*EDITORIAL* Recon — Essential for DXpedition Planning

The Dx Adventure Radio Club (DA-RC) is well known for it’s DXpedition exploits; across many most wanted and rare 11m and ham entities in the past 10 and more years.

DA-RC Members will confirm that the success of any DXpedition work depends on so many factors…

Some aspects, such as 11m band propagation, the reliability of equipment, of the commitment and skillsets of fellow team members, of WX Conditions, of pile-up behaviour, and even luck, can not be controlled.

Other elements, however, can be managed; they can be manipulated, influenced and even engineered to the DXpedition team’s favour. 

With prior preparation and careful planning, a single dx adventurist or team of dx adventurers can reduce the likelihood of issues arising if they ‘do their homework’ on a DXstination; if they can know it intimately and predict any challenge that might arise; from travel to accommodation to departure; and so ensure the best possible outcomes.

Welcome to the world of reconnaissance and the purpose of this editorial!

Prior to any scheduled dx adventure, it’s essential for the team or individual to have undertaken a physical or digital (i.e. online) journey to the place of operation and to have gained pertinent info for the upcoming DX event.

This practice is called ‘reconnaissance’ and it’s a crucial part of the DXpedition planning phase in all DA-RC activations.

In actual fact, reconnaissance (also known as ‘scouting’ or a ‘reckie’ or ‘recon’) is a military term denoting exploration conducted to gain information. 

In the world of radio communications, though, it’s best described as…

“A mission undertaken by members of the dx adventure team (i.e. the reconnoiters) to gather data as a prelim to operating a DXpedition station…”

This info is then taken back to the home QTH in the form of anecdotal observations, scribbled notes, diagrams to scale, photographs, brochures, etc. and then used to inform preparation for the future DXpedition.

Here, much time can be saved and radio ops simplified, I think, if features of the planned DX operating environment are known in advance — rather than when the team arrives at their DXstination for the very first time.

Outside areas, limiting structures, power lines, neighbouring properties, trees, etc. are all worthy of consideration in any recon report.

For instance……finding out when you turn up at your DXstination that there’s no room for a skypper antenna, let a lone a 6 element yagi; or that a mountain range blocks your pathway to the Pacific; or that hostile natives in the neighbouring huts don’t take kindly to CQ calls during their afternoon siestas; or that packing hiking boots would’ve made carrying equipment up a steep cliff face for great yagi take offs safer and easier, can be demoralizing.

Especially if you realize there are no quick fixes to turn to when you’ve stepped off the boat or plane!

In many ways then, the data gathered on a recon trip can decide the fate of your DXpedition event. 

In my experience, it can determine whether or not the money paid for permits, accommodation, transport, radio equipment, food and other supplies, as well as the time off work, will be a waste. 

It can also reveal whether or not your efforts behind the mic chasing pile ups will be validated with plenty of contacts in the log.

Occasionally the DXpedition recon trip will take the form of a ‘suitcase’ or ‘microlite’ DXpedition. 

This means that the reconnoiter will sometimes take uncomplicated, unobtrusive equipment, such as a small rig and a whip antenna, to conduct test ops in the lead up to a full-scale activity. 

Indeed, this can be helpful as it gives you a feel for the operating conditions. 

You can also sneak in a few contacts hihi!

When embarking on a reconnaissance mission, my advice is to check for the following things:

  • Terrain which potentially blocks/obstructs pathways to continents (EU, AS, OC, NA, SA and AN) — It’s no good going to all the trouble of carrying out a DXpedition if you can only work a few continents.
  • Locations and space to install an antenna/s — Obviously more space will be required to erect a yagi antenna than a vertical though verticals with ground radials also require larger space
  • Guying points — Look for trees around the residence where wires and ropes can be fixed.  This will determine whether or not you will need to take a sling shot for shooting guys through tree forks
  • Approximate coaxial cable lengths to ensure there is ample feedline to reach the best possible antenna location
  • The attitude of neighbors to possible disruption of their immediate living environment with ‘unsightly’ arrays
  • That the accommodation is ham friendly
  • Possible exposure or vulnerability to extreme WX (e.g high winds, temperatures, tsunamis, etc.)
  • The availability of medical services and/or supplies in the case of sickness or injury to one of the team members
  • The availability of food perishables such as meat, milk and bread
  • The reliability of any power source (e.g. scheduled blackouts)

Due to the extremes of distance and associated costs (including time) with some scheduled DXpedition work, nevertheless, scouting missions to accumulate facts about planned DX operating environments are not always feasible.

A Fan of DXpedition ReconIn these circumstances, rather than journey to the DXstination to seek particulars through direct inspection, reconnoitering can also take the form of gathering information through other, more convenient means.

The internet, for example, is a valuable reconnaissance mechanism for DXpedition enthusiasts and serves as an adequate substitute for authentic recon missions. 

Images of anticipated DXstinations, including accommodation and surroundings, are almost always obtainable online, as too are accounts from other DX teams (including hams) who’ve operated in the past from that particular area.

Any comprehensive pre-DXpedition fact-finding mission, in fact, should combine an actual excursion to the DXstination with images and information gathered via the internet, pending costs and accessibility of course. 

Anything less in the modern technological world for a dx adventurist is ill-advised.

Here are some good places to start for an online reckie exercise:

  • Google images (and other online image sources such as Flickr and Photobucket) — type in the name of your anticipated DXstination and save all relevant images to a folder.  If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to piece them together like a jigsaw to get a clearer picture of your operating environment.
  • DX Holiday
  • The homepage of your projected lodgings — ask for a description of the surrounds from personnel.  They are usually more than happy to oblige.

While some DXpeditioners are prepared to tempt fate and take their chances with what their intended DXstination will throw up, DA-RC members are more vigilant and meticulous with their planning efforts.

They realise that undertaking a journey to the place of DX operation in order to gain pertinent information for the upcoming DX event, while sometimes being an inconvenience in a busy existence, is a necessary and significant part of serious DXpedition work!

73 de Darren, 43DA001