SKCC 5123T----- FISTS 14979----- Flying Pigs 2331----- NAQCC 3610-----QRP ARCI 14176-----Polar Bear 257

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Natural Power for the Field Day Purist

Alternate Power: 100 bonus points for Field Day groups making a minimum of five QSOs without using power from commercial mains or petroleum driven generator. This means an "alternate" energy source of power, such as solar, wind, methane or water. This includes batteries charged by natural means (not dry cells). 
Well I have gone for the bonus in past years but you know for a given battery it may have some charge from commercial as well as solar panel. I did read somewhere of a group that used a supercapacitor and solar panel combination to meet the requirements. So I obtained a ultracapacitor via ebay "Ultracapacitor Module Kit" which is a bank of six 350 Farad capacitors. a single cap can handle 2.7 volts. So it takes six in series to have a 16.2 volt bank. There was soldering involved. The post on the caps are thick so a solder gun was required. Thanks to Vic K4GXV for loaning me one.

First setup with a 15 watt solar panel
At first I was rather cautious and hooked the bank to a 15 watt panel. The source must be current limited and the 15 watt solar panel might put out an amp. It took maybe 20 minutes to charge to 11.85 volts. At that point I discharged it with a 12 volt lamp. Now getting bolder I used a 100 watt panel that puts out about 4.5 amps. I had the morning sun and it charged the bank up to 13.4 volts in two or three minutes. 

The 100 watt panel
Now let me mention that my understanding of solar panels and radios is that you do not hookup a panel directly to a radio. In fact even with a the solar charger the panel will pass on 20 volts if there is no current draw. So that would not be good for a radio. So it is my practice to use a battery and ensure that the panel never feeds the radio directly no matter how I play with the wires. The voltage of the solar panel clamps down to the battery voltage. Now in this scenario a capacitor bank can replace the battery. I would charge up the cap bank first, then you have the nominal 13.4 volts. The solar charger limits the voltage to the caps like it does for a battery. I found an equation at this link that said for estimating purposes a 2 amp draw for 30 seconds would drop the voltage one volt with a 60 Farad capacitor.

The ultracapacitor bank

Living more dangerously I fed the KX3 off the cap bank with the solar panel still hooked up. I found the 200 ma receive current is constantly replaced by the solar panel maintaining the 13.4 volts. On 10 watts SSB the voltage drops off to 12 something like most batteries. With the some sun the voltage will return  to 13.4 fast enough that it is like being on a battery. I checked into SCARS on 7.251 and worked Michigan on 17 meters as a test.

The KX3. Do hot put a KX3 on a black surface in the Florida Sun!

This looks good enough for Field Day natural power QSOs. I don't know if this makes sense for anyone's operating style. I do think I could use more fuses on input and output of the cap for safety sake. The supercapacitors will discharge more rapid than a battery and that is useful for some applications but otherwise it could be hazardous. So be careful if you play with these caps.

Now I'll be happy knowing my five contacts are pure and natural solar for the bonus. Of course, it cost me $70 for the bank. Now for more fun I could use a ultracapacitor cap bank/solar combo for a environment friendly rocket launch system. Hi Hi

Greg N4KGL

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Field Day Antenna Amusement

Many of our antennas/tuners try to solve the multiband problem. When you throw in the WARC band into the mix you have many bands to cover and you can't count on them being harmonically related. Of course for ARRL Field Day, we don't operate on the WARC bands. I have in the past used the multiband doublet concept. In fact, last year I put up a 100 foot doublet with a SGC 237 at the center. This worked great. However, it occurs to me that a 40/20 parallel dipole with one feedline would cover those two bands plus I could work 15 meters as a 3/2 wave off the 40 meter dipole. I used this combo in the past for SOTA. I do have four Jackite poles that I could get the ends up 30 feet. The center might be 25 feet supported by camo poles. I could add a 10 meter parallel dipole but that is too cumbersome. Well, I just happen to have two Bravo 7Ks verticals and I could setup a 10 meter parasitic array for fun.  So 40/20/15 and 10 are covered. Hey maybe I just won't worry about 80 meters. We will see.

Parallel dipoles in my front yard.

A 100 foot doublet with a SGC 237 at the feed point.
Two Bravo 7K verticals as 10 meter parasitic array
This year I am operating with the Panama City ARC at the Bay County Florida EOC. There is an inside station and I set up an outside station. The inside station will use a NA4RR hex beam that covers 20 through 6 meters. This year Phil has a a trailer tower combination that can get the hex beam up about 30 feet.. I think this will be the A bomb for those bands. That antenna will be for the inside station.

