Thursday, April 17, 2014

Hexbeam on short /P activities

If you are wondering: "is bringing a hexbeam to a short portable operation worth my while?", then this post is for you. It has become a bit lengthy.. so bear with me.

Over time I got numerous questions about the hexbeam I am using when working portable. The hex is a 2 element beam on 6 bands and allows me - especially if I bring a little heater with me - to put in decent signals even to very remote locations. A lot of answers about this wonderful antenna can be found in previous posts (start here). Here I want to go into the ROI of bringing the hex when time is limited.

The goal
Last Wednesday I had some time in the morning to go out /P. It is my day off and the kids are in school the whole morning. I have several options to spend this morning:
1. Do anything but play radio (duties around the house, work I haven't finished, etc.)
2. Play radio at home (using a sloping end fed wire)
3. Play radio /P

Pick your antenna
When I decide to play radio /P, I again have a number of options - like do I go out to fish DX or do I go out to activate a castle or a nature park?

When I decide to go out to fish DX the antenna becomes an important subject. My favourite antenna is the end fed half wave wire antenna put up vertically on a fibreglass mast. It is easy to bring and easy to deploy. It is also amazingly effective, allowing me to work DX around the globe as long a conditions are good and pileups not too large. It is also a very practical antenna in that you don't have to turn it. On the other hand it only works on one band - so switching bands means taking down the pole and changing wires. 
If you look at DX effectiveness however a beam is the best option (hands down). I have two HF beams at my disposal: my 4-el for 10m and my hexbeam. The hexbeam is of course the most versatile of the two, supporting 6 bands.

This effectiveness comes with a price however: the beam requires me to bring more stuff (like a heavy mast) and takes more time to set up.

Investment side of the ROI
Now we arrive at the main question: is it worth my while to bring a hex when I only have a short period of time to be /P?

For me the net radio time on Wednesday morning = 3,5 hours minus (time to pack and unpack the car + time to drive to a place and back + time to set up and break down the station). Packing and unpacking is about 20 mins in total, driving takes about 20 mins (back and forth). So just under 3 hours left.
The choice of antenna does not impact this a lot so far - just a few minutes to get the heavy mast and support stuff (un)loaded.

How much of the 3 hours I can be on the air depends on the time I takes to set up the station and break it down again. How is that with the hex? To give you an impression I timed the breaking down of the station. Below you will find the visual story of breaking up the station, driving home and unpacking everything.

Breaking down the station turns out to take 20 minutes. Setting it up will be about the same - although pushing out the mast probably takes one or two minutes more. So all this takes 40 - 45 minutes off of my radio time. 3,5 hours time leaves me just over 2 hours of radio time.

Okay, but what is the impact of the hex?
It turns out the hex itself now takes me 8 minutes to fold together and stow away (that is after a bit of practise). The mast and support take about the same amount of time to end up in the car. Setting up should be approx. the same amount of time - pushing out the mast is maybe a bit more time - so 35 minutes is the time the hex and mast take.
Compare this to an end fed on a fibreglass pole. I can set that up and break it down again in less than 10 minutes. So, the investment is about 25 minutes of costly time.

Effectiveness: the return on my investment
So I went DX fishing. Good for me. Did I catch anything?
Vlad UA4WHX was on the move again. This time he was working from Easter Island (CE0Y) - a new one for me. Even though there were more people out there trying to get in the log I was able to work him on 17m and 20m (simplex). In the mean time I had a QSO with Garry VK5ZK, who was busy with a lot of EU stations calling him. He put in a good signal over the long path with his 400w and 3 element SteppIR but he also expressed his amazement at my signal while /P. Then I saw A35X on the cluster - another new one for me. After some 8 minutes I was in the log. Before going home I tried another A35 station but the operator was not very effective at crowd control and moved to CW after a couple of minutes.
So.. DX fishing I added 2 new ones to my list (which is already above 200 - so it is getting more and more difficult to catch new ones). Average distance covered was well above 16k km.

Is that worth 25 extra minutes.. ? "hell yeah".

Taking down the hex in pictures

Fully functional DX station (t = 0)
Mast collapsed (t = 4 min)
Hex partly folded (t = 8min) Hex folded to a small package (t = 12 min)
Everything neatly packed in the car (t = 20 min) Back home and unpacked (t = 35 min)


  1. Leuk verhaal Lars. Uit jouw ervaring is het zeker de moeite waard om zo een hex beam op te zetten. Misschien had je dit met een multiband end-fed ook kunnen doen, maar misschien ook niet. Het scheelt toch al gauw 1-2 S-punten t.o.v. een end-fed denk ik. Dat kan net dat stukje zijn wat je in een pile-up nodig hebt. Hoe hoog staat die hex beam als je de mast helemaal uitgeschoven hebt? 73, Bas

    1. Tnx Bas. Mijn ervaring met pile-ups en endfeds is duidelijk minder positief dan die met hexbeam of yagi. Een s-punt is in zo'n geval veel. Ook bij zwakke stations is dit een groot verschil. M.a.w. als het spannend wordt (en dan is het vaak interessant), dan maakt die beam wel het verschil.

      De mast kan ik tot 14m uitschuiven. Bovenste stuk laat ik meestal ingeschoven vanwege het gewicht - dus 12m bij gebruik van de hex (dan hoef ik niet te tuien). Deze keer had ik 'm op een meter of 10 omdat ik de onderste buis niet uitgeschoven kreeg - nawee van de crash tijdens PACC. Maar dat werkt dus ook.

      73, Lars.

  2. Mooie vangst! Ik denk dat het werken van een a35 met pile up onmogelijk is met een end-fed antenne al heb ik geen ervaring met 400 watt. Ik kan eigenlijk nauwelijks een pile-up breaken met de endfed (zonder pile up wel dingen als KH7, KH0, P29 en HH2 gewerkt). A35 is op 15 meter toch een dxcc die in de top 50 most wanted staat. Ter vergelijk ik hoorde de ce0y niet op de endfed. De a35x hoorde ik wel op mijn 10 meter beam.

    Marcel PD7YY