What Is DX’ing All About?


3B8FQ

QSL Card From Rachid, 3B8FQ, on Mauritius Island

I came across a great video this morning – an excellent introduction to DX’ing. For me, this video really communicates well what DX’ing is all about. Chasing DX is a part of our hobby that provides the chance to meet many new friends around the world, learn about culture and geography and make some amazing contacts. Take some time to watch the video – I think our readers will enjoy it!

- Fred (AB1OC)

Mobile HF Installation – Part 3/4 (Screwdriver Antenna Installation)


Icom IC-7000 Mobile HF Radio

Icom IC-7000 Mobile HF Radio

We have made some 250+ contacts using the Mobile HF setup in our Ford F-150 Truck. Our initial setup used an Icom IC-7000 Transceiver and HAM Stick Antennas. This combination enabled us to work quite a bit of DX from our truck (56 DXCC’s worked mobile HF to date). It is surprising how well a properly installed Mobile HF setup works. For more information on our initial Mobile HF installation, see our other articles here -

It has been part of our plan to enhance our Mobile HF installation to include a Screwdriver Antenna and a Mobile Amplifier. This article cover the first of these upgrades.

Scorpion SA-680 Screwdriver Antenna

Scorpion SA-680 Screwdriver Antenna

We chose a Scorpion SA-680 Screwdriver Antenna for our project. Scorpion mobile HF antennas are among the best on the market in terms of quality and efficiency. The SA-680 covers all HAM bands from 80m – 10m (160m operation will also be added to this antenna – more on this in a later post). The SA-680 is also a good choice given our plans to add a mobile HF amplifier to our truck (the SA-680 is rated for 1500 Watts SSB PEP). We ordered our antenna with a flat black powder coated finish to match the color scheme on our truck. Scorpion antennas can accommodate a variety of whips and we have both 6 foot (supplied with the antenna) and 8.5 foot whips available. We also ordered a 3 foot long rod with a Cap Hat and this is the combination that we are currently using. This arrangement features improved efficiency due to the top loading of the antenna provided by the Cap Hat and a reduced height profile which is perfect for avoiding the low tree branches here in New England, USA. Ron Douglas, NI7J owner of Scorpion Antennas has been a great help providing lots of good advice to help us to install his SA-680 antenna properly.

BreedLove Folder-Over Antenna Mount

BreedLove Folder-Over Antenna Mount

The Scorpion SA-680 Antenna is a beefy unit and weights about 18 pounds. This antenna requires a strong mounting system for safety and reliable operation. We chose to mount our antenna in the bed of our F-150 Truck using a fold-over mount from Breedlove Antenna Mounts. This mount is made specifically for the Scorpion Antenna and uses 1/2″ thick aluminum plate with reinforcing bars that mount under the truck bed to ensure that the mount is rigid and does not crack the truck bed due to the load of the antenna. As you can see from the picture above, we cut the plastic bed liner which protects our truck’s body to allow the base of the antenna to sit on the truck body’s sheet metal. We used star washers between the mount and the bed to ensure that the mount made a good RF connection with the bed of the truck.

Antenna In Folder Down Position

Antenna In Folder Down Position

One of the nice features of this mount is its ability to be folded over to 90 or 45 degrees. This is done by loosening two large allen screws on the mount. The picture above shows the antenna folded over with the Cap Hat/Rod removed. In this position, we can close the roll cover on our truck’s bed to completely cover the antenna. This is great for taking the truck through the car wash or when we want to protect the antenna from the winter weather here in New England.

Scorpion Whip Quick Disconnect

Scorpion Whip Quick Disconnect

Removal of the Cap Hat/Rod or an attached whip is made easy by Scorpion’s Quick Disconnect. The ones on our antenna are made from stainless steel and allow easy removal of the Cap Hat Rod or a whip.

