Tag Archives: Activities

2014 IARU HF World Championship

The results from the July, 2014 International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) High Frequency (HF) World Championship contest were published. WA4NZD placed first in Alabama, in the Single Operator, Mixed-mode (phone & CW), Low Power category. World-wide the club placed #2507 out of 5181 participants. The club earned a score of 32,480, with 152 QSOs and 80 multipliers. The operator was WA2JQZ.

KB5EZ also participated in the contest from his home. He placed third in Alabama, in the same category.

Detailed scores (see Page 14 for WA4NZD):
http://www.arrl.org/files/file/Contest%20Line%20Scores/2014/2014_IARU_Printable_Line_Scores-19_Jan_2015.pdf

ARRL Contest Database with contest article:
http://www.arrl.org/contest-results-articles

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North American QSO Party – Phone

Gary WA2JQZ and Patti Kurth joined Rob KB5EZ for operating portable on Monte Sano for the North American QSO Party - Phone. (January 17, 2015)

Gary WA2JQZ and Patti Kurth joined Rob KB5EZ for operating portable on Monte Sano for the North American QSO Party – Phone. (January 17, 2015) (Photo: KB5EZ)

Patti Kurth and I (Gary WA2JQZ) joined Rob KB5EZ last Saturday afternoon to operate portable on Monte Sano for the North American QSO Party – Phone.

We operated from a scenic overlook on the east side of the park.  The weather was sunny and mild, making a perfect winter afternoon.  We made 60 contacts in the US, Canada and the Caribbean in about 3 hours.  For antennas we strung an end fed wire in a tree for 20 meters, and for 15 meters we used Rob’s 17 meter hamstick on the car with an external tuner.  Our transceiver was a Yaesu FT-897 running 100 watts off a dedicated car battery.   Our contacts ranged from Washington State to Newfoundland, Canada to the Dominican Republic and US Virgin Islands.  We had a beautiful day with beautiful scenery, and we had lots of fun operating.

Rob continued operating later in the evening from his home QTH.   He finished with 75 QSOs with 44 multipliers and 3300 points.

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[Posted by Gary WA2JQZ with Rob KB5EZ. Photos by KB5EZ.]

Orion Test Flight Special Event – Saturday December 6, 2014

The Marshall Space Flight Center Amateur Radio Club (MARC), WA4NZD, will operate a Special Event station to commemorate the successful EFT-1 test flight of the Orion spacecraft.

Operation will be on Saturday December 6, 2014 (Central Time) throughout the day, using the club call sign WA4NZD.

We will be self-spotting on the DX cluster — look for “WA4NZD SE Orion Flight Test“. We will operate on various bands and modes, depending on favorable propagation conditions. We expect to operate on 20 meter phone.  We probably will operate on other bands, on phone and digital modes, at the discretion of our operators.

QSL via Logbook of the World or eQSL. Paper QSLs will be available with a business sized SASE to WA4NZD MSFC Amateur Radio Club, c/o Donald Hediger, ES35, Huntsville, AL 35812.

Check https://wa4nzd.wordpress.com or WA4NZD on QRZ.COM for updated announcements.

The Orion completed a successful test flight on Friday December 5, 2014, with a splashdown at 10:29 Central Time.

The flight was designed to test the Orion spacecraft and its systems. The flight lasted four hours, and made two Earth orbits. The second orbit was highly eccentric, with an apogee of 3600 miles, which enabled a high speed re-entry comparable to returning from deep space missions. The flight is officially named Exploration Flight Test 1.  It is the opening test flight that will eventually lead to operational missions with the new Space Launch System (SLS) heavy lift launch vehicle.  Some components of the Orion test vehicle were designed and tested at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.

The next flight of Orion will be aboard the Space Launch System (SLS) being built by MSFC.

Special Event Station planned for the Test Flight of the Orion Spacecraft

We are planning to run a brief Special Event Station to commemorate the first test flight of the Orion spacecraft. As of this writing, the scheduled launch date is December 4, 2014. It is possible the flight could be delayed. We plan to operate our special event on the first full Saturday, central time, following a successful flight.  (That is, if a successful flight occurs on a Saturday morning or afternoon, central time, we will operate the following weekend on Saturday.) We will post future announcements and details about our special event on our QRZ page http://www.qrz.com/db/WA4NZD, and on our website here, once we are ready to proceed. We will operate with our club call sign, WA4NZD.

