Sunday, May 14, 2017

Projects - Inverted V antennas for the low(er) bands

Choosing a /P antenna for 80m

My favourite antenna when working /P is the end fed half wave, set up vertically. It is easy to set up and works well with reasonable DX performance. It will not beat my portable hexbeam when working DX but that one requires more time, material and open space to set up.

The EFHW vertical becomes a challenge however on the lower bands. Now I did get myself the largest Spiderbeam pole - so a vertical half wave for 40m is an option - but there is a limit and 80m will definitely not fit.

One option then is to use a quarterwave vertical. However this requires radials if you want the majority of your signal to be radiated above ground. I developed a quarter wave for 80m with four elevated radials and it works but is quite a hassle to set up. Working /P you don't always have room for four elevated radials.


Another option is to use the EFHW sloping. That is a good option and I have used it on numerous occasions. If the support is tall enough to allow for an angle around 45 degrees the antenna still has a low angle of radiation but also a lobe at a high angle. That makes it a versatile antenna. It has some directivity - in the direction of the slope. 

The challenge on 80m is that the EFHW sloping still requires a tall support for a reasonable (steep) sloping angle otherwise you will end up with only the high angle radiation. 


Inverted V antenna

Another option - using a single support - is to use an inverted V dipole antenna. For 80m I find it a convenient antenna to set up and it comes with a unidirectional radiation pattern (in the horizontal plane) that fits my needs when I am "being chased" with chasers from all directions.
The inverted V has a high angle of radiation. On my 18m pole it very much resembles a sloping half wave dipole of the same length. The main difference is that the sloping wire will have 6dB F/B ratio while the inverted V is omnidirectional. It is very much up to what you are looking for.

Practically when working on 60m or 80m (or 160m) - for more than a few QSOs - I choose the inverted V antenna. When my tallest support still was only 12m I also chose the inverted V as my default antenna for 40m.  


For my inverted V antennas I developed a universal center connector that fits on the fiberglass poles I use. It is a simple component made from 40mm PVC that allows me to connect various wires to a SO-239 connector. The reason I designed it with changeable wires is that it allows me to make different combinations like 40m and 80m inverted V's on one pole fed by one coax cable. 




The tie wraps on the sides are used to keep the cable tension away from the soldered cable shoes - otherwise the shoe will certainly break in due course. The hole through the center allows it to slip over the top segment of my fiberglass poles.

I developed a couple of these center connectors so I can set up different antennas at the same time. We use them for example with the YNOMY DX Group during the PACC contest when we set up three different inverted V's (40/80/160). We then have the 80m and 160m on the tallest mast together, being fed from one coax cable.

For each inverted V I have two separate dipole legs. Each dipole leg is cut to the right size and features a cable shoe as visible in the first picture. To hold the wire I have constructed a cable spool consisting of a piece of PVC (40mm) with two end caps. On each end caps I have glued a piece of wood and through the end caps and wood I have put a piece of threaded wire. 


40m wire spool (one leg)
This spool holds the antenna wire plus a long enough end of tension string. I find it works rather conveniently in that I can just stick the spool in the ground (slightly under an angle) where it unreels while I extend the mast. Once I am happy with the position of the mast and antenna I push the spool further into the ground, stopping it from turning. This way I do not need pegs or anything else to set up this antenna. 

Below you see an impression of the antenna with four legs - dipoles for 80m and 160m - ready to be deployed.



I just stick the spools in the ground in the direction I want the leg to go. Then I extend the fiberglass pole with the spools unreeling until the mast is fully extended. Then I pick up each spool and place it where I want the end point to be. The advantage of the spool unreeling is that there is only a slim chance the legs get entangled even when you have two dipoles on one mast - the wires are kept under some tension the whole time. 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Projects - 18m pole set-up improvements

I use a variety of antennas and poles/masts when /P. The 12m HD Spiderbeam is the most compact one I have and is easy to set up in the field without any supporting structures. The bigger ones I normally attach to the car one way or another or to any suitable construction I can find around the place I am going to be active from. My favourite and most versatile antenna pole is the Spiderbeam 18 HD fiberglass pole. I use it almost every /P activity. Preparing for a tour through LX I decided to implement some improvements that make the pole even more portable.

