Tuesday, March 28, 2017

PAFF activity fighting geomagnetic storm

This morning I had time off while A en K values were rather alarming (54 and 5 respectively). My opportunities to go out for a longer stretch of time /P are limited so even when conditions are predicted to be bad I still have a go.

I took my hexbeam and mobile amp to see if I could work some stations anyway. I went out to PAFF-0060 as it is not too far away and has an open area where I know I can set up the hexbeam.

Hexbeam at the sunny PAFF-0060

My new temporary call sign (PC44FF) is only valid from April 1st, so it was back to PH0NO/P again.

The weather was absolutely brilliant but band conditions were really poor. There was a lot of QSB and absolutely no DX to be found. Through the VKFF FB page I had two VK's checking on their end but not a chance. Europe was not too strong but there were enough chasers around to keep me busy.

C-pole antenna for 40m

Before going home I checked 40m for local skip using my C-Pole antenna. There was quite a pile-up for half an hour. 

All in all I logged 152 calls from 33 DXCC (85 on 20m, 2 on 17m, 65 on 40m) with 6 park-to-park contacts in 2 hours actually behind the radio. R9 was at 5000km the odx of the day. 

Next time I hope my timing is better.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

A new addition to my portable antennas: 40m delta loop

Always looking for better antennas to use when portable, I stumbled upon the 40m delta loop. I had read about it a couple of times but mainly from expeditions using the delta loop on higher bands near to salt water. The results were very good but could not be reproduced on "regular ground". So I made a mental note to look into the antenna more later but without high expectations.

Then I came across an article by DJ0IP, who describes the delta loop on 40m as his favourite 40m DX antenna. Now that got my attention. Richard describes the loop and how to build it in detail. He opted for an antenna feed that makes this antenna vertically polarised with a low take off angle. 

The antenna does not need a lot of height to put up and looking at it from a /P operator, it is about as complex (or easy) to set up as an inverted V. So I decided I'd like to have one. I cut some DX wire to the right size for 1 wavelength on 7.1 Mhz. Then I created a 1/4 wavelength stub using 75 ohm RG-59. I never created a stub before but with the help of my miniVNA it was really easy to achieve the correct length.

Ready for transport: 40m delta loop with 1/4wl stub

This morning I had some time to try the antenna out in the field and tweak it to the correct length. So I went out to my favourite antenna testing field.

Delta loop in the field (lines indicate approx wire positions)

I used my 18m SpiderBeam pole and pushed the apex to about 14m. The center was about 4m high. By pulling both corners to the side I was able to create a triangular shape. Note that I attached the top of the loop to the third element of the pole. Attaching it higher I would pull the top too far down.

Checking the SWR I found I cut the loop too short - even though I had made it longer than the minimum length I calculated. So I added a bit of wire in the horizontal leg (as described by DJ0IP). I got the SWR dipping in the right part of the 40m band and still had a bit of time left to test it on the air.

WPX contest meant the band was filled with signals. Most of them were from the EU as I was nearing local lunch time. I did hear ZL4 peaking s7 outside the EU bandplan and I copied TI5 buried in QRM. So it did seem the loop was receiving signals. I tried TI5 (new one on this band) but I just could not copy him well enough through all the EU splatter. I also heard AJ4A in KY and he was able to copy me. Not a new DXCC but KY is the furthest I have worked into the US on 40m. So it seems the loop works both on RX and TX.
It needs a lot more testing to claim that it beats any of my other 40m antennas (inverted V, efhw, c-pole) but it starts out promising.

I did notice the antenna is very sensitive to height above ground (DJ0IP already warned me about that). So I added this feature to be able to tune the antenna quickly when using it again.

Copper wires added to the horizontal leg for easy tuning 

Monday, February 20, 2017

PACC 2017 - amazing results with our field day station

This year I participated for the 4th time in the PACC contest together with the other two members of the highly exclusive YNOMY DX club (3 members). We again used a temporary station with wire antennas on a campsite, knowing that low tech and high spirits are a good combination in this contest.

