It’s been a couple weeks since field day (FD) and I finally got around to writing something about my experience. For the past 4 years I’ve been doing field day with one of the local ham clubs. My first year I was a digital station and then for the past 3 years I’ve been the 40M SSB station in a 5 (or) 6A setup. The HCRA puts on an impressive field day with 50′ portable towers, beams and wire antennas. It’s amazing to see a lot of the area hams come together and work for this one weekend. It’s something that I look forward to doing every year since before I was ever licensed.
In my first year running the 40M SSB station, I treated it like a contest even though it’s not really a contest. After looking back it, I treated some people very poorly because either they weren’t making contacts fast enough, calling long when there was a pileup and other things. Field day is meant to attract people to operating, not scare them away. So for the past couple of years, I made sure that other people got to operate with as little pressure as possible. It’s about having fun and not the rates of contact. The only time I would jump on the air is if there was no operators available and only then would I try to beat any personal goals.
This year was much better and felt that it was one of the best field days I’ve been a part of. Everyone seemed to leave happy and one potential ham had a great time racking up over 100 contacts. He went from being almost afraid and hesitant, to running on a frequency and holding his own.
The Icing on the cake however was making contact with the ISS. During field day Astronaut Gregory Weiseman (KF5LKT) was using the NA1SS callsign making contacts on 2M. The first pass of the ISS was approx 20M into field day. Kiley (K2KHA) managed to make contact with the ISS using the club call but we were informed that the contact didn’t count for as a SAT contact for field day so on the next pass we we’re going to line up and use our own callsigns. I lost track of time and was on the air when the next pass came. I looked up and saw people making contact so I jumped out of my seat and ran over.
Here I am making contact with the ISS.
(Credit to: Matt Williams, W2MDW)
You can see that I am still in field day mode and didn’t understand how Sat/ISS contacts are made but it still counts. We all lined up to make contact before the pass was lost.
After doing some portable operations with the KX3, I felt that having something smaller and lighter would allow my pack to get smaller and smaller. The only problem is that there is nothing smaller than the KX3 that is comparable unless you get a CW only rig. I decided to get the MTR (Mountain Topper Radio) that was developed by Steve Weber (KD1JV). It’s a 2.5-5W QRP CW rig that gives you the options for two bands.
The problem is that the MTR kits are produced and sold in small quantities with high demand. I’ve learned that Steve developed a version 2 of the MTR (3 bands) and had a pre-sale. Even though he gave out the wrong URL, people managed to figure out the correct URL and sold out within hours. I found out a tad too late and ended up having my money refunded.
I was a little bummed out. I was very excited that I might get this kit. I’ve never worked with surface mount devices and the CW only aspect of the rig would sort of force me to actually learn CW. After making my disappointment known, a local ham mentioned that he had an unbuilt kit from the orginal run that he might be willing to sell to me. Making fun of him didn’t help but I think the fact that I might learn CW might have compelled him to sell me his kit.
What did I just do?
Once I got my hands on the kit and took it home I inspected it (what ham doesn’t when they get a new toy?). That’s when I saw the components I’ll be dealing with. Very tiny resistors, capacitors and IC’s. The toroids were tiny and were not wounded. Everything is so… small. I have built ham radio related kits before but they were all through hole meaning that the parts like the resistors and IC’s had legs and pins the fit into the holes. They were large enough to where I can easily work with them.
I am not prepared for surface mount work. My soldering iron is this $10 Radio Shack 35W fixed iron. I knew it was not ideal for SMT as I have tried and failed using that iron. I need to learn how to solder surface mount and I need the proper gear to do it with. I’ve learned over the years that working with the correct tools makes the job much easier.
New Tools In The Shack
I’ve learned the hard way many times over that having the proper tools can make things a lot easier. I feel that I have everything needed for the job except for a soldering iron. I looking at the sub $40 Chinese type irons but I stopped myself from purchasing one. I wanted an iron that can last me for many years so I ended up purchasing a Hakko 888D soldering iron. At around $100 I felt that it was worth the purchase.
The Build. Day One!
Soon as I got the iron in, I went straight to work. Following the assembly guide I started with the IC’s and the MCU. I felt that you are starting with the hardest part of the job by soldering small SMT IC chips with small leads and small gaps. I avoided installing the MCU and DDS chips until the other ICs were installed. Once all the IC’s were installed, I used a jewelers loop and checked my connections. The MCU was crooked a bit and thought it was still good so I kept chugging along. I installed the resistors on the bottom of the board and called it a night.
My working area. You’ll see the board with solder, tweezers, assembly manual, solder, 10X Jewelers loop, desk lamp with magnifying glass and my new soldering iron. When I purchased the soldering iron, I also purchased different sized and shaped tips.
The Build. Day Two
Next day I got back from work and installed everything else. It wasn’t really bad as I thought. The soldering Iron was tight in some places but it appeared everything went quite well.
Here is a close up of my soldering. It could be better but I would say not too bad considering I’ve never done SMT work before.
Power On Time.
I didn’t want to wire up the power, headphones or anything else because I was going to design a case but in order to make sure it worked. I needed to wire it up. Soon as I hooked up the battery… Nothing! It did’t lite up, It didn’t beep. The only thing I notice was a slight noise in the headphones. Sounded like the noise of when you turn something on.
What Went Wrong?
As panic starts to set in, I was worried that I now have a nice new expensive brick on my hands. All that time, energy and money spent on the kit and tools needed seemed be wasted. Out came the jewelers loop and soldering iron. I double checked every connection. Then I took out the multimeter and followed the troubleshooting guide in the manual and started checking voltages coming out of the regulators. Everything was checking out. The only thing I see is that the MCU was a little bit crooked.
