I have spent the last few months painfully creeping towards 100 LoTW confirmed DX contacts in order to earn the DX Century Club Award. The 1/4 wave vertical antennas and digital contacts using JT-65 and now mainly FT-8 have gone a long way to get my entity count up. I managed the DX100 on last year but gaining the DXCC with only LoTW QSL’s has been much slower. Sometimes I get a new one but they don’t confirm on LoTW. Over the last month I had been holding at 99 entities. Yesterday I got a flood of confirmations from a Dxpedition to Galapagos Island that put me over the top! Looking forward to proudly displaying the DXCC award soon!


A New APRS Gadget

I have had mixed results with APRS in the past. I had been trying to use an old Iphone as the GPS and TNC to feed a Baofeng radio. This seemed to be hit or miss most of the time and the phone is a bit clunky to carry around with the radio. I recently came across a listing on Ebay for “APRS 51TRACK X1C-2 Plug and Play For Radio with GPS +Battery” from China. The device acts as a small GPS enabled TNC that is plug & play with Baofeng HT radios.


I ordered one from Ebay and after about 2 weeks for shipping it arrived. The unit arrived with a cable setup for the Baofeng, a couple of spare RG-11 connectors, A USB to TTL board with a cable set. No manual or instructions were included. I contacted the seller in China and he promptly sent me the manual. It is in Chinese…


No worries as Google Translate did a fairly decent job of translating the text in the files. Charging the unit requires a Micro USB cable. Programming is a one time process that requires the unit to be dissasembled. This is easy enough to do by removing one of the end panels and pulling out the PCB inside. The Li Ion battery sits on top of the board with a small piece of foam in between. To program you will need to connect the USB to TTL board to the PCB using the included cable. Connect the USB board to a PC and it will install itself as a COM port. I struggled a bit with a terminal program (puTTY failed me this time) until i found that a freeware program called Termite did the trick. Once the port is opened (9600,8,1,N) press enter and the device will display its current configuration. Follow the instructions to change to your call sign as well as any other parameters  (SSID or WIDE-1 setting). Once configured, the cable can be removed and the box reassembled. Hook up the radio using the supplied coiled cable. Set the radio to 144.39 Mhz no tone and put it in VOX mode with the volume turned up. press the power button once to turn the APRS unit on. A red light will blink showing the state of the battery charge. The light will then blink blue indicating it is working on a GPS fix. Once the blue light turns solid it will start to beacon position data.

The unit performs as advertised once it is setup. here are the two manual files I receieved modified with English Translations :

APRS Track X1CF 20150501_BH4TDV

APRS Track X1CF 20150501_BH4TDV English

Overall the unit seems to work pretty well once configured and looks to be a decent value. I may add the optional temperature and pressure sensor to it next.


20m Vertical Beam Now Pointing to Japan

I moved the driven element of the 20m vertical beam to a bearing of about 330 degrees today. it took only about five minutes to drive in the pvc mounting pipe And rearrange the ground radials. The driven element is now further away from the A/C noise so that is now tolerable.

Early morning in Japan, signals started coming in and this time the difference between the vertical and the beam are significant. The S-meter indicated about a 2 unit difference. I did not close a QSO on phone but made a JT-65 to Japan.

Tomorrow I will collect some WSPR data and share a comparison method I am trying out.


My Never Ending Battle with Noise

I had to replace my central air conditioning about a month ago. It is a high efficiency type. The 20m vertical beam I have been experimenting with has the driven element about 25 feet from the outside compressor unit with the air handler about the same distance away just inside the house.

Whenever the fan is on (currently in heater mode) I get these noise spikes evenly spaced every 18khz across the 20m band that is being picked up by the beam. The vertical which is much further away does not pick this noise up on 20m but does see it on 18m. The Timewave does not cancel it out as the sense antenna does not hear the noise in its position inside the shack.

I’ll be moving the driven element of the beam to point towards Asia tomorrow which should improve things as it is further away from the A/C. Turns out that high efficiency A/C units these days tend to use PWM circuits for the fan control to optimize efficiency. This plays hob with RF above 20m.


More Tests of the 20m Vertical Beam Antenna

EZNEC modeling suggested a better response if I moved the elements of the 20m 2 element vertical beam closer together. The separation distance is now 11 feet versus the previous 18ft. Hard to tell if this worked on the basis of QSO’s completed. I will likely move the driven element so the array points to an azimuth of 330° as Japan seems to be opening up in the late afternoon.

20m 2 Element Vertical Beam

I built and am testing a 20m 2 element vertical beam antenna today. I started by setting up a 20m 1/4 vertical tuned to about 14.2Mhz. The vertical element is 15′ 1″ of #14 house wire supported by a fiberglass fishing pole.

There are four ground mounted radials measuring 18′ 6″ using #18 speaker wire. Once this was setup, I setup a duplicate antenna with a vertical element length of 15′ 8′ as then director. This element is connected directly to four ground mounted radials as with the driven element. The two vertical elements are about 16 feet apart and lined up to a bearing of about 40°

So far all went well and the antenna is resonant across the 20m band. I had one contact on SSB with a station in Alabama who gave me a 59 with the beam and a 57 with my 40m vertical running on 20m with the tuner. A similar case with a station in Indiana who had me 20 over S9 using the beam and an S8-S9 with the vertical. Two contacts on the back side were workable with my reports at a S7-S8. I am running on WSPR now and will collect some more data.

Winding Toroids on a Rainy Day

The replacement T200-6 toroid for the  phase transformer arrived today along with a couple of cheap Balun Kits. I bought a roll of of #18, 5 conductor thermostat wire at Home Depot and used that for the windings. Here is the winding for the phase transformer:


I’ll be mounting this in a 4x4x2 electrical junction box.

I also built up a 4:1 balun for some dipole experiments I plan to run using ladder line:


Don’t Drop the Toroid!

I sat down to start working on the phase transformer for my phased vertical project. I dropped the toroid!


Just ordered a replacement. Hope it arrives before I break for Christmas….

Using SDR Receivers to Track NOAA Weather Balloons

Found an article by the folks at RTL-SDR that shows how to recieve data from NOAA weather balloons. This look like a fun project and considering the balloons at the NWS Brownsville are launched twice a day just 2 miles from here it could be very doable.

Tips for FT8 DXers

Tips for FT-8 DXers by Gary Hinson, ZL2IFB is online at the WSJT website. Nice tips on using FT-8. Check it out.