VHF Pioneer Paul Lieb, KH6HME (SK)


Paul Lieb, KH6HME, of Hilo, Hawaii, passed away July 16. He was 84. Lieb -- an ARRL Life Member -- was best known for his VHF work and his radio beacon on the slopes of Mauna Loa where he worked the famous trans-Pacific tropo duct to the West Coast. Lieb achieved many tropo ducting distance records up through 5760 MHz and received the Dayton Hamvention Special Achievement Award in 1999 for “his pioneering and record-setting work in tropospheric ducting and VHF, UHF and microwave communications.”

On August 21, 1999 Lieb -- in grid square BK29go -- and Clint Walker, W1LP/mm -- in grid square DL51ce (two grids south of Cabo San Lucas) set a world tropo ducting distance record on 2 meters with a two-way SSB contact on 144.170 MHz at a distance of 2954 miles (4754 km).

Lieb was not the first from Hawaii to work across the Pacific on tropo. That contact was made in 1957 on 2 meters by Ralph Thomas, KH6UK, and John Chambers, W6NLZ. “Thomas was located near sea level,” recalled Jon Jones, N0JK, the Conductor of QST’s “The World Above 50 MHz” column. “Paul discovered that the Pacific duct was usually located much higher -- around 8000 feet -- at the Hawaiian end. It occurred more frequently and was much stronger at this elevation than sea level. Paul set up beacons on the slopes of Mauna Loa at 8200 feet on 144.170, 432.075 and 1296 MHz. It was a long three hour drive from Hilo, where Paul lived, up the slopes of Mauna Loa to reach the beacon site to operate. When the beacons stopped keying, eager VHF operators across the Pacific knew he was there.”

The KH6HME beacons are located on the slopes of the Mauna Loa at an elevation of 8200 feet, with the exception of the 6 meter beacon, which is located in lower Puna in the Hawaiian Beaches Subdivision on the Big Island of Hawaii. The first beacon started operating on 432.075 MHz in April 1979. In 1980, the 1296 MHz beacon was activated, and in 1981, the 144.170 MHz beacon started sending its signals to the Mainland West Coast of the United States. There is also a 10 GHz beacon that is turned on when conditions are favorable.

One of Lieb’s close friends -- Fred Honnold, KH7Y -- helped him maintain the beacons. According to Jones, the KH6HME beacons on the Big Island are still active and Honnold is working on plans for the beacon site with Lieb’s family.

A memorial service for Lieb was held July 21 in Garden Grove, California. Look for more on Lieb and his accomplishments in the October 2012 issue of QST.