NT1K – Welcome

My Experience as W1AW/1

by on Apr.16, 2014, under Contesting, QSO

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.

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Custom sign I’ve made for Dave since he has let me use his stations so many times over the past few years.

It’s Showtime!

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.

IMG_0095

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.

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Very blurry image of some of the ops that were there. NJ1F, N1RR  and WM1K pictured

How Rude. 

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.

Lessons Learned

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

free-vector-world-map

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.

AzimuthalMap
Map Thanks To NS6T

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.

Some Stats

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
22z -86
23z -98
00z – 79
01z – 117
02z – 149 (Contact approx every 20 seconds)
03z – 137
04z- 137
05z – 26
06z – 43
07z – 1
10z – 28
11z – 36
12z – 51
13z -5
14z – 5
Ending – 2014-04-12 @ 1400Z

Overall experiences.

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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

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Portable Antennas: The EARCHI End Fed

by on Mar.23, 2014, under Antennas, Projects, SOTA

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.

The Build

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.

IMG_0674

 

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.

IMG_0672

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.

EarchiScreenShot

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

Band Ratio
160m 18:1
75M 1.1:1
40M 1.0:1
20M 1.1:1
17m 1.1:1
15m 1.1:1
12m 1.2:1
10m 1.0:1
6m 1.0:1

KX3 With KXAT3, EARCHI Antenna with around 30ft of #18 Poly Stealth and around 1ft’ RG 58 coax

Band Ratio
160m 17:1
75M 4:1
40M 3:1
20M 1.1:1
17m 1.0:1
15m 1.0:1
12m 1.0:1
10m 1.0:1
6m 1.1:1

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

earchi20ftcoax

Thanks for reading!

 

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Introductory look into the MiniVNA PRO.

by on Mar.22, 2014, under Antennas

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.

First Impressions

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.

Arrival

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 prolific’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!

20140208_100753

Using  vna/J 

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.

First Calibration

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.

u4agOxS

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.

20140311_182427

Tried re-tuning the antenna outside but it was so cold I decided it can wait for another day.

Bluetooth 

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.

20140213_191537

 

I decided to try it wirelessly on a 10M dipole I had in my attic.
Screenshot_2014-02-13-19-23-08

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

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The Diamond X510 on my roof. Not bad, it was as expected.

uIhPSqn

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.

Overall experience

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!

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SOTA Activation – Feb 22 2014 – Bare Mtn. (W1/CR-014)

by on Feb.25, 2014, under Antennas, SOTA

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.

20130423_172240

 

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

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

20140223_124834

 

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.

20140223_124831

 

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)

  • N4EX
  • W0MNA
  • K1MAZ  (SOTA Jerks)
  • G4OBK
  • W7RV
  • W5ODS
  • KU4GC
  • K5WI
  • KD8NBB
  • DJ5AV
  • AA7DK
  • NS7P
  • WA2USA/4 (In Florida)
  • N7AMA
  • KB9VZU
  • EA7HX
  • G4UXH
  • G0VWP
  • G0RQL
  • G6TUH
  • K8SSS
  • KK1W (SOTA Jerk)
  • KAEZE
  • AK4BH/QRP
  • KC9TTR
  • W5RST

(12 Meters – Start 16:55)

  • W5RST
  • AD5A
  • KK1W
  • W0KEU

(15 Meters – Start 17:03)

  • G6TUH
  • M0MDA
  • EA2DT
  • M6ARE ??
  • G4UXH

(40 Meters – Start 17:13)

  • KB1RJC
  • KB1RJD
  • VE3JCW
  • N2ICE ??
  • N7UN
  • KK1W

(10 Meters – Start 17:30)

  • W7RV
  • G6TUH

(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.

20140223_124809

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.

20140223_131126

 

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.

20140223_132139

Notice someone made little snowmen along the trail

Lessons Learned

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!

 

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NT1K.com Hits 200,000 Page Views

by on Feb.25, 2014, under General Ham Radio, Op-Ed

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.

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SOTA Activation – Jan 18th – Mt Tom (W1/MB-006)

by on Jan.22, 2014, under Antennas, SOTA

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.

SOTA 1/18/14 - Mt Tom

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.

