I don’t really celebrate the New Year, but I decided this year to look back at my radio highlights from 2019. It was mostly a positive year that saw me gradually become more active in Amateur Radio and start writing more about here about Amateur Radio in the form of History Related Special Event station posts. I also had several wonderful scanning/monitoring experiences, including catching NASA’s Super Guppy and seeing and hearing the HMS Queen Elizabeth. Unfortunately, there were also some negatives in the form of a brush with a major hurricane and a large cargo ship overturning in St Simon’s Sound. All in all, however, it was a fun year on the radios and I can’t wait to see what 2020 has in store.
March – In March 2019, I caught NASA’s Super Guppy transport aircraft for the first time. I have the Mode-S receiver in the shack at home set to alert me when it receives certain aircraft and NASA aircraft are among them. On 19 March, it pinged when it picked up NASA 941, which is a four turboprop transport aircraft for transporting oversized loads known as the “Super Guppy.” Shortly thereafter I started picking it up n 124.675 with Jacksonville Center and followed it on to 132.925 with Jacksonville Center until it went out of range. It turned out that the Super Guppy was transporting a test replica of NASA’s Orion crew module to Morehead, NC for a test of its water landing system. The Super Guppy is definitely not something that flies around Coastal Georgia very often and it was exciting to log it for the first time.
Another highlight from March was a multi-service/agency disaster response/relief exercise that occurred in Savannah. Army National Guard, Air National Guard, and local Emergency Management agencies worked together to train for Hurricane response/relief efforts, including flying cargo in, doing medevacs, and setting up and operating distribution points. Even though I didn’t get to listen to much of it, what I did hear was quite interesting.
April – April 2019 saw 2019’s only Sentry Savannah exercise of the year take place at the Georgia Air National Guard’s Air Dominance Center at Savannah-Hilton Head IAP. Some may argue that this iteration of Sentry Savannah wasn’t as interesting because it didn’t feature any F-22s, but it was interesting because it was the first time that aggressor aircraft from Draken International participated. Four of their L-159s participated in the exercise along with F-16s from the Alabama Air National Guard, F-15s from the Florida Air National Guard, and KC-135s from the Illinois Air National Guard and Iowa Air National Guard. Sentry Savannah 2019 was the first time I’d had the opportunity to hear any of Draken’s aircraft.
July – In July 2019, I got motivated to start writing my History Related Amateur Radio Special Events blog posts again and have been able to put one out each month since August 2019. I love History, graduating from college with a BA in US History, as well as Amateur Radio, so writing about the background of History related special events is a good way to combine two of my interests and help promote the hobby and the special event stations. I’m hoping to keep these posts going indefinitely, so if you know of one that I should include in my posts, please let me know about it.
August/September – Two of August and September’s highlights were not good ones. The last days of August and the first days of September 2019 saw Hurricane Dorian approaching the Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina Atlantic coasts after devastating the Bahamas. After it looked like we were going to take a hit from Dorian, the storm passed far enough off of the Georgia coast that we didn’t have very many issues in the Brunswick and Savannah areas, but there were evacuations of the military airfields along the coast. After Dorian passed, there was quite a bit of survey activity from local, state, federal, and Civil Air Patrol aircraft.
The second highlight was the capsizing of the M/V Golden Ray in St. Simons sound near the port of Brunswick, GA. In the early hours of 8 September 2019, the Golden Ray, a Roll-On/Roll-Off ship carrying a cargo of automobiles was leaving the port of Brunswick when it overturned in the entrance to St. Simon’s sound, effectively closing the port. It was eventually moved enough to open the sound and resume port operations, but the wreck remains in place and salvage efforts are ongoing. It will likely take more than a year to dismantle and remove the ship. Initially, the incident resulted in a lot of US Coast Guard communications involving assets from both Sector Charleston and Sector Jacksonville including MH-65Ds from Air Station Savannah.
A good highlight from September 2019 was my purchase of an AirSpy R2 software-defined radio (SDR), which was my jump into the SDR waters. It took me a while to get comfortable with it and all of the settings you can control via software, but now that I’ve gotten the hang of it and understand it more, I love it. It’s such a versatile little radio that I’ve found it to be one of the best receiver purchases I’ve ever made. It fills several roles in both my home and portable scanning/monitoring stations.
October/November – I decided to fire up the mobile HF station and operate in the 2019 CQ World Wide SSB contest in late October. It was the first time I’d operated on HF in a long time and while band conditions weren’t the best, I still ended up having a lot of fun. Using the mobile station’s FT-857D and ATAS-100 antenna, I was able to log 11 stations on the Sunday morning of the contest across 40, 20, and 15 Meters. Two of them, the Cayman Islands and Trinidad and Tobago were even new additions to the mobile log. It was an encouraging operation that resulted in me working HF more throughout the rest of the year.
In early October, I took a two-day trip to northeast Florida; as part of that trip, I visited Huguenot Park in Jacksonville to attempt some wildlife photography and maybe catch some MH-60Rs flying out of Naval Station Mayport. The weather was horrendous on that day, but even though I didn’t get any wildlife photos, I did see and get some photos of the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08). I was not expecting to see her, and it was quite the thrill to see her while she was stateside for exercises. About a month later, in early November, I got the chance to catch some activity from the 845 Squadron Merlin helicopters and 17 Squadron F-35Bs aboard the Queen Elizabeth along with VMX-1 F-35Bs flying with them out of MCAS Beaufort as she worked off of the Georgia/South Carolina coast as part of exercise WESTLANT 19.
I further combined my interests in Amateur Radio and History in November 2019 by adding events in Amateur Radio History to my blog’s Twitter account and the monthly Special Event station blog posts. I think it’s important for us to remember those who advanced our hobby and where our hobby comes from because it will help us shape and guide its future. As these events pop up on Twitter and in the blog posts, if you see something that I should add to them, please let me know.
December – In December 2019, I finally decided to pull the trigger on a new mobile 2 Meter/70 cm transceiver for the mobile station. There wasn’t anything wrong with the Yaesu FT-8800 that was in the car (it’s moved into my home station, giving me 2m/70cm at home again), but it’s been in three different cars and I decided that it was time for something a bit more modern and capable. I ultimately decided on a Yaesu FTM-400XDR and I’ve really enjoyed using it since it arrived, including using it’s APRS capability. After I’ve had the chance to put it through its paces on my vacation later this month, I’ll write a blog post about my impressions of the radio.