I tried re-soldering the MCU but it proved to be very difficult. I used solder wick and suction tools that did not help, the chip would not move for me. For me the only choice was to remove the MCU. But how? After some internet searching I decided to use enameled wire and snake it under the chip where the leads meet the chip. I then touched the soldering iron to the leads and slowly pulled the chip off.
Using that method allowed to me to remove the chip, but in the process I damaged the MCU. The above images is not representative of my soldering work. It was more of a panic move and I just wanted to get the chip off without damaging the pads or board. The pads were in great shape and I’m just lucky nothing else happened.
Dealing With Steve Weber
Well it’s obvious the chip will need to be replaced. There are two options available. Beg steve for a new chip or purchase the MCU and flash it using a MSP Launchpad. I almost went the latter because Steve just released V2 and I am sure he was busy dealing with that and life in general but I decided to e-mail him anyways.
Dealing with Steve was a pleasure. I know these radios is not his full time job but he replied within a reasonable time and he was willing to send out a pre-programmed chip for my version of the MTR. Since I was having him sending me stuff, I purchased a case because the price he was asking was more than fair.
Now that I have the new MCU, I promptly installed it. This time I quadruple check to make sure the chip was aligned properly before soldering. It went much better.
When I applied power I jumped for Joy as I saw the LED come to life and the sounds of CW in my headphone. I did some initial testing and then installed the last toroid.
It’s… ALIVE!!! ALIVE!!!
Now that it turns on, it’s time to make the adjustments needed for proper operation. Thankfully I have Acquired the test gear I needed over the years from mostly local hams looking to clean their shack. I have a decent frequency counter, oscilloscope and a station monitor.
The manual found on the Yahoo Groups page provided step by step installation and tuning. It made things a lot easier.
First thing I did was adjusted the reference oscillator frequency to match exactly 10MHz. This was very easy. Just pushing a button until I see 10Mhz on the counter. There are reference points on the board to where you can easily measure things.
Adjusting the LO to find the center of the passband. This was a little tricky because I didn’t fully understand the manual and process. In the tuning mode the MCU sends out a tone and I adjusted it by watching the signal peaking on my scope while counting the steps between the peaks. I then went backwards only half of the steps. Hopefully it was done correctly. For me, this was the hardest part of tuning.
Here I am adjusting the receivers filters. With the station monitor I injected a signal into the MTR through the antenna port and adjust the band capacitors until the signal was at it’s loudest. I did the same thing on the other band. This was quite easy.
Last thing I did was hooked it up to a dummy load and checked for output wattage. Using a variable power supply and a DMM hooked in-line, I’ve sent out a tuning signal and adjusted the power supply until the DMM read 9Vdc with a TX load. I was seeing approx 2.5W which is within spec.
Time to get one the air
Now that it’s built and tested, It’s time to get on the air and see what I can (not) do.
Heh, it’s smaller than my paddle. What’s great about CW is that you don’t have to call CQ over and over again hoping someone would come back to give you a signal report. Just call CQ a couple times and head over to the Reverse Beacon Network where you can see almost in real time where your signal is being heard. There are receivers all over the world scanning the bands for signals.
Here are my results using just a crappy 9V battery. I am pleased to see that not only are stations hearing my signal, but they are on the frequencies that the MTR is tuned to. While I was testing the worst thing happened… Someone replied. I tried very much to work the person. I know the call was a K2 something but that’s all I could make out.
This was my first actual kit that I built, It’s also the first time that I ever worked with tiny surface mount devices and even though I messed up the MCU, it was really fun to build. Soldering SMD seems to be a nightmare but after the first couple of parts, it felt real easy and it felt that I was working much quicker compared to through hole parts. This project is also a big kick in the ass to learn CW because I want to use this rig. I’m all about packing very lite when it comes to SOTA and even though I love the KX3, I feel it would be more of an adventure using the MTR. We’ll see.
Thanks for reading!
I had some time to myself on Saturday (6/14) which is rare so I decided to play a little radio on top of a mountain/hill. I found that when it comes to doing SOTA that ends up being a last minute effort to get my stuff ready. This time I wanted to do a summit that I have never done before. I decided to go to Peaked Mountain located in Hampden/Monson MA. I notified SOTAwatch and local SOTA/Ham facebook groups that I will be out. I find that letting many people know that you’re going to be activating will increase your chances of a successful activation.
Expecting the unknown for both the hike and summit I over packed which is better than not packing that one item you’ll end up needing. The mountain is closer to my QTH then I originally thought which was great. The hike also wasn’t bad. The trails were (now) clearly marked and was able to make it to the summit in 20min or so. My only concern was the rain.
Welded Sign/Box near the summit
Due to the overcast I didn’t have much time to really enjoy the view. I wanted to get on the air as fast as possible in case it was going to rain. However I have a new G5RV jr that I home brewed to replace the crappy G5RV that I was using. I also took along the vertical end fed (EARCHI) as I’ve never used it for SOTA. I wanted to put both up.
Here you can see the G5RV mounted to the Jack Kite 31′ fiberglass pole. I used an eyebolt that is connected to the center insulator and slid it down the mast. I might place some tape at that spot to keep the eyebolt from wearing out the fiberglass tube. Also pictured is the end fed that is attached to the tip of the pole.
Another photo showing my mini G5RV. I made custom insulators using plexiglass that doubles as winders
Here is a photo showing my old G5RV next to my new one.