Setting 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

Jack Kite Pole

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Call Time Band Mode Notes
W1DMH 17:43 14MHz SSB Thanks For S2S
N4EX 17:44 14MHz SSB Thanks!
AE4FZ 17:44 14MHz SSB
VE1WT 17:45 14MHz SSB
AJ5C 17:45 14MHz SSB Thanks!
K0LAF 17:45 14MHz SSB
W0MNA 17:45 14MHz SSB
WG8Y 17:46 14MHz SSB
NS7P 17:46 14MHz SSB
KI4SUM 17:47 14MHz SSB
W7RV 17:48 14MHz SSB
W4DOW 17:48 14MHz SSB
NE4TN 17:49 14MHz SSB
WA4WKL 17:49 14MHz SSB
W4SKC 17:50 14MHz SSB
VA6FUN 17:52 14MHz SSB 2000mi on 10W TY!
AD5A 17:52 14MHz SSB Thanks for TX!
W5ODS 17:52 14MHz SSB
K4WAI 17:53 14MHz SSB
G4UXH 17:54 14MHz SSB Thanks for DX!
N6KZ 17:55 14MHz SSB
AA7DK 17:56 14MHz SSB
WB9EAO 17:57 14MHz SSB
K9ICP 17:58 14MHz SSB
GI4ONL 18:00 14MHz SSB Thanks for DX!
KC4TAC 18:00 14MHz SSB
W7RV 18:14 24MHz SSB
W1MSW 18:15 24MHz SSB

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.

Lessons Learned

Even though I’ve done over 6 summits alone, I’m still learning things along the way. For example, my logbook.

scratchlogsota

 

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!

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Elecraft KX3 – What Did I Just Do?

by on Oct.07, 2013, under HF, SDR, VHF

I’ll be honest and say that I laughed when I saw the Yaesu FT-817 for the first time when it was released in 2001. “You’re not going to make any contact with that! It’s small and only 5 watts! No one is going to hear you!” I recall saying a lot. I like to note that I was brand new to amateur radio and had no HF experience. I thought it was silly to “talk” around the world with the same amount of power that my handheld VHF puts out. Well… 12 years later and they are still being produced and sold. I’ve seen the error of my ways and accept that QRP (low power) contacts are very possible. Now that I’ve been involved with HF for about 4 years now, I can see how rewarding QRP contacts are. Now that  I’m more involved with SOTA (summits on the air), doing a bunch of VHF SOTA activations and watching my peers on HF, I decided to purchase a portable HF rig.

I ended up going with the Elecraft KX3.

I could have went with the much cheaper FT-817 and other QRP Xceivers but the features and technology of the KX3 far surpass what the FT-817 had to offer. Well… at least in writing. I just wanted something NEW for a change. Even though the KX3 is expensive, I cheaped out as much as possible and got the kit version of the KX3 with no options or extra accessories.

20130313_162521

 

Hopefully the postal carrier didn’t notice me peeking through the windows with the excited look on my face as he approached.

There are already dozens, if not hundreds of videos, blogs, forum posts of assembling the KX3. I am not going to go into detail here. However I would like to share some notes and tips if you were to get the kit. Most are common sense.

  • Spend time and make sure every nut, screw, standoff and part is in the kit! Use muffin tins or a tackle box to keep parts separate.
  • Do not be surprised if your missing something. They include an extra parts bag and hopefully it’s in there.
  • Read the assembly manual entirely before starting. Do not jump ahead!
  • It’s not a contest, take your time and confirm each step

20130313_163024

Besides a screw driver and other basic hand tools. I strongly suggest in using tweezers or a “Jewelers Pickup Tool”

pickuptool

 

This tool helped me out as the tiny 2-56 screws were  a wee bit hard to handle.

The only issues I had were installing the plastic battery holders (which is noted in the manual) and having to deal with missing 4-40 screws. luckily I had anodized screws in my personal extra screw bin. Overall the assembly went okay and it took about 2 hours.  Is it worth the extra $100 for an assembled kit? All depends on how you value your time. Think of it costing $50/hr for assembly. Are you worth more than that?

First thoughts

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After turning it on, one of the first things I did was to compare the receivers of the KX3 to my FT-950 using a switch and the G5RV antenna. Since I don’t have any type of equipment that will give accurate readings, I am basing my findings from what I’ve seen and heard. On SSB, it seemed to receive similar with the DSP turned on in the 950 (No DNR). It has similar S-Unit readings. However the KX3 felt like it dealt with adjacent signals better than the 950. On CW, it seemed the KX3 was better at receiving.

