KA9BBQ Matt Steffen and Flight 93 National Memorial

NPOTA Flight 93 Activation by W3ATB

Each time I think I’ve syphoned the most pleasure out of the magical happiness machine of ham radio, I get yet another surprise.

On Tuesday July 19, 2016 I found myself once again alone at the hallowed ground of the Flight 93 National Memorial. Little did I know that on this day, I’d help another operator achieve a personal goal.

Flight 93 Memorial W3ATB

A week earlier I found myself at Flight 93 for the first time. I had come to do a National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) radio activation and decided to visit the Memorial Plaza before getting on the air. I walked away misty-eyed hoping I could honor the forty patriots who gave the ultimate sacrifice just under fifteen years ago at this very spot.

I did a successful activation that day, but had to cut my time short because I needed to be in Columbus, Ohio by 5 pm. Many hours of driving were ahead of me.

But on July 19, 2016, I had nearly three hours of time to help other NPOTA participants put the rare Flight 93 unit into their logs. It’s a challenging site to activate because it’s both a battlefield and a burial ground.

Flight 93 Hallowed Ground Requires Respect

The wounds here are fresh and deep. The National Park Service accepts radio operators to this site, but they prefer respectful setups as far away from people and parking lots as possible.

As soon as I got on the air, many operators tried to call me at once. In amateur radio parlance, we call it a pileup. I was piled on for about two hours straight.

Five Watts Does the Job

I was using my Elecraft KX3 radio and a 29-foot wire antenna attached to a 9:1 unun. The KX3 has a splendid internal tuner that will handle this setup.

I did both Morse code (CW) and phone (SSB). If you’re not an amateur operator, phone means talking through a microphone to other operators just like you might use your cellphone.

You Never Know Who’s Reaching Out

Matt Steffen, KA9BBQ was one of the many operators who I contacted in the two-hour stretch.

But I had no idea what our brief exchange on the air meant to him until about two hours later when he sent the following email to me:

Hi Tim,

FIRST I thank you so much for the activation.

Chasing the parks is a blast. I have been a ham for just over a year now and learning a great deal. Mostly self taught and having a great time.

Learning CW now, having recently completed the CW OPS class, I find it both exciting and intimidating. Trying to tune my ear is difficult with everyone (seemingly) using the computer to send and receive CW the speeds they send is too fast for my brain to decode.

I was at a ham fest over the weekend and was talking to a fella about CW. He said “Yeah, I work a lot of the NPOTA stations CW and get right through.” Then I asked him what his rig was. “OH I am all digital. My FLEX does it all.”

Asked him what kind of key he was using and he snapped back, “I’m ALL digital.”  I asked him “No key ?” He replied there is no need for that and went on to explain how he has 250+ confirmed DXCC mostly on CW with his Flex and his digital ham station set up.

Being polite, and not being to impressed, I listened then thanked him for sharing and moved on.  Digital has a place in this wonderful hobby for sure but in CW ???  I prefer to pursue and struggle to learn CW without the aid of a complete DIGITAL HAM station.

Today I got the courage up to try to make contact. Yes, you were the first.

So very sorry about that. Tuning around on 20 meters I heard your CQ at a speed I could copy and to my surprise a NPOTA site. So I took a deep breath and sent my call out and wow you came back to me with a report 5NN. Yikes now what ?

Well I got nervous and I tried to send you your signal report of 5nn and my location IL then TU  DE KA9BBQ – when I finished it sounded like a barrage of CW at a much faster speed and suddenly I felt out of place. I really believe we had a good contact but found my self being to nervous to touch the paddle again.

If I missed out on the contact at least I tried right there will be another day to try again.

Was my first attempt at cw as a rookie success or should I now start saving for that FLEX and digital station?  Just kidding.

I cut and pasted from my log book – below.

KA9BBQ – 100 Watts  Inveted “V” @ 16ft

Station: W3ATB
QSO: 2016-07-19    14:38:23 UTC
Band: 20m Freq: 14.059.00 MHz Mode: CW
RST: 59s/59r    PWR:  qrp    Ant: ?
Note: NPOTA NM07 / Yikes first try at CW

GOD bless, safe travels, good luck and good DX !



As a side note-

With all the tension on the street I find chasing NPOTA and learning CW so very relaxing when I change out of my uniform.

Spending time with the radio headphones on is a welcomed distraction from hearing how another one of us serving and protecting has lost their life.

No soap box here – just saying I put my life on the line daily many, many times without a partner performing my job at the highest of levels while dealing with issues never shown on the news.

In my environment I’m respected yet the stress and threat is so very real especially on my shift – from the hours of 11PM – 7 AM.

I don’t know what more I could possibly add. Matt’s excitement about having his first official CW QSO was oozing from that email.

Congratulations Matt! You did a great job and I heard all you sent.

Here’s proof you’re in my field log for that day! I’ll have it up on the Log Book of the World (LOTW) in just a few days.

KA9BBQ log entry

One thought on “KA9BBQ Matt Steffen and Flight 93 National Memorial

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