Field Day Preps Continue

I have two more weekends to prep for 2017 ARRL Field Day. Next weekend I plan to test the Homebrew buddistick on 20m WSPR and compare to the 20m Buddipole I tested last week. I need to complete a 1:1 current balun for both of these antennas. I am also reconfiguring my go-kits. I have a case for solar power generation, another to carry gear for digital ops, and yet another for the FT-817ND and other equipment. I have also sourced a “tarp tent” which I hope to test next weekend as well. Just missing a field portable chair and table at this point. Need the shade and will need plenty of water as well.

My plan now is to run solar powered battery operation from start of the event on Saturday, run 20m & 15m through the day then switch to 40m once the sunsets and operate till the late evening. I will not likely operate on Sunday at all. I plan to start with SSB and switch to digital PSK31 if band conditions limit QRP SSB operation.

Working 40m and 17m this Weekend

I reconfigured what has become my main antenna, the 40m 1/4 wave vertical. This is still a temporary installation but I am growing increasingly happy with the results I am getting. I frankly can’t remember the last time I used the horizontal end fed. I have had to roll up the radials on occasion to mow the yard and have not yet deployed my permanent radials. Currently I am using the 30 foot travel mast from SOTAbeams to support the vertical wire and have four 27 foot radials deployed. I am using my homebrew 1:1 current balun at the feedpoint and running to the shack with 50 ft of RG-8X.

If I get the chance I’ll start operating around 6:30 am local time on 40m JT-65. I can usually snag several contacts in Japan with the occasional contact into Australia, Indonesia or the Philippines. The action is over by about 7:30am local time as the band closes quickly after sunrise.

Saturday afternoon, I was checking the bands and came across a strong VK station on 17m SSB. We exchanged signals reports in the 54 to 55 range. I moved over to JT-65 and found that there was DX activity including another VK contact. Today Sunday I am finding about the same conditions, great 40m propagation to the far east in the early morning and some light DX into Europe & South America on 17m in the late afternoon.

 

Some Thoughts On WSPR Data for Antenna Comparisons

I have been keen on using WSPR data to compare the performance of antenna systems. I haven’t worked out a detailed metric but I thought I’d share some thoughts on how the data can be broken down. When looking at 24 hours of WSPR data on a specific band I am seeing the the number of unique stations received is a clear indicator of the antenna’s overall performance and pattern. If this is enough to make the WSPR Challenge board for that period then another clear indicator. As an example, the homebrew Buddipole on 20m (even with resonance being outside the band high) came in at #22 on the WSPR Challenge site with 143 unique stations. I have been hard pressed to make the WSPR Challenge board with the end fed horizontal or the magnetic loop antenna (indoors). So the higher then number the better.

The number of stations hearing me on WSPR is a different story. The ratio of stations heard to stations hearing me is rarely equal. This really depends on the efficiency of the antenna, something that is not evaluated on receive. If I transmit at 1/2W I can expect fewer stations received than if I transmit at say 1W. This will not be a linear increase. What I am seeing is that some antennas have a high count of “heard by” stations for a given power than others. This gives a relative indication of the antenna efficiency. There may be a way to correlate this with a given antenna by testing at different power levels.

 

Vertical Weathers a Thunderstorm

We had some much needed rain at the QTH last night. I had taken down to work on the Homebrew Buddipole early last evening but left the 40m vertical in place. The storm blew through at about 4am and dropped over an inch and a half of rain with gusty winds up to 25 Mph. My wife went outside early this morning and came in to tell me we had debris in the back yard and oh by the way your antenna is bent. Doh!

Went outside expecting the worst. I have heard stories of fiberglass tubes breaking off in high winds. I was relieved to find that the antenna was indeed bent near the top, but only because the vertical wire had blow into and tangled into a tree branch holding it over. I shook it loose and it popped back vertical instantly. Three sections had telescoped back in near the base so after pulling them back out I am back in business. This SOTABeams travel mast has taken some real abuse!

Camera Tripod Adapter

The Homebrew Buddistick and the Magnetic Loop antenna both require mounting on a camera tripod. Up to now I had been using a tripod without the pan head and inserting the 3/4″ PVC pipe with a pressure fit. This worked OK for awhile but eventually the tripod fitting pulled out and the tripod was ruined. I have been thinking for some time about how to make an adapter that would fit the standard tripod pan head and allow me to mount the antenna. A trip to Home Depot this afternoon yielded a solution. I built a mount with these four components:

  1. 2″ Pipe PVC cap – These have a flat cap surface
  2. 2″ to 3/4″ PVC pipe adapter
  3. 2″ PVC pipe coupling
  4. A 1/4″-20 threaded insert.

