Friday, December 23, 2011



Massimo di Paola (IW0HEU) is now working in Antarctica and is often on the air from Mario Zuchelli Station as II0MZ.

We would like to thank Max for taking time away from his duties to make possible this exclusive interview with DxCoffee.

First of all I wanted to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to get together with us at DxCoffee. On that very note, we’d like to ask you what kind of work you do there: what is it exactly that keeps you so busy?

Hello, as always, it’s a pleasure to chat about the hobby and this is the first time to be in front of so many people.

Italy has a presence in Antarctica with the National Program of Antarctic Research, managed from the logistical side by the ENEA (Department of Sustained Energy and Economic Development) and on the scientific side by CNR (National Research Council).  This year makes the 27th year of regular operation, that is to say, having embarked on the 27th expedition.  As part of the logistics personnel, ENEA provides almost all the staff necessary for the operation and maintenance (common and specialized) of Mario Zucchelli Station at Terra Nova Bay. Utilizing some uniquely qualified professionals, the ENEA carries out research in conjunction with the Armed Forces and government.  Areas of expertise include meteorologists, those responsible for disemination of information, deep sea and scuba divers (the latter frequently provided by special forces), mountain guides, motor and utility vehicle mechanics (including snowcats and snowmobiles), fire fighters and equipment (usually VVF fire brigade personnel) and finally, military pilots, for the operational management of the Operations Center of Mario Zuchelli Station (MZS).

The Operations Center, located on the upper floor of the structure,  is clearly visible from the photos from the satellite map on the internet from Google Earth, being   the hub of the base, around which revolves all work to be done, in assuring the execution of  assignments from the Executive Floor.

The latter is home to  the scientific programs from the University, approved and funded by the Ministries of Education and Research to be performed during the summer. All scientific and logistical support operations  are managed by the Expedition Leader, who is tasked as the Base Commander, as the Senior Scientist (coordinator) and  Operations Center Chief.

As a matter of priority, the Operations Center coordinates and oversees the operation of aircraft and boats under the scope of the PEA (Annual Programs of the Executive).  In addition, using the same means,  it oversees logistical operations (supply and movement of personnel with neighboring bases of McMurdo (US), Dome C (Italy/France) and always has an eye on all operations and movement of personnel whether it be inside or external to the base  (remote camps  set up for more than a day, personnel transport by helicopter and on-site for purposes of research in the operations area of MZS, etc.).

In the Operations Center there are actually two pilots (Officers of the Army Air Force pilot both.  I pilot transport aircraft, the Dornier 228 and the Piaggio P-180; the guy I work with flys an AB-205) and two government meteorologists of the AMI (Italian Air Force).

The pilots involved in both planning and coordination of upcoming air operations, as well as flight tracking and field-monitoring (scientific and logistical operations located off-base) currently underway.

The ENEA  is provided support via  a pool of flight personnel through the Air Force and Army Air Force and this year, for the first time, by the Navy. In the past, flight controllers from ENAV (National Flight Controllers Department) and AMI have also participated, as well as those responsable for operational traffic for Army Aviation.

Flight tracking operations (informational flight support relating to search and rescue and weather information) are carried out on VHF AM on aeronautical frequencies at distances between 50 to 100km and with commercial operators on HF right up to the edge of the zone of operations (the radius to the geographic center being no more than 1500km). Effective field monitoring is assured utilizing the same equipment on HF and on VHF on maritime frequencies, the latter on simplex as well as duplex.

Flight controllers, being supplied exclusively by the Italian Air Force (AMI), perform their most painstaking work of monitoring and forecasting of weather conditions in the immediate vicinity of Mario Zuchelli Station (MZS) and along the flight paths utilizing forecast models without exception, satellite imagery of the South Pole, observational weather data from neighboring bases and data from remote unattended weather stations in a radius of circa 300km.

The task of weather forecasting is extremely tedious owing to the vastness of the Antarctic continent, larger than that of North America, and while lacking the most essential sources of data, the atmospheric behavior is decidedly different from that of middle and low latitudes.  Katabatic winds (storms with winds over 100km / h hitting with a few minutes notice), strong variability, and low temperatures with a thin troposphere (the record low temperature of Earth was recorded by the Russian Vostok station, about 1700km from MZS on Antarctic plateau, where it reached a temperature of -90 ° C!) making weather prediction extremely challenging and critical for supported operations.