This flight is designed to test the Orion spacecraft and its systems, especially for high speed atmospheric re-entry from interplanetary space missions. The flight will last four hours, and make two Earth orbits. The flight is officially named Exploration Flight Test 1. It is the opening test flight that will eventually lead to test and operational missions with the new Space Launch System (SLS) heavy lift launch vehicle.  Some components of the Orion test vehicle were designed and tested at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.

More information:

QRP ops on Monte Sano – “Summits on the Air” JT65 Activation, April 2014

By Gary WA2JQZ, with Rob KB5EZ.

On a nice Saturday last April (2014), Rob KB5EZ, Kalen KK4KLT, and I WA2JQZ met at Monte Sano State Park to operate a portable, digital QRP ham radio station. We set up and operated a portable JT-65 station for the international “Summits on the Air (SOTA)” [http://www.sota.org.uk/]. This was the first time a JT-65 operation was tried on Monte Sano — such a first-time activity is called a summit “activation”.

For some this is serious physical sport. As for us, we parked near the ranger office, and hiked a few hundred yards to a clearing on the ridge, which fulfilled the SOTA rules. Monte Sano is on a relatively long and flat sandstone capped plateau ridge, about 2000 feet in elevation. We chose a location near the east edge of the plateau, that was clear and had once apparently been the site of a cabin.

Rob operated JT-65 with his TenTec Rebel and laptop, with some portable batteries. But first we had to erect his EndFedz end-fed 20 meter wire antenna. Using a homebrew slingshot, Rob shot a fishing line over tree branches to raise the antenna. After the end of the fishing line swung over a tree limb and returned to the ground, we attached the antenna’s support cable to the fishing line. Here Rob is reeling back the fishing line, to raise the antenna support cable.

Rob, reeling back the fishing line, to raise the antenna support cable.


Rob reeling back in the fishing line, to raise the support cable for his EndFedz 20 meter antenna.

Readying the antenna support cable.

Rob preparing the antenna support cable. Monte Sano.

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The 20 meter endfedz antenna with balun, deployed, supported by a tension line at this side with the coax feed. The antenna is strung over the tree branches and tied at the other end with another support cable. Monte Sano.

The multi-meter indicated the lowering voltage as the power was used.

Rob KB5EZ set up his laptop to run the digital mode JT-65. A small blue battery and his TenTec QRP Rebel transceiver are behind the monitor. The yellow volt meter was added to monitor the drain on the battery.

We needed shade in order to view the monitor screen.

We needed shade in order to view the monitor screen.

We needed shade in order to view the monitor screen. We therefore chose to set up at this old chimney. The chimney also served to support one end of the wire antenna.

Backup logging of QSOs.

Although Rob’s program logs the QSOs, Rob also used a notebook as a backup logbook. The TenTec Rebel QRP transceiver is visible behind the laptop.

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JT-65 in action…

The program window displays the information we need to have a QSO and monitor other QSOs happening at the same time. The dark colored portion at top left is a “waterfall” display that shows the signals we are receiving (frequency is the horizontal axis) within a 2 KHz-wide range, centered around our set frequency. For 20 meters JT-65, that set frequency is 14.076 MHz. Time is the vertical axis, and the display scrolls downward with time. Therefore each roughly vertical line is the display record of someone’s live JT-65 signal.

We can choose to respond to a signal calling CQ, or find a clear frequency and send out our own signal. Or sometimes, if the situation seems worth the attempt, we could try to call a station that is just finishing a QSO with someone else.

Transmissions are cycled exactly for one minute each, referenced to Greenwich Mean Time. For a QSO, one person sends while the other receives, then the roles switch. The data transmission lasts 47 seconds, and contains a maximum of only 13 characters. During those 47 seconds the message is sent twice, and error checked. The last remaining 13 seconds of the minute are just enough time to read the latest text messages and choose a reply. JT-65 was originally created for EME Moon bounce. Its ability to reliably send short messages as very weak signals makes it a popular amateur mode.

