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The ARRL Letter
July 8, 2021
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First X-Class Major Solar Flare of Solar Cycle 25 Blacks Out HF on July 3

For a brief time on July 3, a lot of radio amateurs were wondering, "Where did the bands go?" as the first X-class solar flare in 4 years blacked out HF propagation for a time.

"I was on 20-meter FT8, and my waterfall display went from solid red signals to solid nothing in the blink of an eye," Scott Craig, WA4TTK, told "K7RA Solar Update" Editor Tad Cook, K7RA. "It lasted about 10 minutes." Craig was not alone.

"Many American radio amateurs reported sudden HF propagation blackouts on Saturday morning, July 3, when solar active region 12838 produced an X1.5 major solar flare that reached maximum intensity at 1429 UTC, the first X-class solar flare of Solar Cycle 25 and the first since 2017," said Frank Donovan, W3LPL. "HF propagation blackouts are caused when x-ray and extreme ultraviolet radiation from X-class solar flares strongly ionizes the absorbing D-region in the Earth's sun-facing dense lower ionosphere," he explained.

In this instance, it caused what NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) calls an R3-level or "strong" radio blackout (on a scale of R1 - R5). An R3 incident can cause a "wide-area blackout of HF radio communication [and] loss of radio contact for about an hour on [the] sunlit side of Earth. Low-frequency navigation signals degraded for about an hour."

Donovan said that X-class major solar flares are necessary consequences of steadily increasing Solar Cycle 25 activity. "95% of all X-class solar flares occur when the solar flux index is 90 or greater. The remaining 5% can occur any time during the solar cycle," he points out. "X1-class major solar flares typically degrade HF propagation for only an hour or two at mid and high latitudes, only on Earth's sunlit side."

X-class major flares are measured on an open-ended scale. The strongest one ever recorded was an X28 flare in 2003, hundreds of times more powerful than the July 3 X1.5 solar flare. X10-class and stronger solar flares typically have effects that last for most of a day and affect the entire sunlit side of the Earth. Fortunately, X10-class solar flares occur only about once every 20 years or more.

"Much more severe and long-lasting HF propagation degradations are often caused by the coronal mass ejections (CMEs) often associated with -- but not caused by -- major solar flares," Donovan explained. "HF propagation degradation caused by CMEs typically begins about 2 days after the effects of the associated solar flare, the duration of the delay depending on interactions between the CME and the solar wind."

The CME associated with the July 3 X1.5 solar flare is likely to have little to no effect on HF propagation going forward, because the active region was very close to the western edge of the visible solar disk when the CME erupted. Region 12838 rotated off the visible disk on Sunday, July 4.

Solar flares have no significant effect on VHF ionospheric propagation, but can degrade satellite communications passing through the ionosphere. More frequent, less powerful M-class medium solar flares produce short-duration degradation at high latitudes. Very frequent, much weaker A-, B-, and C-class solar flares do not degrade HF propagation. -- Thanks to Frank Donovan, W3LPL

Amateur Radio Volunteers Prepared for and Tracked Elsa

The weather event known as Elsa, a tropical storm that also achieved Category 1 hurricane status, prompted actions by ARRL, the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), and the Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) as the storm set its sights on Florida this week. The storm made landfall along the Gulf Coast of northern Florida on July 7, before weakening significantly.

As Tropical Storm Elsa moved up the East Coast, the Eastern New York (ENY) and New York-Long Island (NLI) Sections received a request from the American Red Cross (ARC) Greater New York Region to have ARES groups put on alert from July 9 through July 15.

"As of now, it's just preliminary planning with no definite plans for opening shelters or service delivery sites," Phil Nelson, N2PN, Regional Field Communications Manager of ARC Greater New York said on July 7.

"Please stay aware of developing conditions," Eastern New York Section Emergency Coordinator (SEC) Dave Galletly, KM2O, urged. "I ask that groups in the ENY Southern District prepare for possible deployment in support of ARC as of Friday, July 9. Groups in the Central and Northern Districts should also keep in touch with weather developments and stand by for possible mid to long-term support of Southern District groups."

