Category Archives: field and portable

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.

South Black Range SOTA and park activation on 13cm band – 15th June 2019

Having received an offer from Ted VK1BL to help me find and fix the problem in my 13cm transverter, I spent an evening with him on 13th June. Moving through the various functional blocks in the transverter we found

  • The receiver was working quite ok, it was very close to the right frequency and was fairly sensitive, hearing -120 dbm from the HP sig gen pretty well
  • The output from the PLO was good and at a level of +7 dbm as recommended for the mixer
  • The output from the sequencer board, which includes attenuators and a level setting control for the IF signal, 144 MHz in this case, was working well and we calibrated that at -10 dbm for input to the mixer, with 0.5w drive on 144 mhz from the ft817
  • The output from the mixer and filter was at the expected level, about -13 dbm
  • The output from the tx IF amplifier/driver was +10 dbm, which was adequate for the power amplifier
  • The power amplifier had the correct negative bias and positive voltage on the correct terminals
  • But the power output to the antenna socket was zero.
  • The power output from the amplifier (before the relay) was about +35 dbm (approx 2.5 watts)
  • The relay board was examined and was found that the DC to the relay coil was intermittent. Resoldering the pins of the relay, a surface mount type, fixed that intermittent and made it a reliable connection. The output to the antenna socket was then +35dbm or 2.5w.
  • Transverter considered fixed.

With that result I discussed the possibility of an activation on Saturday morning to prove it in the field. Andrew VK1AD offered to activate Mt Stromlo and I decided to visit South Black Range. Coincidentally it was the day when bonus points commenced for VK2 summits above 1200m, so I half expected to find some snow on the higher parts of this summit, as it had recently snowed down to about 900m.

No snow, quite cold at about 3 or 4C when I got there, but it warmed up to about 8C by midday.

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FT817 in foreground, transverters and tripod holding 1296 yagi at rear

After initial contacts on 144 then 1296 we switched over to 2403 MHz and found we were able to make easy contact, my signal received a 5×8 report from VK1AD and I received his signal at an indicated strength 5.

Note: the distance of this contact was about 47.5 km, not bad for 2.5 watt transmitters. The locators of the two summits are QF44MQ (Stromlo) and QF44SN. The visual horizon is 35km so this is beyond “line of sight”. But how far over line of sight is it?

According to my iphone app DistBear the distance between centres of the two grid subsquares is 47.5km. So 2.4 GHz worked fine, well over the visual horizon. To get a more accurate distance I used the website https://sotamaps.org, using the “range mapping” option, we get a more accurate measure of the distance, at 48.7 km. I am sure there will be longer contacts made on this band using the same equipment.

The antenna in use for 2.4 GHz at my end is shown in the photo below attached directly to the 2.4 ghz transverter, was the SG-LAB PCB antenna, a 2 element HB9CV type on loan from Andrew VK1AD. The 2403 MHZ equipment was placed on a rock and turned so that the antenna pointed roughly towards Mt Stromlo, albeit through many trees nearby.

Two UHF transverters
The SG Lab transverter for 1296 is shown here sitting on the box containing the home made transverter for 2.4 ghz. These two transverters are, ironically, equivalent in power output and receiver function though they operate on different bands.

After completing the contact on 2.4 GHz I moved to HF and ran a few contacts on 7023 khz using the Pixie half watt morse transceiver (on a 50 x 50 mm PCB), then moved to the KX3 radio and ran contacts on 40m and 80m SSB and CW. I left the summit just after 12 noon, after spending 2 hours there. The temperature had risen to 8C by then.

Pixie PCB transceiver, battery, key, ATU, balun

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.

 

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

Combining “QRP Hours” contest with WWFF activation at Mundoonen Nature Reserve

After a failed activation of this reserve a few weeks earlier I wanted to get some contacts for this reserve into the log.  The QRP Club’s QRP Hours contest on 22nd October 2017 seemed like a nice opportunity.

I set out from Yass about 45 minutes before the contest start as I had a good idea of where I would operate.  On site I found I had to be satisfied with a sloping site and I put up the usual linked dipole with all links connected, giving 40m operation.  I decided to use the MTR3B CW transceiver for the CW section of the event and use the FT817 for the SSB section.