Guying the 18m Spiderbeam pole
I have twice set up the 18m HD Spiderbeam pole on my own using an ingenious structure with all the 6 guy lines extending while I pushed out the segments. That took quite a bit of time so I looked for another option. When I set up the pole using the car or a supporting structure I find that I do not use any of the supplied guy lines - so it should be possible to find a much simpler configuration to set up this pole in the field.

I decided to try and set it up with only the lower segment guyed. That would allow me to simply set up the pole while it is still collapsed and then push out the segments without worrying about any other guying arrangement.

Borrowing from the idea behind the clamps Spiderbeam supplies for keeping the segments extended, I bought a hose clamp and applied rubber lint that I crimped in place. I cut some of the rubber away so I could add three rings. So now I have a permanent feature on my Spiderbeam pole: fixed guy rings. 


Securing the base
You also need the bottom part to stay put. Before I would use a large peg with some soft (insulation) material around it. I would just position the pole over this peg. However I have found this is not a very solid construction - e.g. it does not allow you to keep the pole standing while it is still collapsed. With the set up I just came up with, I need the collapsed pole to stay upright while I attach the lower guy lines. So I replaced the peg with this:


The center hole fits around the pole while the other holes can hold pegs that secure this little box in its place. Trying it in the field it turned out to work well - the Spiderbeam pole kept upright while I attached the lower guys.

With these two changes I can set up the pole in no time without needing any supporting structure, like so:


I used this a couple of hours with the pole extended 18m holding an efhw wire. Granted, it was not very windy that day. I will have to see if this is strong enough in higher winds.

Practical segment clamps
One last adjustment I made to the configuration is a replacement of the clamps that hold the segments in place when extended. The default clamps provided by Spiderbeam require a spanner or wrench to open and close. That is inconvenient and so I really did not use them often. I either extended the segments to the point that they stuck (with the risk that the antenna would collapse during a QSO) or I would use duct tape (that is quick to apply but not so easy to take off). 

So I bought clamps that have butterfly tightening tabs. I added rubber strip on the inside that I crimped on the clamps to protect the pole (like with the original clamps). I tried them and they work well.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Finding PE4BAS

Fellow blogger and radio addict Bas, PE4BAS is on holiday. To keep his followers busy he created a little puzzle to solve: where am I?

I am always in for solving puzzles.. so here goes.

As he is a WSPR user (I think our first conversation was about visualising WSPR contacts), he can of course be found in the database. 

He is being spotted as we speak:
2017-04-26 12:26 OZ/PE4BAS 7.040044 -2 0 JO56jl 5 OH2EAT KP20xw 1003 54

So, Bas is in OZ and in JO56jl to be more precisely.  That square is not that big and there is not a lot going on there. So I sneaked around and took a picture of his place while he was not looking:

OZ/PE4BAS


Looks familiar?

I had a look around (I hope Bas doesn't mind) and it indeed is a cosy place.

Cosy place Bas has chosen as temporay QTH
I left him alone again to enjoy the rest of his holidays. Thanks for the puzzle Bas & have fun!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Spending a lot of time at PAFF-0097

Just got home from a nice activity at PAFF-0097 as PC44FF. I brought my hexbeam but the parking I had in mind when planning the activity was too crowded. Driving around I was lucky to find a nice open space to set it up. There were some rain and hail clouds around and I was just in time setting up the beam to stay dry.

/P DX antennaThe skies cleared later on
I started out on 20m with the hexbeam pointing to NA. The band was not in a very good shape so the going was slow but I did copy a lot of NA stations (relatively). I tried a sked with VK4FW but the band was just not good enough. After 2 hours mostly on 20m - I tried 17m but that was no fun - I had logged 106 QSOs. 36 of those were with NA stations from 14 US states and 3 VE provinces. Quite a lot of familiar NA chasers in the meantime.

Personally I am OK with an activity once I reach 100 QSOs. However, as 20m was rather slow and I had not copied a lot of the familiar EU chasers, I decided to stay a little longer to try 40m. I took down the hexbeam and set up a 40m vertical (EFHW) on my 18m Spiderbeam pole. In about 45 minutes I was good to go again.