On July 6, Northern Florida SEC Karl Martin, K4HBN, activated the ARES Net on 3.950 kHz. An open net was activated on SARnet -- a UHF-linked repeater network. As the evening developed, the Section saw six emergency operations centers and many shelters open. The Northern Florida Section stood down from a Level III monitoring activation on July 7.

"ARRL Headquarters and the ARRL Emergency Management Department are monitoring the storm's progress and will be ready to assist Sections affected by Elsa," ARRL Emergency Management Director Paul Gilbert, KE5ZW, assured as the storm approached.

The Hurricane Watch Net initially activated for Elsa on July 2, after it became a Category 1 hurricane.

"Because the storm was extremely close to Barbados, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent, we went into operation to collect and forward weather data to the National Hurricane Center in Miami," Net Manager Bobby Graves, KB5HAV, said. The HWN reactivated for several hours on July 6, standing down after about 8 hours.

Elsa has produced some wind damage, but the major hazard from the storm so far appears to be heavy rain, flooding, and storm surge. Some suspected tornadoes have been reported. Elsa is expected to move across the southeastern and mid-Atlantic US.

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ARRL Podcasts Schedule

The latest episode of the On the Air podcast (Episode 18) features a discussion with ARRL Lifelong Learning Manager Kris Bickell, K1BIC, about the launch of the new ARRL Learning Center later this month.

The latest edition of Eclectic Tech (Episode 37) features a discussion about the mysterious Schumann Resonances and a chat with Grant Connell, WD6CNF, about an interesting Morse sending and receiving application he created for Windows.

The On the Air and Eclectic Tech podcasts are sponsored by Icom. Both podcasts are available on iTunes (iOS) and Stitcher (Android) as well as on Blubrry -- On the Air | Eclectic Tech.


June 2021 Volunteer Monitor Program Report Released

The June 2021 activity report of the Volunteer Monitoring (VM) Program has been released. The VM Program is a joint initiative between ARRL and the FCC to enhance compliance in the Amateur Radio Service.

  • The FCC was requested to review a vanity call sign application filed by a Georgia licensee because of an apparently false answer to the question regarding a felony conviction.
  • A licensee in Massachusetts received an Advisory Notice concerning obscenity and harassment on 160 meters. The FCC will hold for review any renewal application filed by this licensee.
  • A General-class licensee in San Antonio, Texas, received an Advisory Notice for operation in the Amateur Extra-class portion of the 20-meter band.
  • Licensees in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia received Advisory Notices concerning failure to identify and other possible violations as part of a general audit of complaints about licensee conduct on 1.938, 3.860, 3.895, and 3.927 MHz.
  • In May, Volunteer Monitors logged 1,514 hours on HF frequencies and 2,072 hours on VHF frequencies and above.

The Volunteer Monitor Program Administrator had one meeting with the FCC, and two cases were referred to the FCC for further action. One case involves a taxi company in Alaska operating on 2 meters. -- Thanks to Volunteer Monitor Program Administrator Riley Hollingsworth, K4ZDH


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ARRL Learning Network Webinars

Visit the ARRL Learning Network (a members-only benefit) to register, check on upcoming webinars, and to view previously recorded sessions.

Learning with High-Altitude Balloons -- Jack McElroy, KM4ZIA, and Audrey McElroy, KM4BUN / Thursday, July 22, 2021 @ 3:30 PM EDT (1930 UTC)

Jack McElroy, KM4ZIA, and Audrey McElroy, KM4BUN, talk about their experiences with high-altitude balloons and explain how hams can get involved in successfully launching balloons. They'll also talk about how to make high-altitude balloons a fantastic learning experience for students who may want to be involved in ham radio.

ARRL members may register for upcoming presentations and view previously recorded Learning Network webinars. ARRL-affiliated radio clubs may also use the recordings as presentations for club meetings, mentoring new and current hams, and discussing amateur radio topics.

The ARRL Learning Network schedule is subject to change.

