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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
long after I arrived in this area to start my government job, I became
painfully aware of the signal that W3CRA put into Asia on the short
path because he would beat us out most of the time when we called the
same Asian station when I contested at W3MSK (later W3AU). So I
decided to drive up to the Pittsburgh area to see what Frank had first

PVRC member Dick Young, W3PZW (now SK) had in-laws in the Pittsburgh
area so he knew the DXers there quite well. He told me just to drive
into the center of Canonsburg and stop the car, look around the
hilltops surrounding the city and when I spotted a 20 meter 3 element
"plumbers' delight" to just follow the road up to it and I would be at
W3CRA's place. Dick's directions were perfect!

As I drove into Frank's driveway at the aptly-named 925 Upland Avenue
address, after I parked my car I still had to climb another 100 feet
or so up a 30 degree slope to get to the shack which was located in
the back yard under the not-very-tall tower holding the beam.
I was about to knock on the door when I heard CW from the side tone of
Frank's keyer. He was working a VU2 of course! So I waited until the
QSO was finished and then knocked on the door.

Frank welcomed the unexpected visitor into his shack with a big smile
and we began to chat. While he was showing me around his shack I
noticed unopened mail packets in the kind of envelopes we use to get
cards from the QSL bureau laying around all over, so I picked one up
and opened it. That envelope was from the East Pakistan (AP5 -- now
Bangladesh S21) QSL Bureau and inside were QSLs from eight different
AP5 stations. 
(de W4ZV - my 1961 Callbook shows only three AP5's!)
Was I impressed!! That was probably the entire AP5 ham radio
population in those days. And he hadn't even bothered to open this
envelope or countless others like it.

Frank told me that despite this being such a great DX location he had
never had to look for it because this was the family homestead and he
had been born in that house. He was running (at least) the legal
limit and I could hear a motor put-putting away in the background. It
turned out that this was the compressor he had controlling the
pressure of the nitrogen in the gas-filled hard line feeding his beam.
He explained to me that he was a salesman at a car dealership in town
and that during one quiet day with nothing better to do he was looking
out the big picture window at the dealership when a Westinghouse truck
drove by carrying a whole load of hardline. Fortunately the truck had
to stop for a red light so he ran out and asked the driver where he
was taking all that stuff and the driver answered: "to the dump." 
When he asked the driver if he could have the hardline the driver said
"sure" and it was quickly deposited on the dealer's lot, later to be
transferred to the W3CRA QTH.

Frank claimed that another local ham had an even better location than
he did but that fellow only worked ten meters since he didn't have the
"Class A" license one required to get on 20. Of course by then we had
the Extra, General, etc but Frank still used the old terminology. 
Frank's location was truly awesome toward Asia on the short path, but
to the south he was "just another signal" as I can attest from working
him while operating as HI8XAL and LU5HFI. His beam was down around
200 feet from the top of the ridge and his antenna probably just
barely "saw" over the hill to the south. 

(de W4ZV...which also explains why AC5PN gave me 579 versus Frank's 559...via long path to the SSW!)

His biggest complaint was that he was line-of-sight to every single
fluorescent street lamp in the city of Canonsburg and so when
nightfall came and the lamps came on automatically his noise floor
rose noticeably.

Age has taken its toll on my memory so that's about all I remember
about our conversation. But as well-known a DXer as Frank was, he
couldn't have been more laid back and friendly toward the callow DXer
who unexpectedly intruded on his run of VU2s that day. I'm sure
pleased that I took the time to meet that DX legend."


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