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One of the highest callings within Amateur Radio is to be a Volunteer Examiner (VE). These VEs administer Amateur Radio exams in the US, and around the world, for the US system.
VEs are accredited by one or more VECs, which are Volunteer Examiner Coordinator organisations. VECs have entered into an agreement with the FCC some years ago, to provide examination services. These range for smaller state-specific bodies, to national ones, such as ARRL-VEC, W5YI-VEC, Laurel VEC, and GLAARG. At the time of writing, the FCC is currently not accepting new VECs.
For quite some years the Anchorage ARC VEC has provided remote testing in Alaska; and ARRL-VEC has provided this for a remote location in Hawaiʻi, and in Antarctica. On-site supervision (proctoring) must be by a local official of some sort, or a single VE; and there must be video and audio supervision by 3 VEs, with an audio link to the site, typically via high-speed Internet, although corporate or government networks could be used. These have used paper-based exams.
COVID-19 has progressed remote testing procedures across many VECs, including ARRL. This means remote testing will become available around the world, be it a European region without a VE team, to a remote corner of Australia. No on-site official is required in this case, and exams are on a PC screen, with video supervision by 3 VEs. Hamstudy has been involved, so I expect the examinee screen will look a lot like one of their practice exams.
A VE must be 18 years of age. There are no citizenship requirements, and no need to be a member of the ARRL to be an ARRL-VEC VE. Sessions are usually listed on the VEC's website, and is some cases non-ARRL sessions are also on the ARRL site. The contact person need not be a VE. Within a team, the session manager or team leader, and similar roles are regular VEs, although should be experienced, if possible. This leader, or another VE, registers the session with the ARRL/VEC (or other VEC), arranges venues, and publicises the event.
In the ARRL VEC sessions, session manager tasks include completing the Candidate Roster and Test Session Report, and while these can be locally printed, the ARRL VEC carbonless duplicate forms are most convenient. The multi-part CSCEs must be ARRL VEC originals in their system. Being session manager, and the earlier liaison tasks can be handy for including in job applications.
Our groups in Oz are pretty free-flowing, to the extent that the person who leads the session is the person who decides to fill out the paperwork on the day, although we are still sure to ensure regulations and procedures are complied with. I am sure for larger sessions it is far more structured.
When candidates are successful, they are issued with a Certificate of Successful Completion of Examination (CSCE), and their application for a new licence or upgrade is forwarded to the VEC, according to the VEC's instructions. Normally this is via the postal service, or FedEx, however, for long term Laurel VEC VEs with a history of returning correct paperwork, there is the option of electronically filing this, resulting in very fast issue of licences and upgrades. Where a candidate fails, their application form is returned to them. Licences are applied for using NCVEC Form 605, via a VEC.
Note that FCC Form 605 is an extensive form for use by a range of services, and should only be submitting to the FCC. Also, don't send the NCVEC 605 to the FCC.
A new system, "Examtools" is moving the processing of paper exams onto PCs, including scanning and automated marking, followed by uploading of the exams forms and results, rather than mailing. I expect this greatly assists in processing of exams by VEC staff working at home due to COVID-19.
The Laurel VEC site include some useful information on the processes, including the "felony question" on the new version of the form.
Off the exam, the "basic qualification", or felony question on the licence application requires candidates with more serious criminal convictions within the US to indicate this. If this is ticked, the FCC will contact the applicant requiring further information, and decide whether or not to issue a licence. A misdemeanour is a lower level charge, and in many cases, an offence can be graded at the discretion of law enforcement, meaning a white person gets a bond or low penalty; a black one a long prison sentence, and a lifetime ban on voting. In any case, it is mainly offences against children which results in a licence not being issued.
As of April 2022, a US$35 fee is invoiced to successful candidates on their application for a licence is filed. This is paid to the FCC, with no involvement from the VE or VEC. This provides a 10 year licence. Upgrades are fee-free "administrative updates" as are address or name changes. Vanity callsigns attract a second fee.