Should Have Purchased Options

Like usual, I was being cheap and purchased the KX3 as a kit without any options. For some people that would work just fine. If you have a spare microphone and resonate antennas at the frequencies you want then you might not have a need for options like the ATU (Automatic Antenna Tuner) or microphone. But here I am with no microphones and no resonate antennas. I could have purchased an Emtech ZM2 or Hendricks SOTA tuner and a used microphone online that would have done just fine, but I didn’t want to lug around more equipment and didn’t want to modify the microphone. I ended up purchasing the ATU  and Microphone from elecraft a short time later.

Issues with the KX3

I’ve held off writing this article for a long time because I had issues with my KX3. After assembly and before installing the ATU, I was hot to trot. I went on the air, started sending out CW to see what skimmers (bots) were picking up my signal. I couldn’t transmit at full power. Even with the KX3 powered using an External 5amp supply, I could not get past 7W. When using batteries, I saw 3watts max.  Putting blame on my antenna at first I didn’t think much of it. At this point I decided it was best to order the ATU as I would end up using compromised antennas like an end fed or random wire where needing a “tuner” (match) would be important.  When I received and installed the ATU, I noticed that I couldn’t tune correctly and it was still folding back power. After taking it out on it’s first SOTA activation, I knew something was wrong.

Dealing with Elecraft

I knew it had to be fixed. The first stop was the Elecraft KX3 Yahoo Group to see if anyone else had similar issue. None were found so after following the advice on Elecraft’s website, as requested, I contacted them VIA e-mail.

I’ve heard that Elecraft support was AMAZING!!  However I felt the opposite. Just to get a reply from Elecraft took me well over a week. I ended up finding e-mail addresses to some of the staff/support members for Elecraft and after contacting them, my issue was finally looked at. It felt like I had to be pushy and demanding to get stuff done which is not a part of who I am so it was uncomfortable. However I just spent a lot of money, for some it may be nothing but it was a lot of saving on my part  so I felt cheated a bit even though Elecraft did absolutely nothing wrong.

Once the RMA process started, it was fast and easy. Elecraft sent me a confirmation once the item was received but I didn’t hear anything else until the day it was shipping out almost a week later. Since I’ve never dealt with returning a radio before, I felt that I had no idea what was going on or even if the radio has been touched by service. When Elecraft got back to me, it was shown that the PA Driver chips were replaced. I wished for a little more detail into what could possibly caused the replacement as to avoid it from happening again.

Months later and with very LITTLE use, the plastic knobs started to crack. After contacting Elecraft, they moved quick and got the replacements I need. Even though it appears this was a common issue, I was a little more impressed with their service this time around.

Amplifier over 2M module 

When the KX3  first rolled out, a 2M module was incorporated into the design but wasn’t available. Due to the fact that I enjoy doing SOTA on VHF, I was excited that there was going to be a 2M option at some point. That means less equipment that I’d have to carry and something better than the Chinese radios that I’ve been using.  However I was very disappointed when they decided to design an amplifier for a radio that was designed to be a QRP portable rig. I get why they did it. Not many people really care about QRP SSB on 2m or 2M in general when it comes to portable operations. They would rather have something that would allow for 100W while mobile or at the home while taking advantage of a really good receiver. It turns the KX3 into a dual purpose rig. I would have rather seen the 2M module first.

Even though at times, it may seem I’m very critical of  Elecraft, It’s because I want them to succeed.  They make good products, they’re very interactive with the community and they’re based in the United States. I just want them to improve so they can be on the same production level as the “Big Three”. I honestly think it’s possible.

Final Thoughts

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Using the KX3 on top of Mt. Tom, Holyoke MA

When I decided to purchase the KX3, I thought I would be taking up adventures  like climbing mountains, hiking, going to parks and testing the limits of QRP. It  didn’t really happen. Those times I got to get out and played radio, the KX3 performed very well. The very low current draw allowed me to use full power (approx 10W) using a Hobby battery (Turnigy 2200mAh 3S 20C Li-Po 11.1v) that lasted for at least an hour before turning back the wattage (to 5W) when the battery voltage dipped below the 11vdc threshold (time will vary depending on duty, temp and mode).  The radio is easy to pack and deploy. If there are trees tall enough in the area, I can hang a dipole and get on the air within 10-15 minutes.