Control And Feedline Choking

Control And Feedline Choking

All Screwdriver antennas require control cables to operate a motor which raises and lowers the antenna to change the length of a base loading coil. This is how the antenna is tuned to operate on different bands and frequencies. The motor and associated control leads operate at a high RF potential relative to the vehicle’s ground. This is also a problem for the outside shield on the coax cable feeding the antenna. The RF potential on the control cables and feedlines must be choked or it will enter the vehicle and cause all manner of RFI problems. Proper RF choking is especially important in our installation as we plan on running high power via an amplifier. To ensure proper choking, we built a series of RF chokes for the six control lines from the antenna – one pair for the 2 motor leads, one pair for the 2 pulse count leads that are used to sense the position of the antenna, and one pair for a future shunt coil relay to enable 160m operation. These chokes were built according to the information on K0BG’s excellent Mobile HF website. Each pair of control leads were run through two separate chokes at the base of the antenna (two chokes were used to due to the planned high-power operation with an amplifier). Two chokes were also used on the RG-8X feedline. For the initial installation, the supplied shunt coil (copper coil on the left side of the antenna base) was used to match the antenna on 80m and 40m. The coil was adjusted using the procedure on K0BG’s website to achieve a good match on these bands. Also note the ground strap (visible to the left of the fold-over base). This connects to one of the button head screws at the base of the antenna and to the ground point on the antenna mount to ensure a good ground between the antenna and the truck.

Chokes Inside The F-150

Chokes Inside The F-150

Another set of control cable and feedline chokes were made and installed at the point where the antenna cables and feedline enters the vehicle. The picture above shows some additional detail on how the chokes are made. It is important that the chokes be at the same point on each of the control cables and coax feedline so that any RF induced on the cables does not couple from one cable to another and bypass the chokes.

Additional Bonding and Cables Mounting

Additional Bonding And Antenna Cable Mounting

I decided to do some additional work on the bonding of the bed of our truck to the rest of the F-150. This involved installing 4 bonding straps between each corner of the F-150’s bed and the frame. I used the excellent strapping material from Electric Motion for this purpose. This strapping features eyelets which are installed every 3 inches along the strapping material. This made attachment of the strapping to the F-150’s bed and frame easy to do via self-taping stainless steel screws and star washers. A liberal coating of Ideal NOALOX was used on each of the screws and washers to protect against corrosion. Also note the convoluted tubing which houses the antenna control leads and feedline running along the frame. The tubing protects the antenna’s cabling and feedline from the weather and enables secure mounting to the vehicle’s frame.

Screwdriver Antenna Manual Controller

Screwdriver Antenna Manual Controller

The final step in the installation was to connect the antenna control cables to Scorpion’s antenna control switch and mount the switch on the console with velcro strips. This switch is used to raise or lower the antenna, changing the length of the loading coil to tune the antenna for different bands and frequencies. I also installed crimp-on connectors on the RG-8X feedline and connected it to the radio and to the antenna. A quick check of the antenna’s SWR on 20m confirmed that the antenna and feedline were working correctly.

I was able to make contacts on the 17m, 20m, 40m and 80m bands with the new antenna last evening and it works great. I am particularly pleased with the antenna’s performance on 80m. I made several contacts on this band out to about 2,000 mi and was receiving signal reports ranging from 58 to 59+20dB. These results are very good considering the short length of the antenna’s Cap Hat/Rod (only 3 feet) and that I was using only 100W.

*** Safe operation of your vehicle requires your full attention on the road. You SHOULD NOT try to tune your antennas or your radio while your vehicle is in motion. Safety requires that you perform these actions only when your vehicle is stopped and parked safely. ***

The antenna is easy to tune manually. One simply sets the radio to the desired band/frequency and then adjusts the antenna up/down until the maximum reading on the radio’s S-meter is obtained. This usually gets you to within a “coil turn” of the optimal tune-up. I then key the radio up and adjust the antenna up or down a bit to optimize the tune to the lowest SWR as indicated on the radio. The antenna’s tuning is not critical on 20m and higher bands. It is fairly sharp (due to the short length) on 40m and 80m so final adjustment to minimize the SWR is important on these bands.

It’s great to have the full set of Amateur HF bands available in the truck with the new antenna. Performance seems comparable to the Ham stick antennas I was using previously on the 20m and higher bands. I would say that this indicates that the efficiency of the Scorpion SA-680 is significantly higher than the Ham stick antennas because the Ham sticks where mounted dead center on the roof of my truck and about 3-4 ft higher than the Scorpion. While this location performed reasonable well on 20m and higher bands, it was not a very practical mounting location due to height problems and the difficulty in getting at the base on the antenna to change or remove the Ham sticks. Performance is also much better on the 40m and 80m bands with the new antenna. I would say that the new antenna is also somewhat quieter than the Ham sticks were. This is probably due to a combination of being further away from the engine and cab noise sources plus benefits due to the additional bonding work.

The next stage of our Mobile HF project will be the installation of a mobile amplifier, automatic antenna controller and 160m band add ons to the Scorpion antenna. I hope to work some of our readers on the HF bands from our truck soon!

