Why are beacons an invaluable tool for the VHF Operator ?

Tim Hague, M0AFJ, IO70ic

There have been beacons on the VHF, UHF and Microwave bands for many years, GB3VHF was initially built in the 1950’s to support International Geophysical Year to provide long term propagation study on the 144MHz band from Kent into the UK and Europe. The beacon has been in almost continuous operation since then from various sites and from 1959 until 2010 when the site conditions became untenable, but after negotiations a new site was found with the greatly appreciated permission of British Telecom at Fairseat, close to the old Wrotham site.

In recent years the technology of the beacons has improved, stability of the transmission frequency using among others GPSDO locking and the incorporation of digital modulation schemes such JT65B which now allow the detection of the beacon transmissions a dB or so above the ambient noise level. This has meant that operators who live at the extremities of the country can set their receivers up on the beacon frequency with a good chance of copying the beacon data transmissions either by tropo or other modes such as MS and aircraft scatter.

Living as I do in a poor location on the edge of The Lizard Peninsular (IO70ic) and being surrounded in the directions North West to East by Cornish granite the provision of a reliable signal is extreamly useful both to check propagation and receiver performance. It should also be noted that the beacons’ antennas do not point in the direction of SW Cornwall, they beam at 348 and 288 degrees true, The Lizard is 254 degrees from Fairseat.

Here is a path plot from IO70ic to JO01eh

The high ground at around 114kms is Dartmoor, the 150M high point is 8Km away from home in the direction of Falmouth. As you can see its hardly an unobstructed path. Most of the time I cannot audiably hear the beacon, but using JT65B as described elsewhere on this site, these are the results on a flat band and wet conditions.

You will see the regular decodes plus on the right of the screenshot either MS or Aircraft scatter enhancement. It is important to have a high stability receiving system, I use a Q5 transverter GPS locked via a Leo Bodnar reference source, themain radio is the excellent Yaesu FT710.

In recent years the beacon has been enhanced by the addition of a 432MHz transmitter on the same site, its interesting to study this path, as many times I have seen the the 432MHz signal is copied at a similar if not a better signal level

432MHz Screen Shot. This shot taken at a similar time shows another reflection probably from an aircraft.

There are of course beacons all over the country, a good source of information is www.beaconspot.uk

Something else I have been experimenting with is ‘Tesco Scatter’ about 750M from my home is Helston Tesco’s, I get good reflections and signal enhancement of GB3NGI in IO65VB at 557kms, these reflections have been very useful when using FT8.

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