Category Archives: Amateur Radio

Booroomba Rocks VK1/AC-026 on 16/11/2019

I was invited to accompany Andrew Moseley VK1AD on this activation.  It had been some time since we activated together so it was an extra pleasure doing this one.

The previous time I activated this summit was actually also a joint activation with Andrew.

The main thing we both noticed both enroute to the parking area and on the walk up to the summit was how dry the bushland was, areas which were previously green and even slightly damp were bone dry this time.  The long drought had certainly made its mark even in southern VK1.  We both thought that the hot summer that has been forecast will probably discourage activations in the bushland to the west and south of Canberra, due to the risk of bushfires.  Walking an hour into dry bushland does not make much sense and in fact risks not only the walker’s health/safety/life, but also risks the life of rescuers.  Summer may be a quiet period in terms of local activations in the forests near Canberra.

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The walk up to Booroomba Rocks features large rocks like these

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The climb up to the highest of the three peaks comprising the Booroomba Rocks cluster requires descending into the bush between the two southern peaks, then climbing back up through bush and then onto the rocks, after which it is an easy walk up to the tree that my telescopic pole was lashed to, to support my wire antenna.  I operated on 40/20/17m and also called cq on 10m just in case something was happening there.  I made contacts with other mountain activators in New Zealand and in Japan, as well as several contacts with home stations within NSW, Victoria and South Australia. My total contact count was about 12.

Andrew VK1AD operated on 144, 1296 and 2403, using an FT817 driving transverters on the higher bands, each with a PCB antenna seen in these pictures.  He made at least 4 contacts on each of those bands.  A number of Canberra operators called him as well as several on other summits, including Ted VK1BL on Mt Ainslie and Bill VK1MCW on Mt Stromlo.  Wade VK1MIC called in from his home station as did Peter VK1JH and Matt VK1MT.  Dermy VK1DB also called on 144 to give his brand new callsign a workout.  He recently passed the advanced licence course.

I was pleased to find this climb was much easier than last time I came up here.  On that day we first activated Pheasant Hill and then came up to this one.  My feet were very sore after that day, possibly due to my walking boots being too tight.  On this occasion I wore the Merrell mid boots I had worn on my walk in Spain, which are still in good condition and still comfortable.  I did have a few aches the next morning, but that’s ok.

A good day spent playing radio and I got home in time to prepare for a social function in Canberra later that day.

Mt Gillamatong, 2nd Nov 2019

To get back into some sota activations I drove out to Braidwood and walked up Mt Gillamatong. I set up the gear and antenna near the trig point but was disappointed to find high noise levels and an almost unusable 20m band. And I had left my logging tablet at home as well as the 2m fm antenna – but that would have been unusable anyway as the FM HT did not work, see below.

I had a contact with ZL1BYZ on 20m band cw, no other callers there. Went to 40m and worked an S2S with Peter VK3PF/p (very low at that stage) and Steve VK7CW at better strength, called for a while on ssb on 7090, no replies. Noticed a JA had been spotted on Sotawatch calling cq on 18 mhz so went up there, scraped in a contact. Then worked another Japanese operator at a home location. Geoff ZL3GA then, still on CW on 18 mhz and by now it was after 0000 UTC so a second contact with ZL1BYZ was made.

All up, only 7 contacts, all on CW, despite some time spent calling CQ on SSB.

A message from Canberra chasers asked about 2m FM possibilities. I had the HT but its battery was flat and I had no spare. Sorry about that, guys.

After getting back to the car I visited the Braidwood Bakery and ordered a pepper steak pie and a coffee.

The KX3 in the sun, unfortunately
Not my dish
Base of the pole with guys

There’s an eagle up there to the right of the pole
On the way down the hill, looking east towards Braidwood

SOTA activations in Spain (3)

The next day after arriving in Pamplona and the activation with Guru EA2IF arrangements were made for another activation which would be NV-119 San Cristobal. This activation was made with Ignacio EA2BD. He had already activated this summit during this year.

The antenna, one I had borrowed from Andrew VK1AD, was a LNR EFHW and was setup as an end fed half wave for 20m.

With the antenna fed directly from the KX3 it was showing a SWR or 2.5 so I put the Elecraft T1 into the circuit, producing a 1.0 swr for the kx3.

This setup enabled me to make a number of contacts on both cw and SSB, on 20m. As it was the middle of the day we did not expect any dx and there was no signal from the USA or further afield.

Ignacio and I pose for the selfie

Yes I’m having fun…

I record here my sincere appreciation of the effort made by Ignacio to help me with this activation, also he drove twice to Roncesvalles, the second time was to retrieve the logging tablet which I accidentally left at the Bar there.

