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

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Special 44 calls for PAFF activities this year

In WWFF the number 44 has a special meaning and is used as exchange at the end of a QSO. There are different stories about what this number actually means but the widely accept version is that the first digit '4' represents the four elements: earth, water, air, and fire and the second digit '4' represents the four directions: north, south, west, and east.

When I turned 44 this year I decided to use that as an excuse to put some more time into PAFF activities again and use special calls with 44 in them. The first one will be PA44FF that will go live in December. 

Special calls are a bit of a nuisance over here as they can only be used for 4 weeks. This means you need to reapply if you want a longer period. However you cannot apply for a new period or new call as long as you hold one. Considering that it takes the authorities 3 weeks to process your request, you can effectively only use a special call every other month.

The QSL card I will use the coming year for PAFF activities

Monday, October 31, 2016

PH0NO goes vlogging

Setting up my /P station for CQWW this weekend I made some movies to give you an impression of what setting up that station entails. 

This one shows you how I set up my hexbeam. It is up on the mast (around 12m/40ft high) in 20 minutes.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

CQWW 2016 experiences

Logging a lot of new (band) ones on the low bands
As planned I went out this weekend to try and catch some new band DXCC - so not necessarily atno although I would have enjoyed that bonus.

My focus was on the low bands this time. I did take my hexbeam just in case there were new ones for me to catch on any of the higher bands. In retrospect it was not really worth the effort though. I logged one new DXCC on 20m and three on 15m. I learned I was too late as I could have worked more new ones on 15m but soon after I started (around 15h UTC) the band started to fade.

Apart from the hexbeam I took my recently constructed vertical that acts as end fed half wave on 40m and as a quarter wave on 80m with elevated radials. It turned out the end fed was resonant in part of the 160m band as well. I brought my tuner so I was able to use the whole band with that antenna.

An evening out on a deserted industrial area - hexbeam and vertical

Scanning the low bands
The low bands were noisy. The geomagnetic storm I experienced last Wednesday had settled a bit but it was still noisy. Another thing is that with a contest as big as CQWW the rather narrow bands are one big splatter party. This is especially true on 40m.

After spending time on 15m and 20m, logging only a handful of contacts, I turned to 40m around 15:30 UTC. There was not a lot to chase there, so I went down to 160m. It was early for that band but it was easy as I did not have to change anything when switching between 40m and 160m. For 80m I had to change the antenna setup slightly so it took some time to switch to and from that band.

Using my laptop with HRD Logbook I was able to monitor the cluster and see where I could find new ones. HRD shows you whether a DXCC that is spotted is already in your log for that band. Based on that information I switched between the bands. Unfortunately my laptop battery died at some point. I did bring an external battery but forgot the cable. I then relied on just listening around and on the cluster app on my phone. The downside is that I just cannot remember what DXCC I worked on what band.

Moving around across the bands I logged 69 contacts in 12 hours. Not particularly impressive during a contest (I suspect some stations managed more contacts in that period). However they contribute 44 new band DXCC to my collection.

Experiences per band
My 40m antenna was working as I expected. It is not a miracle antenna but I could work what I could copy. This included PY, a new one and the ODX on this band this weekend. I logged him when I had taken down the hexbeam and just wanted to check the low bands for the last time before taking down the vertical. I was happy with that catch. There is however a lot I cannot hear that others apparently can hear - judging from QSOs where I can only copy one side. This vertical end fed is clearly not a match for a beam. Conditions weren't particularly good and QRM was incredible, so I only logged 4 new DXCC on this band. I had hoped to log more new ones to move towards my 5th 100+ DXCC. I was counting on skip to the Caribbean but I only worked 8P.

My 80m antenna was better than I expected. The quarter wave relies on the ground system to work and with only 4 rather short elevated radials I was not expecting a lot. But again I could work almost everything I could hear. ODX this weekend was A6 at more than 5000km and I logged 12 new DXCC on this band. Note that I don't use this band at home and I had only logged 37 DXCC before (mainly on one evening and night in the snow when I joined the PACC for the first time).

On 160m I had only worked one station so far since I got my full license - some nearby german super contest station on CW on a shortened 40m wire antenna. This of course meant that almost all stations I heard were new DXCC on that band. The antenna was resonant but very short for this band (20m). I could work more than I expected but could not work everything I could hear. I noticed some stations had difficulty copying me while I could copy them without a problem. So there is still a lot to improve for this band. Starting with only 1 DXCC this was of course the best scoring band. I added a whopping 28 new DXCC here. ODX on this band was a respectable 2900km into 5B4.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Preparing low band verticals for CQWW

Conditions on HF have been better than they are the last few months. I find this a good reason to spend more time on the lower bands. 