If you look closely, you can see that each JT-65 signal is composed of a base frequency with discreet jumps a few Hz higher, creating the characters.

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The lower left part of the window lists each message transmitted (with a time stamp). If the line is illuminated in green, that message is a CQ call. If the line is illuminated in red, your callsign is in that message!

How do you have a QSO? The lower-middle display lets us choose what message text to send. The standard message exchanges are preset and can be activated with mouse clicks. There is also a field for a 13 character free-text message, which must be typed in.

  • We could call CQ. We first much select a clear part of the spectrum by clicking in the waterfall at the base frequency we want to operate. The red bar at the top of the waterfall indicates the frequency range our transmission will use. In the lower-middle display we then select the “radio-button” to send a CQ message, we choose whether to send during the odd or even minute part of the cycle, and enable transmit. The CQ message will automatically include our callsign with our grid square, e.g.,: “CQ KB5EZ EM64”. We could alternatively call CQ with a text message of our own. Rob sometimes tried “CQ KB5EZ SOTA”.
  • Or we could try to respond to someone else’s CQ. That’s done by double-clicking the text line at left that we want to respond to. The program automatically selects the caller’s frequency, then sends a preset text with our callsign and our grid square, for example, “VE9OK KB5EZ EM64”.
  • The person sending the CQ can acknowledge the response by calling the station back with a signal report (by double-clicking the text line and selecting the “radio-button” for signal report). The message could look like “VE9OK KB5EZ -04”. Then the second person sends a signal report in response. The signal report value is the decibels below the noise floor, and is automatically determined by the program. Afterwards, “RRR” and “73”, or some closing message is sent. And that’s the QSO.
  • If several people respond to a CQ, the caller has the option of which one to respond to. If no one responds, one could continue to call CQ. The programs usually have a counter to call 5 CQs automatically, and then if there is no further action, to stop.

Our challenge is that we operate at very low power. Most other stations operate with more. A station that we hear very weakly will probably hear us even more weakly or might not hear us at all. If they do notice us, they might easily choose to respond to a stronger signal. We’re competing with stronger signals.

And so a rule of thumb, for better success operating at low power, is to call CQ to seek others to contact us, rather than compete with responding to other stations. In other words, if we call CQ, we have the chance to get several callers at once. If we respond to someone else’s CQ, the odds are strongly reversed against us.

However, if we still do respond to another CQ, then it is best to respond to the stronger signals. Chances are better those stations will hear us as a strong signal too, and therefore would more likely respond to us.

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Rob KB5EZ and Kalen KK4KLT.

During the afternoon we had 3 QSOs in reply to our CQs. We also succeeded in replying to 3 other stations that called CQ. We had a total of 6 QSOs.

JT-65 is a slow-paced mode in which to make contacts. With the challenges of operating QRP in the field, this is even more so. Nonetheless, as Rob pointed out at his presentation at the 2014 Huntsville Hamfest, you then have time for other things. You can really enjoy your outdoor environment. You can talk with your friends. And you can easily attract non-ham visitors who pass by. You have lots of time to show and tell with them, to have a relaxed chat and to share the enjoyment.

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Rob KB5EZ and Kalen KK4KLT

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Rob KB5EZ and Gary WA2JQZ

As you can see, we had an enjoyable outing!

Hexagonal Beam Antenna Presentation by Rob Conklin N4WGY

At our last meeting earlier this month, we were treated to an excellent talk about Hexagonal Beam antennas, or Hex Beams,  by Rob Conklin N4WGY. Rob is a local ham, a mechanical engineer, and a home brewer.  He introduced to us what the Hex Beams are, how they perform, and how they are constructed. And he shared his home brewing experience of building one for himself. He showed us how relatively easy they are to build.  It was such a good talk, and a good source of information, that I would like to highlight what he shared.

These are some attractive characteristics of the Hex Beam.

