ON5ZO – OQ5M

SFI > 250 or bust!

As much as I love to build simple antennas (and use ‘m of course!), I’m not too keen on antenna modelling. I have the classic ARRL books. When I started out people told me these were ‘must haves’. Well, I have ’m. ON4UN’s Low Band book is on the shelf too, a reference I consider way too theoretical for my purposes. A targeted Internet query results in tons of useful and megatons of less useful information. That is how I have made most of my antennas. I’ve got the basic antennas in my head right now.

I have bought a license for EZNEC somewhere around 2003-2004 according to my mail archives. I even went to a EZNEC workshop lead by ON7PC. With a crappy third hand salvaged laptop I remember. Laptops were still very expensive back then. BTW: ON4CCP / OT1A was there too.

I never made much use of this and I haven’t installed the old version nor an upgrade. Recently I have been trying again, mostly under impulse of M0MCX who regularly posts MMANA movies. Come to think of it: was ON7PC’s workshop for EZNEC or MMANA? I think I have the notes lying around somewhere… The good thing is that MMANA is free.

I have been trying a few things and learned a lot along the way. I’m not an antenna n00b, I just don’t model. But now I put my teeth in a very specific problem. Something I dabbled with in the past: a second antenna to widen the footprint in single band contesting. Already seven years ago – wow – that I tried that (it was with a Moxon for 15m). It wasn’t a big success and I remember it was too much hassle for what it gained me (pun intended). I must admit the antenna back then might not have been optimally constructed.

Anyway I thought it was time to give this another shot for a second 14 MHz antenna. There were a few options available. These options were limited: I have restricted space and the antenna needs to be small and light. No real yagis then. Which would be the best option of course but I don’t have a second tower.

I spent much time researching. I know from experience with my 40m flat top dipole that horizontal polarization is the way to go, IF YOU CAN REACH THE MINIMUM HEIGHT. I’m not looking for NVIS.

Achieving the proper height for a horizontally polarized antenna is the key to success.

I could use my field day winched tubular mast and reach 10-12m easily. But this one was constructed for wire dipoles and isn’t made for heavy antennas so a light two element yagi is the biggest I dare to go.

I considered a two or three element yagi with inverted V wire elements. But I don’t have the space to get the supporting ropes for the dipole legs far enough to keep the apex angle big enough.

Of course there is the famous Moxon. But I’m not too keen on buying yet another bunch of aluminum tubes for something that either won’t ever get finished or get used one time only to decide it isn’t the way to go.

You can also put a Moxon rectangle in the vertical position and make it all wire. That eliminates the need for a tall support (min. 10m above ground) and the tubing purchase problem. I could use two of my recently acquired Spider-poles to support both long legs. Rather that than starting to mess with cross-braces and the likes. There’s also the popular vertical dipole array but that seems to be a thing to put near salt water which is 120 km away from here. So even if I knew horizontal would be better, practical limitations drove me to the vertical. I modelled a few things, even a three element GP yagi each with a set of elevated radials sloping down. But the modelled output said it would not be worth it when it comes to gain and pattern. Especially since the triband yagi works great in all directions. I work lots of stuff on the back and the side of the beam too.

In the end I came up with a three element vertical yagi with three 12m fiber glass masts. The driven element being a vertical dipole, and a passive reflector and director. With some fiddling I even modelled the impedance to be capacitive (R – jX) so a coil across the feedpoint should make a 50 ohm resistive match possible. Yay! The plots looked great. But I was disappointed in the low gain. F/B is fine but I’m out for gain.

Plot:

3L_vertical_yagi_1

Wires in MMANA:

  1. driven element
  2. reflector
  3. director

3L_vertical_yagi_2

Time to get the hands dirty. Measuring and cutting wires, taping the copper wire to the fiber glass pole, winding a matching coil etc. Time to put the fiber glass poles up straight. Alone – as usual. It was not a very windy day but gusty enough to make the poles go banana-shaped. The real problem that day in July 2018 was the drought. We haven’t had much rain (if any) the last couple of months but it has been smoldering hot. The soil was bone dry and very hard. The screw in anchors didn’t screw in smoothly. Instead of driving the screw peg into the ground the soil came up as dust and the spiral didn’t have much grip. In fact I more or less just drilled a Ø 25mm hole. What a contrast with last winter when the lawn was wet. Read more about that here. A mild gust tore the 30 cm long anchor out of the ground. The fiber glass pole fell over. Luckily it fell into a beefy Robinia tree which broke its fall. No damage but it did break my spirit. I cancelled the work and went back to the drawing board a/k/a the modelling software.

Next thing to check: how does this three element vertical yagi, with less than 6 dB gain, compare to the yagi at 21m high? First: when in the same direction, it isn’t really an addition. It’s useless as the vertical wire yagi doesn’t even fill the gap between the two lobes of the yagi.

3L_vertical_yagi_3

Now what if we point it the other way. The following plot shows a situation where the big and high yagi is facing East and the vertical wire yagi is facing West. Hardly a success, no? 

3L_vertical_yagi_4

This plot makes it clear that this isn’t really a useful addition to a great yagi. And I judged it too big and complicated given my garden (no place for guying).

I moved the three fiber poles away on the lawn and went looking through my stock of aluminum tubing and huge collection of antenna parts. I was almost convinced I had the parts for a HORIZONTAL Moxon. I’d have to use the big winched field day mast then. I was trying to avoid that in my already jam-packed garden but in the end it’s easier than three fiber poles that I can’t guy and much more stable with the huge homemade ground stakes. Lesson learned.

Let’s model. MMANA came with an example model of a two element yagi. That’s more or less comparable to a Moxon and will do for this theoretical comparison.

3L_vertical_yagi_5

This could actually be something: 3L yagi at 21m, 2L yagi at 10m. The dip between the lobes is filled. Now what if I turn the antennas away from each other?

3L_vertical_yagi_6

This is cool, no? If this model works in real life, I could have fun in SOAB especially right now: summer 2018, when 20m opens up to all over the world after my sunset.

But wait. Before doing all the work that might end up to be in vain… What about the simple flat top dipole λ/2 high? How does that compare?