- Fred (AB1OC)

Mobile VHF-UHF Upgrade


Icom ID-5100 Transceiver

Icom ID-5100A Transceiver

We installed a 2m / 70cm mobile setup in our Ford F-150 Truck about 3 years ago. The original installation used an Icom IC-2820H. We used this setup for access to our local repeaters on 2m and 70cm including the many DSTAR repeaters in our area. Our antenna mounts were showing some wear and I’ve been wanting to upgrade to the new Icom ID-5100A for some time now so I decided to replace the entire setup. The Icom ID-5100A was very easy to install – a virtual drop-in replacement for the Icom IC-2820H. The pedestal mount and bracket that I made for the IC-2820H worked fine for the control head of the ID-5100A.

Icom ID-5100 Main Unit Mount

Icom ID-5100 Main Unit Mount

The ID-5100A’s main unit was mounted on the driver’s side kick panel in the same place as the IC-2820H.

The display on the ID-5100A is much easier to read that the IC-2820H and the features that this radio has to locate nearby repeaters based upon the GPS position of the vehicle are also very nice. All in all, the Icom ID-5100A is a much more user-friendly radio to setup and use.

2m / 70cm Mobile Antenna and Mount

2m / 70cm Mobile Antenna and Mount

The original antenna and mounts on our truck were getting a little tired so I decided to replace them as well. We choose a Diamond K400C NMO mount and a Diamond SG-7900A 2m / 70 cm whip this time around. The Diamond NMO mount is very sturdy and should stand up well to the winters here in New England (as well as the car wash). The new Diamond whip has a bit more gain that the previous setup and is about the limit in terms of height for our location in New England, USA. It is has 5.0 dBi gain on 2m and  7.6 dBi gain on 70cm.

Antenna SWR on 2m

Antenna SWR on 2m

The new mount and antenna was easy to install in our F-150. A final checkout of the antenna’s SWR showed that the new installation was ready to go.

The new radio/antenna combination is working great and the improved usability and display on the ID-5100A is encouraging us to use our local DSTAR repeaters more frequently. The combination was a very worthwhile upgrade.

- Fred (AB1OC)

N1FD Special Event – Nashua Area Radio Club 35th Anniversary Celebration


N1FD Special Event Overview

N1FD Special Event Overview

The Nashua Area Radio Club in New Hampshire, USA is celebrating its 35th Anniversary this year. N1FD is our Club’s call sign. Layne, AE1N helped the club put together an on-air Special Event this past weekend to celebrate our Anniversary. Anita, AB1QB  and I had the chance to operate as part of the Special Event celebration and we had a great time doing it.

N1FD Operations Summary

N1FD Operations Summary

The team of N1FD operators made over 1,500 contacts as part of the Special Event. We operated in SSB, CW and Digital (mostly RTTY) modes on all HF Bands 160m – 10m (except for 60m) during the four day event. We had a great response from the Amateur Community Worldwide.

N1FD QSOs Around The World

N1FD QSOs Around The World

The N1FD team worked all U.S. States and a total of 67 DXCC Entities. There were some memorable QSOs during our operations. One that stands our for me was a call from Alex, RI1ANC in Antarctica! It was nice to chat with Alex and he told me that the temperature there was -68 °C!

N1FD Special Event QSL Card

N1FD Special Event QSL Card

We are working on a picture QSL card for those who worked us during our Special Event. It features pictures from our club’s Field Day activities. Our logs from the event are available on ClubLog and we will be uploading our contacts to LoTW and eQSL as well. You can see if you are in our logs by clicking here. If you worked the N1FD Special Event and would like to receive a QSL card, you can send an SASE (U.S. Contacts) or SAE with return postage (DX Contacts) to our address on QRZ.com.

We’d like to thank everyone who took the time to work our Special Event and to help us celebrate our 35th Anniversary.

- Fred (AB1OC)

LEO Satellite System Part 3 – Final Installation And First Contacts


Eggbeater Antennas And Preamps SystemsOn Tower

Eggbeater Satellite Antennas And Preamp System On Tower

With some help from Matt Strelow, KC1XX  of XX Towers, we’ve gotten our LEO Satellite Antennas and Preamp System installed on our tower. We installed the antennas on a sidearm at about 80 ft and installed the preamp system (the upper left gray box) next to the antennas on the tower. The design and construction of our LEO Satellite System was covered in the Part 1 and Part 2 articles here on our blog.