The club hex Beam on Phil N4STC's trailer/tower.
Oh yes, I have a few days before the June 27/28 Field Day to change my mind. 

Greg N4KGL

Sunday, May 10, 2015

US Islands Getaway to Shell Island, Florida

The United States Islands Awards Program, USI, covers saltwater and inland fresh water river or lake islands of the fifty (50) states of the United States and U.S Territories or Protectorates. USI was formed to further enhance "island chasing" that has become so popular on the amateur radio bands.
That said, US Islands had a One Day Getaway event on May 9th.  With a little checking Shell Island near Panama City has been activated previously and has the designation FL401S. Shell Island is uninhabited and is not accessible by car. However, it is popular with boaters and sun seekers. If you don't have a boat you can go over on a Shuttle boat like I did.

I always wanted to operate RaDAR on the island and the USI Getaway was the impetus to make it happen. The good news for RaDAR ops is the skills and equipment are very helpful for other programs such as Islands, SOTA and Field day. Island operating can make you appreciate a DX expedition. There is no infrastructure on the island no shelter, no snack bars and no rest rooms. What you bring is what you have.

N4KGL setup on the beach

I did lots of looking at the island on Google Maps and saw several places that would give me a shot over saltwater on the North bayside. However with only about five hours on the island, I could not do much walking as the two way trip would eat into the operating time. In short, I set up on the beach on the Gulf side which has a view to the South.  I find no matter how much research you do it does not replace being on the site.

Another view of the setup
I took quite a bit of gear but it worked out for a short walk. I got good use of my beach cart that doubles as a table and my Sportsbrella. For antennas, I chose a dipole for 20 meters since that was going to be the main band. I used a 31 foot pole for the center and 20 foot poles for the end. If you have to count on an antenna no one can doubt you for picking a dipole. To cover the other bands I picked the Chameleon Hybrid Micro with the whip. Being a vertical, it should get some saltwater effect on the beach and it is easy to change bands. My rig was the Elecraft KX3 with a 10 amp-hour LiFePO4 battery.

The Sportsbrella. Glad I had it.

The beach cart doubles as a table.

The contacts went well.  I had a run of 16 contacts on 14.262 right off the bat. That was sweet. The chasers were glad to have Shell Island represented. Over the day I worked five other US Islands. Two of my contacts were fellow RaDAR Ops Ron W2RON in Vermont and Mickey NY2MC in New York. They were out portable also. When things slacked off, I checked the other bands on the vertical. I got Barbatos Island and Russia on 15 meters SSB. I tried 40 meters SSB on the vertical I snagged Peachtree City, Georgia which made me happy. I also got K4GXV and WB4BLX in Panama City on 40. I threw in three SKCC stations on 20 CW. My last contact was on 20 meters SSB with KE5RS on Goose Island TX using the vertical. So I had 32 contacts over about three and a half hours. That is respectable for 10 watts I'd say.

The Chameleon Hybrid Micro with the whip/whip extension

A close up of the vertical.

So US Islands can be in my mix of operations. I think it is a great program. There are several islands within a few hours drive from Panama City. Likewise, I am a Shell Island veteran now and can include it in some future RaDAR adventures.

Greg N4KGL

A dock on Shell Island

A couple of fishermen.

A view of Sandy Point in St Andrews State Park from the water. This is a favorite RaDAR stop for me.
The shuttle I took to the island.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

RaDAR at the Headland Alabama Tailgate

I love to make the semi-annual tailgates on the square in Headland, Alabama sponsored by the Wiregrass ARC of Southeast Alabama. This year, I wondered if was going to be called off due to some heavy rain early. But as often the case after the rain it makes for a nice day. There was not so much gear for sell this year. However, it was a great opportunity to chat with the gang there.  They have a good mix of experienced hams and new hams and prospective hams that gather for the tailgate.

This year I brought the new LNR Mountain Topper radio to demonstrate the Rapid Deployment Amateur radio (RaDAR) style operating. I combined the MTR with the LNR Trail Friendly End Fed in an inverted L configuration. This gets me on 40 and 20 meters. You could get on 30 meters by substituting a half wave wire for that band. The antenna was supported with two 20 foot crappie poles. All this gear is an easy carry. The MTR is the smallest and lightest part of the gear. The size is amazing.