There are currently three questions pools, being for the three levels of licence, but the numbering is Element 2, 3, and 4, with Element 1 being the discontinued Morse test. A pass in each paper up to the desired level is required to obtain that licence.
The pass mark is 26 out of 35 on the lower two papers, and 37 out of 50 on the Extra. This is just over 74%, and exactly 74%, respectively.
An amateur with a General licence in the ULS can apply to be a VE, but can only administer Element 2, the Technician test. An old Advanced licence holder can administer Elements 2 and 3, the Technician and General papers; and an Extra can administer all three papers.
The questions are published by the NCVEC, the National Conference of Volunteer Examiner Coordinators, which write the questions, based partly on public input. In the question this is described as a "pool maintained by all the VECs". However, while most VECs are actively involved in this group, not all are.
Not just a military speciality, if you had a CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) mobile 'phone, this used a signal spread over several or multiple MHz, following a pseudo-random sequence. Some 3G and higher systems, such as HSPDA (NextG) use this system.
Essentially, packets of digitised voice or other information are transmitted at what appears to be random frequencies across the band in use. This makes the transmission resistant to interference and jamming. "Frequency hopping" is another term for this.
Amateur use of spread-spectrum is permitted on frequencies above 222 MHz. The power limit 10 watts.
"Three letter agencies" no-doubt use spread spectrum too.
Due to unlawful operation using high-power amplifiers on the 27 MHz CB band, especially in the past, sales of amplifiers covering the upper portion of the HF band is restricted in the US. This includes having no gain between 26 and 28 MHz. Further, gain is limited to 15 dB, meaning that 47 watts is needed to get to 1500 watts, and that CB level input only leads to an output of 158 watts AM or 379 watts PEP.
These restrictions do not apply to home-brew amps. If these home-made or modified amplifiers are bought or sold by a dealer, they can only be bought from, and sold to, licensed Amateurs.
As modes such as SSB, and AM require linear amplification, provided by Class A or Class AB amplifiers, they are termed Linear Amplifiers, or just Linears. This term is often erroneously applied to Class C amplifiers, used in CW and FM, and some data modes.
The following are general comments, off this part of the exam:
While valves / tubes are popular in such amplifiers, various solid-state devices are coming into use, typically MOSFETs of some kind. The retail price of solid state amplifiers can be significantly higher than tube, and thermal management in solid state amplifiers is more challenging. Rather than around 2000 volts at around 1 ampere used for valves, MOSFETs may require around 70 amps at 50 to 70 volts.
Solid state has the benefit of no need to "tune up" the amplifier. The downside, for these devices is "one flash, and they're ash", in that they can be electrically fragile. Valves can be tougher, but contact the HV supply, and "one flash, and YOU'RE ash" applies.
Generally valve amplifiers use heavy transformers to generate the high voltage. Selection of mains voltage selection usually involves hard-wiring the primary windings of the transformer. While such linear supplies may be used in solid-state amplifiers, some use switchmode supplies, which just need an appropriate 120 volt or 240 volt plug to be fitted, and perhaps an appropriate value fuse fitted. Suitable plugs in the US include NEMA 5-20P, NEMA 6-15P, and NEMA 14-15P.
Where possible, selecting 240 volts over 120 volts is best, as it reduces current draw.
The operation of radio services in proximity to international borders requires co-ordination between countries on each side. For VHF and UHF services a range of 100 or so kilometres should be assumed. This avoids, for example Amateurs on a more generous UHF allocation on one side interfering with emergency services using TETRA or other radio services on the other (not to mention ham repeaters being triggered by non-ham traffic).
Line A is a line running south of, and roughly parallel to, the Canadian border. Fans of k.d. lang will know a significant portion of the border runs at 49 degrees north. Line A is thus at 48 degrees in this area, 1 degree, or 60 nautical miles south of it; in metric 111.12 km. Around the Great Lakes, for example, the line becomes more complex in shape.
The specific restriction for Amateurs in the US is a prohibition on the use of 420 to 430 MHz north of Line A.