After the activation I was invited to join Ignacio and his wife and daughter for lunch at their apartment. This was a very pleasant occasion for me and I felt very honoured to be a guest in their home.

Thanks again, Ignacio EA2BD.

Qualifying a summit – making 4 interstate contacts – using the 500 milliwatt Pixie morse transceiver hi hi

I built up the Pixie kit, having bought it a year ago or more, just to see how it worked and intended to try it out on a SOTA activation.

Being invited to accompany Andrew VK1AD to Mt Marulan for a return visit, having done the same in December 2018, I decided to take the Pixie along to see if it could make even one contact with 40m conditions as dicey as they are at present.

I set up the station to use the Pixie, with the ZS6BKW doublet fed through an Elecraft T1 tuner and the choke balun recently built. (Did I write about that? Maybe not.)

I listened for a minute or two on the Pixie’s 7023 khz and could hear VK2ARZ calling CQ with a very high offset frequency, my guess was that he was on 7025 so would not hear me operating on 7023. The Pixie’s receiver is a direct conversion receiver without any inherent selectivity so if my ears had 10 khz frequency response I would have heard stations out to that offset in both directions, ie. higher and lower in actual frequency, eg. A signal on 7013 would produce a 10 khz frequency difference so the 10 khz would be coming through the receiver, as would a 7033 khz signal also produce a 10 khz audio frequency. My 69 year old ears don’t have that bandwidth any more, they have an inbuilt low pass filter.  🙂

So I spotted myself on Sotawatch using the vk port-a-log software on the android tablet, called CQ using the little blue hand key, listened, then called again. A big signal loomed in the earbuds and it sounded like a bug being used. Was it Steve VK7CW, yes, it certainly was, after the call letters marched across my ears and I logged the contact using the tablet. What strength was he? I didn’t know, sounded pretty good so I gave him 579. Received 559 in reply, not bad for half a watt. Steve said he was running an FT817 at 5 watts out. Monster power.

Three more contacts, regulars John VK4TJ in Toowoomba, Peter VK3PF in Churchill Victoria, and finally Paul VK3HN from Melbourne made it into the Pixie log and I’d qualified the summit in 11 minutes using a Pixie half watt, two transistor + one IC transceiver, that had cost me $9 for the kit.

In between the contacts I could hear some weak signals and I wondered how strong they were, perhaps they were others who I wasn’t hearing well enough to copy. So after completing the 4th contact and calling another CQ just to be sure I had worked all who were there, I transferred the antenna to the KX3 and had a better listen to the weak signals. They were weak on that radio too, and I think they were dx stations, probably US operators in a contest of some kind.

Pixie 500 mw transceiver as built above, and as used, below
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L-R: Elecraft T1 tuner top left, Pixie PCB, 3S LIPO battery, cwmorse.us hand key. The Pixie board is about 2″ x 2″ or 50mm sq. 

The rest of the activation was fairly straightforward using the KX3 and the same doublet antenna, some contacts on 80m, most on 40m, the Shires contest was running so I had to look up my shire, I quoted GM2 (Goulburn Mulwaree) so I hoped that was correct.

Edit: updated image links following migration of blog to WordPress.

 

WIA AGM weekend in Sydney 25-27 May

The Wireless Institute of Australia’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) was scheduled for the weekend of 25-27 May and I offered to give a short presentation about SOTA as one of the technical presentations on the Saturday afternoon.  ARNSW which operates from its site at Dural in north-west Sydney was also scheduling a morning of exhibitions in association with the WIA AGM events and coinciding with its monthly trash n treasure event.  So we were invited to exhibit there and explain SOTA to interested people.

The initial contact for the exhibition was Compton VK2HRX and we collaborated on the nature of the exhibit to be set up.

On my way to Sydney I called in at Mt Gibraltar, sota reference VK/IL-001 to make at least 4 contacts and qualify for the 4 points available from that summit.  I found that a short time earlier, Peter VK3PF had been at that site.  During my operation I heard Peter at good strength, activating another summit nearby, Mt Alexandra VK2/IL-005.  We made our S2S contact of course and while I would have liked to follow Peter to that summit, I wasn’t sure I had enough time (actually I would have).

I reached Parramatta in western Sydney at about 3pm and checked into my hotel, reorganised my back pack, changed my clothes and then took the train into Sydney, stopping at Town Hall station, very convenient as the evening event was located at the Town Hall in the Marconi room.   After some announcements and speeches by various officials of the Waverley Amateur Radio Club, which was celebrating its own 100th anniversary, a fascinating presentation was given about the achievements of Australia’s signals intelligence network during the 1940s.  The presenter was David Dufty, the author of The Secret Code-Breakers of Central Bureau: how Australia’s signals-intelligence network helped win the Pacific War.  His enthusiasm and knowledge of the subject and how he came to learn of the details was very interesting as it followed my visit to Bletchley Park in the UK three years ago.  So many details had been kept secret until relatively recently, it seems.