Another good reason is that I completed my 100 DXCC on the fourth band just last week or so. It was on 17m. I am not counting on reaching that number on 12m any time soon - as I have failed to use that band when conditions were more favourable. So the next candidates are 40m and 80m. I could also go for 30m of course but phone remains my favourite mode.

With the limited space I have at home I will need to go out /P to work new DXCC on those bands. At home I use a shortened end fed wire for 40m (just 12m long) and that will not really bring me any further than I have reached so far. 80m is even more challenging. I have not worked out an effective solution for that band yet. The other obstacle is that the areas I need to work are generally workable late at night or very early in the morning. Using phone at these hours in a room that is not sound proof will get me into trouble with the rest of the family.

All of this made me decide to focus on the low bands during CQWW this month. A couple of times before I have used this contest to hunt DX by reserving a considerable (to my standards) amount of time during the contest weekend going out /P with the best antennas I have. In the past I have used a 4 element mono band yagi for 10m that created an unforgettable experience where I just worked atno's like there was no tomorrow and I have used my hexbeam with success as well.

On the low bands I used inverted V dipoles before. They work, and have provided me with new band DXCC but they have a (mainly) high angle radiation pattern. It would be nice to try something with a better DX profile. So that is why I went out today to test two verticals I prepared at home: a quarter wave with 4 elevated radials for 80m and an end fed half wave for 40m (this time full size instead of the shortened version I used before). 
To be able to switch them easily - without taking down the mast - I use the same radiator for most of the length. The 80m antenna is a bit longer so I have an extension wire I can add / remove that connects to an SO259 socket with the four radials. When I use the antenna on 40m I disconnect the last bit with the radials and add my end fed transformer.

18m pole holding a stretch of wire
Today was also a test to see if I could set up my 18m mast by myself in the field. Normally I use a support like my car or any sign post or fixed pole I can find. The contest location I use is just open field. After some trying I found a procedure that worked well.

I used my VNA and my radio to see if the antennas worked and they indeed seemed OK. There was no enough time to do serious testing on the air and the bands were in terrible shape (s8-9 qrn/qrm). The plots and TX tests showed me that the 80m antenna is easily usable from 3.6 to well over 3.8mc. It dips in the phone contest region of the band. The bandwidth of the 40m end fed was much wider than the trapped version I used before. I can use it across the whole band.
I also found that the radials of the 80m vertical really need to be off the ground some 10-15 centimeters. If they are too close to the ground the performance really deteriorates with SWR rising above 1:5 easily (1:1.4 when the radials are well off the ground).

It seems I am ready for some action this weekend. Now let's hope the earth magnetic field calms down in time. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

First DL activation - Geldenberg DLFF-0213

On last notice an appointment was canceled leaving me with time off on Friday afternoon. This gave me the opportunity to go /P again after some time of radio-inactivity.

I live close to the border with DL and there are a number of DLFF references nearby but for some reason I never activated any of them. I decided this needed to change - so I headed out to Kleve to activate Geldenberg DLFF-0213.

As conditions have been horrible I took my amplifier with me, to enhance the chances of being heard. I decided against taking a beam as that would mean bringing a lot of heavy stuff and losing more time setting up and breaking down the station.

After a detour because of a blocked main road I quickly found a good operating spot. I started around 12:45 UTC on 20m. The band was already open to east coast US to my surprise. I stayed on 20m for an hour logging 78 chasers. Not too bad.

18m pole with EFHW antenna
Somewhere in this first hour a car pulled into the parking space I was in and someone walked up to my station. I guessed right when I asked him if he was Axel DL1EBR. I just spoke to him before (as I did many times before from various nature reserves), and he lives a few kilometers from the nature reserve I was in now. It was nice to be able to connect a face to the voice I already knew.

After 20m slowed down I set up my inverted V and tried 40m. It was already very lively and in over an hour I logged another 99 chasers. Then I tried 15m before heading home. It was barely open but I did log a few stations including a ZS4 - the odx this time.

In total I logged 180 chasers from 34 DXCC with 3 P2P contacts.
It was fun, thanks to all the chasers that called in & Axel who came by in person.