Here is a shot of the antenna with both antennas attached.
Setup took less than 10Min with most of my time spent untangling wires.
Getting On The Air
After sending out a spot to SOTAwatch and my local SOTA group I was on the air. However no one is coming back. Usually I get people within minutes coming back to my crys of CQ. After about 10min or so, Jim (KK1W) came back to my crys and made my first contact. Other people started to trickle in. After AJ5C and N4LA I heard a couple DX contacts from Romania and England but was un-able to establish contact
My setup with the KX3, Wouxun for VHF and my 9:1 match for the endfed
I tried switching around bands and antennas to make my contacts. I knew I could make contact with KB1RJC and KB1RJD if I went onto 40M and sure enough they were on and waiting (thank you). They made my 4th and 5th contact.
After making a couple more local contacts, I called it a day. I have 7 contacts so I can consider the summit to be officially activated. The sun started to come out and the skys started to clear up a bit and was able to enjoy the view from the mountain top
Views from the top of Peaked Mountain.
I’d say this was the hardest HF activation I’ve done to date. It was not the hike because that was very nice and easy. It was hard because I am not sure if it was my antennas, location, band conditions or a combination of all three that was making it difficult for communicating. There were also many hikers up on the mountain and I ended having to explain “what that is” many times over which took me away from the radio. Even though I love explaining what my setup is to non-hams, I just wasn’t in the mood but I didn’t want to come off as rude. I love the location and mountain and this location is now on my list of summits to activate next year.
Thanks for reading,
Jeff – NT1K
I’ll be upfront and honest and say that I’m not really a fan of “Emergency Communications” or as the ARRL would like to now call it, “Public Service Communications”. It’s just not my cup of tea. I think that SOME of the people that are involved are using emcomm/skywarn as a way to flex their egos and/or as an outlet to their dreams of being a public safety official such as police, fire or EMT for whatever reason. I don’t want to discourage anyone and there are hams who are really care about their community and help out without getting caught up in the whacker fest. But that’s what’s great about ham radio, there is so many aspects to it that you can dislike an entire aspect but yet still enjoy the hobby overall. Anyways, I’m not hear to harp about emcomm.
Tasting the Skywarn Kool-Aid
I’ve decided to participate in a Skywarn class that was presented by the NWS (National Weather Service) of Taunton MA. I’m not exactly sure exactly why I went. I guess I wanted to see what it was all about and I was able to get out of the house that night so
Like everything else, I arrived to the class early so I got to see who was showing up. I recognized a lot of the people that showed up to the class as local area hams which I was expecting to see. However I also saw a lot of people that I’ve never seen before and I’ve seen a a bunch of new hams which is great to see them being active in parts of the hobby. Hopefully they don’t drink too much of the emcomm kool-aid.
I went to the class expecting that I was going to fall asleep or not be really interested about weather or skywarn because I wasn’t really interested. I was expecting the class to be dull and boring with slides of clouds after clouds with the sleep inducing monotone voice over of the likes of Ben Stein.
However once the class started, I actually became very interested. The hosts were lively and you can see their passion about weather. It wasn’t going to be a snooze fest. I’ve learned quite a bit about weather that applies to more than just skywarn and amateur radio.
A Visit From The Local Media
One person I instantly noticed in attendance was Brain Lapis, the Chief Meteorologist from WWLP TV 22. I’m not sure if he was asked to show or he showed up on his own intuition. Either way it was great to see a local meteorologist in attendance. I gained a little more respect for not only Lapis but for WWLP overall as I didn’t directly notice anyone else from the media there.
I didn’t know but they even did a little story on their newscast about the class
I’m glad I attended. Ham radio reasons aside I’ve learned quite a bit and could apply it to everyday life. When it comes to Amateur Radio and reporting, I was glad to see they weren’t encouraging “storm chasing” and I finally know what information they want compared to what I often hear on the radio during significant weather events.
If you ever plan on reporting to skywarn VIA radio then I would strongly suggest to at least attend a Skywarn class. That way when you make a report, you know it’s a report of information that the NWS actually needs instead of tying up the airwaves with un-wanted information, information that you personally didn’t witness with your own eyes (e.g. Reporting stuff you’ve heard from a police scanner) or the wrong information that could make things worse.
I don’t think I will ever be glued to the radio during weather events but I left the class learning a lot about weather.
If you’re not aware of it by now, the ARRL is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Along with the many things they are doing, they are putting on an ARRL Centennial QSO Party. It’s a year long event where it’s encourage to make contact with as many ARRL members and staff as possible. There are also stations that are allowed the use the W1AW callsign in their state for a week twice during the year. Known as a portable station, it’s possible to obtain worked all states award just by contacting the W1AW/# Stations.
This past week it was Massachusetts, Virginia and Puerto Rico’s turn as W1AW. For Massachusetts, the host was David Robbins (K1TTT) located in Peru MA. K1TTT has what some consider a “Super Contest” station that is designed around contesting. It’s the perfect station to host the W1AW/1 call. Problem is that it’s impossible for Dave to be on multiple bands at the same time for an entire week straight. Dave needed help and asked the local ham community for operators and I jump at the opportunity and put my name on the list. I decided to show up on Friday night (4/12) and stayed until the morning.
I’ve been to K1TTT and operated in contests many times. I was going to treat operating W1AW/1 as how I would do contesting. During pileups I would just make the exchange and work as many stations as possible and during slow times I would be a little more chatty. Soon as I arrived, I was promptly placed on 10m SSB. The band wasn’t really “alive” at the time but I had a constant stream of stations which was really nice. It was a great warm up for prime time operations. Another operator came in and I let him get on 10m SSB and decided to play on 15m SSB where it felt the same. nice steady stream of contacts.