On the Saturday morning the formal AGM was run and as has been the norm recently, this went fairly quickly and was over within an hour.  In the open forum session following the formal phases, a lot of questions were asked about the outcome of the recent ACMA review of the examination and callsign allocation contract.  It seems there are still a lot of fine details yet to be clarified.

During the afternoon session of technical presentations I presented on the subject of SOTA, explaining how the award works, how summits are verified and approved and gave some statistics on the number of activators and chasers, contacts made, etc.

I ended my presentation with a short personal history of involvement in SOTA and how it relates to my health, which I am sure is much better than it would otherwise be.  I suggested that activities that involve you getting out of the shack and out into nature are not only fun from a radio perspective but are approved by our partners, so what more could you want?

At the dinner on Saturday evening the group heard a great presentation on the Apollo program and what we have gained from it, from Prof Fred Watson, Astronomer at Large for the Australian Government.  I found his presentation highly entertaining and informative, he is a very good speaker and if you ever get a chance to hear him speak I recommend it (he has a weekly spot on ABC local radio’s evening program).

On the Sunday morning we went to Dural and set up our exhibit promoting SOTA.  A number of clubs from the Sydney area also exhibited, also ALARA, the WICEN group and CREST had stands.

Here are a few photos from our stand and others:

We handed out about 30 copies of our SOTA brochure and had some good chats with various people who wanted to know more.

Overall we thought the exercise was well worth while.

After I left Dural I headed up to Mt Tomah VK2/CT-043 in the Blue Mountains.  I operated until just about sunset near 5pm local time, after which I closed down and packed up the gear in the rapidly cooling evening air.

The next morning I drove up to Mt Bindo a little earlier than planned as there was a forecast of low temperatures and a high probability of rain.

I did qualify the summit, with 5 CW contacts and 4 SSB contacts, during which my pole collapsed three times.  After the third collapse in a very strong gust of wind, I decided to pack and go, as the clouds to the west were looking dark and I wasn’t really sure of my way down the mountain.

Only a short time later, I was 20km away enjoying a hot coffee at Oberon. It started to snow and I was really glad I didn’t get caught in that on the hilltop with radio gear at risk.

On the way from Oberon southwards to Goulburn, there was quite a lot of snow on the roadside and in the countryside.  So glad I wasn’t still on a mountain in that.  A big change from the weather I had enjoyed three days earlier on the way up to Sydney.

 

SOTA activation at South Black Range VK2/ST-006 to complete the MG award

Leaving Canberra at 7am and heading out via Hoskinstown to the South Black Range summit, I was ready by 8:30 am to make contact with a group of SOTA enthusiasts back in Canberra.  The plan was to first use 146.5 fm to make local contacts with whoever was there.  Then go to 1296 MHz ssb to make a few contacts there, and then go to the HF bands.

Right on time, Andrew Vk1AD spotted himself on sotawatch.org showing he was set up and ready for the morning’s contacts with a group of SOTA trainees at Mt Stromlo.

Also Matt VK1MA, Al VK1RX and Ian VK1DI were on other summits.  These four operators were on air on the first day of SOTA in VK1, 1st Feb 2013 and we were all on air when each of us have qualified for the 1000 point Mountain Goat award.

We made our contacts and after the 4th contact, several goat bleats were heard on my radio.

Rock, cairn and Trig at South Black Range
The unique shape of the VK2/ST-006 hilltop. The cairn and trig are on top of a huge rock.

I then moved to 1296 and made contacts with Andrew VK1AD and Bill VK1MCW.  The contact with Bill was made on CW as a first for 1296 SOTA in vk1.

After that it was 80m and 40m.  Conditions were favouring longer distances on 40m and it was necessary to use 80m to make contacts into Sydney or into the Melbourne area or any points closer in.

After spending several hours on the summit and getting colder all the time, it being only just above freezing point, I was suddenly surprised by hearing a voice.  There was Matt VK1MA walking towards me grinning and offering me a Mountain Goat ale.  We are lucky in Australia to have a boutique brewery that has produced this very aptly named ale.

After completing the activation and packing away, Matt helped me carry all the equipment back to the car down the hill a bit, then I headed off to Mt Cowangerong to make it a double activation for the day.

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Looking happy having completed the Mountain Goat summit

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The operating position at South Black Range.  The tripod for 1296 antenna at the rear.

