Tag Archives: Amateur Radio

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

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.  ūüôā

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
imgp0080s.jpg
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.

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‚Äôs 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.

 

 

Three activations in Tasmania, November 2018

Having negotiated some SOTA time on our trip to Tasmania I thought I would be very happy to add one VK7 summit to my activation list, adding a new association in SOTA parlance to my list of associations activated.

The ideal summit in Hobart is the ever-present Mt Wellington which towers over the city and spends much of its time bathed in cloud or rain. At 1270m and only a few km from the city which is at sea level, it is a commanding presence to anyone noticing mountains as they scan the horizon, ie. any SOTA activator. In Hobart there are a number of SOTA qualified summits nearby.

On Wednesday 14th the weather forecast was for afternoon rain, but mid afternoon it seemed to be fine and I thought that could be my opportunity. So I ventured out with some cautious enthusiasm.

Arriving at the top of the mountain I could not see any details of the broadcasting towers and indeed had to look carefully to identify the trig point. There were very few people wandering around due to the threatening weather, which suited me very well.

I set up the gear and antenna using some large rocks as a protection from westerly wind and rain. The tarp I normally use to provide a clean surface to sit on was used instead to cover the radio to protect it from rain. I used an umbrella to keep most of the rain off my clothing, though I had donned the raincoat and pants. Radio conditions were not good, but I managed to make contacts on 40m and 20m using cw and ssb.

Rain on the legs and shoes
Here I am cowering under the umbrella while operating at Mt Wellington

The next day I had an opportunity to activate another summit in the Hobart area. I didn’t know how ambitious to be with only a few hours available. So I opted for a local summit Mt Rumney which is between Hobart city and the airport. There is comms gear on the summit, which was producing some spurious signals on 40 and 20m.

I found a track just off the roadside at the top, which ended with a gate, for service access to the comms compound. The roadside barrier provided a mounting point for my antenna pole.

Operating setup at Mt Rumney

On Friday 16th Nov I drove from Hobart to Devonport, but via the Ben Lomond National Park where there was a very attractive option, Legge’s Tor VK7/NE-001. This is a truly spectacular trip mainly for the passenger in the car, but the driver gets a few glimpses of the trip up the Jacob’s Ladder in the few moments he can afford to look elsewhere but the road. The pics below show some of the scenery en route to the summit in the car, and the walk on foot. On the way back down I stopped several times to grab photos of the scenery, I don’t think these shots do it justice.

On the radio, I made about 20 contacts on 40 and 20m, CW and SSB. After running out of available contacts I noticed a few spots of rain on the logging tablet, so decided to quit while I could walk down and be dry for most of the distance to the car, about 1.5km. As it happened, I had just opened the car and started making a cup of tea when the rain started to get heavy. Just lucky timing.

The small pole in the far distance made me think I had 500m to go, but in fact it was only about 200m and the pole was quite small. Heading up this way was the right way to reach the Activation Zone

At the summit area

The equipment setup at Legge’s Tor. Convenient rocks making a seat and table.
Operating position
View towards the summit cairn

Moss on the rocks on the summit path
Summit path clearly visible
One of many huts on the summit, apparently used as ski lodges
View down into the valley from the summit path

Looking back towards the summit village, on the way down
Some of the rocks on the way down
Looking down on part of the “ladder” and the valley below
Rocks!
Part of the Jacob’s Ladder on the way down

 

Looking out from the road into the valley

 

Part of the road down the Jacob’s Ladder
The road ahead shown on the GPS

 

Finally back on the ordinary road, still with snow markers

 

This activation capped the SOTA part of the trip to Tasmania in a spectacular way.

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.

Looking happy having completed the Mountain Goat summit

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

Testing a Mountain Topper Radio (MTR) model 3B

Having seen the Steve Weber designed compact transceivers on the web and having seen an MTR owned by VK1FB, I was delighted to find one for sale on vkclassifieds.net.au recently. ¬†After duly receiving it and waiting for my birthday to pass (due to my wife’s insistence on waiting for the actual day to receive gifts), I wanted to test it from home and learn the menu system, which like the radio itself, is very compact.

Using my home antenna, a fan dipole with elements for 80, 40, 20 and 10m, I connected the radio to power (a 3S Lifepo4), headphones and the antenna and turned it on.  It sent the number 4 in morse, saying it was on 40m.  I tuned it around the CW end of the band for a while and tried a few of the control functions.  Then I returned it to the default 7030 frequency by switching it off and on again (where have I heard that before?)

Then in the headphones I heard “cq sota de vk5cz” which was Ian at summit vk5/ne-095 in the north east of South Australia. ¬†I listened to his contact with VK3PF and then heard him ask QRZ? (“who is calling”, or “is there anyone else there?”) to which I responded with my callsign. ¬†He replied immediately with a good signal report. ¬†I gave him a report and then told him this was my first contact with the MTR3B. ¬†He acknowledged that and wished me good luck. ¬†I returned the greetings and signed off.

Yes the new radio works despite being smaller than my morse paddle. It’s the blue box in this pic. Produces about 3-5 watts on 7, 10 and 14 MHz amateur bands. The Mountain Topper Radio 3B.

Ian/Buhd vk5cz posted to facebook a comment that this contact was the highlight of the activation, which was great to read.  And later he also published a video clip in which the contact can be heard taking place.

A day later I had the MTR connected again, this time on 14060.  I tuned it up to 14062 and there was a familiar callsign, VK5CZ, in contact with someone.  Looking at SOTAWATCH.ORG I saw that Ian had recently called CQ from another SOTA summit.  I waited until the contact was finished, then heard him send QRZ? and again sent my callsign.  Back he came with a 559 with QSB (fading) report, which was pretty good.  I told him it was the MTR again, which he was pleased to hear about.

Now I need a contact on the remaining band provided by the MTR, 10 MHz, for which I need to make some alternative arrangements as my home antenna does not have a suitable impedance on that band.  The MTR is designed for a 50 ohm non-reactive load.  I will route it through an antenna matchbox which can be adjusted to present a 50 ohm impedance to the transmitter.

So far so good.  I am very impressed by the MTR and look forward to many lightweight activations with it.

Restoring memory settings in FT817

After getting my FT817 final stage replaced, and all power settings reset to meet spec, I started to use the radio again and quickly realised that all the memory settings (frequency and mode) had been wiped.

This made it necessary to change bands using the band switch (!) and manually change between SSB and CW mode, or occasionally FM, dialing up and down the band as necessary.  With the frequency settings in memories, I only needed to move between memory channels to go from SSB on 7090 to CW on 7032, for example.  And on higher bands, I had several beacon frequencies stored in some memories, allowing me to quickly move between the various 10m and 6m beacon frequencies to get a quick impression of band conditions.

So today I dug out the details of the FT817 memory manager software, retrieved the file of frequency settings stored on the computer, added a few new ones and saved the lot in the 817.   Then repeated the process for  my second FT817.  So they now have an identical set of frequencies in their memories.  Makes them somewhat interchangeable.

All the second radio is missing is a cw filter.  I have plans to sort that out soon.

The details of the memory manager and how to interface it with the radio from a windows box are all in a previous post to this blog.  I actually read the post to remind myself of how it worked!

The previous post on this topic is here.

The blog documents it all.

 

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.

This is how far I got setting up on Friday night. After this, the wind came up and the rain and sleet started.

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.

432 MHz preamp cabling
144 MHz antenna
1296 MHz antenna – end mounted

 

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.

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.

Mostly packed up and ready to be loaded into the car and trailer. 2m and 70cm mast still to be disassembled.

 

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.

haha