QRP To The Field going was on. Due to time constraints, I was not going to make a serious run at it. But it did offer some contacts. Forty meters had nill but I copied a few stations on 20 meters. I think conditions were a bit off. You will notice there is no tuning knob on the MTR. You can scan up or down with the up and down buttons. This is something to adapt to but you can navigate around the QRP watering holes pretty easily. To check your frequency you tap the FN button and get the frequency annunciated in code. For the record, I was at grid square EM71HI84WN. I worked six stations including Wyoming, Texas twice, Oklahoma, Ohio and one op gave no location. So having at least five qualifies for an #RaDARActive Activation.

I will keep this light pack-up in mind for future RaDAR outings. It would be ideal for multiple stop RaDAR outings or challenging SOTA outings. The constraint of CW only becomes an advantage in portability with the Mountain Topper. Bob Bankston N4RNR of Dothan also has a MTR. Actually quite a few hams in the Dothan area now have KX3s and Alexloops among their gear. 

By the way, I won a ARRL gift certificate in the raffle. This will help get an antenna book I want. Likewise, I enjoyed the BBQ. Thanks to Wiregrass ARC for a great event.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Chameleon Antennas

I have recently adopted some Chameleon Antennas into my Rapid Deployment Deployment (RaDAR) operations. I have to think the name must refer to their antennas changing configurations are like the changing colors of a chameleon lizard. The instruction manuals are helpful in choosing a configuration to optimize for the distance and frequency you want to work. The antenna models I have are the Hybrid Micro and the Tactical Dipole Lite based on the EMCOMM II. Both antennas are based on a 5 to 1 broadband transformer. When used with a tuner you can pretty much work any HF frequency. My KX3 has an internal tuner. This makes for a great combo. My Icom 7100 does not have an internal tuner but I have added a LDG IT 100 that works great.

The Hybrid Micro comes with 60 feet of wire but it is also compatible with the Military style whip and extension sold by Chameleon. The whip when used with a tripod is very convenient. I happen to use a tripod I got with another antenna. I have purchased a Flag Pole To Go Bag off of Amazon and it packs up the tripod, whips, wires and the micro nicely.

So you have the choice of going with the whip or perhaps deploying the wire from the trees. I have done both. And yes if you pony up for a second whip you can do a dipole like this.

Another Chameleon product is the Tactical Dipole Lite which uses the EMCOMM II transformer. It comes with two 60 foot wires. I am pairing this one up with my Icom 7100 Go Box. There are lots of configurations again such as NVIS, Inverted L, and horizontal. I am thinking of using a horizontal configuration  about 25 to 30 feet high for Field Day.  Here I am using a Vee configuration.

I admit this gear is not inexpensive. You do get first class hardware and great customer service. You will have many configurations to try and tailor to your situation. Being able to rapidly change bands is a plus for RaDAR so you can pick up your five contacts and go. I get some great reports and some not so great. This is pretty typical of any antenna I use. I was very impressed with a 60 meter contact and report I got from K5ZRK in Mississippi with an inverted L configuration. Portable antennas for 60 meters are challenging. This gear is not for everyone but I am having lots of fun with it.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Announcing the RaDAR Active Program

The aim is to encourage and recognize Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio (RaDAR) activity. RaDAR Operators can keep a count of RaDAR Activations. An activation is making five contacts while on a portable outing away from their permanent station. To get more activations on an outing you must travel the required distances (See below) before making additional contacts. 

Posting a photo to the RaDAR Google+ Community (or anywhere you choose) and additional details for each activation is welcome but not required. A post to the community monthly will solicit the current RaDAR Active count for participants. Participants may list their RaDAR Activation count on any post to the community. For fun use the hashtag   

The RaDAR Active counts will begin with the RaDAR Challenge and end at the beginning of the next RaDAR Challenge. RaDAR Challenge is the first Saturday of April and November. The RaDAR Active replaces the RaDAR Rally. It is simpler and less bookkeeping. We can see how it works and adjust.

All amateur bands are allowed including cross band contacts via amateur radio satellites.
Modes – CW, SSB, AM, FM or any legal digital mode. QSOs via terrestrial repeaters will NOT be allowed. This is not a contest there are no winners or losers. Participants do it for the challenge and enjoyment of Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio.

Travel Modes and Required Distances:

Modes of transport and required movement distances (moving RaDAR stations only)
Vehicles, motorcycles and motorboats etc. (Motorised transport) – 6 km
Bicycles – 2 km
On foot and paddle canoes – 1 km
Wheelchairs – 500 m
Aeronautical mobile stations are considered moving stations and can communicate at any convenient time.
Note: Moving RaDAR stations can move at any time but are required to move to the next destination after five contacts have been made from the present location. The move needs to cover the required distance. This requirement tests the ability to rapidly re-deploy your amateur radio field station.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

N4KGL's April 2015 RaDAR Challenge Report

This is my report on my April 2015 RaDAR Challenge outing at St Andrews State Park near Panama City, Florida. I made six stops on my journey. RaDAR is Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio. There is a RaDAR Challenge the first Saturday of April and November.

