Exercise Blue Ham
Exercise Blue Ham is run two or three times a year by the RAF Air Cadets (RAFAC) on the shared allocation of the 5 MHz band to facilitate their on-going training in the usage of radio. There may also be other cadets organisations taking part: Army Cadet Force (ACF), Sea Cadet Corps (SCC), and the Combined Cadet Force (CCF). The exercises allow the cadets to experience operating on HF, with all the vagaries of Near Vertical Incident Skywave, European DX, QRN, and the fun of pile-ups. Many of the cadet stations encourage their youngsters to embrace the wonderful world of Amateur Radio (and to gain their licence), so it is important that we take part in the exercise to encourage their on-going training, and to highlight how Radio Amateurs can work with the military, especially at times of national emergencies.
Please note: You must hold a Full UK Amateur Radio Licence to operate on the 5 MHz band. Foundation and Intermediate licence holders may only operate on 5 MHz with a Full licence holder's call-sign or a club call-sign - and under supervision of a Full licence holder. All QSO logging must be made against the Full licence holder's call-sign or club call-sign. You may not log 5 MHz QSOs with a Foundation or Intermediate call-sign. Please ensure you read and understand the licence conditions as set out by Ofcom. Failure to adhere to the licence restrictions could result in a loss of your licence and the confiscation of your equipment!
Please remember: Amateur Radio is Secondary User on the 5 MHz band, so do not be surprised when the Primary User turns up for Blue Ham weekends.
The next Exercise Blue Ham will take place over the weekend of the 22nd and 23rd of October 2022.
Please see the Alpha Charlie website for details of the exercises.
The 5 MHz band is only available to UK Radio Amateurs with a Full licence. You should operate in accordance with the licence conditions and within the designated band-plan. Receiving a Blue Ham station outside of the UK Radio Amateur band-plan does not give you permission to contact them. If you transmit out-of-band: the Men-in-Black will take you from your home in the middle of the night to a secret base where you will be strapped to a chair in a sound-proof room and made to watch every episode of Coronation Street. Allegedly!
International Radio Amateurs reading this page: please check to ensure your licence allows you to operate on the 5 MHz band. You must operate within the limitations of your licence and your country's agreed band-plan. The United Kingdom's 5 MHz band-plan operates over a larger area than WRC-15, and you may not have the ability to transmit on the same frequencies.
Cadet stations will call "alpha charlie, alpha charlie, alpha charlie, this is...", followed by their assigned call-sign. This will take the form of MRExxx for RAFAC and MFJxxx for the Sea Cadets; e.g. MRE21, MRE77A, MFJ05. Alpha Charlie stands for "any call-signs", and this form of call only applies to cadet stations. Radio Amateurs wishing to call for contacts during exercises should continue to call CQ. Radio Amateurs should not call alpha-charlie! You may wish to call "cq blue ham ... listening for any cadet stations".
Please remember to use the NATO phonetics (as anything else is really annoying!). All Blue Ham voice communications on 5 MHz use Upper Side Band. It would be preferable to avoid using AM on 5.317 MHz during Blue Ham weekends as this spot-frequency may be used for USB; and your AM transmission may bleed-over to 5.320 MHz. Please check the quality of your transmissions: over-driving your radio and transmitting with a distorted signal is very hard to read; as is an echo from leaving an SDR running in the background. Sounding like a Dalek on the band is optional, although you may find the cadet stations struggling to make out what you are saying! Likewise, transmitting a 10 kHz wide USB signal will not win you any friends!!
Please be patient and give the cadets time to answer your reply to their alpha-charlie call. This could be the first time operating on HF and it is quite scary to have lots of voices yelling their call-signs at once. Remember this is an exercise, not a contest, so there is no need to keep repeating your call-sign over and over!! The details they will exchange with you are listed below. The cadets can learn a lot from the different transceivers and aerials used by different Radio Amateur stations, especially when they reference it to the equipment and aerials they are using. And it might be enjoyable to learn what the weather is doing in your part of the world!
Maidenhead Locator note: The cadet stations may be operating from active military sites within the United Kingdom. Whilst we (as UK residents) know where they are, and most are sign-posted on the road, the cadets will not give out an exact location or an exact Maidenhead Locator. Do not be surprised if a locator appears in the North Sea! Many Radio Amateurs incorrectly programme their MMDVM GPS co-ordinates and end-up /MM. See my tips page to ensure you input the correct coordinates.
You may hear two cadet stations calling "alpha charlie" on the same frequency. Working both stations will be a challenge for everyone and a test of listening skills. Be clear and concise, and try not to stomp on other people's transmissions!
The logging of Blue Ham contacts is not the same as ordinary Amateur Radio contacts. Each station exchanges the following information:
- Transceiver type (e.g. FT-450D, FT-991A, IC-7100, Clansman 320).
- Transmitter power (max 100 Watts for this band).
- Aerial type and orientation (e.g. half-wave dipole, 10 metres high, pointing North-South).
- Maidenhead Locator.
- Time (in UTC).
- Signal report.
