Field Day and the 2el Vertical Beam

I came across an interesting read from Jim, N2GXJ entitled “Thinking about Field day Antennas“. This talks about Field Day scoring and how to improve your score. He points out that the key to Field Day comes down to the sheer number of QSO’s you make irregardless of where they are from. Jim starts by looking at poulation density from the US Census as an indicator of where ops will be located:


This map tends to confirm my previous experience that the bulk of contacts are made up and down the east coast and in California. Last year I ended up running at 45W due to poor propagation and did notice many stations coming in from California. I made the mistake of not working more of them.

So from my QTH in South Texas I need to target the East and West coasts with daytime activity on 20m and 15m. The 2el vertical beam for 20m will definitely be a good choice for pointing to the east coast and should let me go back to QRP levels. I’ll try and test this out this coming Saturday if the weather holds (good to test the battery system while I am at it).


The 2el Vertical Beam Lives!

Made a run to Home Depot this morning and bought the PVC bits I needed to build the 2el vertical Beam I described in a previous post. The PVC is for the antenna mount to raise the feed point up to about 8 feet. I had some issues laying the elements out in the backyard as a tree was in the way. The two elements are 16 ft apart which is a bit further than the 13 feet modeling showed was optimum. I started by setting up the driven element. this went together very similar to the homebrew Buddistick with the exception that the fishing pole allows me to go full length. It tuned under 2:1 SWR across the whole 20m band. The reflector was even easier as it does not need to be tuned. I used one continuous piece of wire for the element and radial and keep the distance to the radial end at 14 feet. The beam is pointed in roughly a 45° bearing towards the northeast USA and Europe.

I should mentioned I did all this in a dead calm and in very muggy conditions outside today. I did not like the was the PVC was bending but rather than properly guy them I opted to try the antenna out a bit first…what could go wrong? I ran WSPR for about 2 hours with the following result:


Note the high density of spots to the NE and the two spots to Europe. Pretty good for this time of day. Some SSB work towards the Mississippi QSO party yielded several “strong signal” QSO’s. I also made a QSO to Spain. After I closed that QSO, I switched to the S9V31 and noted a drop on the S meter from S4 to S1 when he was transmitting. Not sure what to make of that as 3 S units represents an 18dB change in signal strength. Perhaps the difference in pattern?

Did I mention what could go wrong? Let me first mention that PVC is like a wet noodle. The reflector was supported somewhat by some nearby tree branches but the driven element was not cooperating. I leaned a step ladder against it to provide a bit of support. Now remeber I did not guy it down as I was anxious to test it out. The weather shifted while I was gathering data. A cold front blew in and it started to rain lightly and the wind started gusting. The antenna has not failed but I don’t expect it to stay up through the night. The driven element is leaning over quite a bit in the breeze and I expect it to flop over at some point. The good news is this is hard to damage.

I’ll guy it up tomorrow for more extensive use. I think this is finally a winner in the gain department. Setup is fairly easy with the only thing I need to improe being how to get the feed point to 8 feet and still keep it portable.

Trouble on the Horizon

The computer I use for rig control in the shack is an HP Z400 Workstation. It has been an incredibly reliable and high performance machine. Late last week I started getting system messages that the main hard drive (C:) was going to fail. I ran a S.M.A.R.T. utility that confirmed that the drive was exhibiting read errors. Sure beats the old days when the drive would just die!

I have backup the drive and have purchased a replacement which has just arrived. The whole process to replace the drive is likely to be highly disruptive. I will have to disconnect everything on my desk and move it enough to access the workstation tower case from back. So I am reserving one whole day to the process. While I am at it I plan to redo the station wiring as well.

Simplified Antenna Tuning

I use an MFJ-939 Autotuner with the Icom 7300 and until today I have had to run the down the power manually, change modes to RTTY and provide a carrier to tune. I just installed the MFJ-5114I interface cable to the rig and can now initiate a tuning cycle by pressing the tuner button on the rig. When pressed and held for 1 second, the rig drops power to 10W , switches to CW and sends a carrier. The tuner then returns a match and the rig goes back into its previous mode. Nice.

This never worked with the Yaesu version of the cable on my FT-450D as described in previous posts. I did have to open up the tuner and change some jumpers per the MFJ manual but not really a big deal.