  1. They are relatively low-cost directional antennas compared to the regular multiband Yagis, and don’t require large towers.
  2. Compared to the regular Yagis, their profile provides lower wind loading, and they are relatively more stealthy.
  3. They are relatively light weight (~25 lbs) and small (~22 feet diameter).
  4. They perform well. Their gain and front/back ratio are comparable to the regular 2-element Yagis. They will work well if just above the roof. They are typically HF, and for HF many of the measurements don’t require tight tolerances. They have about a 3 dbi gain over dipoles.
  5. You can buy commercially made Hex Beams.
  6. But they also are very conductive to home brewing.  Good selections of commercial parts and kits are available.  You don’t need fancy tools nor a lot of skill.
  7. You can get up to 6 bands without traps and without a tuner.  They are relatively easy to adjust.

Hex Beam Design

When I first saw Hex Beam antennas, I was confused because I couldn’t immediately distinguish what their many elements were for. But actually their basic plan is simple.

If it is a monoband antenna, it is just a 2-element wire Yagi system, with a driver and reflector. The wires are supported by what looks like an upside-down umbrella structure.  The structure consists of 6 spreader arms mounted radially from a central base-plate, and a straight center post also mounted from the base-plate. The wires mostly follow the spreader arms’ hexagonal shape.  The driven element wires are supported by one half of the upside-down umbrella, the reflector is supported by the other half.  The spreader arms are structurally supported at their open ends by Dacron tension cords connected to the top of the central post.  Two Dacron cords also run between two spreader arms on the front driver side of the antenna, to maintain correct separation.  The central post contains a 50 ohm coax feed.  A mast mounted to the bottom of the base-plate can be rotated to direct the antenna.

Hex Beams are often multi-band antennas, with up to 6 bands. The multi-band antennas have individual 2-element wire Yagi systems for each band, stacked as you go higher up the umbrella. The 6-band Hex Beam that Rob built operates 6, 10, 12, 15, 17, and 20 meters. The shorter wavelength 6 meters antenna wires are the lowest, where the distance between spreader arms is least.  20 meters wires are the highest.

And so unlike the regular Yagis which use trap coils to operate on multiple bands, the Hex Beam design just utilizes separate wire sets for each band.

This is Rob’s antenna on the roof at his home.

Hex beam antenna on Rob's roof.

Hex beam antenna on Rob’s roof. The front driven element side is facing us.  Click to enlarge, click “back” on your browser to return.  [Courtesy N4WGY]

Classic and G3TXQ Hex Beam Versions

Rob discussed two designs of the Hex Beam. The original classic version was manufactured by Traffie Technologies, and then copied by many home brewers. Rob said many hams use it and swear by it. But it has two performance shortcomings.  First, it is narrow banded; that is, if you tuned the antenna length for the SSB portion of the band, its SWR might be too high at the CW end. Second, if front/back selectivity is peaked, the SWR is no longer optimized. And so that front/back selectivity had to be compromised.

The shortcomings were overcome in 2007 by Steve Hunt G3TXQ. After extensive modeling and experimenting, he developed a modified design that corrected both problems and gave the hex beam better performance: The G3TXQ design has good SWR across the full ham bands.  And the peak front/back ratio is at the optimal SWR.  With a slightly simpler wire system, it is also is a little easier to build. Rob built a K4KIO version of the G3GTX design.

In both the original and G3TXQ designs, the layout of the driven element wires is similar.  The driven element layout is shaped like an “M”, or more precisely like two “V”s.  One end of each “V” starts from the feed connection at the central post, extends to a spreader arm, then continues as a side of the hexagon to the next spreader arm.  Spacer ropes clamped at the spreader arms keep the wires in sufficient tension.

Schematic top view of G3TXQ Hexbeam antenna

Schematic top view of G3TXQ Hexbeam antenna. [Courtesy N4WGY]

The other end of the spacer ropes connect to the reflector wires. The spacer ropes keep a critical separation distance between the driver and reflector elements. The lengths of the wire elements and the spacer ropes are the critical measurements to make for the hex beam.

In the original design, the reflector wires had also followed an “M” shape configuration. In the G3TXQ design, however, the reflector wires follow the hexagonal shape provided by the spreader arms.