Here Comes The Pileup!
Jim (KK1W) was operating 40M CW and had to return home. I was asked to hop on 40m and do SSB around 7pm EDT (23:00z Friday). I was figuring that it was going to be the same as 10 and 15. I got on, asked if the frequency was clear and starting calling CQ. After the first couple of contacts I was spotted on the cluster. Soon as I was spotted, a huge wave of callsigns which seems like thousands of people were trying to contact me. It was so thick and so loud (20-40+) that I couldn’t even string together two letters of anyone’s suffix to call back “Yankee Bravo station?”. It was the biggest pileup that I ever been on the other side of. I was terrified and excited at the same time. It’s was so much that I wanted to run split but didn’t want to any more bandwidth on a already narrow band. There was pretty much no choice and had to call by numbers. I really didn’t want to but I had to in order to speed things up. So I called 0 through 9 and then asked for QRP stations. As I’ve been a QRP station in a pileup. It’s not fun at all. and figured to give everyone a chance. Even though I was calling by numbers, the pileups were just as bad but tried my best to work everyone as fast as possible. After a few rounds of calling by numbers, I stopped calling by numbers because I understand it can be frustrating waiting for your number to be called. Soon as I said “Anyone Anywhere” the huge rush of calls were just as big and loud as before but I was able to string together some of the callsigns.
Here I am on 15M SSB. I was making that crabby face on purpose as a joke but it doesn’t look so at all .
(photo courtesy of James, WD1S)
High QSO Rates
After ditching calling by numbers and dealing with what seemed to be the never ending pileup for some time, My ears got used to it and now I’m able to pick out callsigns from the sea a little bit easier. Since it’s likely that I’ll never get this many people wanting to make contact with me ever again and that I’m using a station that is pretty much optimized for contesting, I wanted to see what I can really do. Now it’s my time to shine. Haven’t confirmed it yet but I recall seeing between 220-260 QSO per hour rates at times. Not bad for a guy who doesn’t contest that often. I could have gone faster. Since this is a QSO party and not a contest to likes of CQWW, I wanted to at least make some exchanges other than 59 with people. Even though people on the frequency knew I was W1AW/1 in Massachusetts, I made sure to repeat the call and state I was in (since there are 2 other W1AW portable stations on the air) as much as possible. I also made comments about nice signals and nice audio, I exchanged my name and thanked as many people as possible for waiting. Other than calling by numbers, I tried as much as possible to avoid doing the things that annoy me when I am in the pileup trying to contact that wanted station.
After The Storm
Things started to die down. it was getting easier and easier. Then I looked at the clock. It was 2am. I was on 40m SSB for at least 6 hours straight. Time flew by really really fast. Even though I was sore (mostly from work) and my voice was shot, I had a really fun time. That sit down and work stations non stop is thrilling to me and wish I could do that type of operating from my home. I wish I could do it more often without getting trouble at home for doing so. I ended up going to bed around 3am at K1TTT.
Wake and Shake.
I woke up in pain at around 6am. With only a 3 hour nap, I went back to the station to get as many QSOs as possible before I had to return home by noon. I was hoping 20M would be open to europe but wasn’t hearing much on 20, 15 or 10 so I went back on to 40m. I made sure to call QRZ a bunch of times and to make sure the frequency is clear as always. This time I wanted to work DX so I went lower into the band to work those outside of the USA. The pileups weren’t as bad and I was able to work a bunch of Australian and Japanese stations.
Very blurry image of some of the ops that were there. NJ1F, N1RR and WM1K pictured
After an hour of so of operating. I was told to QSY because there is a net starting up on frequency. I informed the net that I’ve been on frequency for the past hour and kept making contacts. Without any care they started jamming me with CW, tuning carriers and running their net right on the same frequency that I’ve been already using. I held back every ounce of energy to start yelling at these people. It’s like they never heard of a VFO knob. They don’t own the frequency and really shows the class that these so called “Experienced” operators showed. These are also the same people that think No-Coders are ruining HF. Since I’m using the W1AW call, I did not want to create any type of issue so I simply turned the station over to a CW operator.
Other than that one incident, things went very well. I was excepting for some operators to give me their entire life story right in the middle of gigantic pileup, or yelling at me because I didn’t call them or their area. But for the most part, everyone played nice and I hope I did as well. I also viewed the cluster and only saw a couple things but oh well. I’ve noticed with ham radio that it’s next to impossible to please every person.
As always I try to walk away with learning something along the way. Since I never operated a beam before and mostly used vertical and wire antennas, I thought pointing the beam 90 degrees would get me into Europe
I honestly thought that this is how it should be. Thanks to a little help from N1RR, I’ve learned that I was WAY wrong.
That’s how I should be looking beam headings. Hopefully someday soon I’ll be able to take advantage of that and apply it to my own directional antenna.
I also now truly understand what DXpedition and other rare station operators go through when they are on the air. Seeing the amount of QSOs that these operators can make with the short time on the air is impressive. I busted my chops and didn’t get close to the rates from the ops on these DXpeditions. Maybe… Just maybe if I had a “Big Gun” station and the right location, with think I could get close. A G5RV in the side of a hill isn’t going to cut it.