Hardlines At The Tower

Hardlines At The Tower Base

I choose 7/8″ Heliax Hardline Coax (Andrews AVA5-50) for the feedlines between the antennas on the tower and the shack. I choose this type of cable to hold our losses to end-to-end to about 1.0 dB for the 432 MHz side of the system. Our Icom IC-9100 Transceiver which we will use for satellite work provide 75W of output on the 70cm band which results in a maximum of about 45W at the antenna – plenty of output power for LEO satellite uplink work. The end-to-end loss on the 144 MHz side is about 0.6 dB resulting in 85W out maximum from 100W in. The antennas were connected to the preamps and through to the hardline coax cables using short LMR-400UF coax jumpers and crimp-on N-type connectors were used throughout the system. The conduits that are buried under our lawn had plenty of capacity for the two additional hardline cables (the lower pair of large coax cables in the picture above). I also routed the control cables for the preamps through one of our smaller conduits.

Hardline Terminations At Shack

Hardline Terminations At Our Shack

The hard lines (cables with orange and purple tape) were terminated with N-connectors and the shack entry end through grounded PolyPhaser Lightening Protectors.

VHF - UHF Antenna Switching Console

VHF – UHF Antenna Switching Console

The two sides of the LEO Satellite Antenna and Preamp system were terminated on our VHF – UHF switching console in our shack. The console uses Hofi-Technik Rotary UHF Antenna Switches to allow selection of the LEO Satellite Antennas as well as our M2 Antenna Systems 144 MHz and 432 MHz Yagis and a Diamond X-300NA 2m/70cm ground plane vertical which we use for repeater work.

Preamp Control Cable Terminatons On Tower

Preamp Control Cable Terminations On Tower

We also terminated the control cable from our Preamp System on Control Line Static Suppressors at the base of our tower.

Preamp Sequencers

Preamp Sequencers

The Preamp Control Cable was routed to a pair of M2 Antenna Systems S3 Sequencers (top units in the picture above) to enable proper Tx/Rx sequencing to protect the tower mounted Preamps from damage during transmit. These units allow the 144 MHz and 432 MHz Preamps to be turned on/off separately as well as enabling the noise test function on the 144 MHz preamp. With all of the installation work done, I confirmed that the SWR reading on both antennas was in specification at the input to the IC-9100 Transceiver and that the both Preamps work working (via an observed increase in noise level) when they were turned on.

Nova For Windows (FO-29 Satellite Pass)

Nova For Windows (FO-29 Satellite Pass)

The final step was to install the Nova For Windows program and download the latest Keplerian Elements for the HAM satellites that are currently operational. Nova For Windows allows me to determine when a given satellite is making a pass that covers both my QTH and the area where I want to try to make contacts. The program can also predict future passes which makes planning satellite operating times easier. The picture above shows the footprint of the FO-29 and the ISS during a pass over my location.

Fuji Oscar FO-29 Satellite

Fuji Oscar FO-29 Satellite

On the day and time that I tried to make my first contacts, only satellites with Linear Transponders were making useful passes overhead. I choose to try my first contact through FO-29 (Fuji Oscar 29) which is a V/U Mode (145 MHz uplink/435 MHz downlink) satellite.

First Satelllite Contact - EA1QS In Spain

First Satellite Contact QSL – Pablo, EA1QS In Spain

With my IC-9100 setup in Satellite/SSB Phone mode to transmit and receive on the proper frequencies and side-bands and with the Tx and Rx sides set to track each other (this is one of the useful satellite Features provided by the IC-9100), I began by locating a clear frequency on FO-29’s transponder and transmitting on the uplink while adjusting my Rx offset until I could hear my own transmissions coming back from the bird. Once I found my receive frequency, I began looking for a station to work. As good luck would have it, I found Pablo, EA1QS in Spain and made my first contact! It took some care to stay on frequency during the brief contact as the doppler shift associated with the path through FO-29 was changing fairly rapidly.

I also made two contacts with W1AW/9, the ARRL Centennial QSO Party Operation in the state of Illinois, USA. I made these two contacts through two different satellites. The first contact was made through VUSat VO-52, a U/V Mode (435 MHz Uplink/145 MHz Downlink) satellite and the second one was made using FO-29 again. I was quite fortunate to make the contact through VO-52 as its batteries failed and the bird went out of service just 12 days after my contact was made.

