DXpedition Pilots # A MUST READ #

I’ve been reading some interesting commentary across the ham forums about the work of ‘Ham Pilots’ for the current Conway Reef Dxpedition (3D2CR), and judging by what’s being typed, there seems to be a lack of knowledge about what the role of a ‘DXpedition Pilot’ actually is.

And as a result, some of the activity’s appointed Pilots who in my mind are doing a fantastic job, are pardon the pun, being ‘shot down’.

Let me try and explain what a ‘DXpedition Pilot Station’ is and isn’t based on my own DXperiences and counsel from a few of the DA-RC Hams who’ve participated in activities aided by competent Pilot stations.



For the purpose of this article, a ‘DXpedition Pilot’ is defined as…

“A member of the DXpedition Team whom is not part of the Operational Team.

He’s someone who performs an important support role from his home station.

This enables the Operational Team to achieve performance targets…”



In my eyes, Pilots are a critical element of a successful dx adventure. 

Essentially, they’re a conduit of sorts between the DXpedition team and the global DX Community; the feedline so to speak.

Mostly through email, the Pilot acts as a regional collection point for feedback (positive and negative) about the dx adventure from the outside world.

His job is to then cipher through the emotional layers of info received, strip away the bullshit and pass the ‘constructive’ detail onto the operational guys to take action.



Why is this Important?

During the DXpedition, the Operational Team must stay focused on precise, prompt and persistent ops.  

They must maintain their energy and desire to do their best in the face of whatever challenges arise.

They shouldn’t have to deal with abuse, knee-jerk reactions, complaints, etc. from over-zealous hams that come in via the Internet and must not get emotionally stuck in the bashing that often takes place in forums and clusters and on social media.

For this reason then, Pilots are also ‘funnels’ and ‘filters’ — they funnel important info and filter out the trivial and redundant and so allow the team to do their job.



A leading DXpeditioner once said…

“The Pilot is the human interface between the audience and the DXpedition. 

He’s the real, human voice instead of the answering machine…”

This description rings true with me also.



Of course, what the team does with these ‘messages’, however, and how/if they choose to respond, is their prerogative; but normally it brings about positive change to the operating behaviour of the activity to make it more accessible to the DX Community as a whole.

Good Pilots get a sense of whether the team is exploiting propagation at every opportunity to work the most difficult regions or wasting opportunities.

Sometimes, for instance, a DXpedition team’s band plan will preclude working rarer areas that really need them.  

The team might spend too much time working short path direct into a region that’s easily accessible when countries outside of that narrow focus also have openings, albeit at weaker signals, at the same time.

If this ‘real time’ info is passed on to a Pilot station, however, then he can make the team aware they’re not taking advantage of conditions to work rarer countries and changes to operational conduct can be made.

Obviously, this can truly help the team do their job better; keep sponsors happy and also satisfy the expectations of the DX Community.



Despite the best of intentions of a Dxpedition Team and the most detailed of reconnaissance/logistical efforts, the ever-changing, somewhat temperamental, nature of a DXpedition event will mean that sometimes things don’t go to plan.

And when this occurs, the worldwide DX community is often merciless; known for outrageous on and off-air behaviour that would have ‘DX Code of Conduct’ advocates in a spin.



Herein likes the value of a Pilot who gives the DX Community a voice and is able to feed-forward that info onto the team; desensitizing the feedback to make it more user friendly.

The Pilot is a “sounding board” if you like; a pathway for comms to and from the DXpedition team; so the team isn’t bombarded with correspondence and forced to spend their time abroad putting out ‘spot fires’ and responding to emotional rants from keyboard warriors when they could be logging DX.



One of the genuine challenges faced by a DXpedition line-up is that it can become fatigued after a few days of enormous pileups, poor food, dodgy living conditions and WX that’s often stiflingly hot or bone rattling cold.

As a regular DXpeditioner myself it’s tough not to get depressed and lose enthusiasm — and indeed get really snaky with your DX markets — when you’re forced to navigate trials such as this.

While passing on negative feedback has already been discussed, one of the duties of a Pilot is to relay messages of congratulations and accolades to the team from the DX Community to make him feel better about himself and the work he’s doing.

This encourages them to push through the tough conditions and keep doing their job.



What a Pilot Doesn’t Do…

In most cases, a Pilot will not organise individual skeds — unless it’s with a sponsor and few would begrudge this arrangement anyway.

He also doesn’t normally have access to logs and cannot tell you whether or not you’ve been logged or your callsign is ‘busted’.

The best advice here is, if in doubt, then work it again.

It’s my experience also that Pilots don’t pass individual messages or emails to individual team members unless they’ve specifically been asked to do so.

Again, the reason is to shield the team from excessive communication, which could also impact on data usage and high internet costs in remote locations.



Summary

The role of the Pilot station can perhaps best be summed up by saying that they’re the local eyes and ears of the DXpedition Team; guys entrusted with detecting and addressing those issues that can make a difference to the Team’s success and help it meet certain needs or goals.

In my opinion, having DXpedition Pilots from different regions of the world as the above graphic illustrates too lets the DX audience know their opinions matter; that they have some degree of ownership over the activity and feel part of the process.  An investment!

They act as your provincial ‘superhero’ of sorts; an ambassador, advocate and defender of your DX interests.

In fact, having a good ‘Pilot’ in your corner can be the difference between your station being worked in a highly competitive DX market or not.



I hope this article strengthens your understanding of the important role Pilots play in dx adventure.

73 de Darren