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

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Antenna Winder Tip

I use a lot of ribbon cable for antennas. Usually a pair of conductors. A tip was passed on to me to wind the wire amongst the fingers using a figure eight pattern.. It works! After winding put a tie on it. To unwind it plays off nicely and no tangles. Thanks to a local ham Jason N4JTC for the idea and Marv KK4DKT for relaying it to me.

Using the SGC 237 Antenna Coupler for Portable Ops

The SGC antenna couplers (AKA external tuner) are versatile devices. I have been using a SGC 237 at home. I use a 100 foot run of coax via the attic from the shack in a front bedroom to where the coax exits the back of the house. Just outside the wall I have the SGC 237 coupler. The output connects to balanced 300 ohm line that feeds a 135 foot doublet with the center in a tall pine tree. After tuning the 100 foot line operates with less than 2 to 1 SWR. Therefore mismatched loss is minimal. To tune, I just apply RF power long enough for the tuner to do its thing. This all works smoothly except 10 meters CW where it tends to retune unnecessarily. I am just going to accept that for now. It is possible to have a control box to lock the tune but I will keep it simple.

I decided to keep the SGC 237 in place at the house, so I never tried it out for portable use. However, I now have an Icom 7100 which may be deployed for Field day or similar events. The Icom 7100 does not have a tuner. Therefore, I have invested in a second SGC 237. Being able to locate the tuner/antenna remote from the operating position can come in handy. Perhaps I want to be under a pavillion but have the antenna at some distance from the pavillion.

Lately, I have been trying the SGC 237 out in the field. I have used it with the KX3 as a substitute for the Icom 7100. I setup two configurations. First is a 30 foot vertical wire and two 45 foot wires as a counterpoise. The second is a 100 foot loop wire as a delta loop. These configurations are pretty easy to setup and tune on 40 through 10. I had to work pretty hard making QSOs on the higher bands on the first try. However, it may have been conditions and congestion on the bands. My last outing with the loop at lunch time was better. I had contacts on 15, 17 and 40 meters with the loop with ease.

Of course, from a RaDAR perspective this is an extra box and you have to wonder if it is worth the setup time. The KX3 has its internal tuner. The jury is out on that. But for Field Day and JOTA plan to put the SGC 237 to use with the Icom 7100. Another application is my parents house where I have the wires for a off center fed dipole in the trees. The balun was destroyed in the ice storm.. I may replace the balun with a center insulator and run 300 ohm line to the SGC 237. The SGC will be setup just when I am on a visit.

Vertical configuration

Vertical configuration

100 foot delta loop

100 foot delta loop

Monday, February 10, 2014

Hamcation 2014

This was the third Orlando Hamcation road trip for Marv KK4DKT and me. This year, I was DSTAR capable in the truck with an Icom 880H. We had DSTAR QSOs passing through Tallahassee and Ocala Florida. The QSO via the Ocala repeater was to a ham travelling in Louisiana. He works on a 300 foot barge three weeks at a time and carries his ham gear. We also checked out the DSTAR reflectors from the hotel room using the DSTAR dongle. I setup the KX3 and the Alexloop in the room the first night. I did not snag any contacts. I did have several from the same hotel last year.

Hotel Portable
The weather was wet Friday and Saturday. This was tough on the outdoor vendors. It was clearing up on Sunday as we left. This year two vendors I patronize came for the first time. The first was QRPWorks who makes the Ham Central Terminal (HCT). Shel KF0UR does the firmware for the HCT. He explained some features of the upgraded firmware. The second vendor was Byonics who sells many products for APRS tracking and Fox hunting. I bought the Bluetooth interface for the Tiny Tracker 4 there. It will let me use the TT4 with APRSDroid on my Android Phone. It is fun to meet the vendors in person. They both give great customer support.

QRPWorks Booth

QRPWorks staff and Eric from Elecraft

Byonics Booth
The Elecraft booth had the new 100 watt amp for the KX3. One KX3 had the 2 meter module installed and working. The KX3 two meter module will be the next release when it is ready you know.

Elecraft gear
There is not much used gear I am interested in. However, I have a weak spot for interesting keys. I bought a leg key. Everyone needs one right. The vendor also sold me a Speed-X key, my favorite kind of hand key. This Speed-X is gold plated and very clean. My last purchase was a new LCR meter. That cleaned out my wallet and the change in my pocket. 

Leg Key

Gold plated Speed-X Key

LCR Meter

Unfortunately, I did not make as much contact with QRPers as last year. Kelly K4UPG did make it briefly but we did not find each other. He had some urgent home plumbing issues this year that demanded his attention. I did see Rex W1REX. He let me hold the original W1FB Tuna Tin. It has magic mojo properties. Rex also had his version of the Rockmite kits.

It was nice to see hams from Panama City there. Jim K4LIX and Susan have a great vendor booth. I chatted with John W8JER and Micky. They introduced me to their friend Richard. I saw Jack N1HQ and Harold KF4YDO. I was was able to help Harold remove his Tar Heel to be reworked.

John W8JER, Micky and Richard
Harold KF4YDO on left
Marv and I ate exclusively at Denny's how about that. We had lots conversation. Marv did the driving so I got a chance to read the Antenna Topics book I also bought. Now we can look forward to Huntsville Hamfest in August. I hope we get to go.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Next RaDAR Contest is April 5th 2014

RaDAR is Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio. The RaDAR contest happens the first Saturday of April and November. This is a great time to be outdoors in North America. The contest period is four hours 1400 UTC to 1800 UTC. The four hours means time is of the essence. This makes planning and practice before the contest important.