Performance

As Rob points out, the G3TXQ design provides good SWR performance across the full range of each ham band. He showed us a spectrum analysis of his antenna.

Full SWR scan of N4WGY's hexbeam antenna, from 1 to 36 MHz (160 to 10 meters ham bands). [Courtesy N4WGY]

Full SWR scan of N4WGY’s hex beam antenna, from 1 to 36 MHz (160 to 10 meters ham bands). The grey columns are the ham bands.  Note the SWR dips where this hex beam is designed for: 20, 17, 15, 12, and 10 meters. The antenna is also resonant for 6 meters (50 MHz), but the analyzer doesn’t reach that high a frequency.   [Courtesy N4WGY]

 The chart shows the SWR performance of his Hex Beam, as the frequency varies from 1 MHz at left to 36 MHz at right.  The shaded columns are the locations of the amateur radio bands.  For the bands not designed for, 160, 80, 40, and 30 meters at left, the SWR values are well above 3:1.  But at 20 meters the SWR dips to about 1.2:1 and is well below 2:1 across that band. The SWR for the other ham bands designed for also remain below 2:1 and in some cases also dip to as low as 1.2:1.   You can click the image to see the details for each band. You can see Rob made his lengths slightly long, but he can adjust that, to better position the dips within the ham bands.

Rob brought in to show us the antenna analyzer he used to scan his antenna and make the chart.  This analyzer connects through a USB cable to a computer, where the scans can be displayed, zoomed in for details, and saved.  The analyzer is made in India as a kit and costs under $60.  The analyzer is called a Fox Delta AAZ-0914Ahttp://www.foxdelta.com/products/aaz-0914a.htm.

Rob mentioned that he can reliably make contacts around the world, when propagation permits.  And he feels comfortable competing with hams with larger antenna systems.

Construction Tips

Rob Conklin N4WGY presenting at our meeting [Photo courtesy NM4T]

Rob Conklin N4WGY presenting at our meeting, here discussing construction details. [Photo courtesy NM4T]

Rob devoted much of his talk to construction details, and much of the Q&A from the group was about components and building. I will mostly defer to the online resources Rob suggested. But Rob did give some additional advice:

  • Don’t use PVC for the center post.  Especially in the South with UV from sunlight, the material will quickly degrade.  Spend the extra money to get UV resistant tubes.  He recommends buying online the mast sold by K4KIO.
  • For the wire sets, he says 14 AWG stranded/plated and uninsulated antenna wire would be best.
  • Telescoping fiberglass poles are recommended for the spreader arms.
  • Do not make the wire elements too tight.

Here are resource links.

Construction plans:

  • http://www.hex-beam.com/ – The K4KIO website with detailed, step-by-step construction plans, similar to what Rob showed us.

Supplies and commercial hex beam kits:

SWR scanner tool:

Addendum

For the close of the talk, Craig Behrens NM4T brought in to show us a light-weight, self-contained, portable G3TXQ hex beam antenna. It is designed and manufactured by a company in Germany called Folding Antennas.  The antenna weighs only 9 pounds, is collapsable to 45 inches, and comes in an easy-to-carry bag. Instead of folding out like an upside-down umbrella, the spreader arms fold out flat.  The flat configuration has much less bending load, and therefore the spreaders are made thinner and lighter.  The wires have special fittings to attach to the poles. The antenna can be assembled by one person in 10 minutes. [See http://www.vibroplex.com/contents/en-us/d3.html. ]

Craig also showed us a prototype TenTech Patriot QRP transceiver.  It operates SSB, CW, and digital modes on 20 and 40 meters at 10 Watts.  Its design was influenced from recommendations by his QRP Skunkwerks group.  During the following week Rob Suggs KB5EZ (one of the members of that group) gave it some field testing.

 

The club again thanks Rob Conklin N4WGY for giving us an excellent practical, educational presentation.  The club also thanks Craig Behrens NM4T.  And thanks to our members and guests for participating.

One of the eQSLs the club recently received shows a hex beam of KL2R, the Two Rivers Contest Club in Fairbanks, Alaska. You can see the wires in front of the aurora.