First off: comparison of dipole and two element yagi, both at 10m high:

3L_vertical_yagi_7

Truth be told: the difference in gain is not worth the hassle for me right now. Dipole modelled 6.76 dB and the yagi at 9.76 dB. So if we make the construction lighter by going from two element yagi to flat top dipole, we could raise the dipole two meter. What does that do?

3L_vertical_yagi_8

I think these are similar results; the difference probably can’t be detected in a ‘real life on the air’ situation.

So what if we combine the dipole (at 10m for convenience) with the big three element yagi?

3L_vertical_yagi_11

I think this is worth a shot.

About the 3 el vertical wire yagi: a nice theoretical modelling exercise. No more no less. Proof:

3L_vertical_yagi_9

The above image shows the three element vertical wire yagi in red. Look for the tiny lobe. The blue plot is my three element yagi at 21m high. The green plot is a flat top dipole at 12m high, the brown plot is that same dipole at 10m high.

I should have done these modelled comparisons right away. Just for fun. Let’s move the three element vertical wire yagi to the beach:

3L_vertical_yagi_10

The red plot is this antenna in my garden. The black plot is this antenna on the beach, assuming salt water as perfect ground. Impressive. This antenna could kick butt. But I’m pretty sure the sand won’t keep the screw-in tent pegs tightly in place either.

In the end I settled for a flat top wire dipole with the feed point somewhere just above ten meters high. I used this in the 2018 IARU HF contest on the 14 MHz band. This dipole works great at this height. Not comparable to a yagi of course. It’s impossible to know the outcome of the contest if I wouldn’t have used this supplementary dipole. But I feel that it helped to cover some of the dark zones in the tribander’s pattern.

IARU HF Championship 2018: OPØHQ 20 CW

Twelve years after launching this fresh OPØHQ callsign for UBA HQ, I thought it was time to give it another go myself. Propagation does not favor SOAB, which is my preferred operating style, and there is no SBxx in this contest. So I offered my services to the UBA for this event. My band of choice was 40 CW with 20 being my second choice but all in all I was glad with the assigned 20 CW.

I wanted to put down a good result so I started thinking of a second antenna to fill the voids in the yagi pattern. I did A LOT of thinking and although less than the thinking, I performed quite some building too the week before the contest. In the end I had to scale down because my antennas wouldn’t stay up. See: Drought renders screw in anchors useless. And also because modelling made me conclude that it wouldn’t be worth the effort. There is a more detailed post to come about this.

In the running were a fixed three element vertical yagi and a Moxon Rectangle, either horizontal or vertical. In the end I settled for a fixed flat top wire dipole. A case of downscaling… It was oriented NW-SE so the pattern more or less favored the busy part of EU and the not-so-far-East. The feedpoint was pulled up to somewhere between 10m and 12m above the ground with a rope and a pulley on the main tower. The dipole’s ends were held up with two spiderpoles. I bought these for fieldday but look: having them around offers more options when building antennas any given day. I pulled the feedpoint away from the tower with a second rope running to the back of the garden. This antenna worked great. It was predicted through some basic modelling and backed up by previous experience with dipoles. A resonant dipole at λ/2 is hard to beat in the ‘simple wire antenna’ section. The yagi performed better in its ‘forward gain direction’ of course. Also because it was another ten meters higher. But the dipole clearly performed better in the nulls of the yagi’s pattern. Nulls both in azimuth and elevation. So this contest was yet another round of field day for me: wires, ropes, pulleys, fiber glass telescopic poles, hammering stuff into the ground…

WX was good although very hot. Minor risk of thunderstorms – it wouldn’t be a summer contest otherwise – but no real threats. In the end that didn’t cause a problem at all. Setup was done on Friday and I could test the dipole and the stackmatch. That too worked right away but when I came down from the shack my wife was talking about a beeping alarm on the freezer in the kitchen. It’s a three year old model (the freezer, not the wife) and this never occurred before so it had to be something with the additional dipole. I checked and indeed: only a problem when the dipole was engaged. No problem when only using the yagi. Classic solution: pull freezer away from the wall, add a few ferrite clamp-ons to the power cord (which shortened the cable which makes putting it back in place a pain between kitchen cabinets), plug AC power cord back in and test again. Alarm gone. Hello EMC compliance testers: forget your fancy anechoic chambers; just bring your stuff here and if it still works when I’m playing on the radio, it’s fine. And if your crappy designed stuff causes QRM on the HF bands: I sling a mean sledgehammer.

There were some /DL stations on 20 testing their WRTC 2018 setup. They were all very weak during daylight on Friday noon. More spotted but I could only hear three of which I logged two. They gave me better RST than I could give them.

I didn’t do much before the start of the contest. Rest, relax, take a shower, have a light lunch. Then off to the races. A picture tells more than a thousand words:

Rate graph from N1MMLogger+

The first half of the contest was pretty fast. Then it collapsed like a poorly baked soufflé.

Around 1920 utc I did a S&P scan of the band. I encountered a lot of Y8** WRTC stations and this time they were S7 and easily worked. Working one after the other was almost as fast as running. There were some other HQ’s in between so I managed to log another twenty multipliers too. After that I could go on running for another while, much to my surprise. But the inevitable moment still arrived: the band almost died from here with my setup.

I was off the air one and a half hour at night for a power nap. I planned and hoped to go 24/24h but the rate was gone, RBN showed the band did not support propagation too well, everything in the bandmap was gray and what I heard was already in the log. At the peak of the cycle you can probably go on but this time is was just too slow.

Too bad everything that followed in the second half of the contest was slow and boring. I was back on the air well before sunrise. It was not so much the poor propagation since the band was quite good given the known circumstances. It was just a lack of people to work. By that time I had already worked 1500-1600 QSO on one band in one mode. That might have something to do with it too. Maybe everyone in the contest doing CW already had OPØHQ in the log?

From the log:

  • Total USA 648 or 31.75%. Almost one out of three contacts from the US of A!
  • Total JA: 55. I don’t know how to assess this number.
  • Only 204 Russians (UA + UA9 + UA2). That’s only 10%. I think that’s low. Certainly compared to other contests.
  • Some semi-rare DX: A9, FR and V5 and also the usual DX: KH6 (2), KL7 (2), ZS, ZF, J3, HZ and tons of Latin-Americans. Twenty PY’s: probably a record in one contest for me on a single band?