More photos and results can be found over at K1TTT.net for the entire W1AW/1 MA event
QSO Per Band Breakdown for NT1K
- 80M – 2
- 40M – 652
- 20M – 6
- 15 M – 248
- 10M – 87
- 6M – 4
Total amount of QSO’s : 999 (I couldn’t have made just one more!!!)
Highest QSO Rate: 2014-04-12 0029Z – 17.0 per minute (1 minute(s)), 1020 per hour by NT1K
QSO’s per hour break down for NT1K
Starting 2014-04-11 @ 21:00z
21z – 1
00z – 79
01z – 117
02z – 149 (Contact approx every 20 seconds)
03z – 137
05z – 26
06z – 43
07z – 1
10z – 28
11z – 36
12z – 51
14z – 5
Ending – 2014-04-12 @ 1400Z
Dave (K1TTT) and myself on 6 and 2M during the morning. Lots of CW that I couldn’t do.
Even though I was tired and in pain for most of Saturday, I had fun. It was exciting, I got to operate a nice station, met some nice people and enjoyed my short time there. I wish I could go back and operate as W1AW/1 but I was lucky enough to get out and play during prime time Friday night. There is always W100AW that I can hopefully operate before June. Thanks to all who stood by and to those who worked me on 40M SSB.
– Jeff, NT1K
In the search for the “Wonder Antenna” that is small, portable and easy to setup, I’ve decided to build an Endfed antenna using a 9:1 match. This antenna has been made popular by the Emergency Amateur Radio Club of Hawaii (EARCHI). It consists of 30ft of wire fed into a 9:1 UnUn (Unbalanced to Unbalanced).
Plans for the Antenna are available from EARCHI’s website
I’ve been wanting to make the antenna for quite a while but I’m lazy when it comes to ordering things online. During the spring of 2013 I went to a regional hamfest located in New Hampshire hoping to find the T106-2 toroid that was called out for in the plans. I saw a bunch of red toroids and decided to purchase them hoping it was the correct mix and size.
I ended up with what appears to be a T130-2 toroid. It’s a little bit bigger than the T1o6 but uses the same mix.
It wasn’t that bad… If you follow the instructions the build only takes about 15 minutes or so. I mounted everything inside of a plastic tooling container. Instead of using a chassis mount SO-239 I went with a small length of RG-58 coax with a BNC at one end. The reason I did that was because there is always a strong chance that I’ll forget the coax and could at least use the pig tail connected to the radio.
The plan is to get this into even a smaller container.
Let’s hook it up to the Analyzer.
Before attaching it to my radio, I wanted to hook it up to the analyzer just to make sure I have the correct toroid being used. When it comes to buying toroids at hamfests, you could be taking a gamble unless it’s clearly marked. I might have purchased a different type even though it’s red in color.
What I’ve done is hooked up a bunch of resistors to the output and ground of the unit. The resistors should add up to 450ohms. Since it’s a 9:1 balun (or unun in the end use), 9 goes into 450 50 times which we should see 50ohms on the otherside if all is correct.
With the 450 ohm load. The analyzer is see approximately 50ohms across the HF bands allocated for Amateur Radio. However on 6M the SWR and impedance is quite high. However this is most ideal situation. That’s not going to happen when the wire is hooked up as it will not have a 450ohm resistance.
Here is a video I made testing the EARCHI with the MiniVNA PRO
What about the counterpoise or the other half of the antenna?
If you look at the design, you will see that the “ground” is hooked up to the shield of the coax, so it would be suggested that you run some length of coax between the match box and your radio.
Testing the antenna in the real world
One could sit there and talk all day about using the antenna. Let’s see what it can do
I tested this right outside on my deck using a 31 foot fiberglass pole. The wire is 30ft of #18 Poly-stealth.
The antenna only took around a minute or two to raise. I wasn’t really planning on making a video or even using the antenna that day so the batteries on the KX3 were not charged nor did I have it hooked up to an external source. I was using 3watts to conserve battery.
I went onto 15m and within minutes I managed to make a DX contact with LY10NATO which is a special event station in Lithuania. Not bad considering my conditions. The bands must have been in good shape. I then went to 20 and made contact with W1AW/4, an ARRL Centennial station in Tennessee.
I know it’s not proper to judge an antenna based solely on contacts but it just proves that it works. If you need a QRP antenna that is portable and can get you on the air quickly then I would suggest the EARCHI to anyone. It’s easy to build and if you don’t have the time you can purchase one from EARCHI. It’s not a “Wonder Antenna” by any means but it’s hard to beat consider the cost and ease of use. Also having a decent match (tuner) helps.
Edit (4/3/2014): Someone on Youtube asked about SWR reading with the EARCHI. I decided to hook up the antenna to the KX3 with the internal ATU option using a couple configurations and here are the results. Please keep in mind the ATU in the KX3 has a wide ratio and could match a lot of wire. Doesn’t make the antenna any more efficient but it makes it work.
KX3 With KXAT3, EARCHI Antenna with around 30ft of #18 Poly Stealth and around 20ft’ RG 58 coax
KX3 With KXAT3, EARCHI Antenna with around 30ft of #18 Poly Stealth and around 1ft’ RG 58 coax
You’ll see that adding a length of Coax will help you out in the lower frequencies. Please note that results will vary depending on your equipment.
Let’s hook up the analyzer using the EARCHI w/ approx 30ft of #18 wire and approx 20ft of RG58 Coax
Thanks for reading!
As I get deeper and deeper into designing and building antennas, I figured I need something better than a SWR meter to make sure that my antennas are performing well. Since I am also publishing the antennas that I’ve designed and built here on this website, I would feel more comfortable knowing that it was done correctly. I needed some kind of antenna analyzer.
