Evidence for 144 MHz Transatlantic Radio Propagation?
Volker Grassmann, DF5AI
updated September 29, 2003
Because of a recent article on transatlantic radio propagation on very high frequencies [1a] [1b], I received the following email from Sebastian, DH3YAV. I wish to communicate his findings because other radio amateurs may consider his observation challenging too.
Email from Sebastian, DH3YAV, December 31, 2002:
Hallo lieber OM !
Vielen Dank für den interessanten Bericht über die Empfangsbereiche von F5XAR und VE1SMU/H.
Ich möchte mitteilen, daß ich genau diese zufällige Beobachtung von VE1SMU/H gemacht habe, auf 144300.0 und zwar per Meteorscatter.
Am 6.Juni 2002 lag eine sehr starke Tropoinversion von mir JO42 bis weit über England und Irland hinaus. Ich habe an diesem Abend ohne Mühe mit Stationen aud IO94 und IO62 sprechen können (über Tropo). Die Feldstärken waren etwa im Bereich 59 ... 59+20 (SSB).
Die Entfernungen etwa 1000 ... 1400 km. Leider war es zu spät, als daß viele OMs noch QRV waren. Ich hatte eine 10 - Element - Yagi, etwa 50 Watt und einen VV, als MastVV umgebaut (PA und VV an der Antenne). Der Standort ist sehr gut Richtung West - Nord West (200 m asl an der Norddeutschen Tiefebene). Ich konnte auch GB3ANG laut hören, GB3VHF auch. G war also weit offen. Ich habe dann die Antenne so stehen lassen (Richtung 288°), weil ich weiter hören wollte, 144300.0 lief also die ganze Zeit. Um 01:15 habe ich dann einen etwa 1.8 - 2 Sekunden langen Burst gehört. Ganz deutlich (ich war gottseidank gerade am bewußten Hören) habe ich "...1SMU..:" in Morsezeichen gehört, außerdem eine zweite Bake etwa 1.0 - 1.5 kHz tiefer, die aber gerade nicht gab. Ich habe also nur den Dauerton gehört.
Summary for English readers:
Sebastian reports excellent tropo conditions into UK and Ireland on June 6, 2002. He is located in the JO42 grid square and uses a 10 element yagi, a preamplifier and 50 watts output. At night, his receiver was tuned on 144.300 MHz when he noticed a burst of about 2 seconds containing the keying sequence "... 1SMU..." (Editor's note: VE1SMU, FN84 grid, 144.300 MHz, is one of the so-called transatlantic beacons). Sebastian reports that another carrier was available about 1.0 to 1.5 kHz down the band but no callsign was given, unfortunately.
Bill, GM0ICF wrote (January 7, 2003):
I was interested to see the comments on your web page regarding 144Mhz trans atlantic propogation. I have had a long interest in this, living in the west of Scotland and in 1999 I made an attempt at a transatlantic qso during the last week of June to try and catch any sporadic E. I was at the remote lighthouse at Ardnamurchan Point, the most westerly point on the UK mainland. Even in June the weather was WILD and unfortunately due to a lack of helpers I could only get a single 17 ele antenna up although I had the full legal power limit available. Afterwards I found out that the other station wasn't there a lot of the time and also only had a single antenna and a small solid state amplifier so there wasn't a realistic chance of success. It was a major learning experience though!
After producing many maps like the ones on your web page I was (and still am) convinced that given the right conditions it will be possible to use a double hop E. All we can do is keep monitoring and hope that a few more beacons can be put on air. Perhaps a few more serious high power efforts at likely times with semi automatic digital modes (PSK31 and WSJT) might succeed. (Anybody running an expedition anywhere in Western Europe can count me in as I'd love to have another go!)
Great web page.
My personal comments (Volker, DF5AI), January 11, 2003
With respect to the VHF/UHF/SHF beacons in Nova Scotia, Prof. William Lonc (VE1WPL) mentioned: I would be tickled pink to receive a QSL card from anybody copying these beacons . I do not know whether he received a qsl card or not but Sebastian is indeed not the first European observer claiming reception of the VE1SMU beacon. Derek (G4CQM) states: I have also copied the TransAtlantic beacon VE1SMU/H on 144.300Mhz as a very weak Tropo signal on Monday 6th July 1998 at 13.15 UTC for around 20 minutes. Also VE1HD claims to have heard an MS burst from me during tests in the 1993 'Persids', 11th August 22.07 UTC sequence. . Hence, there is reason not to reject the possibility of transatlantic radio communication on very high frequencies.