Even though there are cheaper alternatives, I think I’ve  made a wise choice. If I ever decide to go portable, It’s there  and ready to go and it just works.

CYELTh4

SOTA Pack consisting of KX3, G5RV Jr and End Fed

I would recommend this radio to others under certain circumstances. If you’re just getting into the hobby, I wouldn’t suggest it unless you have the money for radio and amplifier or you live in a restricted area where a base antenna setup is just not possible and would have to go portable/mobile. QRP is a rewarding challenge but frustration will set in when your in a pile up with a 5W signal and a compromised antenna.

Hopefully the 2M module doesn’t cost as much as the K3′s module.

Thanks for reading!

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It’s been awhile

by on Jul.15, 2013, under Local Happenings

It’s been awhile since I last updated this site.  Life has changed gears and a lot of stuff required my attention which meant this site and amateur radio had to take a back seat while I caught up. I did make time for ARRL’s Field Day with my club, HCRA (W1NY) where I operated the 40M SSB station.

2013 - Field Day 40M Station

Here is my 40M SSB setup. It  consists of my FT-950, AFEDRI SDR-Net, PR-781 Microphone, Laptop with extended monitor, Dayton speaker with amplifer, couple fans and lights.  I thought the SDR was a bit overkill for FD but it worked out nicely.  Search and pounce was easier than ever with it.

NT1K FD 2013

Here I am on the air. Compared to years past I’m more relaxed even though I’ve been exposed in the very sunny, hot and humid weekend. I felt a little bad that I wasn’t on the air more but I’d rather see others on the air. Even though Field Day is considered an emergency preparedness exercise, the contester in me comes oozing out. I held it back this year but next year I plan to use my headset and DVK (Digital Voice Keyer) in the wee hours of Sunday morning and attempt to make the most amount of contacts for the site.

(Above photos courtesy of: Ken Allen – K2KHA)
Since my gear was used at Field Day, my station at home at a big “hole” where the 950 sat. With other things going on the 950 sat in it’s carrying case and didn’t bother to remove any of the gear until this past weekend due to some electrical issues at my house.

QSL Cards

 

Since I wasn’t on the air, I figured to wall paper my office with DX QSL cards. I felt a little bad that I get these really nice QSL cards from all over the world for them to be shoved into a drawer. Let’s put them on display for all to see!

I still have a couple more projects in the home that require my attention and hopefully I can sneak away once in a while to play radio.

Thanks for reading and please check back, I do have a lot more articles to finish.
- Jeff NT1K

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NT1K’s Website Of The Week – 5/17/2013

by on May.17, 2013, under Website of the Week

This weeks website of the week is HomingIn.com 

If you are into Fox hunting or RDF (Radio Direction Finding) then HomingIn.com is a must visit website as it’s full of information. Even though the website appears to have been last updated in 1998, it’s updated often and I would say that it’s the “Go to” site for anything RDF.

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NT1K’s Ham Radio Website Of The Week – 5/9/2013 – LCWO.net

by on May.10, 2013, under CW (Morse Code), General Ham Radio, Website of the Week

For this weeks WOTW, I picked LCWO.net otherwise known as Learn CW online. If you even want to learn CW (Morse Code) I would strongly suggest this website to use as a tool to make learning easier.

From LCWO.net

A new website to learn and practice Morse telegraphy has been launched:
http://lcwo.net/ - Learn CW Online

There are already hundreds of training programs, MP3/CD courses and practice
aids available, but LCWO follows a radically different concept: While sticking
to  well-proven methods for learning and practice, all you need for using LCWO
is a web browser!

This gives the user the liberty to practice CW wherever an internet connection
is available, always retaining the personal settings, scores and statistics.

Currently the site, which is available in 27 languages offers a complete
Koch method Morse course, code group practice, callsign- and plain text training
modes and also allows to convert random text to Morse MP3s.

A high score list is available to compare results with other users, personal
statistics help to track training progress.

LCWO.net is a non-commercial project. Creating a free account only takes a few
seconds, and you can start practicing CW right away!

Fabian Kurz, DJ1YFK

It  has a decent layout and after making an account, it will track your progress. I’ve used this site many times. My favorite part being the Morse Machine which is the same as this piece of software

Now maybe I should learn Morse Code…. Some day!

- NT1K

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