Building this was simple enough. First drill an 11/16″ hole in the middle of the pipe cap. Then using a 6mm hex key drive the 1/4-20 insert into the pipe cap until it is flush. Here is the cap mounted on the tripod:

Photo May 28, 4 35 19 PM

To complete this adapter install the coupling along with the 3/4″ adapter and it will be ready to mount the antenna. Here is the finished adapter mounted on the tripod:

Photo May 28, 4 35 37 PM

I finished this just in time as I need it to start testing the Homebrew Buddistick as I’d like to compare it’s WSPR performance to the Homebrew Buddipole.

UPDATE 6/13/2017: This turned into a fail. I tested this mount on the mag loop antenna and the weight and balance was too much for the tripod head. The clamp mechanism snapped and rendered the head useless. I removed the head and and am back to using it as before, i.e. with the pvc pipe jammed onto the tripod vertical post.

Homebrew Buddipole on WSPR

Here are about 18 hours worth of 20m WSPR data on the Homebrew Buddipole at 16 ft. So far 137 unique spots. Looks like it will provide good coverage for Field Day. I’ll be comparing this again the Homebrew Buddistick next.

buddipole wspr

Homebrew Buddipole Shakedown Testing

Sometime ago I built a homebrew version of a Buddipole horizontal dipole antenna. I only deployed it once to test and have not really used it much since. I am considering using this antenna for Field Day this year on the 20m band and wanted to test it out. Happy I did for several reasons. Here is the antenna deployed at 16ft with a painters pole:

Photo May 27, 1 47 33 PM

The antenna is guyed at two levels. The painters pole is inserted into a speaker stand tripod. Here is the SWR plot:

BUDDIPOLE Custom

Most of SWR is below 2 however the resonance point is outside the band on the high side.  So I have to lengthen the antenna slightly. The whips are already at their max so I will have to adjust the loading coils. One more turn on each should give me room to adjust with the whip lengths if necessary.

Something else that needs to be addressed is that the antenna swings around in the wind. I need to add an attachment point for a separate line to secure it from swinging. The old “Armstrong” method of swinging the antenna around. Finally, I need to put a true 1:1 current balun at the feed-point. I have the kit to build one and will do so this week.

The antenna has performed well. I called CQ this afternoon and made 5 contacts from South Dakota to Florida and North Carolina. Band Conditions have been fairly bad with considerable QSB. Europe will open up in a couple of hours and will try it again then.

 

 

Reached 100 DX entities – unofficially

I made a 20m SSB contact to Guadalupe in the Caribbean yesterday which got my unofficial DX count to 100. It is unofficial because I don’t have the electronic confirmation either though QRZ or LoTW. My official tally is 85 for DXCC and 88 for QRZ DX World. It has taken awhile to get here and the new antennas I have been testing help quite a bit. Wish more folks could confirm either through QRZ or LoTW!

SWR Meter Bulb Replacement – Win!

I use an MFJ-822 SWR meter with my base rig and it has served me well. Only issue is the small incandescent 12V bulb burned out making it hard to read in a low light situation. I replaced the bulb with a white LED rated at 12V by MPJA. This did require a bit of careful surgery but was successful. One screw removed the case. The bulb is connected with a small Molex connector. The meter connections have to be un-soldered in order to get at the bulb. The meter movement is gently pried off the cover. Here it is disassembled:

Photo May 23, 3 20 57 PM

The bulb used in the MFJ meter is not field replaceable. It is glued into the meter plate. I gently popped it out and then drilled out the hole for the LED. A bit of super glue holds it in place. Reassembly was straightforward, just be careful to re-solder the meter correctly. Here is the meter with white LED goodness:

Photo May 23, 3 49 57 PM

Keep in mind that doing this retrofit likely voids any warranty you may have with MFJ so do it at your own risk and as always, Your Mileage May Vary.

Mini60 Bluetooth Retrofit – Epic Fail

I was going to make one last attempt at getting the mini60 Bluetooth module to work by removing it and redoing the baud rate programming step. Too many applications of the soldering iron affected the small solder pads and traces on both the module and the Mini60. I removed the module and put the Mini60 back together again. Everything is still working as before but no Bluetooth goodness. Better to just but the Mini60 with the Bluetooth module installed.