I had no real goals for the number of contacts. I just had ballpark figures with accompanying sentiments. Below 1200 would be pathetic. Between 1200 and 1500 is not enough but I could blame propagation. Between 1500 and 1800 would be OK. More than 2000 would make me happy. In the end the 2k mark came closer. Each time I extrapolated the end result from the current rate, I would come short. When the bell rang I had 1992 true QSO and 2041 with dupes included. Not too bad I guess. But always room for improvement.

It was fun despite the slow last eight hours. Thanks to the UBA for having me on the team.

Two years ago I discovered these screw-in tent pegs that could be used to anchor something into the ground. I have used these quite a few times. It works great. Here’s a movie I made two years ago (August 2016 – average spring and summer for rainfall). Notice how my old and weak cordless screwdriver had no problem screwing the anchors in and how the support was really stable.

About the audio: The camera has a very noisy autofocus and the camera was less than 1″ away from my mouth and nose. Not easy shooting this while doing that.

We had a very dry spring this year (2018) and it hasn’t rained in quite a long time. It becomes problematic for plants, animals and in the end also men. Add to that the scorching heat that has baked the soil into a thick concrete-like layer. This is what happens if I try to screw in a tent peg with my new much stronger cordless drill:

Note: I used an aluminum version for the second video. More expensive but stronger. Lesson learned during June’s Field Day. When the ground is normal, these plastic tent pegs go in like a hot knife through butter. But they just break under the current circumstances. The aluminum ones don’t – or haven’t so far.

Notice the green lawn in the first video (2016) where it’s just brown and yellow in the second video (2018).

As you can see, the screw-in anchor doesn’t really want to go in. And once it’s in, it has no grip. As if I drilled a Ø 25mm hole in reinforced concrete. The dust comes up along with the ‘drill’.

So the drought has rendered these screw-in tent pegs absolutely useless. Unfortunately since I needed them for a temporary antenna setup (post to come).

Banner linked from official baker2018.net website

Gosh — very casually and almost by accident and also very easily I happen to work a so called ATNO: KH1/KH7Z (20m CW).

You know I don’t care about DXCC. And I take a long walk around the crazy mess such a very rare DXpedition causes. I simply don’t want to waste my time anymore with that ugly stuff.

5B DXCC: expensive wallpaper, bad investment

So I did not intend to work this DXCC which would be an All Time New One (ATNO) for me. Furthermore propagation sucks and this is as much over the pole as can be from here (bearing 0°). And I was having my hands full with the ON18FWC activity.

One day I ended a shift with ON18 and before shutting down I set the beam to the north pole and listened for 20 CW. They were there, S7 at best. But the pile up was more than 7 kHz wide and people just kept on calling and calling all over the place. This was exactly the reason I turned off the radio. And why chasing DX has a zero fun factor for me.

I didn’t really look for them on any other band. This time around with the sun being spic ‘n span from the dry cleaners’, the KH1 ↔ ON path is not an obvious thing. A few days later same scenario: I went to listen… Aha: the pile up was only two or three kHz wide and not so unruly. The DX called for a SP9 station that I could actually hear repeating its call and 5NN. I lowered my transmitting frequency just a tad and decided to try. Much to my surprise KH1/KH7Z came back to me. So all it took was less than a minute and sending my callsign twice.

That is with a small tribander sitting at 15m high and a shy 500W.

A few days earlier I got a text message from my buddy OT1A telling me not to forget Baker Island. I replied I couldn’t care less and I had no plans to spend time on that. I know he’s avidly chasing the DXCC program in all flavors but I don’t see his call in the online log…  ☺

With all the opinions flying around the the contesting reflector this weekend I was about to send the following to the CQ-CONTEST reflector but I decided not to post it. I will however put it here…

 

I ask this with the most respect possible for everyone involved in past, current and future WRTC’s.

I ask this with the most respect for all my contest friends who have and will be participating in WRTC.

I ask this without detracting even the slightest bit from past and future achievement in qualifying and participating in WRTC.

I want to ask this open question:

——————————————–

Is WRTC not a bit overrated?

——————————————–

I have lost all interest in it, even if it was once my dream. I was playing radio in July 2002, still at my parents’ place, with only a leftover string of wire, too much RG-58 and the rig’s ATU. I was fairly new to contesting but I was so amazed, intrigued, mesmerized by the game of contesting that working the Finish WRTC 2002 calls was a starting point. Afterwards I attended a photo presentation by ON4UN who always had great stories and inside information from events like this. That was an extra boost. It was there I met OT1A (back then ON4CCP), and he also had strong WRTC aspirations. It was the start of a friendship too, still standing today.

WRTC 2002 was a motivator to become good enough to be part of a WRTC. To be on the air each and every contest. From a local event with 30 QSO on a Sunday morning to 48hrs of CQ WW. To get myself and my callsign known on the air. To learn to run CW at 40 WPM and 200 Q/hr. To download half a SCP file in my head. To spend money and time building a station that could get me there.

I think I pulled that one off sixteen years later. Honking my own horn: I did some crazy stuff with a single tower – small tribander – wires in a stealthy semi-fieldday setup. I wouldn’t have dared to dream that in 2002. Wanting to be part of the contest was key, FOMO before the acronym got invented.

However: all this is not enough. After the qualification for 2014 I gave up on WRTC. I will support it and I will root for all being in the tents. But I let it go. I think the selection criteria suck bigtime for a couple of reasons. I do not want to spend more money and go abroad or get my call in the list of operators at M/x stations. In fact it’s not needed: OR2F proved it can be done by being smart. I don’t want to be smart, I want to have fun in contesting. And to have fun again, I needed to abandon trying to compete but just be the best ON5ZO there is.

Furthermore it has become another item on the list of things that can set this reflector ablaze because of black-white point of views. But like almost everything, it’s gray.

So me thinks WRTC is highly overrated. The event as such, not the people running the show on the stage and behind the curtains, and not those running the pile ups.

