What are the plans to keep the WG6OTA repeater “On The Air” and keep down time to a minimum?
First, to understand how these hilltop repeaters are managed, many are “Hobbyist” style systems simply for the enjoyment of the hobby and improving the owners skill as an Amateur Radio hobbyist. Other systems are designed for the support of club activities and to support emergency communications in the event of a disaster or emergency response. These are two very different purposes and require very different methods of maintenance, repair and support.
As Hans Ehlert AE6TV owned and operated the 449.160 repeater for many years as a hobbyist system, repairs were facilitated by simply removing the repeater from its location on sunset ridge, brought down to Hans home QTH and serviced, repaired, tested then returned to the Hilltop. Obviously the GOTAhams mission is different, facilitating nightly nets and being available in the event of an emergency for our CERT teams within the range of the 449.160 repeater along with being available for general communications of the Amateur radio community.
GOTAhams “Mission Critical” style requires a far different management and preparedness style. Plans so far have been to acquire the parts, components, tools and test equipment to allow us assembly, testing, tuning, adjustments of a fully functioning spare/second system. this will allow us to replace any single component or the entire repeater system.
During the original purchase of this repeater, we understood it was off the air but had difficulty accessing the site due to damaged/blocked roads, upon accessing the hilltop it was found that the controller had failed, Hans Graciously ordered and paid for a replacement but with global supply chain issues, electronic components were not available for the manufacture of the replacement controller, we were forced into a six week wait on the new part and even after the installation it required another trip to the site for adjustments to the audio chain. Unfortunately, we did not have the correct tools/service equipment and not being experienced repeater technicians, it has been challenging for all of us to learn this complicated facet of our hobby.
We have been searching for and acquiring components, tools, documentation, software and knowledge to try and operate this new system in a “mission critical” style. We have been able to purchase a Motorola MTR2000 100-watt radio and had a spare RLC-4 controller manufactured and delivered. GOTAhams members Ken Campbell N6CPD gifted the club a Motorola Service monitor (the real tool for adjusting mostly every RF/Audio function of a radio system).
Dave K6EV, waded through his old gear and found an old 32-bit architecture laptop (that needed some TLC) did some upgrades to it for a programming computer for our Motorola radios. At this point we need to learn the programming and features of these systems, acquire the wiring map (schematic) of the existing repeater and recreate the spare repeater system for our spare. Of course, during all this we’ll need to obtain some of the linking devices (Nodes) also as spares for our backups.
It becomes apparent these are lengthy arduous tasks, with added supply chain problems the difficulties are multiplied, and we realize that we need to be very thorough in our planning and execution of this build.
We are keenly aware that this is the GOTAhams focused system and there are high expectations. Everything we are doing and planning for this system is to support the goals of this club and its members. local CERT teams and the Amateur Radio community. Please understand, this system, its purchase, maintenance, site lease, parts acquisition, travel expenses are all purely funded privately, and through some very generous donations.
As things move forward and we get farther into this build, we will update and inform the group of our progress and hopefully be able to show this system and explain the method of assembly, testing, linking etc. maybe at an “elmering in the Park” event?