We had set ourselves a challenge by winning the PACC last year in the multi-one category. It is difficult to be satisfied with anything less than first place now. However we downplayed our expectations by aiming for a top 3 position.

We upgraded our antennas slightly with the use of a higher Spiderbeam pole for the low band antennas. The biggest one is 26m - a nice upgrade from the 18m we used previously for 160 and 80. It is quite a challenge to set up in the field but we managed to get it up in one try. We used the 18m pole for the 40m inverted V. Another upgrade as it was on a 12m high pole in 2016.

We spent the Friday afternoon before the contest weekend setting up the low band antennas in between sheep  - more info and pictures of what the set up looked like including the curious sheep: http://ynomy-dx.blogspot.nl/2017/02/pc55c-pacc-2017-in-pictures.html

In the weeks and days before the contest we made our operating plan using the data from our 2015 and 2016 logs and available online log data of the last few days before the contest to get a hint of the opening times of bands to various directions. This plan was our rough operating guide that was constantly revised using our experiences of how busy each band was and online sources of contact info (clusters, online monitors, online log traffic, etc).

Working in shifts (at least two of us were, our unlucky CW operator had to be on standby for 24h) we kept a steady rate of QSOs going. The high bands were really nothing like last year so the multipliers were more difficult to collect and the Sunday morning was definitely less exciting than last year when there was a local skip with high QSO runs in the last 2 hours. Now it was a far slower pace.

However, all in all we managed to make more contacts than last year - much to our own amazement: 1735 QSOs with 1705 qualifying for points. We also managed to minimise the impact of the poor top bands by scoring more multipliers on the low bands. Up to the last two hours it even looked like we would be able to top our score of 2016 but then the pace slowed down.

We came close but we did not pull that stunt. Last year our pre-evaluation score was 590k (558k after evaluation). This year our pre-evaluation score is 568k.

Considering band conditions we are very pleased with the results. We understand from other participants that generally the contest was perceived as far more challenging than last year. Looking at the preliminary results we can count on a top 3 position.. probably a high top 3 position :)

Friday, December 30, 2016

Ending 2016 on a new PAFF location

There were 2 unactivated areas in PA left. One is on an island and therefore out of my reach. The other one is about 150km driving from my QTH. I decided to go for that one for my last activity in 2016: PAFF-0094 Sneekermeergebied.

The day started out cold - the first challenge was to get the car windows de-iced. While travelling up north the fog became more and more dense.

Fog and icy conditions at PAFF-0094
My plan was to stay in PAFF-0094 for a few hours and then perhaps activate another area on my way back home. 

I took my new 26m pole to test it out in the field for the first time. It turned out I didn't need the support I completed in a rush yesterday, as the gate - visible behind the car - was strong enough the hold the pole. However I ran into a challenge.. with the smaller poles (12m, 18m) I just extend the segments as far as I can. The friction then holds them into place. To secure them I sometimes use some duct tape. This works perfectly for a few hours. 
With the new pole I found that the segments - when they are brand new - are lubricated. This posed two problems: it was impossible to extend them fully as there was no way to put any really force on the segments (my hands would just slip) and the duct tape would not hold. 

PAFF-0094 Sneekermeergebied - probably beautiful views on an average day...

So after spending half an hour on this experiment I took out my tried and trusted 18m pole and set up the end fed half wave wire for 40m. It works on 20m as well, and that is where I started.

20m was very quiet. Tuning around I heard few stations. I logged 14 chasers in 15 minutes but mainly with average to poor signals. So I moved down to 40m. The band was not very busy but I greeted 60 chasers in 45 minutes nonetheless. I went back to check on 20m but it still was not really going strong. So I went back to 40m to log another 74 chasers in just under an hour.

With the bands in this shape and the cold wind that had picked up, I decided I would not drive to a second area today. So I set up my inverted v for 80m to give chasers on short skip a chance. The wind made it a challenge but I got the antenne up - not as high as I would have wanted..