There are so many choices out there today that I was not sure what to get. The most popular antenna analyzer for amateur radio use is the MFJ-259B. You’ll see it or a model similar in a lot of shacks around the world. I’ve used and enjoyed them but I felt that it was “Old School” considering technology has improved greatly. It was between the RigExpert AA-150 and the MiniVNA PRO. I purchased the MiniVNA as I felt it had more to offer. Being able to use Bluetooth to pair it up with an android device is what won me over. I found a used unit on QRZ for the price I was willing to pay. Wasn’t entirely sure about buying used test equipment but it ended up working out for me in the end.
Mixed Reviews at First
The reviews for the MiniVNA and the MiniVNA PRO were mixed. A lot of people had a hard time getting it to work with their computer and a lot of people commented about poor documentation and how it was not “User Friendly”. Some claim to receive DOA Units. When it comes to reviews from hams (or anyone really), I don’t take them all for face value because I’ve seen people who are so called “Computer experts” fail to perform the simplest tasks like installing a driver. Instead of fixing possible problems with their computer/equipment, it’s easier to blame someone or something else. You also have those who have egos that are so big that anything they touch is the best because they only buy the best. Then you have those who give honest reviews that detail how good or bad the product is. It’s hard to know who’s reviews should be trusted.
Before the unit arrived at my house, I’ve read the 135 page manual about using the MiniVNA PRO and it’s software (vna/J ). I can see why people would think the manual is confusing. However I never used a VNA and I have no idea what any of the measurements mean other than SWR and impedance. I have a lot of learning to do so I can take full advantage of the VNA. Other reviews claim that the manual is NOT user (ham) friendly and geared toward experienced users but I feel that’s a challenge to learn more about the numbers I’ll be seeing. It will hopefully give me more insight into what’s happening with my antenna. I didn’t see much issue with the manual other than the order which topics were discussed.
I’m lucky that the unit arrived right when I had some time to tear into it. Since it was used, I wanted to make sure it worked. It came with calibration slug/jumper cable and the seller even included a bluetooth module to hook up to almost any computer. Before even hooking it up to the computer, I went to FTDI’s website and made sure that I downloaded the latest drivers. Once installed onto my Windows 7 X64 OS, I hooked the VNA to the computer and the OS automatically recognized the VNA and assigned it a com port. So far so good!
After downloading the latest vna/J (2.8.6f as of March 7th, 2015). I noticed it was a .jar file which tells me that it runs on the Java platform. Before running vna/J I made sure to update Java. Software started up with no issue and it was asking for a calibration file. First thing I did was go to the Analyzer menu > Setup. In the new window I highlighted the MiniVNA pro as well as the com port that is associated to the miniVNA. Once the proper unit/com port is selected, press the “Test” button. If successful, the status bar will turn green and “Update” button will come active. After pressing “Update” the screen will go away. You will still need to calibrate the unit.
Calibrating the VNA is easy if you ask me. All you would have to do is go to the Calibration menu and choose “create”. A box will pop up and if you have the calibration kit (SMA connectors), hook the “open” connector to the DUT port and press test. Then hookup short and then the 50ohm load. Once the calibration is done, save it and then press the Update. You are now ready to use the VNA. Whenever you load the vna/J software it will recall the last calibration file used. You can make different calibration files in case you’re adding adapters and cables you don’t want factored into the test. When you go into transmission mode, you will be asked to do a calibration using the jumper cable from DET to DUT. Similar to the reflection calibration.
Navigating around vna/J
I found it not to be confusing at all to use. The layout to me is simple and easy to use. Choose what you want to see (SWR / Reactance in my case), choose the frequency range by typing it in manualy or making a list, choosing reflection or transmission (reflection in the case) and pressing the “Single” button. I guess reading the manual helped but just messing around with stuff helped me out even more. I ran a quick test leaving the 50ohm test plug on the DET port and the results produced a nice flat line at 50ohms and the SWR was 1.0:1
I’ve made a video showing the MiniVNA as well as installation and the first calibration.
First real test
Since I’m hot to trot, I grabbed whatever was nearby and tested it. It happened to be my Butternut HF9V located in my backyard. It’s 100ft away from my house fed with LMR 400. There is currently 7 radials in the ground.
If the VNA is correct, I need to go out and re-tune my antenna. From this plot I can see 75M has very narrow bandwidth (as mentioned by Bencher) and I’m off on a bunch of other bands.
Tried re-tuning the antenna outside but it was so cold I decided it can wait for another day.
One of the main reason why I wanted this unit is because it’s truly wireless. There is an application for the Android that allows the miniVNA to be used with a smartphone or tablet.
You could also use a laptop or desktop computer as long as it supports or could support bluetooth.
If this is correct, then I need to shorten my antenna. It’s better than having too long instead of too short.
The application “BlueVNA” was developed by Dan, Y03GGX. For a free program it’s really nice.
I do have issues where the program force closes or stops working at random times on my Samsung Galaxy S3. It’s a minor annoyance but I can’t complain. reload the app and you’re back in business.
There is a claim that the miniVNA pro can transmit up to 100 meters which I would guess that would be under best conditions. Obstructions and quality of the other bluetooth module is a major factor. I’ve had it lose communications withing feet of the unit. I also tried it outside and worked well.
Measuring Transmission Loss
Someone gave me a low pass filter over and wanted to use the vna to measure it. An low pass filter allows “Low Frequencies” to pass through but attenuate or “block”
I was able to see how the filter reacts through a range of frequencies.