Monday, August 29, 2016

VEFF experiences

From the end of July up till August 14 I traveled through VE3 (and a small part of VE2) with my family. I visited family in Toronto and made a round trip from there up to Manitoulin Island, Algonquin Provincial Park and into Montreal. From there we went back to Toronto via the 1000 Islands area.

My idea was to take my radio with me and to activate one or more nature reserves.

Before heading over to VE3 I contacted the VEFF coordinator - Dave VA3RJ - to find out what nature parks would be on my route. Dave took the opportunity to revise the VEFF list, adding a number of provincial parks in VE3.
He also helped me a great deal by highlighting all nature reserves close to the route I would be travelling.

Although customs was suspicious, I was able to bring my radio on the plane. I took my Yaesu FT857d, a HyEndFed transformer and a collection of wires for all HF bands. As I could not bring a pole I relied on my hockey ball and nylon wire to get my antenna up in a tree.

First activity: VEFF-0158 Blue Jay Creek Provincial Park 
The first place where I was near a nature reserve and was able to plan a time slot for radio-activity was on Manitoulin Island. This enormous island is very sparsely populated and would be a nice IOTA candidate if only the lakes surrounding it would have contained salt water - they don't.

The island is on the Canadian islands award list however and features three VEFF nature reserves. Two of those were 1.5h to 2h drive away (yes, it is a large island) and one - Blue Jay Creek Provincial Park - was less than 30 minutes away. So I chose Blue Jay Creek, even though it was impossible to enter this park by car.
I suspected I might end up in a reserve I would have to enter on foot, so I bought two lawn mower batteries (12v and not too heavy) before we headed to the island.

Entrance road leading to the edge of Blue Jay Creek (4x4 advisable..)

The Blue Jay himself

Set-up reasonably comfortable - end fed wire up in the tree  
I did check the propagation predictions so I had a vague idea of when the bands would be open to EU but I had no idea what kind of activity levels to expect. I was not disappointed. EU was open from the start for more than 3 hours. What did surprise me was the low activity level from NA. I tried 40m for a while but logged only 2 stations.

In 4 hours I logged exactly 100 calls - 56 EU, 38 NA, 4 SA en 2 AF. ODX was 8200km into RA6.

Second activity: VEFF-0334 Oxtongue River & Ragged Falls Provincial Park 
The second opportunity arrived when we were staying in a cabin just outside Algonquin Provincial Park. That is by far the largest park in Ontario. As it is huge I expect it stands a good chance to be activated by someone else in the future, so I chose a smaller park that borders Algonquin: Oxtongue River. 

Working from an airconditioned shack
Oxtongue river (worth a canoe trip)

and the Ragged Falls
As you can see I was in a beautiful area but radio-wise it was a disaster. In Blue Jay Creek I was near a large body of water (Lake Huron) and that must have played a role. Or radio conditions were just really bad this time. EU was really weak. After 4 hours I had logged a whopping 27 contacts. I feared I would not be able to reach the WWFF minimum of 44 contacts (let alone the 100 I always aim for). After 4h I found that 40m picked up with stations from the US. In another 2h I logged 26 more stations, bringing the total to 53 (in 6! hours) - 21 EU, 30 NA, 1 SA and 1 AF. ODX was S5 at 6800km.

This was by far the slowest activity I experienced ever. I think it is even worse than running the PACC contest in the early morning hours.

Third activity: VEFF-0023 Frontenac Biosphere
On our way back towards Toronto we stopped in a very nice house not far from the 1000 Islands national park (St Lawrence NP). I was thinking of activating that one, when I found out the house itself was located in a VEFF nature reserve: Frontenac Biosphere.

That was as conveniently as it can get. I had bought a power supply locally and found a 110V outlet at the back of the house, where there were a number of suitable trees for the end fed wires. This allowed me to operate until late without disturbing the family.
I planned to have a longer activity starting around the time 20m would open to EU and continuing until 40m would open to EU. I learned from the first two activities that there was a gap when 20m would close to EU, and before 40m would pick up in NA. This time I would not waste an hour logging close to nothing, but I joined my family for dinner instead. The luxury of operating from the place you are staying.. a whole new concept I enjoyed a lot.

I used my HyEndFed trafo with the original "multiband" wire - 12m of wire with a coil at 10m. Resonant on 10, 20 and 40m. It is not very long on 40m but a very practical solution in between trees.