18m Spiderbeam pole with an EFHW for 40m

40m was very noisy where I was. It was due to splatter (a combination of a good rx antenna and poor filters in my FT857d) but also QRN. I changed frequencies a few times but then decided I would have to just bear the noise. It was really busy though. As signals were rather strong I could copy a lot of stations above all the noise. As chasers kept on calling there was no way for me to leave. It was getting dark and far past my negotiated return time but you can't just ignore a pile-up of chasers (well, I can't).

After 2 hours the pile up thinned and the signals dropped below the QRM level. By then I had logged 238 QSOs on 40m - apart from 4Z and SU all of them EU chasers. This makes for a total of 344 QSOs for this activity with 6 park to park contacts. A lot more than I had anticipated. 

Driving home in the dark I saw a lot of huge bonfires and remembered that in this part of the country it is tradition to make large Easter fires. It made it a magical drive home with my ears still buzzing from all the noise.


Magical views driving home

Sunday, April 9, 2017

YNOMY LX-pedition planned for May

In preparation of our expedition to BS7 or P5 sometime in the future, YNOMY DX group has planned its first group expedition. So far we have all been active from various places outside of PA individually. As a contest team we have shown to be able to work together for a couple of years already with rather acceptable results.

So now we are off to our first team expedition on May 20 and 21. We chose LX as a convenient location and we chose WWFF as the focus of our operation. Working together with the LXFF coordinator, Mill LX1CC, we have made some draft plans and acquired a special callsign to be used for this expedition: LX44FF.



Our goal is to work as many chasers as we can from Saturday morning till Sunday evening using multiple stations both on phone and CW on whatever band is open between 80m - 2m. We will also issue an award to the most active chasers - check out: LX44FF Award

Really looking forward to a whole weekend of LXFF. Let's hope conditions are acceptable or better.

Project - Mast support for heavy masts


For my portable endeavors I have built an aluminum push up mast and I have bought various fiberglass poles from Spiderbeam. I actually started out with a 10m pole from Spieth. That was rather thin, so I went for the 12m HD version from Spiderbeam.
To get my inverted v's for the low bands up higher I then bought the 18m version and recently I went even further and got myself the tallest pole they sell - 26m.  

Heavy masts present a challenge when working /P. I can manage to set up the 18m pole in the open field on my own but it is quite a bit of work and it would be a really daunting task with the aluminum mast and the 26m pole.

When I built the aluminum mast I went looking for a proper mast support that I could use with my car. Typically this would mean a drive-on support. The ones I found on the internet however were too light for my sturdy (and heavy) mast.

Not having any welding tools available to me at the time (I now have an arc welding machine), I decided to build something myself out of wood. After some experimentation I went for a design where I attach the support to the wheel using lashing strap, instead of driving on the support.

If you are reading this to try something yourself, keep in mind this design only works if you have spoke rims on your car.

I never got around to write something about this support, even though I got questions about the design. After buying the 26m pole I had to build a new support - for a much larger diameter mast - so I decided to take some pictures in the process.

The end result looks something like this (showing my first version):

The tried and trusted version from different angles - note the rubber pads that go between the support and the car tire:

I constructed the old one for my aluminum mast that has a diameter of [--- mm]. It can also hold the 18m Spiderbeam fiberglass pole. Conveniently the tall vertical wooden beams are the same width as the bottom segment of the mast. This means that the only spacing that is critical when you build it, is the spacing between the two vertical wooden beams.

Now for the 26m I built the same support but I could not find wooden beams of the desired width, so I used the nearest (smaller) width and added planks to end up with the correct width - as you can see in the picture below.


Wooden parts cut to desired lengths 
Now that the vertical beams are of the correct width, the only spacing you have to worry about is the one between the two vertical wooden beams. I used the bottom segment of the Spiderbeam pole to define the space, as shown below.



The length of the horizontal wooden beams is not critical. They define the space between the car tire and the mast / pole. I use [--- mm] to leave enough room for my shoes - so that I can use the support to position myself higher when I push out the mast segments.

The height of the upper horizontal beam is critical in the sense that you need to make sure it stays within the height of the car tire (more about that later).

Once all the horizontal beams have been added the support looks something like this:


What is left, is adding the frame that you can tie to your car rim. I use 44x44mm wooden beam for this frame. The height and width for this last rectangular frame have already been defined by the structure you have created so far. It is therefore important that the upper horizontal beam I referred to earlier, is positioned at a height that puts the top of the frame we are now going to add right against the rubber of your car tire.