The MTR3B transceiver’s principal characteristic is its compact size and low power usage in particular on receive mode where it is about 40 milliamps, about 1/10th of the FT817.

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However the inability to conveniently and rapidly browse across the band looking for other stations calling CQ is a limitation for contesting I had not really considered before.  Nevertheless I persisted with it to try and find a way to use it best.  I had not yet used the Direct Frequency Entry function and I really needed that, so I could jump back to a starting frequency.  Also I had not recorded anything in any of the text memories.  So during the contest I opened the LNR website and read the instructions for storing text into one of the memories.  The obvious thing to have recorded for quick playback is the CQ call.  So at least I achieved that during this event!

During the CW section I made 5 contacts but of those only one was within VK2 and that was with Mike VK2IG, who with partner Helen VK2FENG was portable in another WWFF nature reserve, not far away from me, but far enough to sound distant.  No AGC or even AF gain control on the MTR3 – I have a volume control in the ear buds lead. Other contacts were with VK3, 4 and 5.   There was no “normal” NVIS propagation.  Very pleased to have worked Warren VK3BYD/5 somewhere in the middle of South Australia, and Grant VK4JAZ who was operating from home in Brisbane.  QRP is a combination of frustration and achievements.

After a half hour or so, I got a reminder that I was operating in a nature reserve, in the form of a sudden downpour of rain that became hail for about 10 minutes.  Fortunately I had suspected rain was imminent and had erected the “sun shelter” shortly after the start of the event.  But the slope of the operating location meant icy rainwater was running downhill and under my seat, a small foam sleeve sold for protecting computer tablets and small laptops.  Before long the whole site was wet and cold and my clothing was drenched from the waist down.

The SSB section commenced at 0600 UTC (5pm local) and after working Helen VK2FENG nearby, Laurie VK5LJ and a few more, I ran out of potential contacts.

At that point, a lull in the rain seemed to have arrived so I decided packing up and leaving would be prudent.

Half an hour later I was enjoying a very welcome warm shower at home.

Fortunately my log is not important for the QRP Hours contest other than a check log, as I am the contest manager.  I’m glad I was able to add a contact to a few other logs and in the process I did activate the WWFF park, though with insufficient contacts to qualify for any activation points.  That’s ok, this park is near to my home and I will return, hopefully in dry weather.

VHF/UHF Field day/contest Jan 14/15 2017

The VHF/UHF field day in January is one of my favourite events.  I have had some great surprises on these weekends.  I had no idea what to expect this time, though the weather was forecast as damp on Saturday and dry on Sunday.

I arrived on site around 6pm Friday night.  Along the route from Yass via the Mountain Creek Road I had noticed a lot of debris on the road, including some tree branches that had been broken off by high winds.  I didn’t realise a storm had gone through Canberra while I was driving to Mt Ginini, breaking trees and strewing debris all over suburban streets and bringing trees down over some of the arterial roads, leaving damage that would be visible for weeks afterwards.

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Friday night before the rain

The weather at the time was windy and when I tried to set up the tent it was clear that it would not survive that wind.  In the hope that it would clear away in a few hours, I decided to sit it out and stayed in the car.  By 9pm it was dark and I had to decide whether to  re-pack my tent and go back to Canberra for the night or hang on.  I decided to hang on.  It rained quite heavily for a while and the wind kept howling so once it was really dark, I felt there was no other option.

In the early morning it seemed to be better.  The wind was still there but didn’t seem so bad.  The rain had cleared.  But I hadn’t slept much.

I set about the job of assembling the antennas, the tent, the interconnections and generator.  By 12 noon, the contest start time, I was just about ready to roll.

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The erected antennas looked very much like they have for the last 10 years so I didn’t take any new photos of them. The 2m, ;70cm and 23cm yagis on one mast and the 6m 3el yagi on another, both rotated from the base using KR400 rotators.  Feedlines: RG9B for 2m, CNT400 for 70cm and 23cm, RG213 or similar for 6m.

Here’s a pic of the antennas from a previous operation at Ginini.  A few configuration differences for the 70cm antenna but otherwise very similar this time.