Signal reports are in a simplified format: Loud Clear, Good Readable, Weak Readable. There is no S9+10 as that is meaningless to cadets!
Working the same cadet station on a different frequency counts as a separate contact (if they remember to QSY!). This applies to both Saturday and Sunday. i.e. MRE99 worked on 5.313 at 12:00 UTC on Saturday is 1 contact for Saturday. MRE99 worked on 5.4305 at 14:10 UTC on Saturday is 2 contacts for that station. MRE99 worked on 5.313 at 11:00 UTC on Sunday is 1 contact for Sunday.
If you manage more than 15 contacts over the weekend, you can send your log file in Amateur Data Interchange Format to the Blue Ham team via email. I would advise against trying to upload the log to the likes of QRZ.com, as it will class the station entries as duplicates, and you will have little to show for your efforts!
Log files should be emailed to the:
I have created a series of logging sheets that Radio Amateurs can use when logging Blue Ham calls. I offer them here for download; and please feel free to modify them for your own needs. There are two versions available: A4 single-sided offering two stations per sheet; and A5 single-sided for one station per sheet. They are old-fashioned paper as I often operate Blue Ham from a portable location, and a pen and paper do not need any power!
Version 2.1 I have created a version 2.1 logging sheet with some major changes to assist in the easy logging of cadet stations. The top section "Call-sign" is the call-sign of the cadet station. For RAF Air Cadets, this will start with: MRE. For Sea Cadets, this will start with: MFJ. I have re-arranged the transceiver and aerial logging details as the cadets tend to start with the transceiver. I have moved the signal logging for the cadet station to the last column. The arrows signify that you are logging the signal report the cadet station sends to you.
Here is an example of how to fill them out (based on version 2.0):
I typically use two different coloured pens. The top-half data is written in blue, as that does not change. I note the frequency, time, and conditions in red to make it easier to read. You may have different preferences. I may note a particular station's current frequency whilst I am searching the band, but I will not note the time or conditions until I work that station. That can sometimes result in frequencies being crossed out. That is all part of the game! In the example above, I have use colour highlighting to demonstrate how I would log the calls. For aerial orientation and operating conditions, I would simply circle the appropriate part. If you are logging in zero gravity and your pen stops working, you can always use a pencil. Colouring Pencils are available from the Coloured Pencils Office.
You should end up with a small pile of paper, with a log sheet for each cadet station. Remember to convert these to an electronic format. Please do not send your logs to me!
Download the PDF if you simply want to print and log. Download the odt or docx formats if you want to modify the contents to suit your requirements. For example: I add the day and date in a separate bright colour for the two weekend days to ensure I do not mix the Saturday and Sunday sheets.
A4 single-sided. Two station logs per sheet.
A5 single-sided. One station log per sheet.
The following lowest USB dial frequencies (in MHz) are most likely to be used, and should prevent UK Radio Amateurs from operating out of band:
- 5.354 (WRC-15)
- 5.363 (Partly in WRC-15)
- 5.3665 (Digital Mode: Olivia 16/500)
- 5.3715 (Digital Mode: BPSK 31)
- 5.3985 (Vacate by 15:00 UTC on Sunday for GB2RS)
If you are running a Yaesu FT-991(A), check out my downloads page for example memory programming. I zip up and down the 60 metre band via the use of the memory up/down buttons on the microphone. It is a quicker method than using the VFO dial, and it ensures you are always on the correct frequency.
March 2019 My thanks to Valerie G6XDK for allowing me to use her out-of-town QTH for a ~30 dB decrease in QRM noise levels and the 35 contacts it allowed me to make.
June 2019 My thanks to Sandra Round of the (former) Old Bull Pub in Gamlingay, South Cambridgeshire, for allowing me to set-up my dipole aerial in the back garden (more of a field by modern housing standards). Operating /P for the first time, several major challenges included: setting up the aerial for the first time with the wind trying to blow it over; trying to work through the entire weekend with a throat-infection; and trying to work through Saturday with the crashing of QRN from a large number of thunder storms spread across Europe. Despite the QRN, the QRM levels were low enough to successfully operate - even working MRE34B in Scotland. QRM levels could only be lower by cutting the power to the village...
The resonant 5 MHz band dipole set-up (on Friday) with a 10 metre extending mast, a concrete lump to steady the base, guy lines, and the wire ends supported with two 10 metre carbon-fibre "roach poles", both held up with guy lines (only one side visible):
The aerial ended up on a North-East - South-West (ish) orientation due to the available open ground.
Detail of the left-most support. Screw-in ties for dogs/tents proved useful as ground anchors. The roach-pole is held in place with a Marquee/Parasol ground spike. Yellow 3 mm nylon line is used for the guy lines so they are visible to everyone walking around the area.
An on-site mobile home provided a very useful operating "shack" sheltering myself (and visitors) from the passing June showers. Yes, the sticky note is to remind me to use the Maidenhead Locator for that area and not give-out the one for my QTH!