Young Caribbean Nation Formalizing Amateur Radio Guidelines and Standards

With a population just north of 71,000, the Caribbean island of Dominica (J7) boasts a modest but active ham radio population. Given Dominica's vulnerability to hurricanes, the ham radio emphasis often focuses on emergency communications support. In 2017, after Hurricane Maria hit the tiny island, ham radio filled a huge telecommunications gap. Now the country's telecommunications regulator is asking hams to help formulate new amateur radio guidelines and standards. Dominica's National Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (NTRC) is collecting comments until July 12 from radio amateurs participating in a "consultation" (what the US FCC would call a "proceeding") that could lead to a formal and better-documented set of rules and regulations.

"There is limited guidance for those who seek to utilize the telecommunications media for their own personal use, enjoyment, and fulfillment as [a] hobby, as in the case of amateur radio," the NTRC said in the consultation document. "Generally, [amateur radio] is self-regulating, and so the involvement of the telecommunications regulator is minimized. Though the amateur radio clubs generally do their best to provide some level of guidance and support to existing and prospective operators, there is great need for a formal and comprehensive set of guidelines and standards for the operation of Amateur Radio Services in Dominica."

Resources used in developing the draft proposals included ARRL, the FCC's Part 97 amateur radio rules, and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

"A primary source for this document was the Code of Federal Regulations (Title 47, Part 97), due to its comprehensiveness and its informal adoption in certain parts by the local amateur radio fraternity," the NTRC said. Specific ARRL resources included The ARRL FCC Rule Book; The ARRL Operating Manual for Radio Amateurs, and The ARRL Handbook for Radio Communications. The regulators also

Joseph Raymond, J73RJ, during an emergency preparedness exercise.

looked at Canada's and Australia's amateur radio rules. The proposals would provide for three license classes -- Novice, General, and Advanced -- as well as licensing procedures for each.

The NTRC held a public meeting via Zoom in mid-June to "highlight and clarify important issues" regarding the consultation. NTRC personnel later met with amateur radio club representatives at the NTRC's office. Under Telecommunications Act No. 8 of 2000 and its associated regulations, the NTRC oversees compliance with all telecommunication rules in Dominica, including amateur radio. The NTRC also manages amateur radio spectrum.

Following the initial comment period, the NTRC will review the comments and subsequently submit the Revised Draft Amateur Radio Guidelines and Standards document for comments on the initial comments received. The NTRC will also review those comments and finalize the policy document, taking all views into consideration, to adopt and publish the Amateur Radio Guidelines and Standards document.

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Announcements
  • The Northern California DX Foundation (NCDXF) has posted a complete copy of Where Do We Go Next by Martti Laine, OH2BH.

  • The IARU Region 2 Executive Committee has released a report of its May 26 meeting. The EC meets quarterly to discuss items of importance to the Americas.

  • Bill Leal, VE3ES, in Windsor, Ontario, is now active as VE3VACCINE until July 15. The activity is to encourage people to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Operations have been on 30, 20, 10, and 6 meters using SSB and FT8/FT4.

  • Adam Farson, VA7OJ/AB4OJ, has been elevated to a Senior Member of IEEE. "This is a great recognition for a professional career which spanned nearly 40 years," Farson said.

  • IARU Region 1 Vice President Faisal al-Ajmi, 9K2RR/W2RRR, has died following a prolonged hospitalization with COVID-19. Faisal was Region 1 Vice President since 2014 and was described by IARU as "an energetic and active supporter of amateur radio in the Arab world and globally. He was also an accomplished and successful contester."

  • The RV Braveheart, which has provided maritime transportation for numerous DXpedition teams over the years, is up for sale. The asking price is $250,000.

Amateur Radio in the News

ARRL Public Information Officers, Coordinators, and many other member-volunteers help keep amateur radio and ARRL in the news.

Share any amateur radio media hits you spot with us.

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Registrations Strong for 24th Annual International Lighthouse Lightship Weekend

Set for August 21 - 22, the 24th annual International Lighthouse Lightship Weekend (ILLW) will be back, despite the disruption of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Each year, typically on the third weekend of August, participants set up portable stations at or near lighthouses and lightships around the world. Last year, prospects for the event were looking dim, but "regular supporters wanted the event to be a beacon of hope," the event's sponsor said. More than 360 registrations from 43 countries backed up their belief. As of July 8, this year's registration tally had already topped 200, with 25 participants signed up to activate lighthouses or lightships in the US. The ILLW typically attracts entries for some 500 lighthouses in more than 40 countries. The event has few rules and is not a typical contest-type event. The ILLW will begin at 0001 UTC on August 21 and continue through 2400 UTC on August 22.