Nevertheless: GO WWYC! Our generation produced some butt-kicking WRTC-medal-wearing contest operators from all over the globe. It was fun to be part of all the BS’ing on #IRC fifteen years ago and seeing you guys grow year after year. Grow old but moreover grow as a contester. Good luck to you all next week, lids!

I won’t be working you with my own call this time, but trust me: I will be in your logs  ;o)

73

Franki ON5ZO = OQ5M

That’s soccer madness for the US readers.

A few months ago the UBA got invited to participate in an international award program to commemorate the 2018 Football World Cup. A series of special event stations would get on the air using **18FWC or **18FIFA calls. You can see the result of that here.

The UBA’s HF committee, of which I happen to be a collaborator, applied for ON18FWC. The Belgian telecom regulator kindly issued ON18FWC and we could activate it for one month until yesterday. Needless to say this is ‘bacon for my mouth’. I couldn’t care less about the actual sports event, but anything that gets me a shot of high rate logging on HF gets my undivided attention. Truth be told: I have watched a few of the games this time. I even watched online streamed games while in the shack.

I already had a great time in May with the OT70-activity. That offered some highly desired action on our precious HF bands. But this world wide event took it a few levels higher. Anecdotal evidence? To cover my 30m needs, I made a simple ground plane antenna (read here) that needed baptizing. It was just after sunset, and I couldn’t get on the air with the FWC call because a fellow UBA-collaborator was on the air as such. I called CQ to test the antenna. The response was slow yet I got answers from PY, USA, JA and a VK. The RBN backed up the thesis that this antenna was working. But I logged only a handful of contacts. Who needs a simple ON not part of a bigger incentive? Come to think of it: is there a bigger incentive than to get into my log? Soon it was my turn to fire up ON18FWC. Same setup, same propagation, same time of day. One hour later:  108 QSO in the log.

Day after day the pile ups were pretty good for something that actually isn’t really special. Many times I had to go split to keep my signal in the clear. Real split, not just the usual RIT to catch the smarter operators calling off beat. I even learned a new function in N1MMLogger: alt+F11. Glad I found that one. Awkward situation diverted!

I had many +100 hours, the best clock hour being 177 on 20m phone. The better bands right now obviously are 40, 30 and 20. There is little fun to be had on a QRN-infested 80m band. 160 you say? No thanks – wrong season. About the other bands above 14 MHz: I tried and tried and I think I made the most of it. As always in this phase of the solar cycle: propagation is absent but the lack of interest is the bigger problem. There is DX on these dead bands – granted: not much and not loud – but people just don’t care. Many times the RBN shows various skimmer receivers hearing me all over the globe (W, PJ2, PY, ET, VU, HS, VK…) but no one is there. Or –again– is not interested in plain flavor Belgians.

In the end I made 9276 contacts: 6908 CW and 2368 SSB. SSB can be fun when the rate is high, but ‘CW 4 EVER’. I’m not into tattoos, but if I were this could be something to consider. The roster shows I was active about 100 hours over the last four weeks. Total operating time will be somewhat less because one cell in the spreadsheet equals one full hour but some cells only count for half an hour or less on the air. That means the average rate is around 100/hr. Many fast hours on 40+30+20 but also many slow hours on the other bands. I tried 17+15+10 SSB for a handful of contacts but you only log ten in half an hour or so.

This gave me the opportunity to enjoy the magic of HF radio with the classic old skool modes: it’s just the best thing there is in the hobby. Not having to wonder if you’re using the right soFT8ware. Actually being in charge of what is sent and when… I had fun and this really got me in the shack as much as was possible. Staying up late, getting up early, postponing many chores just to be on the air. This is an addiction and it never gets boring. My ‘shot of high rate logging on HF’ sometimes was flirting with a genuine OD!

For the record: all of this was with the 500W-amp and the top of the tower only at 15m high.

Something I observed with my early-series K3: at times when the pile ups were the biggest, I’d have a hard time copying CW. Both my K3 are pre-2010 and haven’t had any synthesizer updates or whatever. I seem to remember this was a problem reported a decade back or so by the VP6DX Ducie expedition in 2008? That is something that never surfaced in contesting from Belgium. But it did now.

Of course, keeping in line with my Grumpy Old Man attitude, I really need to ventilate the negative too.

As always: no spot equals no rate. As soon as you get a classic cluster spot, it’s on. No matter how many skimmers throwing you on the RBN: classic DX cluster spots are still the ignition spark for the rate to crank up. And crank up good!

On the other hand: a busted spot is deadly. Two or three times someone well-meaning spotted me as ON18FIFA. What’s that? FIFA? A new call for the award! Let’s all land on his frequency and start calling. No need to ID dear Belgian operator. We know who you are – it’s on the cluster. The result is a well-oiled pile up down the drain. The drain then clogged by dozens of dupes that don’t seem to know FWC from FIFA.

That brings us to my next grumping CW-specific item. Many people don’t listen. They just don’t listen. Other people clearly don’t copy CW. Their own callsign at best an preferably sent slow. But not simple stuff like ‘PSE DX’, ‘NO EU’, ‘EU QRX’. And then there are those who, even if they might copy and understand, just don’t care. I ask for UA9 I get a YO2. My ‘JA7 JA7?’ results in IK2 IK2. ‘PSE PY2 PY2?’ gets me ‘HA7**’ WTF????

Many times I wanted to go split but not too much. Call it ‘split light’. So I sent ‘UP 500HZ UP 500HZ’. Result: almost no one calls half a kilohertz up. Am I doing something illegal by keeping the spectrum abuse to a minimum? Is QSX 1 kHz the unofficial minimum? Did I miss a gentlemen’s agreement here? Listening 500 Hz up yielded little to no response but I could hear the roaring another 500 Hz up. Strange. Every weak S2-signal station gets logged right away when sending 500 Hz up, as no one seems to do it. Sending ‘UP’ does just that: make everyone transmit exactly 1000 Hz up. Again: I don’t get that. The use of QSX is to spread out, not to move the whole problem by a given amount of Hertz. Preaching to the choir here?

You know what drives me crazy? People answering by sending my call twice and then theirs three times. I know, it’s their good right, it’s all just casual fun, not everyone can be a sharp 40 WPM telegraphist (not that I am, just saying). And if my wife hears me yelling at my computer screen in the middle of the night, it’s probably because some dude sends his call twice but in two possible ways. F or IN? K4VN or KV4N? And some Croatians fake a Belgian callsign.