Guyed mast at Cowangerong
Setup at Mt Cowangerong. 2m halfwave on the left attached to a tree, the guyed pole on the right supporting the HF wire antenna.
The doublet wire used for HF contacts at Cowangerong can just be seen here, at the top of the telescopic mast

Two SOTA summits activated for VHF/UHF winter field day

I thought it would be interesting to be within reach of the Sydney and Blue Mountains areas  for this contest.  The Illawarra and Central Tablelands regions are the obvious choices.  I decided to go to Mt Wanganderry, Mt Alexandra and Mt Gibraltar and I optimistically planned to spend about an hour on each, which with travel time would probably consume 6 hours, assuming I was on site for the first summit at the start of the contest at 11 am local time, 0100 UTC.

The bands I could use in my FT817 were 50, 144 and 432 MHz.  Adding an SGLAB transverter I could extend that to 1296 MHz.  Antennas were

  • for 50 MHz, a half wave centre fed vertical in the configuration of a coaxial dipole, with a choke at the half wave point and another a quarter wave lower than the first choke.
  • for 144 and 432 MHz I used a horizontal wire dipole attached to two fibreglass spreaders, mounted onto the fibreglass mast using a hub
  • for 1296 MHz the antenna was a 4 element yagi, with the transverter mounted as close as possible to minimise losses in the RG58 coaxial cable.
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    the 6m vertical above the 2m/70cm dipole mounted on the pole
    More detail of the 2m dipole with a CATV BNC/wire terminal adaptor at the feedpoint
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    More detail of the 2m dipole with a CATV BNC/wire terminal adaptor at the feedpoint

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    1296 transverter and antenna mounted on the camera tripod

I logged my contacts using the VK Port-a-log software on a Lenovo 7 inch tablet computer.  I had the option of trying the latest contest version of this package but the designer Peter VK3ZPF was concerned that the 2 hour repeat contact rule for this contest would not be accepted by the nearest contest option in the contest version.  So I decided to use the standard parks and peaks version of the package.  This worked but required a bit of scrolling up and down to find the gridsquare field when logging the details of each contact made.

The 6m/2m/70cm equipment, an FT817
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The 6m/2m/70cm equipment, an FT817

After reaching the site later than ideal, around 12:30 local time, I set up the antennas and equipment.  To comply with SOTA rules my gear was powered by batteries and the entire station was portable and independent of the car.

The second FT817 was used for 1296 mhz contacts via the transverter
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The FT817 used for 1296 mhz contacts via a SGLAB transverter

I made some initial contacts on the lower bands followed by some attempted contacts with Tim VK2XAX on 1296 MHz SSB.  I could hear Tim but my 2.5w apparently wasn’t enough for him to hear me.  Then there was a good contact with Mike VK2FLR close to the Sydney CBD, 96km away.

I was about to close the site and move to the next one when I noticed one of my tyres was flat and I needed to change it before I could move.  After changing the tyre I was able to make repeat contacts with several of the stations I had worked earlier, so I had been there at least 2 hours by that time.  (Not keeping to plan too well.)

But finally by 3:15pm I set off for the next summit, Mt Alexandra, about 20km away.  It is located directly to the north of the residential streets of Mittagong with a parking area at the end of a bush track leading up past the houses.  After packing the bag and hefting the antenna poles, tripod and 2nd FT817, I walked over to the start of the climb up the hill only to find a sign advising that the track was under repair and would not reopen until late July.  So I returned to the car, unpacked it all and set off for Mt Gibraltar on the south side of Mittagong, which was now my second and final summit for the day, arriving at about 4pm local time.

Setting up to the east of the first cyclone fenced compound, I was able to replicate my earlier setup fairly quickly and get onto the lower three bands. Connecting up the 1296 transverter and antenna, I found a very strong signal again from the VK2RSY beacon on 1296.420, then made a good contact with Mike VK2FLR albeit at lower signal levels than from the first location.  I don’t know whether I had changed something significant, or there was a connector problem, but signals were not as good as they had been.  There were trees obstructing the view towards Sydney so perhaps they were attenuating signals on 1296.  The distance was slightly shorter than the earlier contact, about 91km.

After uploading my log to the home computer, I found I had made 27 contacts but it is possible one of my contacts was made too early for a valid repeat.

On balance I think this operation confirmed that even a low power radio (5W) can be used effectively from a good location in these events.  I hope others who own similar radios and can make similar (very) simple antennas will be encouraged by these results and participate in future.  I think hearing strong signals on the VHF and higher bands is still fascinating to me and far more interesting than a totally predictable and reliable contact via a repeater.