View from the EFHW trafo up in the trees

Enjoying a beer while the ants enjoyed my nachos

This fellow was climbing up my leg before inspecting the radio - a walking stick. Dave VA3RJ told me you hardly see them as they only come out at night. 
I started on 20m and found that conditions were far better than at Oxtongue River. I could copy EU much stronger - though not as strong as at Blue Jay Creek. 20m was open to EU until around 23h UTC. I logged a number of NA stations and when 20m became slow I went for dinner to come back to 40m when it was lively in NA. I continued and started to hear EU stations from around 4am UTC.

One of the first stations I logged on 20m was Danny ON4VT. When he came back to me on 40m more than 9 hours later and reminded me of the fact that he had already slept in between, I decided it was time to go QRT.

I logged 113 contacts this time - 49 EU, 60 NA, 3 SA and 1 AF. ODX was 8200km to PY1 with an interesting 7300km to YO on 40m.

This way the radio brought a nice little extra to a great holiday in VE. Thanks to Dave VA3RJ I had various options available for activations - making it possible to blend them in with all the other family activities.

Thanks to all chasers who came by and kept me busy out in the middle of nowhere.

Friday, July 29, 2016

First VEFF activity planned - VEFF-0158 on Aug 1

After meeting up with family, we are now on Manitoulin Island. There are 3 VEFF reserves on the island. One is near to where I am staying: VEFF-0158 Blue Jay Creek Provincial Park. 

Today I went over to check the area out. It is difficult to reach over off-road tracks and will require me to walk the last bit - as the track stays on the edge of the reserve.

After a few km's of gravel road, the last bit is even more off-road.

I counted on this though and bought a car battery from Canadian Tyre on my way to the island. Now I only need to find a proper tree for the antennas and some shadow. 

The weekend we will be spending enjoying a native's festival. If all goes well my first activation will take place on Monday Aug 1 from around 20h UTC.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Looking forward to VEFF

In 1,5 weeks I will be travelling to VE for the first time. I will be visiting my brother in Toronto and then travel around Ontario for 2 weeks with my family.

Discussing the various VEFF locations Dave VA3RJ (VEFF coordinator) decided to update the Ontario reference list and he helped me find a large number of provincial parks along my route.

After contacting several agencies (border police, customs, airline) it seems I am OK with bringing my radio. I am not comfortable with taking LiPo batteries as I expect I will run into problems checking them in. So I will have to either buy a power source in VE or use the car (which means I can only operate from a park if I can get in by car).

Checking the propagation forecasts it will be challenge to work EU with only 100w and a wire antenna. I hope I will attract some (new?) NA chasers as well.

There are VEFF locations near all the stops I have planned. However, there is a lot more to do and see and my travelling companions will not be particularly enthusiastic if I am away all the time. So I will have to see when I have the opportunity to go /P. 

If I have internet access I will post my plans to Twitter and the WWFF facebook page

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Great news: first place in PACC

Today I received incredible news. Together with two friends I secured the first place in the Dutch ham radio contest PACC using the special call PA55A.

We - PD7YY, PG8M and myself (aka YNOMY DX Group) - entered the contest for the third time. With good preparation, dedication, lots of fun and some suffering (freezing our hands off in rain and wind) we scored the highest amount of QSOs and multipliers of all single tx contestants.

I am really pleased we managed to pull this off with the minimal means we used - a temporary stations with wire antennas on a desolate campsite.

This goes to show that state of the art equipment is not the key differentiator.

Nice :)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Power sources for portable operation

When you start to go out on portable activities, you are confronted with the question what power source you should use. In this post I will share the choices I made working barefoot. 

The reason to share this info now is that I am in the middle of constructing something for my new mobile amplifier.. but more on that in a future post.

Introducing the challenge
The challenge depends on your operating conditions. Suppose that you are not going to work QRP and you will not be in or near your car. This is the situation I faced when I started activating special locations like nature reserves and castles.

Working with a 100W set, the power source you are looking for needs to supply you with approx 16A @13v, for as long as possible but with minimum weight. The good news is that there are a lot of other crazy hobbyists out there that face the same challenge. You will find them when you search for "RC" - remote controlled cars, planes, helicopters and more recently drones.

Working barefoot: LiPo and LiFePO4
These people have turned to LiPo (Lithium Polymer) and LiFePO4 (Lithium Iron Phosphate) batteries for their power.  LiPo and LiFePO4 have the best power to weight ratio of the power sources I compared. 