Each station's operators decide how they will operate their station with respect to modes and bands. There are no power restrictions or entry classes and no scores.

"We wish operators to enjoy themselves and have fun while making contact with as many amateur radio stations as possible," ILLW said in the event announcement. "We request that stations take time to work other lighthouses or lightships, as well as the slow operators or newly licensed or QRP stations." Participants contact the relevant authorities to obtain permission to operate. It is within the guidelines of the event to move operations from a lighthouse to a museum for historic reasons. In any case, the lighthouse should be visible to, and visited by, the public wherever possible.

Visit the ILLW website for more detailed information.

NRRL Receives Grants to Support Online Learning, Emergency Preparedness

The Norwegian Radio Relay League (NRRL) has recently received two substantial grants that will further its education and emergency preparedness programs. NRRL was given nearly $81,500 from the Research Council of Norway for the development of teaching material for amateur radio. According to NRRL, the grant will fund measures that "strengthen children's and young people's digital competence through leisure activities." NRRL will develop online learning material for amateur radio and other activities over the course of the 2-year project.

"Voluntary efforts from NRRL members will also be an important input factor in the project," NRRL said. "We hope that many will take an active part in this work, which will be important for the future of amateur radio in Norway."

NRRL has also received a grant of nearly $94,000 from the Gjensidige Foundation that will further support its emergency preparedness and response initiatives. The funds will specifically enable NRRL to develop and produce new tracking units that NRRL will use in its rescue service to locate volunteer teams on a map and in real time. In addition, the funds will support much-needed equipment and joint exercises and skills development.

"Volunteer rescue crews have been a critical part of the Norwegian rescue service for more than 50 years," said NRRL's Liaison Service head, Henrik Solhaug, LA6ETA. "In close cooperation with the police and the Main Rescue Center, they have, over the years, searched for and found thousands of missing individuals and saved hundreds of lives. These are tasks that the public sector itself does not have the capacity to perform, and volunteers have largely covered the costs themselves." -- Thanks to NRRL

In Brief...

To keep member records up to date, ARRL emailed Life Members on June 16. A follow-up email will be sent in the next few days, asking them to verify their mailing address. Be assured that it is a legitimate request sent from ARRL. Thank you to all those who responded. If you need to update your address information, call (860) 594-0200, email membership@arrl.org, or respond to the email you received. If your email client does not recognize the text as a link, you will need to cut and paste it into a web browser to access the verification web page.

The QSO Recorder Indexing Service lets you hear your contacts. Developed by Vasiliy Gokoyev, K3IT, the QSO Recorder Indexing Service (QSORDEX) allows radio amateurs to share their contest and DXpedition contact audio recordings. Users then can search the site to retrieve them by call sign. Audio files are in .mp3 format, saved according to the system's naming convention, and then uploaded to the Dropbox.com file-hosting service. The site itself does not store any files; it only indexes them. To add your own contacts, register at Dropbox.com and download and install the Dropbox PC client. A free 2 GB Dropbox account can store approximately 12,000 contacts, although users may purchase additional space above what is provided with a free account. See the QSOrder website for additional details.

The CHESS CubeSats will not carry amateur radio payloads. It was announced in January that two CHESS CubeSats set for launch in 2022 would carry amateur radio linear transponders. The project sponsors announced on June 10, however, that neither CHESS satellite would include an amateur radio payload. Citing funding constraints, CHESS project management had to move the project toward a purely scientific program using a commercial CubeSat platform, which has less space for the planned ham radio transponders. CHESS project management also will not use frequencies allocated to the Amateur Satellite Service, but will use Earth exploration or experimental UHF and X-band frequencies. "The ham community, which assured the funding of the transponder, is very disappointed by this decision but must accept it," the project team said in a news release. "Such projects always carry risks of one partner changing its mind. That is what happened here. Many thanks to all who have actively supported the transponder project, especially the AMSAT-UK and AMSAT-NL team."