Stop 1 was EM70DD21GT. This is at the picnic area on the North side of the park. My mind set was to work 40 meter NVIS. I used the Chameleon Hybrid Micro with the 60 foot wire. I took advantage of some tree limbs and the feed point was a tripod with a few feet of PVC. My first CW contact was Virginia which was weak both ways. Then I worked Florida that was 599. I took advantage of three FM simplex contacts to bail me out of this location.

I transitioned to Stop 2 on foot using a cart to carry my gear.Stop 2 is at EM70DD31KK which is Sandy Point. This is my favorite places in the park. I setup the Chameleon Hybrid Micro on a tripod. I caught Budd W3FF in California on 18.157.5. Budd uses his base to help out portables and pedestrian mobiles. I picked up four more SSB contacts on 17 meters to complete the five. The expected shower happened and I was glad to have my Sportsbrella as a shelter.

I walked back toward my first location and took advantage on a picnic table directly on the shore of Grand Lagoon. This was Stop 3 at EM70DD21GV. I used the Chameleon Hybrid Micro again and located the antenna right on the salt water on a tripod. I worked two on 17 meter SSB with 59 reports. Then I reached out to a local Don KK4DWC and managed a 40 meter contact. The was about 20 miles away in Southport.

After the first three stops I was feeling pretty beat up by the stiff winds. I was not sure I would stay. I took a 6 kilometer drive around the park and stopped at a store. This counted as a transition and I decided Stop 4 would be from the pier on the North side of the park at EM70DD23GC. I setup the Alexloop and made three local contacts with N4STC, N1HQ and K4LIX on 17 meters SSB. Then I lucked into two Italy contacts also on the same band to complete the five.

The weather was looking better and I decided to take the Alexloop to Sandy Point which is Stop 5 at EM70DD31LK. This was an easier walk with lighter gear and without the cart. In fact I had left my table somewhere and was wondering if I would find it. It turned out Bob KK4DIV was just starting this RaDAR outing at a park in nearby Lynn Haven. I worked Bob and another Lynn Haven ham Ron KK4DWE on 17 SSB. After that I worked Missouri. Then I finally caught up with John W8JER in Sturgis Michigan. John and Micky had returned to their home there after a three month stay in Panama City Beach. Micky has her general class now, her call is KE8ASK. I worked her for my fifth contact.

Now the weather was beautiful and I decided to head South to the Jetties area. Stop 6 was at EM70DC29DX. This was a great stop as I worked four DX stations. Argentina, Costa Rica, Brazil and Chile all on 10 meter SSB.  I was definitely getting some low angles with the Alexloop off the salt water.

I had about a 1.5 kilometer walk to the truck on the North side. I looked at two spots that I thought I left the table. No luck but as I was walking back to the truck I spotted it on the pier where I had taken a photo of the pelicans.. So I was really glad to have it back.

The 24 hour window for the RaDAR Challenge let me make six stops instead on my usual three for the four hour RaDAR Contest from previous years. Twice the fun right! I used the Chameleon for three stops with a wire once and a whip twice. I was very pleased. I also used the Alexloop which made for a lighter pack up at three stops. I think it would be interesting to use the Chameleon with a whip as a pedestrian mobile in the future. All my contacts were at 10 watts except one. I get great audio reports on the KX3. With the compression the KX3 has great punch on SSB.

I had one RaDAR to RaDAR contact with Bob KK4DIV nearby. I find the local contacts help. Some know I will be out there and some don't. This makes RaDAR a local club effort and builds interest in RaDAR. I would have enjoyed RaDAR to RaDAR DX but the timing and spotting is a challenge. This year as this it was the Easter weekend made it a non-starter for many to get out. Also April is still rough weather in the Northern latitudes. I do know Eddie ZS6BNE had a great outing with his Grandson. Also Tom G0SBW and Lucy M6ECG got out in the UK.

I enjoyed getting outdoors to a beautiful park for RaDAR. There are not many other reasons I would be walking so many kilometers. You also meet the public. They were really nailing me on what I was doing this time. One person's Dad was a ham and he took several pictures to show his Dad. Here are few more photos.