QSL card we received from KL2R in Fairbanks, Alaska, showing their hex beam at night (with aurora).

QSL card we received from KL2R in Fairbanks, Alaska, showing their hex beam at night (with aurora).

We earned a First Place award again!

The results for the 2014 ARRL International DX Phone Contest were just published. WA4NZD scored First Place within the Alabama Section, in the Multi-operator Single Transmitter Low Power category!

The contest was during the first weekend in March 2014.  We operated Friday night, Saturday and Sunday.

Our point score was 43,605, with 168 QSOs and 95 multipliers.  Within the global community we placed #2015 out of 4102 entries.

It is still too soon for us to receive a certificate.  We only learned the news by carefully checking the just published online article, ARRL International DX Contest – Phone 2014 Results .  You will see us on page 20, the Regional Leaders by Category Page, under the Southeast Region column.  The results are grouped by categories; we are with the MSLP (Multi-operator Single Transmitter Low Power) group.  The others shown in that group are other state leaders in the Southeast Region for that category: N4XI (VA), AJ4DT (FL), WA4NZD (AL), and WA1F (GA).  We weren’t in competition with the “heavy hitters” of these contests, who typically run scores above a million.  We are in a niche of our own.

Our operators who accomplished this were Matt KA0S, Rob KB5EZ, Kalen KK4KLT, Don N4MSN, and Gary WA2JQZ.  Rob, Kalen, Gary, and Matt operated Friday evening.  This was Kalen’s first contest.  Don operated on Saturday*.  And Gary came back on Sunday.

For us this was a chance to operate and practice our skills, and have some fun in ways that don’t come every day.  Many other hams around the world participate.  It is fun to meet them, and in doing so to recognize that the world is really a diverse place.  With many hams on the bands from so many places, you can notice propagation conditions and how those change over time.

We operated on 10, 15, and 20 meters, and just briefly (for 4 QSOs) on 40 meters.  10 meters was fortunately wide open for parts of the late afternoons.

We significantly increased our DXCC credits with this contest.  Some of the stations that gave us first-time Logbook of the World (LOTW) confirmations for their countries were JL1SAM (Japan), TF3W (Iceland), J75Y (Dominica), LX7I (Luxemburg), YS1/NP3J (El Salvador), HC2AO (Ecuador), and TO5A (Martinique) — to name some which quickly stand out in the record.

As we are not in competition with the “heavy hitters”, our contest operations are relatively relaxed.  Such activities make good learning experiences, no matter how much or how little experience you have.  Because hams of different experience levels and interests operate, they each will make different decisions, based on their needs and how they perceive their situations. Everyone influences what happens.  And so you get a richly diverse environment.

We’re in a unique niche to get such an award.  Nonetheless it reflects genuine and good things about us.  Congratulations to all of us!

– Gary, WA2JQZ

 

ARRL DX SSB Contest 2014

Rob KB5EZ and Kalen KK4KLT warming into the contest as it started Friday evening. This was Kalen’s first contest.

ARRL DX SSB Contest 2014

Rob KB5EZ at the mike with Gary WA2JQZ logging.

ARRL DX SSB Contest 2014

Matt KA0S at the mike, working the contest into late Friday evening. Don N4MSN continued working the contest on Saturday. And Gary WA2JQZ returned on Sunday afternoon.

* PS note — That Saturday, March 1st, was the Birmingham Hamfest. Rob KB5EZ and Gary WA2JQZ drove there with Craig Behrens NM4T and Jim Spikes N4KH, and they had an extra adventure of their own. Craig gave two forums based on his Caribbean DXpeditions. Besides participating in the hamfest, on the way back they stopped at an I-65 rest stop south of Culman, and operated QRP CW and JT65 until dark. The ARRL DX contest was only for phone, and so, operating CW and digital, they didn’t participate in the contest from the field. Malcolm K4MLP also attended the Birmingham Hamfest.

***

ARRL DX Phone 1st Place Award for Alabama Section, Multioperator, Single Transmitter, Low Power

ARRL DX Phone 1st Place Award for Alabama Section, Multioperator, Single Transmitter, Low Power, for 2014