A filing extension has been granted in the FCC space launch proceeding The FCC Office of Engineering and Technology has granted a 30-day extension for filing comments and reply comments on the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Non-Federal Space Launch, Federal Earth Stations, and Federal Space Station proceedings (ET Docket 13-115). Comments will now be due by August 11, and reply comments will be due by September 9. As announced in June, the FCC is soliciting a second round of comments on whether to authorize commercial space entities to obtain licenses for frequencies used exclusively during space launch activities. The proposals include parts of the 70-centimeter (420 - 430 MHz) and 5-centimeter (5650 - 5925 MHz) bands.


The K7RA Solar Update

Tad Cook, K7RA, Seattle, reports:

Solar activity continues to increase. The average daily sunspot number was 34.7 last week; this week it jumped to 55.6. Average daily solar flux increased from 86.9 to 88.9.

Despite solar flare activity pushing a sudden ionospheric disturbance and a dramatic HF radio blackout (see "First X-Class Major Solar Flare of Solar Cycle 25 Blacks Out HF on July 3"), at least the average daily planetary A index for the week was only 5.7, down from 6.1 last week. The average middle latitude A index was also 6.1 last week, and it was 6.3 this week.

The flare was an X1.5-class event, the biggest since September 2017 and the only X-Class solar flare since then. Events such as this can be so dramatic that some may initially assume a hardware or antenna failure. Fortunately, these are rare.

Predicted solar flux is 76 on July 8; 74 on July 9 - 11; 72 on July 12 - 13; 70 and 74 on July 14 - 15; 82 on July 16 - 18; 84 on July 19; 88 on July 20 - 22; 90 on July 23 - 28; 88 on July 29 - August 2; 84 on August 3; 82 on August 4 - 5, and 80 on August 6 - 11.

Predicted planetary A index is 5, 8, 12, 8, 12, 16, and 8 on July 8 - 14; 5 on July 15 - 17; 15, 12, and 10 on July 18 - 20; 5 on July 21 - 31; 10 and 8 on August 1 - 2; 5 on August 3 - 5; 15 and 12 on August 6 - 7, and 5 on August 8 - 13.

Sunspot numbers for July 1 - 7 were 56, 72, 81, 60, 43, 52, and 25, with a mean of 34.7. The 10.7-centimeter flux was 94.1, 94.9, 93.7, 91.1, 89.4, 83.2, and 76, with a mean of 86.9. Estimated planetary A indices were 7, 5, 4, 3, 7, 8, and 6, with a mean of 6.1. Middle latitude A index was 7, 6, 4, 4, 9, 8, and 6, with a mean of 6.1.

A comprehensive K7RA Solar Update is posted Fridays on the ARRL website. For more information concerning radio propagation, visit the ARRL Technical Information Service, read "What the Numbers Mean...," and check out this Propagation Page.

A propagation bulletin archive is available. For customizable propagation charts, visit the VOACAP Online for Ham Radio website.

Share your reports and observations.


Just Ahead in Radiosport
  • July 10 - 11 -- IARU HF World Championship (CW, phone)

  • July 10 - 11 -- SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (CW)

  • July 11 -- QRP ARCI Summer Homebrew Sprint (CW)

  • July 12 -- 4 States QRP Group Second Sunday Sprint (CW, phone)

  • July 14 -- VHF-UHF FT8 Activity Contest

  • July 14 -- RSGB 80-Meter Club Championship, SSB

  • July 15 -- NAQCC CW Sprint


Upcoming ARRL Section, State, and Division Conventions

Many conventions and hamfests have been canceled or postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Check the calendar of canceled events on the ARRL website.

Find conventions and hamfests in your area.


ARRL -- Your One-Stop Resource for
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Free of charge to ARRL members...

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The ARRL Letter

The ARRL Letter offers a weekly summary of essential news of interest to active amateurs that is available in advance of publication in QST, our official journal. The ARRL Letter strives to be timely, accurate, concise and readable.

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