This and that

Elecraft has ‘reverse-charged’ (or how do you call that?) my credit card as a refund for the bad KPA-to-K3 cable they sent me. Thumbs up to the customer care dept. As always with Elecraft. Lesson learned: just DIY simple stuff i.s.o. whining about ‘no time’. Just delay (or drop altogether) some other job in favour of homebrewing ham radio stuff.

Although the KPA-500 amp made a quick to and fro to have it repaired in Italy, I didn’t feel like mounting the transformer back in and test it. It had been waiting for that for about three weeks. I finally tackled that job earlier this week. Once you know how, it’s a breeze. I didn’t RTFM to remove the transformer since I was in a hurry to get it shipped. At first I couldn’t get it out and in the end I dismantled the amp too far. Now I just looked at the assembly manual. It has a few pictures that show how easy it is. As with all Elecraft documentation. Lesson learned: no job is too simple not to RTFM.

Then I put the amp back in the shack and played on the HF bands. The amp now works without a glitch and communicates with the K3 in both directions. It’s really great to have a 500W rig, so to speak. The lazy operator like me can just click from spot to spot and go from band to band without having to worry about band switch, plate or tune or even drive power levels. Fingers crossed, let’s hope I’ve seen the end of troubles with this device.

The magnetic polarity of the sun is about to flip! Of course us observant radio freaks know all this but now it is picked up by the mainstream media too. So this reversal takes place at a solar maximum? Great! This means propagation should be peaking? Super!

I can’t say I had much fun on the bands lately. Outside the contest periods of course. This AM I didn’t even get picked up by a skimmer on 24MHz. I feel sorry for those with a barefoot rig and a 20 feet high ground mounted 9-band vertical without radials (as advertised). If five full sized elements on a 0.6 λ boom and all this raised more than two wavelengths above ground (OB11-3 on 10m band) and a kW barely make it outside EU… At a solar max!

It’s not that there is no DX. But it’s scarce, never loud and mostly NOT to be found on 10/12 meters. Even the fifteen meter band isn’t great. I admit: one day is better than the next but on average, what has cycle 24 offered us of big sustainable DX openings on above 21MHz? Quarter 4 of 2011, from September to late December. Early 2012 was already much less. Over the last weeks or even months I noticed a lot of days with high A or K values. A = 23 as I type this.

I’m not the only one to mention this. PA0O and NU8Z talked about it too. I came on HF right at the peak of cycle 23. With one simple low inverted V and 100W through the TS-850’s internal ATU, I could work everything between 10MHz and 28MHz. Especially after I discovered the ‘10dB CW gain’. After 2002 things went downhill pretty fast. All according to the solar cycle’s textbook. From 2003 on I started building my station here and projected what I had witnessed from propagation in 2001-2002, onto a tower and big yagi. But we had to go through the desert for a few years. It lasted long and it didn’t pick up quite fast.

I was so happy these three months late 2011. I spent a lot of time in the shack. Finally it was worth the while to delay other things and get into the chair. That simple inverted V here on 24MHz gave a firm boost to my DXCC on that band. Those who were there in CQ WW SSB that year will remember the endless stream of DX on ten meters! Then it shut down two months later never to open up that wide again. I think the SFI level then was the highest recorded in this cycle.

So now the actual peak is here? Not impressed. I had more fun on the low bands when 160 was peaking and the cycle dipping than I’ve had so far on the higher bands since 2010. And I’m not even a low band lover. And I don’t have big antennas on 160/80. But it allowed for some new ones to be logged and low band DX on an almost daily base.

Glass half full of half empty? Right now W2LJ is having QRO fun with QRP power and he’s right: we gotta make the best of it. If we want SFI = 250 then we might as well collect stamps or cigar bands, or start knitting socks. Apart from contesting I put my money on 10 MHz / 30m for the coming decade. And OT1A sees it coming too and is forging plans for 40.

But silently I hope that all current predictions for the next cycle will be proven totally wrong and these frugal SFI predictors will be blushing with shame.

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