On Sunday, I was pleased to be able to help G3ATC to provide Jamie, Jade, Asad, and Megan with some HF operating experience on their Amateur Radio Foundation Licence practical training. I hope they are proudly sporting M7 callsigns now!
June 2020 My thanks again to Sandra Round of the (former) Old Bull Pub in Gamlingay, South Cambridgeshire, for allowing me to set-up my dipole aerial in the back garden (more of a field by modern housing standards). Operating /P again in a low-noise rural area saw my helpers and I rained on whilst setting up on Friday. In a repeat of last year's weather, Saturday hit us with rain, wind, hail, thunderstorms, and major QRN. At least Sunday was a little quieter! Overall, a successful weekend despite the lack of cadets due to the SARS-Cov2 lock-down.
March 2021 National lock-down and the assumption that BlueHam 21-1 would not go ahead resulted in too short notice to set-up portable. Operating from home with a long-wire aerial, the ever present and annoying VDSL QRM, plus a rather unfortunately-timed geomagnetic storm made for terrible operating conditions. On the Saturday, I could barely hear diddly, let alone squat. Sunday was only vaguely better and I managed all of 10 contacts before listening to noise drove me mad!
October 2021 My thanks again to Sandra Round of the (former) Old Bull Pub in Gamlingay, South Cambridgeshire, for allowing me to set-up my dipole aerial in the back garden (more of a field by modern housing standards). Very nice low-wind weather on Friday allowed for an easy set-up, as did ditching the screw-in dog-lead anchors and replacing them with some home-made Aluminium angle cut to suitable lengths, sharpened, and fitted with mini D-rings. Hammering them in the soil was much easier than trying to twist something in to dry ground.
Someone broke the little table I had used in previous years, so I took advantage of a larger fold-out table. Here are a couple of pictures from Sunday - complete with logging sheets spread out ready.
A close-up of one of the carbon-fibre poles being held in place with the new home-made ground anchors.
Condition for Inter-UK NVIS were very good allowing for lots of contacts with the various stations set-up around the UK. A new personal best.
Thanks again to Sandy for the use of the static caravan and land, and to Liz for help with set-up, take-down, and the supply of tasty munchies.
March 2022 My thanks again to Sandra Round for allow me to use the facilities at the (former) Old Bull Pub in Gamlingay, South Cambridgeshire. And a huge thanks to Liz for the tasty munchies.
Laying out the mast tie-downs can be quite tricky when you are down at ground-level trying to judge by eye whether you are 120 degrees apart. So to help with the process, I up-cycled the end of a cable reel. Fitted with M3 stainless bolts and laser pointers (not pictured) this rather natty piece of wood helped position the ground stakes at the right angles. After the laser alignment, I laid-out new lengths of poly line to help with the positioning for the next Exercise.
The concrete lump I made a few years ago is looking a little worse for wear. I hope to replace it with a tripod in the future.
We had some lovely sunshine on Saturday, so I thought a morning photo of the aerial might look nice.
Sunday was rather dull and misty, so here is an arty shot titled "Aerial in the Mist"
It was great to work a new batch of cadets. Congratulations to all of the cadets that passed the tests to be able to operate on 5 MHz. I hope you all had an enjoyable weekend. I certainly did. I was going to stop at 100, then a cadet station called on a quiet frequency I was parked on. It seemed rude to ignore them!
March 2022 Operating as MQ0PLT for the month of June 2022 as a Jubilee special event station. My thanks again to Sandra Round for allow me to use the facilities at the (former) Old Bull Pub in Gamlingay, South Cambridgeshire. And a huge thanks to Liz for the tasty munchies.
I treated myself to a Spiderbeam four-legged tripod to support the pole. A vast improvement over a lump of concrete! I originally ordered an XL model, but the supplier found they were out of stock, so they sold me the XXL model for the same price. As my pole is only 50 mm at its widest, I had to make some spacers out of wood and heavy gauge tape.
The doofer plate saw some upgrades in between exercises. I installed three 5 mW Red lasers into their associated heat-sinks (no, they do not run hot, but it is a handy way of mounting them) and powered them from a single 18650 Lithium battery. The three beams are roughly 120 degrees apart. There is some mis-alignment due to the lenses on the lasers. A tiny movement on the laser can create a beam 40 to 60 mm off centre once you are a few metres away. Here is a test rig-up in the back garden. Resistance is Futile!
The laser alignment plate at the /P location with the string markers used to determine the distance to the ground stakes.
1 of 3 ground-stakes hammered in on the right alignment at the right distance ... ish!
A wider shot showing the layout of the three guy-line anchors. The laser alignment plate and strings are remove prior to lofting the mast.
The whole aerial set-up. The three main guy-lines take-up the slack as the mast reaches its maximum - thus removing the need for human anchors to hold things steady. This method can be set-up single-handed now.
After all that effort, the sky was broken for the entire weekend. Inter-UK NVIS propagation was terrible. You could not even hear the storms over Europe, let alone any European stations. If you were a cadet taking part in the exercise, please do not lose heart that your "alpha charlie" calls went un-answered. That is the vagaries of working on HF!
Page updated: 23rd July 2022