This story began when recently doing some research on AC5PN (not A51PN of more recent times). I worked Chhawna on my 16th birthday in 1960. Unlike most of the cards via his manager W8PQQ that appear in on-line QSL galleries, I had one that I had received direct using the Callbook address. My card was hand-typed on the back of a postcard showing India's Prime Minister Nehru on a visit to Bhutan.
The QSO was actually on my birthday (December 11 not December 12 noted on the QSL above) and I checked my log just to confirm my memory. There I noticed "W3CRA 559" written in the notes area. For any old timers who remember W3CRA, any time one got a better signal report than Frank was truly worthy of noting in your log! For years I had wondered about the secret to Frank's QSO's with station after station in Asia that I could not even detect a trace of. Thus I decided to do a little research to see if a modern terrain analysis tool like HFTA could unlock the secret to Frank's success. (Note: High Frequency Terrain Analysis software or HFTA was written by N6BV and is included on the CD-ROM accompanying ARRL's Antenna Book, 20th edition - click to view).
I was not the only person to wonder about Frank's incredible location. Gus Browning, W4BPD wrote (from Ahoy Aldabra! article in February 1964 CQ Magazine):
"After staying up for the long path opening to the U. S. which was 4:00 AM local time, I intended sleeping on a small bunk at the rear of the boat. After lying down for a while and wondering about the 5-9 plus 20 db signal that signs W3CRA when all the others on the band are S7, I came to the conclusion that Frank must have the world's best QTH. When the band is dead he's always S7 and when the W-boys are S7 Frank is always over S9. This just isn't once in a while, it's an every day occurrence."
I had to make some educated guesses about W3CRA's location. Below is my best guess based on both his address and info supplied by others. It appears Frank had a great location for extremely low takeoff angles. At a 0 degree bearing, he was about 500' above the valley floor around Canonsburg, approximately one mile away. The next hill one mile to the north of Canonsburg was well below his QTH, and would not have blocked very low angles. See the terrain profile at the bottom of the Topo USA graphic below.
I also received a copy of W3AFM's 1966 QST series "Station Design for DX" from K1MK (Thanks Mike!). It includes a terrain profile for W3CRA (Figure 2 on p. 53 Sept 1966 QST) which appears to generally confirm Frank's location in the plot above. A concluding remark by W3AFM (who visited Frank) states:
"Referring to Part 1 (Sept 1966 QST) on antenna siting. There are 3 zones under consideration, namely: 1. Near-zone (I^2 R losses) under the antenna. 2. The reflection zone. 3. The far-zone (horizon clearance). Take a site such as W3CRA's in Figure 2. Frank Lucas has perhaps the strongest signals coming out of W/K land. His near-zone I^2 R loss is negligible; he uses a balanced horizontal radiator and a reasonable antenna height of 0.5 wavelengths. His take-off lobe is formed in the first fraction of a mile, on a nearly ideal sloping forezone. This low angle lobe is able to clear the horizon because of his high altitude in reference to surrounding terrain. If the antenna were situated back over the ledge of the hill on a level plateau, so that the antenna could not see the sloping foreground, then his take-off angle would be only that determined by the height of the antenna over the plateau." (p. 155 December 1966 QST).
Given Frank's assumed location, the HFTA analysis is shown below. Indeed the blue plot below shows 12-15 dB gain over an identical antenna over flat terrain (red plot below) at angles <4 degrees, which are quite common for long-haul Asian paths. Of course this would not necessarily be a good contest location since paths to more populated areas like Europe are typically at much higher angles where a properly designed stack would work better. The green plot shows the results if the tower were on the peak of Hannas Knob...several dB worse at very low angles as Frank discovered empirically (see comment in red below from W8JYZ's article).
Thanks to Bob W8JYZ for providing an excellent summary of Frank's DX-ing activities (Part 1) and (Part 2) which were much more extensive than I had realized (e.g. First pre-WWII DXCC and one of the prime movers behind the DXCC award). From the Part 2 article, I found the following comment particularly interesting:
"On top of the hill you could look towards Cleveland and view 6 or 8 Air
Craft Lighted Beacons spaced 30 or 40 miles. Best view southwest and west, worst
on Africa direct. He experimented setting up an antenna on top of the hill and it didn't
have the qualities that he had with the antenna system on the side of the hill. He
placed the system back in service on the side of the hill where it remains to this day."
Indeed, using a modern terrain modeling tool (HFTA), these results are verified above. Antennas on mountaintops often have their best performance at a relatively low height near the edge of the downslope, which Frank discovered empirically, 50-70 years ago!
Since W8JYZ's Part 2 article above includes many interesting anecdotes about Frank, I am removing most from here. Suffice it to say that W3CRA (ex-W8CRA) was one of the legendary DX-er's of all time. He was truly light years ahead of his time in terms of his understanding of antennas, propagation, take-off angles, etc. Here is a wonderful summary by Fred K3ZO from the PVRC reflector which says it all about Frank.
"The mention of W3CRA brings back a fond memory. In the 1960s, not
(de W4ZV...which also explains why AC5PN gave me 579 versus Frank's 559...via long path to the SSW!)
Remnants of W3CRA's tower and 3 element 20m Yagi on a ~70' Wincharger tower on the NNW side of the peak of Hannas Knob (courtesy of W3WH & K3VX). I was told this was a Telrex 20M326 (3 elements on a 26' boom), but W8JYZ's article says it was home brew. The closeup (courtesy of W8RU) to the right appears to confirm the latter using dual booms (therefore NOT Telrex) and a T-match (which made it look like a Telrex from a distance).
"The shack roof had gaping holes, the equipment mainly removed however a Vibroplex bug and remnants of an HT32 were still there, rusted, as if awaiting the owner to start up again and be King of the Hill". (W8RU in W8JYZ's article referenced above...photo courtesy W8RU)
"di dah dah...di di di dah dah...dah di dah dit...di dah dit...di daaaaaaah"
RIP Frank (October 23, 1982)... you're still 599! ..and now we understand why!
73, Bill W4ZV