However, interpreting Sebastian's observation raise a couple of questions. For example:
Please understand, that this comments only focus on the interpretation of the data because I do no have a right and I am not capable to deny or to legitimize observations from fellow radio amateurs. If Sebastian claims having received that burst, nobody is in a position to argue against it. However, the burst "1SMU" is not equivalent to "VE1SMU" and even in this case, a single burst would hardly prove the existence of terrestrial VHF radio propagation across the Atlantic Ocean. By the way, the OH2AQ dx cluster database was scanned for alternative callsigns ending with the suffix "1SMU". However, no appropriate callsign was found in the May 2002 section of the database material.
It is strongly emphasized to document unusual amateur radio observations very accurately. Relaxed handling of fundamantal information such as date, time and frequency cannot be accepted and may not be tolerated. Imagine, you would indeed observe 2m signals crossing the pond but the people would ignore your findings because you cannot provide a consistent view of what happend. Finally, observation data and its interpretation need to be separated very carefully. In this case, you may take the credit for the observation even if its interpretation is not accepted by the ham community. Mixing all together, the ham community will probably ignore both, i.e. the interpretation and the observation.
Derek's statement (G4CQM) still holds: The transatlantic path on 144 MHz remains difficult as ever .
Sebastian's (DH3YAV) supplement, January 12, 2003
Zuerst: Ich habe das falsche Datum angegeben ! Dies ist ein Fehler meinerseits, weil ich die Aufzeichnungen auf einem Papier gemacht habe, auf dem mehrere Daten standen und ich habe wohl (mehr als sechs Monate danach) das falsche Datum herausgesucht. Die Beobachtung habe ich PFINGSTEN 2002 (17.- 20. Mai gemacht), zur Zeit, als mein OV beim Fieldday in Kassel war (ich aber nicht). Diese Unklarheit muß ziemlich zweifelhaft wirken, ich bitte um Entschuldigung !
Die Fakten (wegen der Webpage in Englisch):
1.) Der RX - Report therefore is:
2.) The barometric weatherchart for that day (May 18th 2002, 0000 UTC, North Atlantic) shows an interesting property: The Tropo over the North sea is not recognizable, but an isobar that goes from Nova Scotia to 500 kms west of Ireland. It is south of a low. The map is shown in the attachment.
3.) I do not swear 100 % on the fact, I heard 1SMU, but "1SM" I could recognize clearly, although, being surprised by the sudden pulses.
4.) A north American beacon list shows that there are several VE1SMU - beacons on 144 MHz. One I found, said:
5.) The second signal is in my eyes a clear indication for a MS burst. Although I do not do MS, I think that this second signal is a clear indication of the following scenario: For about 2.5 seconds an MS burst takes place and opens up a window for all frequencies to a certain spot. Therefore we should look for a second beacon, next to 144300.0 and next to (in location) VE1SMU/* beacons. This sounds logical to me.
Chris, GW4DGU, wrote (January 16, 2003):
I was interested to read the report on your website about the recent possible reception of the Halifax NS, VE1SMU/H, beacon. I'm not sure if it's general knowledge, but Derek, G4CQM, who lives in IO70 close to the north coast of the south-west peninsula of England/Cornwall, received the beacon a couple of years ago. The propagation mode was almost certainly tropo: the signal was weak, but present for over an hour. Derek apparently spent a great deal of money on transatlantic phone calls trying, without success to get someone in VE1 on the band!
Derek has been interested in the possibilities of transatlantic vhf propagation since moving to his current QTH about 10 years ago. He has, I believe, identified N. American broadcast stations on the 88 - 108 MHz FM band, and I trust his observations. ...
I've also been interested in the possibilities of transatlantic VHF propagation for a very long time. In the period 1979 - 1982, I was involved in a number of dxpeditions to IO70 which ran ms tests with stations in VE1 during the Perseids. We had high power (kW), and used a 100WL rhombic antenna.
There is no doubt that we heard signals: mainly short pings - the current RSGB VHF Manager, G4ASR, was a member of the group, and can confirm that. Unfortunately, we weren't able to identify the signals positively.
Somewhere I have a QSL card from a well-known VE1 claiming a QSO, but sadly it didn't take place! My new QTH, here in SW Wales isn't ideal towards N. America, as I have some (small - 400m) mountains on the great circle to VE1, giving me a +0.5 degree horizon, but there's still a possibility!!
Latest news (May 2003):
Thanks to Joachim (DL8HCZ), editor-in-chief of the Dubus magazine, the mystery is now solved: Joe managed to get latest information on the VE1SMU/H beacon - which is:
the VE1SMU/H beacon is QRT for more than three years
(see the article on the right ). Does this all mean transatlantic radio propagation on 144 MHz does not exist? No. Does it mean transatlantic radio propagation does exist but it isn't yet discovered? No. It only means we may now close this particular case of unusual radio observation.