Another observation: many times the first dit of a callsign is not sent because the PTT is too slow. I guess? What else? Many W’s turn out to be EW’s.

me: ON18FWC QRZ?

     W1AA

me: W1AA 5NN

     W1AA EW1AA  (→  leading E is sent when PTT already is active)

me: EW1AA 5NN

    W1AA EW1AA CFM 73 TU  (→  consistency is key!)

EW1AA is just as a random example – don’t even know if the call is in use (turns out it is). Same goes for R3** that start out as N3**. After a while you figure this out. An American S9+ on 80 two hours after summer sunrise? Highly unlikely.

Let’s talk language and phone operations. Dear fellow ham radio lovers: My native tongue is Dutch. Dutch. Like in Holland – not everyone is perfect. I know: the second language here is French and the third official is German. I’m quite fluent in French and I understand it for 90% if spoken correctly. I can mumble a few words German too. But NOT EVERYONE HERE SPEAKS FRENCH by default. I can understand that French or North African stations prefer talking French, because not everyone is comfortable with English. But why just assume that I speak French because I’m from Belgium? Furthermore it’s not easy as a native Dutch speaker with an English language set preloaded in the brain to switch to French all of a sudden. That takes me back to my first job. I am a native Dutch speaker in an otherwise exclusively French speaking team, several of them originating from the south of France nonetheless. Le midi – that’s French with a non-schoolbook twist. We were sent abroad for technical training to the UK. I happen to think in Dutch, I hear English all day but need to translate to and interact in French. Very tiresome to keep things separated and not mix words.

Apart from French: sorry dear Russians, but I do not understand the Russian equivalent of the NATO spelling alphabet. Sorry Spanish speakers, but cucaracha, caramba and serveza en botella  is as far as my talent for Spanish reaches. All this is not an issue in CW.

Let’s end with a positive note. I learned a lot from these modest pile ups. Almost nineteen years after my first QSO I am now a well-trained CW contester and I can do sustained high rate running accurately up to 38-40WPM. But I have zero real DX pile up experience.

Three callers at a time in CQ WW for hours on end pushing the rate to 180-200 is one thing. Having a dozen callers (Two dozen? Three dozen? Who’s counting?) spread out over 1500 Hz was something new for me.

However controlling a pile up from a top 5 most wanted DX location is yet something else. I could probably train that with one of those computer simulation gimmicks but it’s RF or bust for me. I won’t go as far to say that right now I have achieved the status ‘pile up boss’ but I am confident that I would adapt to the situation and not panic. Not that this is a situation I’ll find myself in soon. I’m broke and always prefer a staycation over travelling.

Another ham radio adventure added to ON5ZO’s memoires. Do stamp collectors and scarf knitters know what they’re missing? Does anyone still collect stamps? Does anyone still use stamps?

Ever since I’ve got CW flowing through my arteries I’ve been dreading microphones. For the occasional contest I dig up a headset with boom mic. Most of the time this one sits in a box and I only wear headphones without a mic. But sometimes you want to answer a friend on phone or someone local asks for a quick antenna or modulation check. Or why not indeed: call the occasional DX on single sideband modulation.

In such case I don’t want to dig up the headset. Laziness? Too much hassle for little reward. So in the end nothing happens. A few times I got around without a mic by using the voice keying. I just hit F4 to send my call and F2 to send a ‘faaive-naain’. Most of the time the CQ WW SSB wav file is still programmed so it sends ‘fanawafo’ (5914). Silly. And when the DX asks for something more than the templated QSO, I can’t get out. That has happened too.

New headset

Almost three years ago I finally bought a new headset. The old one was totally worn out. It was at the end of its second life. I used an old broadcast TV-camera headset I assembled from two or three broken sets. In late 2000 I obtained HF privileges and I ordered a Heil HC-4 microphone element.  For the modest price of this mic capsule I had a full blown DXers headset with the renowned Heil sound.

I was about to throw away the old headset when I got the idea that just the boom and the microphone could be used as a simple hand mic that I could leave on the desk and connected to the rig. I loosened some small screws, the boom detached and I salvaged the microphone assembly. That was two years ago. And finally six months ago (slow on reporting) I executed this plan. I soldered a male-female RCA plug combination to the short mic leads and to a piece of shielded audio cable. The other side of the cable got a small jack plug and is now plugged into the MK2R+. I added some ferrite just to keep unwanted signals out of the audio chain (read here).

This works just fine and I’m now ready to reply to any of the questions the other station might ask. After a career in TV broadcast and a retirement from SSB contesting, this mic is now reborn into its third life. Talk about sustainability and upcycling! Not just an empty phrase for ON5ZO.

I can’t believe it’s been almost five years already that I homebrewed a solution for my main K3, the one that drives the Big Amp (tube amp). Read about it here.

But recently I have been heavily using the second K3, the one that drives the sMALL aMP (Elecraft solid state). I think that outside of the contests 500W is enough and I like the no tune approach of the solid state amp technology. It really feels like using a 500W transceiver. And its fans make little noise compared to the jet engine sound levels of the OM-Power.

The project got built with leftovers and junkbox treasures (except the reed relay of course).

This second rig doesn’t have the second RX option installed but it has the AUX RX input. I recently made a 30m antenna that is too close to the RX loop so when using the receive antenna on the 10.1 MHz band, the rig starts rattling all over as soon as I key it. Problem is known, solution is known, it’s just a matter of building it. And so I did. After all, the parts have been collecting dust since late 2013.

I use the microHAM MK2R+ PAPTT output to actuate the reed relay when the rig is in TX. It then opens the RX path from the antenna and shorts the transceiver’s RX input to ground. Simple yet effective.

The resistor R actually is three 100Ω series resistors making 300 Ω. This is to make a voltage divider. The reed relay is energized with 5V so from 13.8V (the rig’s PSU) down to 13.8 V * (200 / 500) = 5.52V. With the little current this relay draws, I get away with it.

Long live Electronics 101 and Ohm’s Law.