Here some other stuff I measured
Here is a video of it hooked up to a 1:1 current choke
The Diamond X510 on my roof. Not bad, it was as expected.
Rubber duck antenna that is on the TYT . I added a counterpoise to see what would happen as I feel that the chassis of the radio makes up the “other half” of the antenna. Very very weird results.
After a few weeks of using the MiniVNA PRO, I’m quite impressed in what it can do for the small package it comes in. It was easy to setup (I think) and it was easy to use considering I never really used test equipment. Understanding what all the results mean is a different story but that means I have a lot more learning to do. I’ve tested basically everything I can hook it up to.
If I were to get nit picky and they were going make a new version, I would ask for a metal enclosure, SMA connectors to be off the board and possibly an LCD screen with control buttons to make which would alllow to me to use the unit without the need for a computer or android device.
I think I made a wise purchase and I would recommend the MiniVNA to others that need something more than just looking at SWR
Thanks for reading!
Since it was a warm weekend than normal, I decided to take advantage of it and hike up Bare Mountain in Granby/Amherst area in Massachusetts and do a SOTA Activation.
Elecraft KX3 Ready to go with Spare Batteries
Since this was a spur of moment thought, I didn’t have time to properly prepare my equipment. However usually when I come home from an activation, I take the time to repack my bag and make sure all the basics are included because I know I’ll be grabbing it with short notice. I could consider it my “Go-Kit” as it’s an entire HF station with antenna that fits into a small backpack.
Need More Batteries
For this trip I didn’t even charge the battery from the last activation. Since I’m using a 3 cell (3S) 2200mAh RC/ battery with each cell being 3.7v, The battery pack will be fully charged at around 11.1v to around 12.6v. The KX3 Folds back TX power from 10w to 5W when the voltage dips below 11. This does not give me much room to play with. I am able to do an activation at 10W without much issue. If the TX power folds back, it’s usually at the end of my activation so my last contacts would be at true QRP levels. I could purchase a LiPo or LiFePo4 battery that has the proper voltage but that could end up costing me quite a bit of money compared to the cheaper RC batteries used in Quadcoptors and similar. The other option is purchase a 4 cell battery which could gives a 14.8 to 16.8v. It’s a little too much for the KX3 but you could step down the voltage using a couple diodes inline until the voltage drops below a certain point. The downside to that is the diodes will heat up. I’ll stick with the 3 cell for now but I should buy more and alternate them. At $10 a battery, you really can’t complain.
Before the Hike
Even though it’s short notice, there is some preparation that is needed before you leave. Besides making sure you have everything and double checking, it’s strongly suggested that you submit an activation notice (alert) to SOTAwatch.org. Even more so if you’re a CW operator. That way people will expect you. You wouldn’t want to spend all this time hiking and setting up gear to make zero contacts. Since SOTA is gaining more popularity, it means there are more chasers and activators participating. There will always be someone listening out for you as long as you tell them when and where you’ll be. Cell/Data service at the summit is a huge advantage as you’re allowed to Self spot on the SOTA Cluster. CW ops have it even easier because if you send an alert through SOTAWatch, when you start calling CQ the skimmers will pickup your signal and automatically spot you on the SOTA Cluster. That’s pretty darn neat. I know people that have been involved with SOTA for a long time and they’ve told me stories of how they failed to make the minimum of 4 contacts. I have yet to have one of those activations and I hope it never will happen.
The hike up wasn’t bad and the use of crampons helped since there were icy spots in the snow. After some huffing and puffing I made it to the summit with some time to spare.However all the time was used tring to untangle my mess of the mini G5RV that I use. It wasn’t designed for portable use and it uses #14 THHN wire. I took along tent stakes but ended up tying off the ends to near-by trees because the ground was frozen. I “Secured” the mast using bungie cord to a tree branch. It held up quite well
Mini G5RV in a inverted V configuration. Mounted to a Jackite pole
Once everything was setup and checked, Out came the logbook and sent a spot over SOTAWatch.org. It didn’t take long for the traffic to come. There were times where I had pileups to work me which is real fun.
Operating conditions. Notice the lack of seat.
The following operators worked me from the summit, if you worked me and you either see your callsign wrong or not there, please contact me. I had a real hard time trying to write down calls correctly and It’s possible that I messed up your call. I try to check each contact against QRZ.com’s DB. It’s even better when the profile mentions SOTA as it makes me feel better the call is correct.
(20 METERS – Start 16:34Z)
- K1MAZ (SOTA Jerks)
- WA2USA/4 (In Florida)
- KK1W (SOTA Jerk)
(12 Meters – Start 16:55)
(15 Meters – Start 17:03)
- M6ARE ??
(40 Meters – Start 17:13)
- N2ICE ??
(10 Meters – Start 17:30)
(Contacts with other SOTA Summits)
- W7IMC (W7I/SR-138 Idaho)
- KI4SVM (W4C/WM-039) (NC QSO Party)
Over 45 contacts were made, I also chased some DX I heard while scanning around the bands and chasing other SOTA activations. I’m glad to make a couple Summit to Summit contacts which to me is more thrilling as we’re both on summits with less than ideal operating conditions.
There were a lot of other hikers up at the summit and some came over to talk and were amazed that I was contacting Spain and England considering what I had.
View from the other side of the Summit. You can see UMASS, Amherst and Hampshire college from this view
I could have stayed longer but Kneeling in the snow wasn’t helping me out. I need to find an easier way to be more comfortable during the winter activations. Thinking about using a kneeboard that I can attach my radio to that also has a clock. The hike down was a lot harder than the hike up. I kept sliding and had to use my antenna mast as a walking stick at times.