1. Keep it moving.

Movement is the unique part of RaDAR. The multipliers are

x 1 – RaDAR Fixed station (At home or in another building)

x 2 – RaDAR Field station (Portable – away from home)

x 3 – Moving RaDAR station – Car / motorcycle / bicycle / etc.  – minimum 3 km

x 4 – Moving RaDAR station – On foot – minimum 1 km
Note for  x 3 and x 4 movement is required after five contacts.

For on foot the minimum distance on foot is one kilometer. That is not difficult if you are used to taking walks or hiking. This will make your pack-up a critical choice. You may go the backpack route or use a cart for the gear. A transition between locations could take 20 minutes for the walk and 10 minutes to setup. So that time is going to take away from the total operating time. It is possible to operate and walk at the same time if you like. You need to cover the required distance for the five contacts.

Car / motorcycle / bicycle / etc might be interesting and could yield more operating time.

2. To QRP or not to QRP

x 6 – 5 Watts or less, 

x 4 – 6 to 50 Watts, 

x 2 – 51 watts or greater

What are those propagation conditions going to be? Is 5 watts going to be a struggle?

3. Where in the world?

The venue or venues is worthy of study. State parks are great and often scenic. You may want altitude or perhaps the salt water effect at the beach. Restrooms are handy and influence my choice of operating location. Local parks work as well and you might chose a series of parks if you are moving by vehicle.

4. Gear Up!

If you are into portable ops you are already working this. Will you use a rig like a HB1B, a FT 817, Elecraft KX3 or a 100 watt rig. Consider size, weight and battery requirements. Switching modes and band can be advantageous.

5. What's up Doc?

The antenna or antennas is the most interesting consideration. Time to setup, Space available, single band, multi band, efficiency, and take off angle are all factors to consider. End Fed Half Wave antennas are popular. A magnetic loop like the Alexloop may be hard to beat.

6. Where the Boys or Girls are?

What what band and mode will yield the most contacts and when? I tend to start on 40 meters for NVIS. Is there an event going on that you can leverage for contacts? Working other RaDAR operators is a lot of fun and there is a RaDAR to RaDAR intercontinental bonus. Don't overlook that VHF/UHF simplex contacts are allowed.

7. Geek Stuff.

Don't forget about a smart phone or GPS. You can use the GPS apps for getting your grid square. I like the RunKeeper App to tell how far I have walked between locations. Likewise, digital or satellite contacts will net you a bonus.

8. Survival Rations.

Remember those liquids to hydrate and the sunscreen. A snack or lunch is good.

9. You are not alone.

There are about 200 hams trying to figure this out in the RaDAR Community.

10. LOL

This could be the most fun you have in Ham Radio. Plan it and enjoy it!

The official rules for the Americas are at Marcus Kessler NX5MK is the contest manager. Eddie Leighton ZS6BNE is the originator of RaDAR and he has a great blog at

N4KGL from April 2013 RaDAR Contest

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Rockets and Radios RnR Weekend

The RaDAR On-The-Air Meetup and the SouthEast Alabama Rocketry Society Launch both happened Saturday February 1st. I was joined in Samson, AL by John W8JER and Micky visiting from Michigan. John brought his FT 817 and his homebrew magnetic loop. John and Micky enjoyed the launch. It was their second this year. It was fitting that my gear for RaDAR was my KX3 and Alexloop. That put two mag loops on the field at the same time.

The first hour of the RaDAR meetup was on 15 meters. It was exciting to grab a QSO with Tom G0SWB right off the mark. He was holding down 21.385 pretty well. His grid square was TM01MS. The last twenty minutes of the hour was CW on 21.060. Right there was Eddie ZS6BNE in South Africa. I had fairly good copy at times but I did not snag him.

The second hour was on 20 meters. I worked Pat N0YCA right off the bat. Pat, forgive me for asking for your name for the third time. The band became very crowded with several QSO parties going on. The last 20 minutes was CW on 14.060. Pat N0YCA was right there and we had a brief QSO. Just a few minutes later I worked Larry W2LJ. His blog is at Larry was working Freeze your Butt Off, FYBO. It was 35 F in New Jersey. Later in the day I showed the new Icom 7100 to John. A check of 20 meters SSB had WB4IRR calling CQ for FYBO running QRP from a mountain top in Virginia. He was coming in great and I set the 7100 for 10 watts and had a good exchange.I have to say there was an excellent turnout by the RaDAR community and there are many posts there about the meetup. Check them out at this link.

John W8JER operating from the launch site.

John W8JER's home made magnetic loop.

In the rocket department, I tested out a five inch diameter rocket I intend to use for radio payloads. This flight the payload was a 2 meter fox in it and an altimeter. The motor I chose was a J 275. The flight was perfect. I estimate it went to 1200 feet (altimeter failed) and a one minute descent under chute. Jason N4JTC has volunteered to be my payload specialist. He has some ideas I will share later. The weather was nice as the day went on and the rocket club took full advantage of it.

N4KGL and the radio payload rocket

Radio payload rocket launch

Radio payload rocket recovery
I spent Saturday night with my parents in Dothan. Sunday, I found that my 80 meter OCF antenna was damaged by limbs falling after the ice storm. The balun took the brunt of it,  I used the balun as the insulator and it was pulled apart and fell to the roof of the house. Seems the instructions recommended hanging the balun from an insulator. I see why that is a good idea. The weekend was topped off by a visit from Tom WD0HBR in Dothan. Tom says this is an opportunity to try something new. I agree and perhaps I will use 300 ohm line from the OCF and a balun near the shack.