The only thing left to do is change the jumpers inside the MK2R+ so that the PA PTT is keyed with solid state (transistor) and not with the electromechanical relay. This way there isn’t the clicking of the relay when it is engaged or disengaged. The noise kinda bothers me because in contesting there is a lot of RX-TX switchover action.

For years I have been looking for a way to have my cake and eat it too when it comes to antennas but there absolutely is no free lunch. So much for the culinary idioms. Having all bands from 7 MHz up to 50 MHz on one antenna first of all is a very expensive thing and second: it’s a dangerous solution as it boils down to a dynamic antenna with a lot of electronics and moving parts. Yikes!

I wrote about all that before and an update is long overdue. In the mean time I decided to put up a 30m GP to get on the air on my favorite band when the tower is down. It needed to be made of wire and a fiberglass pole.

I was about to cut three wires as it dawned on me: I could use my 30m dipole and add a third leg to function as a second radial. I took one stretch of copper wire and made it as long as the other two legs. The wire that is connected to the coax’ center conductor went up. The ‘cold’ wire got an extra length of copper. So I had a vertical wire with an elevated feed point and two radials sloping down almost 45° from horizontal. I hooked up the antenna analyzer and *drumroll* the SWR dip was right where it was supposed to be.

This is nowhere near a two or three element yagi more than half lambda up in the air. Because that is what I’m dreaming of but don’t dare to install. This however is a simple and cheap antenna that can be deployed or taken down in half a minute.

Initial test: JA, VK, PY, USA came back to my CQ in under half an hour. That’s all directions on the compass. So seems to work. Which I didn’t doubt. I’ve made and used many of these for various bands and they always work. But never like a yagi way up there…

PS in reality the antenna is not as skewed as the images suggest…

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A little history first.

2006: OT1A and I did out first field day under the moniker Belgian HF Devils. With no experience, this could only end well. After all, we had no reference and no experience.

2011: Finally everything fell in place for a second effort. A struggle with antennas (naivety). Hardware problems (stupidity). Everything straightened out before the start (ingenuity).

Something put together in a short time: the FD CW 2011 QSL card for ON5ZO/P

Something put together in a short time: the FD CW 2011 QSL card for ON5ZO/P

2014: Alone in my backyard. Now I had made a primitive mast support system with a winch. That worked great. I also bought a SGC-239 smart-tuner, took ladder line and one simple dipole as long as I could fit in the garden. Setting up in boiling heat. As a result of this tropical situation I got forced off the air in the evening by major thunderstorms with huge hail balls. I quit somewhere half way after a three hour mandatory break. Disappointed.

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The 2014 shack /P setup

2015: Back at and with OT1A. For antennas we took the easy way: dipole, ladder line, MFJ-998RT smart-tuner. Setting up was uneventful and faster than ever (done by lunchtime)  and we took our first victory home.

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This sort of thing can win Field Days in Belgium. It did in 2015…

2016: At home and alone, second time. I had reworked the mast support system to make it higher and stronger. This started to look more like it. I cursed while setting up in my garden: field-day stuff always getting stuck between the permanent stuff. Around midnight: thunderstorms and rain. I had to go QRT again and this broke my spirit. I gave up half way. I swore: never again alone and in my garden.

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Actually I don’t like tents all that much…

2017: Too much going on, not enough energy and no courage. No field-day this year.

2018: Maybe it’s time again?

The present – 2018

Preparations started in February with a simple e-mail. Yes OT1A was on board. I also invited K7GK/PA who was also glad to join us. And we also asked new kid on the block ON7GLF. Young people who know and like CW, we have to cherish them!

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Bike: ON5ZO – Joke: ON7GLF ☺

I had access to my neighbor’s recently acquired terrain in front of my house. He had it mowed two weeks before field day and given the relative drought and warmth of the recent weeks, the terrain was very accessible. I provided antenna stuff, tent and furniture while Koen OT1A provided smart-tuner, 200W rig to make max use of the power limit and a beefy UPS to keep everything powered. I would put my old classic generator in place as back-up but we would power the station with Koen’s modern inverter type alternator. Less acoustic noise, probably more stable under varying CW load and more fuel efficient. My dad recently bought a laptop and he gave me his old desktop PC. Old is relative: a potent I7 CPU with 6GB of RAM. I tried a few install procedures but this machine dates from the Win7 era and it doesn’t like Windows 10. In the end I made a clean Win7/64 install which runs just fine. It got N1MMLogger+ and the microHAM USB driver program installed to make use of OT1A’s microHAM USB interface. Antenna wise we agreed to use the winning 2015 dipole + smart-tuner combo, fed with open line. It lead us to victory then so why not now?

 

New rule this year: cluster access is allowed again. Reasoning: what can’t be enforced or verified on site, is allowed. True: with 4G access you can access online DX clusters and many people will be tempted. We decided not to invest time and resources in this as it’s not really an asset for field day and indeed some of the ops on our team have 4G access. I don’t.

This was the plan we had laid out.

Shopping for more junk

Leading up to June I bought two twelve meter high Spiderbeam poles to keep the dipole ends up. And some extra plastic screw-in ground anchors for more supports. And a forty meter stretch of 7 mm medium-loss coax. It’s light yet has quite low loss below 10 MHz. Some extra ground rods. And plastic poles used by normal people for temporary sheep fencing, but us ham nuts use it to keep RX loops and beverages above the ground. More on that later.

Side note

For the OT70 operation in May I asked if I could use Koen’s MFJ tuner to make up something ‘all bandish’ that accepts 500W. I cannot do WARC and 80/160 at the same time with my current antenna setup so I thought the smart-tuner would get me on 160+80+30+17 and even on 60m, where I have never been. To accomplish this I used the 2015 dipole fed with open line through the MFJ-998RT. This was exactly what worked then, and what we would use now for field day. Only: it didn’t work now. The tuner would not provide a match on any band. Strange: it was exactly this wire and feedline that worked at OT1A’s in 2015. I just took it from my field day storage crate. But now it did not work at all. At a given point I feared I had broken the ‘998RT. Koen told me he always uses this device with coax. So I hung up my 17m dipole fed with 20m of coax. The MFJ-998RT matched this from 10 MHz up to 28 MHz without a problem. So fed with coax, it worked. Must be something with the open line that this device doesn’t like. I can believe that and come to terms with it, except: why did it work for field day 2015 using exactly this setup?