When I completed this stage I took two more steps: a piece of (ply)wood on the bottom of the support - this keeps the mast / pole from getting stuck in the ground (e.g. in case of a muddy underground). And I add pieces of rubber that go between the car tire and the wooden frame (refer to the pictures above of the old version).

Now you have the lower support for your mast. This might be enough to keep your mast straight up. In my case I added a second support on the roof of the car. This helps keep the heavier masts (like my aluminum mast and the 26m Spiderbeam pole) straight up without guying. 

This roof support is nothing magical. It is simply a wooden beam (44x44mm) that is longer than the width of your car + the distance to the mast. At one end I add two pieces of wood at a distance that equals the width of the mast. Through these pieces of wood I put a threaded rod (M8). This rod is positioned at such a distance that it keeps the mast in place. I use some pvc pipe to keep the keep the sharpish threads from damaging my mast / pole. This roof support looks like this:



I use lashing strap to attach the support to a roof rack on my car.  

Project - DIY aluminium push up mast


Working portable a lot I was looking for a set up that could help me work the DX that I could mostly copy on my vertical end fed wire antennas but that I had a hard time working - especially in a pile-up situation.

I bought the CB yagi first and changed that into a 4 element 10m yagi. Later I bought the folding hexbeam. Both are very nice antennas to work DX.
Of course I could not put these antennas up with the fiberglass poles I use for the end fed wires.

So I set out to find a portable mast that was sturdy enough to set up without guying (under low wind conditions) and could reach at least 10m high.
This turned out to be a challenge. There is not much out there that is strong enough to set up without extensive guying or it is outrageously expensive.


DIY decision

After a while I decided to build a mast myself from aluminium tubes. I could not find the right material around where I live. The challenge is that you need a nice series of diameters with 1-2mm in between the sections. The other challenge is that you do not want to buy 6 meters of each section (which is the default "industry length"). Luckily it turned out there is a webshop for aluminium stuff in The Netherlands that stocks almost all diameters and sells custom lengths.
 

Dimensions
What would be the dimensions to choose if you want a sturdy but still portable mast?
After some experimentation I decided to go for the following series (diameter x thickness in mm): 70x2 - 65x2 - 60x2 - 55x2,5 - 48x2 - 42x2 - 35x2,5

The widest tube is 2 meters long - running up to 2,4 meters length for the last tube. I did this to make sure they collapse together nicely with each narrower tube sticking out the previous one.

Okay. So far, so good.
 

Clamping
Now how do you clamp the tubes together when you want to extend the mast?
For this I used my angle grinder to grind slits into the top of each section. In the most narrow tube I used 4 slits (the gap between the 42 and 35 is larger), for the other sections I used 2 slits. Note: be sure to carefully file the metal afterwards or you will find that the tubes "stick" when you want to extend the mast.


Tube clamps - right one is the new and more durable version
Over this upper part of each section I slid a heavy duty tube clamp. I started using a version I found in a boat shop but they are made of stainless steel. As this is slightly softer the threads of the bolt used to open and tighten the clamp tend to damage quickly. Now I am using a different kind that seem to be more durable (see the picture above).


The end result: mast of 7 aluminium tubes with 6 cable clamps (5 old types, 1 new type)

Proof of the pudding

How does it work in practice?
Well, the mast is a fully manual operation version :)
Extending the tubes can be hard work, especially under windy conditions. In those conditions the mast tends to bend putting a force sideways on the tube you want to extend. This increases the friction.
The best way to extend the mast is to make sure you position yourself on top of anything practical that brings you on a height where the top of the mast is just above your waist. That way you can extend the mast  


Does it need guying?

In conditions of low winds the mast can be extended completely without guying. It needs to be on a level surface though.
When the wind is somewhat stronger I do not extend the last section and still use the mast without guying. At some point it will need guying, either to compensate for not setting the mast perfectly upright or for windy conditions. For this I added a simple and low cost guy ring out of PVC (as can be seen in the picture). It does what it needs to do: act as an attachment point for the guy wires and stay in place while the mast rotates.

I have been using this mast now for more than a year and I am happy with it. When I set it up, I secure it at the base (I built a mast foot from wood that attaches to the wheel of my car) and at the roof of the car (again using a wood construction) I am still considering changing the base I use. I will write about that one another time.