M2 Antenna Systems 70cm and 2m Yagis On Top Of Our Tower

M2 Antenna Systems 70cm and 2m Yagis On Top Of Our Tower

My early experiences with our new LEO Satellite System have been good. The M2 Antenna Systems Eggbeater Antennas and tower mounted Preamp System work quite well when the Satellites being worked are 30 degrees or more above the horizon. I can use our weak signal 2m and 70cm yagis (top two antennas shown above) and the associated tower mounted Preamp Systems (two grey boxes just below the top of the tower) for Satellite passes that are below 30 degrees. This mode of operation will require computer tracking which I can do via Nova For Windows or the Ham Radio Deluxe Satellite Software both of which I already have. I plan to try this combination in the future and will provide additional setup and operational results for this configuration sometime in the future.

Its been a very busy summer and I have not as much time to operate using LEO Satellites as I would like. With WRTC 2014, the ARRL Centennial Convention over, and the 13 Colonies Special Event and W1AW/1 New Hampshiree portable operations completed, I hope to have more time to devote to Satellite Operation. It’s a lot of fun to make contacts through satellites and this mode of operation will give us the chance to learn some new skills.

- Fred (AB1OC)

Operating as W1AW/1 Part II – ARRL Centenial QSO Party


ARRL Centennial Celebration Logo

ARRL Centennial Celebration Logo

I was fortunate to operate as one of the W1AW portable stations as part of the ARRL Centennial QSO Party again this past week. The first time the state of New Hampshire was on, I was only able to devote a limited amount of time to this operation. This time, I was able to set more time aside and operate about 4 hours on each of 6 of the 8 days that W1AW/1 New Hampshire was on the air this past week. During this time, I was able to make 1,925 contacts averaging a little over 120 QSOs for each hour that I operated.

 Mode/Band

QSOs

% Total

 SSB Phone

2878

98%

   RTTY

47

2%

 
  160m

207

7%

    80m

77

3%

    40m

379

13%

    20m

1103

38%

    17m

799

27%

    12m

79

3%

    10m

281

10%

   Total

2925

100%

The table above shows the final stats for my operations as W1AW/1 NH this past week. I mostly concentrated on the SSB Phone mode with a bit of RTTY operations on the last day. As one would expect, 20m and 40m were the most popular bands.

I encountered pileups on all of the days that I operated with the largest ones being on the first evening on 20m We had a significant solar CME event during the operation and subsequent Auroral activity which created some interesting band conditions. In particular, almost all of the 10m and 12m contacts were done on Thursday and Friday evenings using backscatter propagation. I was unable to hear much with my antennas pointed at the folks that I was trying to work on 10m and 12m so I tried pointing the beams directly south to test backscatter propagation. I also asked the folks in the pileup to do the same. This mode of operation resulted in about 350 QSOs on 10m and 12m! This was also great news for the close-in stations as this mode of propagation allowed folks in adjacent states to work New Hampshire on the higher bands.

It was great fun operating as W1AW/1 New Hampshire this past week. I wish there would be another chance to do this but we’ll have to wait awhile for the ARRL’s next big birthday to come around.

- Fred (AB1OC)

 

AB1OC’s 2014 CQ WPX SSB Contest Results – Another Station Goal Met


2014 CQ WPX SSB Results

2014 CQ WPX SSB Results

The CQ World Wide WPX Contest is one of my favorites and 2014 was another improvement year for me. This was the first year where I was no longer in the “Rookie” (<3 years licensed) category. I received a nice surprise in my email today – a certificate with a first place finish in Area 1 in the USA, fifth place overall in North America and #20 in the World in the Single Op High Power All Bands category in this contest. This realizes another of our basic station design goals – “to finish in the top 20 in some major contests”.

Contest QSO Summary

Contest QSO Summary (from the Athena Tool)

There are several things that worked together to help me improve my score in this contest over the 2013 total of 1,883,448 points. First, thanks to work on operating technique, my accuracy improved considerably to a respectable overall error rate of 2.8% (this is more than a 2X improvement over 2013). Secondly, our work on station automation plus better receiving equipment for the low bands worked together to provide a nice improvement in my results on the 80m band. Band conditions were also very good during this contest which helped to improve my run rates and multiplier counts. I’ve also been working hard to improve my SSB phone operating technique through participation in other contests and on-air events like The 13 Colonies Special Event. I operated for most of the allowed contest period but could have put in a few more hours of “butt-in-chair” and perhaps moved up a spot or two in North America (the difference in the final scores between places #3 and #5 in North America was only 854,958 points).

All this said, I am very happy with my results in this contest and my progress as a SSB contester in general. Anita (AB1QB) and I are continuing to work on both our skills as contest operators and our station and I hope we can continue to improve quickly.

- Fred (AB1OC)