada, Rhode Island, Kansas, and Florida while there.

I then drove down to a highway that runs East and West and took it over to Orlando driving through Orange County. I should have found a place to stop and make some contacts but I continued on until I was able to turn North on I-4 and make my way to the second rest area stop of the day.

I-4 rest area in Seminole County FL

It was in the afternoon and the picnic area of the rest stop offered some distance away from the noisy traffic as well as ample shade and parking. This rest area was located in Seminole County Florida.

Amateur Radio operating from a van

I placed a sunshade in the front and rolled down the windows and opened up the rear doors to get a nice flow of air inside. Part of the time I operated sitting down in a chair in the back of the van. I contacted stations in Florida while I was there.

The folding table and chair as well as my radio gear is easy to setup and then remove when not being used. I can’t stand up in the back but there’s plenty of head room when sitting in my chair.

Inside the back of my van while radio contesting

I also made some contacts with stations in Argentina that were not for the Florida Contest Party using FT8 which is a digital mode. I wanted to stretch my legs so I got out of the chair and turned my notebook around so I could operate while standing just behind the van.

Sunday was the second and final day for the contest and I decided to make some contacts locally from Volusia County. I contacted stations in Kentucky, Florida, and France before the contest ended.

All things considered this was a pretty low effort attempt at operating as a mobile station during this contest and my results reflected that. I’m still pretty happy that I decided to do it and it helped my verify and learn some things that will come in handy in the future when I decide to do similar things in the future.