IMGP1477 VHF/UHF antennas on Mt Ginini

Once I got on the air, I found beacons from VK3 were very low, the Sydney beacons were almost undetectable and few portables outside the VK1 area.  Only VK2IO was heard initially, but one or two others did emerge later in the weekend.  VK1DSH, VK1RX, VK1RW, VK1MT and VK1AI were all out in the field, most of them on 50/144/432 and Dale was on 1296 as well.  We had a small number of home stations operating the bands too.

After working Gerard VK2IO (Mt Bindo near Oberon) I then worked Phil VK5AKK on both 144 and 432.  We tried 1296 too, but although I could hear a signal from his 100w, my 10w was too far down to make it a two way contact.  A digital mode would have worked.  hmm.  More power on my end would have helped too.  Double hmm.

The day progressed without any more surprising dx, and I found it hard to convince myself to stay awake after 9pm, having got very little sleep in the driver’s seat of the car on Friday night.

At 5:30 in the morning, there were good signals from the vk3 beacons, Sydney was a bit better too.  And I had a very good signal from the Mt Gambier beacon on 144.550 plus a weak signal from Mt Lofty on 144.450.  I hoped this indicated something of the contacts to be made in the following hours.

It did, partly.  VK5DK at Mt Gambier was worked, as was VK5PJ.  But conditions were not good enough to give us contacts on higher frequencies.

My surprise contact on Sunday morning was being called by Mike VK3BDL/7 at Flinders Island.  After working me on 144 and 432, Mike went on to work Chris VK2DO at Batemans Bay on 144, a contact which they were both very happy with.

Eventually the contest ended and I followed it up with a short period of activating Mt Ginini as a SOTA station, using the IC703 running from a LiFePO4 battery.  I had at 6am set up the 20m vertical in the hope of making an S2S with a US station who was looking for VK contacts.  I may have been a bit unlucky with conditions, or jut not spending enough time listening for the US signals.  No luck with S2S but did have a good contact with home station NS7P on CW.

The packing process took about 4 hours and I left the summit at 5pm.  A 2 hour trip back to Yass and a welcome shower and a cold drink when I got there.

The 6m beam seen in the foreground (in the shade, sorry) travels in a partially assembled state. The gamma match stays in place, but the extensions just come out of each element and it then is not much wider than the 2m beam and is narrow enough to be carried quite safely on the roof rack of the car.

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Packed up and ready to be loaded into the car and trailer.

Contacts made:  183 total.

Band totals:

  • 50 Mhz:  39
  • 144:   70
  • 432:  51
  • 1296: 22

Total points claimed under distance calculation rules: 55916

Points lost due to a wrong grid locator:  about 10.

Points lost due to not enough other portables:  500,000.

QRP challenge for 2017

My SOTA friend and collaborator Andrew Moseley VK1AD has proposed a QRP challenge for 2017.  He is going to aim to use 2.5w when activating summits during 2017.  

I have started to do the same and my activation at Mt Ginini on 27th December was made at 2.5w for SSB and 0.5w on CW.  I made about 20 contacts and although some chasers found lower signals a problem, I not only qualified the summit on several bands, I also qualified with CW at 0.5w.  One contact was with Steve VK7CW who also used an FT817 at 0.5w, the lowest power setting of the radio. 

The radio used was an FT817, powered by an internal LIPO 3S battery (windcamp).  I had a spare battery but it was not needed.  The 817 will not be as efficient in terms of output power/DC power consumed, as the bias current on the final amplifier stage will remain the same as it would be at 5w.  

A fringe benefit from using lower transmitted power is that battery life will be improved.  I had previously used the 817 with the internal battery at Mt Mundoonen on 26th December for a short activation.  I did not recharge the battery after that activation as it was only used for 5 contacts plus some listening.  After the Mt Ginini operation, the battery voltage according to the meter on the 817 was above 11v.  It can go down to 10v without any problem for the 817. 

Although we were on the downward slope of sunspot activity, making HF communications less certain, there are still sunspots and occasional sporadic E openings on HF bands.   

It will be interesting to see how the QRP challenge goes during 2017.  Progress reports will be made by both Andrew VK1AD and me.