What are the maximum and minimum temperatures recorded up to now ?

Terra Nova Bay, where Mario Zuchelli Station was constructed 26 years ago, is not surprisingly, but affectionately called the Bahamas of the Antarctic.  This is owing to the position of the bay inside a great “bend,” formed by the Ross Sea in the heart of the continent. The Ross Sea often finds itself outside of weather disturbances where zones of circulation often rotate around the outside perimeter of Antarctica, lashing the coast with winds and acting as a buffer to snow.

Furthermore, The bay also has the added advantage of being in a coastal area in the shape of the valley (at a latitude of 164 ° E), which allows further protection. In short, and generally speaking, only if the weather is bad,  the depression is created in the Ross Sea itself.

This year the record was set in the high temperature category, or perhaps better said, it had already reached a record high in the first half of the month of November, to the interest and amazement of  many field experts.

These days, temperatures range from a minimum of -5 ° C to a maximum of 0 ° C,  5-7 ° above the average for the period. The sun never sets until early October and rotation occurs opposite to that which is found in Italy (counterclockwise rotation).

At sunset and sunrise, with the sun shineing sharply through and nearly horizontal to the windows of the Operations Center, it’s  important to have proper eye protection as well as protection for the skin (because of very low relative humidity).

The time allotted for radio operation is “relegated” to the  time at one’s disposition:  and amateur reporters who have contact with you  often do not know this and assume  DXpedition-like activity on your part.  Are you able to deal with such a situation?

This is really tough, because the job provides for very little free time. There are no duty assignment rosters because they would call for more staffing than available, sharing of tasks and during nice weather we are required to spend the whole day together in the pool – HI-HI.

Unfortunately for me, as well as amateur radio news gatherers, we all have to work with what we have.  There are some who ask for split operation, others want technical “savvy,” but by not having experience in ways of “modus operandi” from a DXpedition standpoint, our equipment does not allow for diverse operation, strictly simplex without special filters.

Some people ask me to work split  or other suggest “smart techniques,” but I’m no expert in such operations, standard for DXpeditions.  My radios don’t offer anything but straight simplex with no special filters.  So, the best of luck to everyone, and please, don’t tune in my ears, HI HI!

Tell me about your setup there in Antarctica? (Antenna, transceiver, etc.)

The shack is outfitted with professional equipment (as mentioned above, is unsuitable for contest type / user driven). Functionality is quite excellent and efficient.  The low level of electromagnetic pollution helps with reception. Even pings from the ionosonde (used for measuring elements of propagation), when they bounce back they leave their mark…on your eardrum!

Only at MZS will you find three operational fixed HF stations,  Rhode & Schwarz (150W, 400W, 1000W) with remote control operability (two in the Operations Center, one in the shack) and one ELMER (up to 10KW, in repair at present).

Radio traffic, as was said a few lines above, is maintained with stations within 1500 km  and then dispatched on frequencies between 5 and 9MHz using wire antennas (because, as my predecessor said in a separate article, the winter winds are destructive, literally) by taking advantage of NVIS propagation.

The frequencies are fixed and depend only on the distance relating to their given proximity to the South Pole (1700km). During the summer the sun never sets. So, things very rarely fall under a four  (atmospheric absorption of the ionosphere) and over ten will lead to to complete disinterest as far as operating DX is concerned.

The antenna farm is under constant maintenance (literally maintained by those with great pride and professionalism outside of the community), given the extreme ambient conditions to which materials are forced to resist.

The field antennas are located about 400 meters from the base, behind a typical granite ridge,  boasting a rhombic, a pair of delta loop antennas and an inverted L. These can be connected to any transmitter, then combining power, frequency and angle of radiation to suit any particular need.

II0MZ spt team - Rhombic Antenna

What kind of logging software do you use for the station?

I’m not a PC lover. I prefer a vintage paper log, resistant to crashes and formatting, but in these circumstances using a PC is a must (at a minimum, to be able to lighten the workload of our great QSL manager, Gian Paolo, IW0EFA, ARI-VT).

I installed Ham Radio Deluxe but chose (at the last second and after   a few panic filled moments on a couple of occasions) the more simple and robust Winlog 32.

To take a look at propagation conditions, also when there’s no available internet connection, I use the old HF program from G4ILO, version 1.3.

As far as your ability to get on the air is concerned, can you tell us what kind of openings you get from that latitude?