Wind blowing the inverted v down

Using my tuner I was able to give 60m a try on this antenna. I never used that band before on a WWFF activity - in fact I have hardly used that band at all. I logged only 4 chasers but gained a "new band dxcc" as I logged one DL station. Then I went to 80m to log 11 chasers - mostly short skip.

I still had a little bit of time left, so I changed the antenna once again. This time I put up the EFHW for 20m, hoping to catch some NA (there are avid chasers there like Bill W1OW). It was still slow on this band but conditions seemed a bit better than earlier in the day. In the next 40 minutes I copied just three NA stations - including Bill of course -  from MA, NC and MO. The big surprise however was HB9KNA working from YS1. He was beaming long path to Europe - almost 31.000 km. The signal was strong both ways with 58/57 and this contact was an atno for me. Nice!

5 hours after I arrived I broke up the station. With the 26m-pole-experiment and the antenna changes in between I spent 1,5h out in the cold

TL;DR - 219 logged calls from 39 DXCC in about 3,5h - only 8 calls from outside EU - odx YS1 via lp.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Second PA44FF activity (PAFF-0098)

This morning I was able to free up some time to go out for a nice /P activity. I have not been able to visit all the newer parks (added this year), so I chose one of those - PAFF-0098.

It took me about 1.5h to get there. I had studied the area via Google Maps and found an operating spot quickly. An old broken down gate was useful as a support for my pole. 

A vertical antenna reshaped by the wind

It was cold and foggy with a rather strong wind. The antenna withstood the elements and performed as it should.

I started on 40m using a 20m long end fed mostly vertical with the end sloping off the pole (still using the 18m pole, a longer one is in backorder). The band was quite OK. Signals overall not extraordinary but good copies. QRM was light at my location. I greeted 106 chasers in the first hour.

I then went on to 80m for some short skip contacts and 20 minutes later to 20m. I decided to keep the 40m antenna up and tune it slightly. This saved me some time.

In the next half hour I logged almost 40 chasers with average signals and some QSB. The big surprise was VK2ZH. Signals were not strong both ways but I really had not expected to work VK on this mediocre band.
Motivated by this contact I changed antennas to give 17m a try. That was a bit ambitious. There was not a whole lot going on. I went back to 20m just in time to try a QSO with fellow (and far more active) blogger PE4BAS. He was at work and used his lunch break to try to make a contact. It was difficult but we managed to make one on 20m. You can read about the experience from his end here: Blog PE4BAS 

PE4BAS further up north working QRP

I stayed on the band for the last 45 minutes of my activity. With another nice surprise when Paul VK5PAS called me. Again signals were weak both ways but it had been more than 3 years that I last spoke to Paul on the air.

Just before going QRT the band opened towards NA with WWFF veterans VO1SA and W1OW calling in.

All in all I was on the air for about 3 hours on 4 different bands. I logged 231 calls from 35 dxcc.
Strange conditions as I would classify the band as weaker than 2 weeks ago looking at the signals overall but then I did log 2 VKs this time.. go figure.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

First PA44FF activity from Deelerwoud (PAFF-0055)

This morning I went out to activate PAFF-0055 Deelerwoud using my temporary callsign PA44FF.

Weather was okay with some drizzle but almost no wind. I arrived at the nature reserve rather early (for me anyway) at 8am UTC. To my surprise there were already quite a few people out in the reserve.

Spiderbeam 18m pole with EFHW for 40m
I started on 40m using a half wave end fed almost completely vertical (20m long on an 18m pole). I brought my Ameritron mobile amp as I was expecting bad conditions - forecast had been rather poor.
It turned out there was an Italian contest going on that completely filled 40m with s9 signals. Luckily I found a spot at the end of the band around 7.198.000 I stayed there for about 40 minutes logging almost 60 chasers, until I could not bear the QRM anymore. 