Notice someone made little snowmen along the trail
Besides having extra batteries, I think some kind of seat or something that would allow me operate more comfortable. I was either standing or kneeling down in the snow which was more damaging to me than the hike. It was extremely difficult to log contacts while holding the microphone.
Thanks for reading!
Looked at the stats and found that NT1K.com main page has over 200,000 views which I know is a drop in a bucket compared to other websites out there. Considering the vast amount of ham radio related websites, 200K is okay in my book. It shows that I doing something to make it worth the visit. Hopefully I will come across new things to make it more interesting.
Tailor Made to New Hams
The main reason why I created a website was to help out freshly minted hams with information they can understand in English (albeit poor grammar) . I’ve came across many websites that have some really nice things but it’s not explained in an easy detailed manor and leaves me to scratch my head as I not well versed in Math or Electrical Engineering. I also post my observations about a project or what’s going on in amateur radio and I use this website as a way to get stuff off my chest. It’s all about keeping hams interested in the hobby.
I just want to say thank you to all who visit and to those who participate by adding comments. It ensures me to keep working and typing away and makes it all worth it.
It’s a new year! For those who are into activating summits, this means we can go back out and activate our easy and close-by summits that will count for points. A known SOTA activator in the region (Doug, W1DMH) was going to be in the area activating a couple summits which caught the interest of a couple other hams in the area.. It was reported that it was going to be a rain/sleet/snow mix for the entire day so I was under the impression that I wasn’t going to be out. While out running errands, I’ve noticed it was clear enough so I ran home, got my gear and went to Mt. Tom.
It’s been awhile since I activated any kind of summit. I would also say it was the last time I really ever “exercised”. The hike up was not easy. I had to stop a few times to catch my breath and I ended up taking baby steps to the summit.
Once I got to the top of the mountain, I was able to catch my breath but then I had to setup shop. Visibility at the summit was poor due to weather. Due to other activators in the area were already on the air, I had no time to walk around to see what was up.
After seeing a lot of activators using some sort of monopole to support their antenna, I jumped on the band wagon and purchased a fiberglass kite pole during the holidays
I ended up going with the 31′ Jack Kite Pole. I wouldn’t say that it’s the best choice for activities like SOTA. Soon as I got it out of the box, the threaded cap came off. It happened more than once which caused all the sections to fall out. I’ve also read reports of the top sections breaking under light loads. To be fair, it was designed to be use with kites. To combat the issues, I’ve removed the top two sections and made a sheath using left over outdoor canvas that I used for my Elk antenna. The sheath has a shoulder strap that allowed me to carry the pole w/o much issue.
Here is the kite pole with antenna mounted to the top.
In past activations that included the same exact spot, I’ve used a Mini G5RV by throwing rocks with a rope attached into the trees. The trees on some of these summits are not that tall and could only manage to get the antenna 6ft off the ground. It worked but I could have done better if it were higher. This time with the kite pole, things went much faster even though I had some issues with getting the wire snagged in nearby tree branches.
I try to stay as minimal as possible. Even more so if know the layout of the mountain/hill. What you see in the above photo is what I took up. I packed the KX3, microphone, battery, 90 degree BNC adapter, antenna, kitepole, mason line (rope), elastic cord, tape and 2m HT. Due to the massive amount of RF that is already present on top of the mountain, doing a VHF activation is out of the question. I’ve heard other people up there trying to do VHF and they always had trouble receiving.
Getting On The Air
Once the antenna is up, getting on the air is quite easy. However getting spotted or spotting yourself (which is allowed using SOTAwatch) could be difficult depending on conditions and which mode you’re using. I lucked out because I had cell service and was able to spot myself. Since this was last second, I didn’t have the time to give advanced warning of the activation.
A minute or so after spotting, my first call was from Doug (W1DMH) who was on another summit nearby. This counts as a Summit to Summit (S2S) contact that gives both doug and myself extra points. I was hoping to work Jim (KK1W) and Frandy (N1FJ as NE1SJ) that were also on nearby summits but I sort of arrived late to the game and missed out on 2 additional S2S.
After the first contact, the rest came in one after another with the occasional pileup. It was very exciting and made it worth the trip up. Talking on SSB with stations all around the US is fun when you’re using low power. I can see why people find QRP to be very rewarding. I also made some DX contacts with stations in Canada, England and my furthest contact with GI4OUL in N. Ireland. Approx 3000mi only using 7W (428mi per watt) is not bad.
Thanks to the following who worked me.
|W1DMH||17:43||14MHz||SSB||Thanks For S2S|
|VA6FUN||17:52||14MHz||SSB||2000mi on 10W TY!|
|AD5A||17:52||14MHz||SSB||Thanks for TX!|
|G4UXH||17:54||14MHz||SSB||Thanks for DX!|
|GI4ONL||18:00||14MHz||SSB||Thanks for DX!|
After doing a few summits, some of the callsigns start to become familiar as they chased me on other summits in the past. It’s nice to hear them and it makes it real easy to pick them out on packed/noisy bands.
It’s an envelope… Not an logbook. It works but not well. I need some better way to log contacts w/o using some big and bulky notepad.
The G5RV needs to replaced with a SOTA version. Right now the current G5RV is using #14 electrical wire and the ladder line is solid core. It’s bulky and tangles to easily. I would like to still use the G5RV as it works well but I would like to use polystealth wire and a ladder line made from stranded cable that was thinner.
Thanks for reading!