Although both are Lithium based, there are some differences between the two:

  • LiPo batteries consist of a set of 3.6V cells (between 3V - discharged and 4.2V - fully charged).
  • LiFePOo4 batteries consist of a set of 3,2V cells (between 2,8V - discharged and 3,6V - fully charged). 
  • LiFePO4 batteries have a higher number of recharge cycles (approx. twice the number of LiPo recharge cycles)
  • LiFePO4 batteries are intended for high power applications. They exhibit a more constant discharge voltage and are considered to offer better safety than other Lithium-based batteries.
  • LiPo batteries are relatively cheaper and lighter (relatively = at the same capacity)

With this list in mind I initially chose to go for LiFePO4 batteries. The biggest I could find were 9.7Ah, capable of delivering 10C (meaning that the peak current is 10x the capacity). With a weight of around 1kg, they fit my requirements well.

After 3 years of working with these batteries I have found that the capacity has deteriorated to the point that it starts to annoy me. I can barely run an activity of 2h on two batteries.
When adding a new battery to my collection, I chose a LiPo this time. The main reason to choose this battery over a new LiFePO4 is that I found them in larger capacity (16Ah).

LiPo and LiFePO4 sizing
When you are going to select your battery you need to understand one more thing: a code with #S#P. This tells you the amount of cells the battery has in series and in parallel. The amount of cells in parallel is not that interesting, as it is the given design for the capacity you are buying (and that number is clearly defined in mAh). The amount of cells in series is more interesting as it tells you what voltage range the battery will operate in. There is of course not one voltage for a battery. It varies along its discharge curve. The good news is that the discharge curve is rather flat.

Discharge curve for a LiFePO4 battery (@ different currents)

Discharge curve for a LiPo battery (@ different currents)
Your radio is most probably happy to take 12-14V. With a LiFePo4 you should therefore go for a 4S version. The voltage of this battery varies between 14,4V (full) and 11,2V (discharged) - most of the time around 12,8V.

If you decide to go for a LiPo battery, then you can either go for 3S (voltage between 9-12,6V) or 4S (voltage between 12-16,8V). Looking at the discharge curve, you will find that with a 3S battery you will quickly drop to a voltage where your radio might not operate anymore or with less output. I used this with my FT-817 and it is a workable solution. At a higher current draw with my FT-857 I found that the battery was unusable too soon. I therefore decided to go for a 4S version. 

LiPo voltage conversion
If you have chosen a LiFePO4, you are ready to go out and activate whatever place you want to. If you went for the LiPo S4 you have one more challenge to go: your set probably won't like the 16.8V of your fully charged battery. So how do you bring this voltage to an acceptable range?

I chose a buck (step down) converter to do the job. You can find them on ebay rather cheaply (imo) as complete modules with adjustable output voltage. I only added a few capacitors and now have a steady 13V LiPo battery with 16Ah capacity.

DC-DC voltage step down conversion

LiPo and LiFePO4 connectors
One other thing to look at are the connectors of the battery. They come in different shapes. Most commonly used are the XT60 and the bullet connectors. The latter are used on higher capacity batteries.
I decided to standardise on one type of connectors - in my case the bullet connectors (as you can see from the buck convertor). So I have made conversion cables to go from different types of connectors (XT60, banana plugs, car cigarette lighter) to bullet connectors.

That is about it regarding power sources for portable operation. In a future post I will zoom in on working with an amplifier while working portable.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

PACC 2016 with YNOMY

Studies have taken a lot of my spare time the last 12 months, so there is not a lot of radio news to share. I did however participate in PACC 2016 contest with the YNOMY crew.

We participated with the special call PA55A from the same camping ground we used in 2015. That year we finished second and were comfortably warm during the contest (as opposed to our first attempt in 2014) - good reasons to go back to the friendly camping owners. Although they look at us warily when they see us struggling setting up all those wires in rain and wind, we are most welcome to use their grounds.

The setup we used was comparable to 2015 with separate wire antenna's for 160m, 80m and 40m - using three fiberglass poles - and a hexbeam for 20m, 15m and 10m. We used one radio and a small solid state amplifier that gave us about 300w peak on most bands.

Another thing that was comparable to last year and the year before was the weather. It was cold, windy with some rain and snow. The pictures below give you an impression of the state the field was in.

It does look like we did well. We learnt our lessons from our attempts in 2014 and 2015. The preliminary results (from the log robot) place us in #1. Not bad at all. Now we have to keep our fingers crossed that we did not make any major mistakes. Last year we had very few errors. So let's hope the contest turns out to be comparable to last year on this level as well.

Muddy field - probably good for the reflection of waves though....

In the end everything was covered in mud - not just the shoes