Running the FT857 with a Heil headset and an Ameritron mobile amp (approx 300w)
Higher bands seemed rather dead so I focused on 20m next. It was really lively on 20m but DX was sparse. The next 2 hours I did not have time to enjoy my sandwiches and just enough to sip my coffee once a while. I logged over 200 calls in under 2 hours on 20m.
DX included 4Z, R9, OD5 and to my surprise JA.

Before packing up I decided to give 40m one more try. It was even worse than earlier in the morning. The FT857's filtering is rather basic but with one big wall of sound all over the band I think there was not much to gain anyway. I gave up trying and went down to 80m. The antenna is not very effective on this band but I did log 4 chasers.

Weather improved during the activity
I went back to 40m, hopped over the band trying to find some gaps at the lower and upper end. Including the short diversion to 80m I lost about 45 minutes. When I found some usable spots in the end I logged another 30 chasers in the last half hour.

In total I was busy for about 4h. Subtracting time for antenna changes and finding spots on 40m I was really QRV for 3h. In that light the 296 calls from 39 DXCC I logged is quite a lot. If it weren't for the contest on 40m, I am sure I would have logged a lot more chasers on that band. The band actually seemed quite good (hence the strong contest signals).

Judging from the 2h continuous stream of chasers on 20m, it seems that the special call does attract some extra attention. The fact that it was Sunday morning might have contributed as well (I am not that often active /P during weekends).

Anders SA2CLU inquired about my set-up today. So I will just add two more pictures. The first one is just to show how effective something small can be. These are the two antennas I used: end fed half wave antennes for 40m (home brew) and 20m (commercial). 

End Fed Half Wave antennas for 40m and 20m
They are only small if you forget about the Spiderbeam pole I am using of course. The 18m pole does attract a lot of attention from passersby.

The 40m antenna is just a bit too long for the 18m pole. So I slope the last bit of the wire away from the pole. It ends up where ever I can attach the transformer. This time just 30cm or so off the ground. In the first picture on this page you can just make out the transformer box in the bushes behind the car. Below a zoomed in picture of this simple set-up.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Some nostalgia - a new old microphone

Tidying up at my parents' place an old carton box turned up. In it was an old microphone, bought by my grandfather who was a professional pianist (picture below). He had the tendency of buying good quality "toys", so I was expecting this to be too good to just throw away. 

The tiny label on the microphone told me it was an MD421HN and the papers in the box told me it was made by Sennheiser. Time for a bit of research.

The microphone with german product leaflet

In the box there was an original product information leaflet and a separate leaflet showing accessories (both in German). There was also this intriguing little piece of paper showing - I reckon - the frequency response of this particular microphone.

Serial number, frequency response and production date: May 12, 1965
Googling the thing I found out this microphone is still in production albeit in version 2. I saw they are not the cheapest microphones around and considered a classic.

So.. what does one do with a 50 years old good quality microphone.. 
I am not much of a singer.. but maybe I can use it on my radio?

Googling a bit further I found that indeed people use this microphone on their radio set and with good results. Someone remarked it was a large improvement over the Heil headsets.

I have been using the Heil Elite Pro headset with HC-6 element for a long time now and I am more than pleased. There was absolutely no reason whatsoever to change this setup.. except for the appearance of the MD421.

I contacted a few HAMs that had mentioned using the MD421 here and there to figure out how they hooked this microphone up. With the information I got I decided to try and hook it up directly to my ICOM 756 Pro3, using the Heil plug.

Yesterday I was able to complete a cable and perform the first few tests. It seems to work. Comparing the audio via the monitor I have found that the microphone needs more drive than the Heil but it seems that with the volume on the set at 100% there is enough audio. 
There was no time to do on the air tests but I did log two WWFF activators - so people seem to be able to hear me.

The microphone has two settings ("music" and "speech") and the set has various settings as well, so I will need to experiment some more and then compare the results to the Heil mic.

Whatever the outcome, it is great to put my grandfather's microphone to use again.

My grandfather behind his piano