I have been asked about being a pilot on a few occasions and recently on the Kiwi DX List. Basically a DXpedition pilot is a “screen door” between the DXpedition team and the 50,000 ham DXers out there that want to work the DXpedition. The pilot becomes the regional collection point for complaints and accolades for the DXpedition. If the pilot didn’t exist then DXers can and sometimes turn ugly. That’s a fact.
DXpeditions teams try to do their best, often under the most trying circumstances and like other forms of human endeavour can sometimes fail miserably at doing their job.
The worldwide DX community is often be unforgiving and that leads to some rather bizarre and appalling on air behaviour to disrupt the DXpedition they have lost respect for. Believe me. It happens. The job of the pilot is to be a “sounding board” and a channel for information to and from the DXpedition team.
A typical scenario is a team working short path direct with signals 20 over nine into a region hour after hour frustrating DXers in smaller countries two or three skips away that could easily work them. In other words the DXpedition team band plan will sometimes preclude working rarer areas that really need them. Strangely, South Africa, South America and often ZL/VK suffer. If that info can get to a pilot network, the pilots can usually make the team aware that they are not taking advantage of conditions to work rarer countries. It is real time information such as that which will really help the team to do their job better. One of the problems of DXpedition team members is that they become zombies after a few days of thousands of QSOs, screaming hams, rude behaviour outrageous pileups, poor food, crap living conditions and weather that is usually 10 degrees too hot or too cold.
As a DXpeditioner it’s sometimes difficult not to get depressed and lose enthusiasm and indeed get really snarky with your customers… the DX community. In fact, a week of high pressure shovelling out pileups makes you lose touch with reality. Pilots love to relay messages of congratulations and accolades to the team from the ham community as it gives them encouragement to carry on and do their job.One of the more pleasant duties of a pilot is to pass messages to and from the team to their families and to the ham community in the form of bulletins or newsletters. It’s a great job and it also means you get to know a bit of what the guys are up to and with a little luck the pilot’s call may sound a bit familiar to the team in a pileup. As a pilot, I make it my business to put ZLs in a prominent place on the table so the DXpedition team will be aware of us. It has worked very well before.
Some things pilots do NOT do.
We don’t make individual skeds.
We don’t have access to the logs.
We don’t pass individual messages to individual team embers unless specifically asked to do so.
We do not lose our temper when outrageous requests are emailed to us.
We don’t relay individual emails to the team.
We try to treat all inquiries and requests equally and fairly.
Some DXpeditions give me very little work. Others have resulted in hundreds and hundreds of emails from around the world that have to be answered. It’s a great job and I love it because of the amazing friends I have made around the world over many years.
That’s what a pilot does!
73, Lee ZL2AL