Well, we would all appreciate real evidence for transatlantic VHF propagation but a negative result is indeed much better than no result at all. Actually, we cannot explain the origin of the keying sequence Sebastian has monitored in May 2002. However, we may now exclude the possibility of 144 MHz radio propagation across the big pond in this case.
I consider this result a success in amateur radio propagation studies. We cannot expect that any unusual radio observation may reveal a new and spectacular phenomenon. I guess, the ratio is 1:10.000 or even less, i.e. having analysed 10.000 examples of unusual radio propagation, we only find one example which may be considered a new aspect in amateur radio propagation. To identify this example, we however need to clarify the other 9.999 examples and this is what we actually did in this case.
I am grateful to Sebastian for providing his observation data and for his permission discussing the findings on this webpage. I am also grateful to the Dubus magazine for permitting the usage of the article and for investigating the details of the VE1SMU/H beacon.
Finally, we all wish the VE1SMU beacon would continue its fine service in the future.
From June to September 2003, the possibility of terrestrial 144 MHz transatlantic propagation was discussed with passion in the VHF-DX email forum. View the following posting:
Just for the record, there have been a few instances of what might just be tropo propagation in the 118 - 156MHz part of the spectrum, between the islands of Great Britain, and Ireland and the Canadian Atlantic provinces reported over the years. Of course, these are all to some extent anecdotal.....! If we want to be rigorous, there are historiographical techniques which could be applied. ;-0)
Probably the most reliable report comes from Derek, G4CQM, near Bude (IO71), who believes he heard the VE1SMU/H beacon on 6 July 1998 for around 20mins at 1300utc. I have recently had a long discussion with Derek, and he is quite definite that he identified the signal. He says that the characteristics were those of a tropo signal, with long, slow fades. I've quoted the time and date to Walter, G3JKV, who has checked the relevant weather charts, and is sceptical, but who commented that the following day looked more possible.
There are reports of pilots flying above the Canadian Maritime and Atlantic provinces hearing Shannon ATC Radio. See http://www.dxradio.co.uk/contributions: this is a set of contributions regarding a possible TA broadcast FM event (Editors note: the link is broken, unfortuantely, interested readers are requested to refer to the links in the 'VHF transatlantic' box on the right). It's worth a, possibly sceptical, read. there are a number of interesting contributions from people who have had some experience of possible 144MHz TA propagation.
Charles, EI5FK reports conversations with a former colleague, a one-time radio officer on an Irish Navy ship, who heard a Canadian coastguard station while on patrol just within the Irish 200mile limit. See DK5YA's web site http://www.dk5ya.de.
From http://www.df5ai.net, August 2003:
90 MHz FM signals from North America were recently received in Scotland and Northern Ireland (HTML: 1, 2). View the reception areas in double hop sporadic E on each side of the Atlantic. PDF: English, German
From http://www.df5ai.net, September 2003:
New 144 MHz transatlantic beacon
Please read the below email information from September 26 and 29, 2003 which Andy, editor of the VHF Communications magazine, and I received from Frank, VO1HP:
"I have read with interest Dr. Volker Grassmann's article in your VHF Magazine 2-2003 edition. In that article he states that it would be desireable to have a VHF beacon on the air from eastern Newfoundland. The Marconi Radio Club of St John's and the Baccalieu Amateur Radio Club of Carbonear are currently in the process of placing such a beacon on the air. ... The transmitter 250W PA is the same one previously used by VE1SMU beacon. The VHF exciter board and the CW ID board have been built by Joe Craig VO1NA. The 11 element Cushcraft yagi, 1/2 inch hard line and 35 amp power supply to run the beacon have been donated by Frank VO1HP. The yagi and hardline were installed by Boyd VO1CBS, Roy VO1XP and Joe VO1NA on August 30, 2003. Frank Davis, VO1HP"
And this are the beacon's details: Callsign to be decided, 144.400 MHz, 250 W, 11el Yagi at 11m AGL and 90m ASL, 63 deg az, location 47-45-24 N and 53-12-59 E corresponding to GN37JS. Many thanks to VO1HP, VO1NA, VO1CBS, VO1XP and all fellow hams having contributed to the setup.
Please also note the Dubus magazine's Transatlantic Beacon Project which will soon provide the beacon VP9DUB on Bermuda (144.301 MHz, FM72OH), 50.026 MHz is already operational.