I still believe in matched antennas so I made a ‘simple’ triband fan dipole Monday before field day. I spent a day outside in the boiling heat. I more or less got it resonant on all three bands. I mean SWR < 2:1. It wasn’t easy because this thing is too long to fit in my garden so I couldn’t get the legs apart properly. Final tuning would need to be done on the field day terrain.

Unfortunately this antenna really is a heavy beast. Three half waves (160+80+40m band) makes for 140 meter 2.5mm² cable. Add spreaders and center insulator. Attach the 40m thin coax I mentioned above. This is one heavy antenna. My tilt-over mast will handle this when it’s guyed. But the spider poles to keep the dipole legs up in the air would bend over hard by the sheer weight. So I decided not to deploy this one and stick to the proven concept with the smart-tuner and one dipole.

Friday: preparation day

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Two generations of Honda generators. Both did a fine job.

Field day rules say: setup no more than 24h in advance. After days of sunshine and drought, it rained the whole day until well after sunset. So I didn’t do much on Friday except put everything ready, load my trailer and make up a schedule in my head. I also drained the old fuel from the generator. It hasn’t been started since June 2016 so the fuel might be a bit fishy. I have a little pump with a reservoir to empty gas tanks and oil carters. About 2.5 liters of old fuel came out. I put in some new gas and the generator started after two or three yanks of the cord. Great!

Friday evening I still had some last minute jobs to do that I didn’t think of before. Like make a stand for the MFJ-998RT. I think it has a stupid design when it comes to mounting it and keeping the connections dry. You cannot simply hang it up, it needs to be with the plastic case up. It’s big and heavy. So I ad-hoc engineered a system to accomplish this. I also had to print up the signs to point possible visitors to the field day site. Mandatory by the rules!

 

Saturday: all systems go!

DSCF2297WX was supposed to be with us this time. No significant rain, no showers, no thunderstorms. Saturday started grey and cloudy and around 7.30 AM local time I hooked up the trailer and accompanied by my youngest son, I drove to the terrain. Which is just across the street but I have to make a tour because there is a corn field in between. It was bumpy where the farmer had ploughed a bit too far into the driving path but the terrain itself was no problem. I unloaded the mast support system and my field day crate and started assembling the mast and the tilting system. OT1A and ON7GLF were supposed to arrive around 10.30 so I had a few hours on my own with two little helping hands.

Putting up the tent was outsourced. The XYL does a great job. I’ve seen her do this twice (2014+2016) and no way I could ever pull this off like she does. I think it took her ten minutes this time. Must be an easy tent to set up then, right?  ☺

I drove the trailer to get a second batch of stuff: PC hardware and furniture. OT1A and ON7GLF arrived as I prepared a 2.5mm² extension cord. Most extension cords are only 1.5mm². Then we could finish assembling the mast and put it up. I designed it to be run as a one man show and I deployed it as such in 2014 and 2016 but it’s much easier when you have two or even three guys doing it. And so we did. Then we also drained the old fuel from Koen’s generator. This gas dates from 2015 when it was last used. We added new fuel and the generator kicked in immediately. No problems with the generators so far!

When we were about to raise the dipole’s ends on the Spider-poles, Denis K7GK arrived. It has been over ten years since I first and last saw him in person but the socializing had to be kept brief. Four hours before the start! We made up for that later on.

IMG_20180602_203808Driving in the ground anchors was actually hard. The ground was extremely hard. In my garden the anchors screw in like a hot knife through butter. Here I had three broken anchors in no time! I cheaped out and bought the plastic models. I only have three aluminum ones as they cost almost three times as much. But the aluminum anchors held up in places where the plastic version broke. I would have to dig out the broken halves that were stuck in the ground. Long story cut short: soon the dipole was in place. The poles weren’t really straight but the antenna’s ends were up almost 10m in the air. It’s an RF game, not a construction contest.

In the meantime the shack got installed. The microHAM device immediately worked on the clean Win7 machine and it worked with the N1MM software. Now hook up the smart-tuner and do on air testing. There it went wrong. The MFJ-998RT didn’t want to tune or find a match. Just like I experienced a few weeks ago in my garden. We tried a few things. Koen even opened it up. We found one loose screw for a ground connection but it was not the solution. Not to waste more time, I got my SGC-239 which worked right away. This one is rated 200 W and not 1500 W like the MFJ. But we were in business. Can’t remember what time it was though.

I have become a fan of RX antennas ever since I made my K9AY loops. With the QRN and noise on 80 and 160 in mind, I decided we needed to have this. OT1A bought stuff for Beverage on Ground (BoG) that needed testing and evaluating so this was the ideal time to do so. I rolled out a terminated length of wire and hooked up the BoG to my antenna switch. It was deaf. Completely deaf. It didn’t hear a thing. Did we do something wrong? Was the commercially bought transformer bogus? Does a BoG simply not work? No time to think about all this. I went to get my fiber glass pole and the RX stuff and put up my loop. This actually heard stuff and improved S/N.

It was now about 4.30 PM local time. CW Field day starts at 5 PM. I had been sweating and developed a nasty smell from all the work in the hot temperatures. OT1A briefly returned home to get something done. K7GK and ON7GLF went to get a snack and I decided to go home across the street to change clothes and take a shower. At 4.57 PM or so my phone rang. The OT1A generator had quit and didn’t want to start. |#$è%*§| More wet than dry I jumped in my clothes and shoes and went to the site. We swapped power plugs and started my generator. This worked. Gert-Jan ON7GLF and I fueled up my generator and K7GK made the first QSO at 1503z. So we lost three minutes. Could have been worse. I tried starting the stubborn generator again and it kicked in right away. I turned it off and yanked the starter again and once more it worked. But how long? I decided to keep my generator running for now.

We are running!

