Who Are We?
The FCDT net is a Philly regional net set up to enable us to share our technical skills using sound cards and radios. Over the past few years we have concentrated on FLDIGI and FLMSG/FLAMP, Winlink (HF SSB and 2m FM) as well as SSTV, FT8, VARA chat and VAR AC, Sound Card Oscilloscopes, sound card Signal Generators and other apps. We work closely with the ARES/RACES organizations in the Delaware Valley but we are an independent net, not under any county government as a served agency.
Progress with Phila ARES: Cliff KC3PGT EC
Phila ARES now has a new GoKit (Yaesu FT6000) rig with appropriate PS, DRA sound card, etc. I'm looking forward to hearing this new GOKIT on the digi nets. I'm also looking forward to hearing about progress on the American Red Cross ham station downtown Philly. They were active on 2m and HF SSB back in the 1990's, when my teenage son used to volunteer to operate their ham station on Saturdays. A recent drill to link the various ARC assets in the region showed a number of possible RF paths on 2m FM. With digipeaters, we extend the range. I'm also looking forward to any progress on HF NBEMS via skywave on 80 and 40m where the local terrain is not an issue (NVIS). Ten meters is returning soon, so who knows about 10m FM or SSB extended ground wave. A local 10m SSB net that meets every day at 1 pm has a ground-wave footprint of about 30 miles regularly, with all stations running <100W SSB and verticals. A simple converted CB antenna makes a great vertical antenna. I would encourage us all to reinvest in 10m propagation (both local and DX).
Progress with Winlink Gateways running VARA FM
I've been able to hear/hit the Phila Gateway (N3FZT-10) in Mt.Airy (now on 145.670 MHz) with pretty decent S/N about +10 to +16 dB. I tested sending an ARC Custom Form in under one minute with VARA FM (narrow mode). However, 40W and a vertical does not work from my QTH. It takes a bit of power (100W) and an 11 element beam (13 dBi gain) facing Phila to get through the 30 miles and hills between us. A few in Chester County can hit k3fzt-10 (N3MEL, K3UG, KB3PCY, KE3HG, W3EOC-4 at WA3NOA's QTH) and, we can all hear each other via digipeating.
Chester County may be getting a 2m VARA FM digipeater soon in W3EOC ..... no promises. WA3NOA is looking over options right now, but if there is a VARA digi put into the EOC, that will greatly extend the footprint of VARA FM over a few counties. I think a digipeater is on the "back-burner" now at MontCo ARES Eagleville.
Five County Digital Training Net (Tues 7 pm)
So where is this net heading?
Our net last night on 147.060 MARC (Newtown Square) had some problems with intermittent signal degradation - the MARC officers are aware of this. Yet the MARC repeater is in the ideal location for a five county EMCOMM net: Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philly. A few of the folks up north (Pottstown area) have noisy signals into Newtown Square, but for others, the signal is very strong. I hear 147.060 at S9+30dB with a vertical on my back porch (West Chester).
Last night's tests on 147.060 showed the following FLDIGI modes worked successfully: THOR22, MFSK128, 8PSK500F and 8PSK1000F. At the end of the net we were able to switch to Winlink (P2P) VARA FM modem and successfully send some emails with ARC attachments: NY3J (Bensalem) to K3EUI (West Chester). VARA FM (narrow) worked very well on the 147.060 machine (the timing was not an issue). Remember -- VARA FM is not designed to work via an analog voice repeater, and in fact, the author, Jose EA5HVK, discourages that process. But ... it works, if the timing is fast enough. We know VARA FM (an ARQ mode) works very well via 147.270 Bucktown.
A few of us have been testing a much simpler app: VAR AC.
This is a new program, using the VARA FM or the VARA HF SSB modem. It is easy to "chat" and easy now to send any file. This is still a "linked" mode (ARQ) one station to one station ONLY.
It works well on 80m and 40m SSB with a horizontal antenna for NVIS propagation. Even 5W and a 130 ft wire into a tree works well with a mode like VARA HF (it has multiple speeds or levels).
I've already worked a few QRP 80m stations using VAR AC.
Schedule for the net
I'm working on a regular schedule for the FCDTN with the first Tues of each month a net via ZOOM with a guest speaker.
I've now confirmed two speakers: Scott Currie (NS7C) a Winlink leader, and Steve Ford (WB8IMY) the former QST editor. I'm working to get the author of VAR AC from Israel (4Z1AC) and W1HKJ of FLDIGI fame. We might also be hearing from John, the author of the OFDM modes now available on FLDIGI.
What About VARA and HT radios?
Tests at k3eui running a DRA sound card and a simple Baofeng HT produced good results on VARA FM (narrow). Stay tuned for a QST article in the April issue to summarize results. No - it is not the April Fool's article often found in QST in that issue.
We still plan to rotate repeaters: 147.270 (Bucktown) and 146.835 Eagleville, and 147.060 (Newtown Square) to encourage folks from all over the Delaware Valley to join the net.
For those who are just beginners with digital modes, I think we now need a "Beginner's Net" - maybe on a weekend?
It takes a bit of training to get all of the digi mode config settings to your rig and computer.