Off the exam, Line B is within the lower bank of Canadian provinces, while Line C is in Alaska, and Line D in the west of Canada. Within the space between the Canadian border, and Lines B and D, Canada has obligations to avoid interference with services in the US.
These are the actual questions from the Extra licence exam pool, as published by you know who!E1E01 [97.527]
Expenses, such as printing exam papers and forms, if these are not obtained from the VEC, travel, publicity, and postage can be claimed, answer A.
The other training activities, and publications, can be charged for, or donations received (including below), but these are outside the scope of the rules above.E1E02 [97.523]
The pools are maintained on a cooperative basis by the VECs (formalised as the NCVEC), answer C.E1E03 [97.521]
A VEC is an organisation which has entered into an agreement with the FCC to coordinate amateur exams, as described in answer C.E1E04 [97.509, 97.525]
This is the process where a VEC confirms the applicant meets the FCC requirements to administer an exam, answer D.E1E05 [97.503]
This is 74%, answer B.E1E06 [97.509]
Each VE present is responsible for the proper administration of the exam session, answer C.E1E07 [97.509]
This is to immediately terminate the candidate's exam, answer B.E1E08 [97.509]
These are the relatives listed in the FCC rules, answer C.E1E09 [97.509]
They can lose their amateur licence, answer A.E1E10 [97.509(h)]
Applications must be sent to your VEC, according to their instructions, answer C.E1E11 [97.509(m)] What must the VE team do if an examinee scores a passing grade on all examination elements needed for an upgrade or new license?
Three VEs must sign the CSCE, and complete other documentation to certify that the examinee is qualified for the new licence, answer B.
This includes signing the NCVEC 605, and the VEC's session records.E1E12 [97.509(j)]
The form should be returned to the applicant, answer A.E1F01 [97.305]
This is on ham bands from 222 MHz, and up, answer B.
Amateurs aren't allowed to "spread" across other services' spectrum.E1F02 [97.107]
The conditions of the visiting Amateur's licence applies, but cannot exceed those of a US Extra, answer C.
For VK hams, removing power limits and similar conditions is one reason to gain a US licence.E1F03 [97.315]
This is an amplifier bought used from one Ham, and sold to another Ham, for use in their station, answer A.
This is not about safety, so overseas certifications are not recognised.E1F04 [97.3]
This line is south of the US-Canadian border, and is intended to prevent interference with stations in various services in Canada, answer A.E1F05 [97.303]
Operation in proximity to the southern, or lower, bank of Canada provinces is subject to some restrictions, including a prohibition on operation in the lower portion of 70 cm, 420 to 430 MHz, answer D.E1F06 [1.931]
This allows experimental communications, outside normal Amateur regulations, answer A.
I believe tests for newer bands, such as 60 metres were conducted under such a system.E1F07 [97.113]
These are messages to a businesses where neither the ham, nor their employer, gains financial benefit, answer D. This does allow things like ordering a pizza via a repeater's 'phone patch facility.
To some extent, these communications are less necessary due to the widespread availability of cellular 'phones.E1F08 [97.113(c)]
Amateurs are generally prohibited from receiving compensation for operating, answer A.
Teachers, and some public officials involved in brief exercises are exempt, as are ARRL employees conducting transmission of Morse practice and information bulletins.
The Fairness Doctrine was a requirement for broadcasters to dedicate some portion of airtime to controversial topics, and to provide a degree of balance in discussing these. This was repealed under Reagan, allowing the current spate of "fake news".E1F09 [97.311]
All these restrictions apply, answer D.E1F10 [97.201]
It is Technician, and higher grades, answer B.
Remember, there are still Novices, with very limited operating privileges.E1F11 [97.317]
They must meet the FCC's spurious emission standards at 1500 watts or its full output power, whichever is the least, answer D.
Congratulations, you have now completed the Regulations section. On to: Operations 1 - Satellites & Amateur Television
You can find links to lots more on the Learning Material page.
Written by Julian Sortland, VK2YJS & AG6LE, May 2022.
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