The answer is not a simple one, given the lack of a VFO  or the possibility of making comparisons across broad periods of the day. Let’s say (not having easy access to the cluster either) I spend time  calling on 40 meters without getting any replies during the evening hours (0900 UTC).  It seems easier to get out of Antarctica on 20 meters, althought I think I might have fun on 17 and 15 meters…wasting an afternoon that I really don’t have, HI HI!!!

With the South Pacific, 20 meters give me the best results around 1000 UTC (I would expect the same for Asia) and around 1700 UTC for Europe. I tried around 1100 UTC to take advantage of the best time for the USA, but other than one OM up early in west Virginia, nobody responded.

I might mention a complete blackout on HF which I experienced at 0000 UTC on Sunday the 27th or perhaps the evening before. I wasn’t able to pick up any station, not even McMurdo (1-7kw on 8Mhz, 400km)  Dome C and Dumond d’Urville; Shannon Volmet on HF wasn’t audible either, even with considerable power on 3, 5, 8, 13Mhz (its only use is for the detection of propagation conditions).

Something happened to cause weak signals to return and that with significant fading after a few days. Check out  for 11/272011!!

Given the difference of operating from the station you use in Antarctica and that wich you use at home in Italy, can you tell us something which you miss and something which you DON’T miss?

I find myself thinking about my headphones, about filters and attenuators. Because of space limitations in my baggage and as to not damage them, I brought a pair of “throw away” headphones, which, however, which don’t do well with the radio even though they should support radio operation, HI HI. Filters and attenuators, unfortunately,  are not part of the radio design. Also, it was equipped after the fact with external DSP which helps with the suppression of occasional noise.

There’s nothing in particular, in ham radio terms for which the 16,000km of distance would make me happy. But having to come up with something, I am certainly happy to be far from certain behaviors which simply rumble around in the radio, but in hearing them you can simply walk away.

Are there other stations (also from other countries) operating in the area?

I was scheduled to leave for Antarctica in late November, but in late  October I got the news that for logistical reasons relating to transport the date had been moved forward to November 4th. Can you imagine what those days were like, with the preparation and packing of bags all within predetermined weights and sizes?

As far as this is concerned, I’m not aware of any other activations, but I’m thinking I remember IZ0RVI telling me on the radio (friend of the ARI-VT team), I believe there is one sole Russian station from VOSTOK who I’d like to put together a sked with. (ci pensi tu EFA? HI-HI).

Most likely with your II0MZ activation you’ll be successful at  collecting a large number of countries: have you ever thought about getting DXCC ?

I like doing radio as I go and am not an award or diploma hunter. I admire those who do activate a station and often call them more to repay their efforts than to just put up a station out in the middle of nowhere. For my part, I’m already very happy if my OM friends remember having connected and keeping me company,  having exchanged two words. Unfortunately, with hours of operation limited, I don’t think I’ll have much chance at DXCC, but such a limitation does not rule out possible future aspirations.

Your friends at work, what do they think about your (our) hobby?

Nice question!  At first I was viewed with skepticism and amazement.  Then news of my contacts with all parts of Italy was intriguing and awakened in me a little bit of national pride. But people still look at me a little funny when I’m wearing headphones and talking on the radio, HI HI.

Do you have a QSL manager ?

Yes, of course.  My courteous, precise and indispensible friend (whether for work or as an OM) Gian Paolo Volpato, IW0EFA, who’s already QSL manager for ARI-VT (IQ0VT) and for other activations  (II0ALE, YA/IW0HPJ and for my Kosovo callsign YU8/IW0HEU, as I remember).

Have you heard about DxCoffee ? If so, what do you think?

I’ve read a few articles googling this and that. Also during the preparation for this activation in Antarctica. It’s nice stuff and easy to read and delivered in such a way as to share experiences.

Of course this year you can say anything but that Terra Nova Bay is cold HI-HI.

Now, while contemplating the most recent news, that of the first penguin siting in the bay, now covered with them, my best of 73s to all. I’m  grateful for the attention which comes my way and look forward to  returning the favor with the pleasure of your friendship.

Last but not least, I  salute those who jump in the middle of the pileups, the friends of ARI-VT (IW0EFA, IK0CHU and the omnipresent IZ0RVI).

See you on 14.333Mhz, mostly during your late afternoon, which is for me an early wake-up call, living this marvelous experience in the Italian time zone +12, HI-HI!

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