Denis K7GK manned the station but soon ran into problems with the antenna. My SGC smart-tuner was unstable on 7 MHz. The SWR jumped up and down. After a few QSY / retune cycles it would resume to work but this is not a desired situation for the coming 24 hours. When the tuner lost its match, the TX would fold back power because of high SWR, resulting in many question marks to repeat the serial number. This problem could be contained by cranking down the TX power from 200W to below 150 W. So be it. I have never had this problem as my rigs always have been 100W max. K7GK is probably right that this thing is not designed and rated for high duty cycle contesting for hours on end. The problem only occurred on 40 and not on 80 or 160. Again K7GK might be right that the dipole length is a problem on 7 MHz and that adding wire might make it easier on the tuner to find and keep a match.

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Wi-Fi bi-quad homebrewezd by ON5ZO. Double sided PCB and some copper wire means gain on 2.4 GHz.

Suddenly I had an idea to give us Wi-Fi after all. The PC has a PCI wireless interface with an external antenna. Ten years ago I made two bi-quad Wi-Fi antennas with an SMA jumper attached. I had troubles with the signal in the living room and wanted to boost the levels from the access point. What if I hooked up this antenna and put it outside the tent? I went to get the bi-quad and a SMA-to-N jumper. I held it up outside pointing at my access point 100m away while ON7GLF checked the Wi-Fi interface on the PC. Sure enough: SSID found, signal strength was two bars and the PC got connected. We took a cable tie and zipped it to one of the tent ropes. We had achieved clusterification! If the competitors use it, we might as well.

Then ON7GLF and I studied the BoG problem. Now this was useless so we decided to take another approach. We converted it to a plain beverage up in the air. This slightly improved the situation but still the loop was the better receiving antenna. Yay!

 

As darkness set we poured some more fuel into my generator and then OT1A and ON7GLF went home to sleep while K7GK and ON5ZO would pilot the station through the night. Actually it was Denis who ran relentlessly. I was listening along. K7GK is a true contester. Good ears, accurate logging, timely band changes. As the night progressed the score built, multipliers were worked and the temperature dropped. We tried to move a few Americans from 80 to 160 for the country multiplier but they each declined. ‘SRI’ or ‘QRN’ or whatever. Before I had predicted that our only hope for USA on 160 would be K3ZO. When Fred called us on 80, Denis proposed a QSY but even K3ZO thought it would not work.

Around 3AM local time, so after almost twelve hours of which Denis had been operating a solid ten hours, he indicated he wanted to take a nap. I had to take over and much to my surprise I rather would have been listening along while he operated. I just wasn’t in a QSO making mood. Go figure! But it’s only fair that I take over and let him get some sleep. So I started operating and got called by K1ZZ on 80. Finally someone who agreed to make the move! I started calling CQ on the agreed 160m QRG but no one answered. Sunrise was nothing on 160 and the band got empty. After a minute or so I resumed the 80m run. K1ZZ came back to tell me he hadn’t heard me: ‘NIL on 160’. Thanks for trying anyway Dave!

Soon after I saw some car lights turning into view. The fresh relief crew! And just in time: my generator got a few short hiccups and then died all along. It ran out of fuel after almost eight hours. We started the other generator and let that one power the station.

I made some more QSO, even worked a ZL4 on 40m but then it was my turn to be tired. OT1A and ON7GLF took over. I went home to make coffee and provide hot water for tea. After bringing it to my fellows in the tent I walked back home to take a nap. It was 6.30 AM or so and I got greeted by the neighbor who’s up early. I briefly explained why we were there and what was happening. Then she wished me goodnight (after sunrise!) as I told her I needed a nap after a long day and night. Two hours later I was between sleeping and waking up when a roaring sound got my attention. The farmer of the adjacent field came to spray his crops. Good that we didn’t run wires or ropes on his terrain. I got up, put on some fresh clothes and went over to the tent. That crop spraying thing sure smells nasty.

Sunday slow day

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Front: RX loop – – Back: tilt-over mast

You know from experience it’s about to come. Those boring six even seven hours that the whole thing slows down. Nearly a stand-still at times. Less than 20 QSO per hour. The best is behind us. K7GK was sleeping, OT1A was operating and ON7GLF, my youngest boy and I already took down the beverage antenna. A little later they rounded up their shift and I took over. ON7GLF had to return home and OT1A was the driver. Things were slow and boring. My neighbor ON4KV came along to say hello and we had a chat that I only had to interrupt now and then when someone answered my endless stream of CQ. Denis woke up, had some tea and something to eat and then he took over. He tried moving each and every caller to 80 and some even to 160. Sometimes with success. Sometimes ‘PSE QSY 160?’ yields ‘RR 5NN 002’.

Around 2.30 PM local time Denis had to head back home. Just when we were saying goodbye, another visitor arrived. ON4IT – long time no see but I was glad to have a chat with him. OT1A arrived for the final stretch. It was slow and boring and it was boiling hot in the tent. I decided to wear my sun hat and apply sunscreen rather than sitting in that hot tent. About 150 meter away another neighbor has a refrigerated trailer for rent. I was staring at the sign on the side: ‘rent me – refrigerated trailer’. Sweet coldness!

I started tearing down the RX loop. I gathered some smaller bits and pieces that I took home already. Then it was counting down the minutes until the end of the contest. It’s a relief when the clock strikes 1500 z.

I called for the XYL who took down the tent in a record tempo. Koen took everything from the operating position into his trunk. The teardown had begun. It was hot and the sun was out in full force. The spider poles could not be taken down. The thermal expansion from being exposed to the heat made the joints jam. This was a job for later when it cooled down. We took down the wires and guy ropes and lowered the mast. Then dismantle it into lengths of tubing again. And disassemble the tilt-over construction. I would need two round trips with the trailer to haul it back home but I decided to do that on my own so Koen could drive home.

Around 1630z I heard my dog bark – his ‘intruder alert bark’. I saw an unidentified vehicle on my driveway. The XYL opened the front door and I saw here pointing towards me. The car left and drove to the field day site. It was UBA official ON6HI who was darn late to come and check the setup! We had a chat and after half an hour or so Marc ON6HI left. I loaded up a first batch that I took home and retuned for the final. The sun was slowly losing force as it lowered towards the horizon. Another attempt to get the spider poles down was now successful.

I just threw everything into the garage and pushed the trailer through the gate into the garden. The plan was to put everything back where it belongs on Monday. A shower and sleep were the priority.

Biggest question left: how did the competition at ON6CK/P do?

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