Next Vertical Beam Experiments

My next experiment with a vertical beam antenna for 20m is coming up this weekend. My plan is to start with essentially a full length “Buddistick” on 20m using a fishing pole. I am going to plant 2 feet of a 5 foot 3/4″ PVC pipe as an initial support. On top of this will be another 5 foot 3/4″ PVC pipe joined with a pipe coupler. On top of this is a 3/4″ pipe coupler plus a 3/4″ to 1/2″ pipe adapter. A 12 inch length of 1/2″ PVC pipe will go on top of that and the telescopic fishing poles will slip on to this. Both the reflector and driven element will be mounted in this way. I may have to guy the mounts but short guys should work.

The driven element will have it’s feed point at 8 feet. The vertical element will be 16.5 feet long. The radial will be 17 feet long and slope down to an electric fence post at 4″ high. The reflector will be 13 feet away and be identical to the driven element except the vertical wire is 17 feet long followed by a 17 ft radial also mounted 4 feet high. Here is some EZNEC plots of this configuration:


I am expecting that this configuration will be below 2:1 across the whole band, provide good low angle radiation, 3-4 dBi of forward gain and 10dB of Front to back. This should be easy to build and deploy

Some common mode choke changes

I replaced the 14 turn toroid choke with a balun designs 1:1 choke right at the fed line. I then undid the two toroid chokes I had build previously and wound them as a 9 turn choke by stacking both type 43 toroids. This I placed at the receiver input. The receive noise is very much improved and the waterfall on the Icom 7300 really comes alive. I may try some additional experiments with the balun position. S9v31 manual recommends setting this up outside the radial field.

Weller 9400

I typically use a soldering station as most of my previous soldering needs were largely soldering PCB. Soldering RF connectors and the like is quite another story. I invested in a Weller 9400 soldering gun this past weekend:


Wish I had gotten one sooner. It heats up in about 10 seconds and makes short work of soldering PL-239 connectors onto coax. It is very convenient to just plug in and use.


Measurement and Comparison of Common Mode Chokes

I have several common mode chokes in the shack today that I wanted to measure and compare against each other. This seemed like a good application for the low cost VNA I bought a couple of months ago. The setup is shown on the N4SPP website. Only the shield oif the chokes is connected to the center pin of each VNA input. The sweep is done in Transmission line mode and the result is Transmistion loss and phase. This was run after a calibration sweep using a short. I has some concerns over the overall accuracy but the results relative to each other is a good start for comparisons. The chokes I measure are two ugly baluns:


12T & 14T of RG-8X on an FT240-43 Toroid:


A 1:1 balun kit I ordered and made off of Ebay (after being outdoors pretty ugly in its own right):


and finally the guts of a MFJ-915 line isolator. I say the guts because the isolator originally was encased in PVC pipe but the connectors were off center and did not allow installation of the mating connector. I cut this off and wrapped the connectors in silicone tape.


This graph shows the resulting data on sweeps from 3Mhz to 15Mhz:


Overall, looking for damping in the range of 25-30 dB. At first glance all of these chokes all look about the same with the exception of the MFJ line isolator which although relatively flat has readings over 20 dB. G3TXQ has a great write up on the choking resistance. He notes that an issue with the “ugly” balun is that their impedance is almost entirely reactive with the exception of a small band of frequencies around resonance.

“Reactive chokes have the disadvantage that they can “resonate” with a CM impedance path that is also reactive but of opposite sign – in some cases actually increasing the CM current flow rather than choking it.”

I removed the ugly balun and replaced it with the 14T Toroid Choke at the feedline and added a 12T Toroid choke at the IC-7300 antenna input with a 1 S unit drop in the noise floor noted. I will replaced these with mix 31 toroids of the same size which should give a flatter, broader response below 15 Mhz. I also have a 1:1 balun on order from Balun Designs for use at the feedpoint. I’ll take some measurmeents on these and post and they become available.

Lowering the HF Noise Floor

Previous posts have reported on WSPR performance with my vertical antennas especially compared to data collected by a nearby Ham (Cliff – N5CEY) with a similar antenna setup. The metric is how well a given antenna receives unique spots over a 24 hour period as documented by the WSPR Challenge site. I have always seemed to lag behind Cliff’s receive performance in spots and in DX received. I have asked Cliff about the specifics of his setup and came to the conclusion that he has a significantly lower noise floor at his QTH in the country versus mine in the city. Cliff’s QTH is about 12.5 miles north of mine in a rural area. He is closer to the coast and likely has much better soil conditions as well. His antennas on WSPR are all 1/4 wave verticals on 40m, 30m and 20m. I have an “ugly” balun installed at the feed point of my vertical and about 30 feet of RG-8X to the shack entrance. There are about 8 loops of coax at the shack entrance. Inside the shack are various patch cables connecting switches, antenna tuners, SWR meters and the Timewave ANC-4 to the IC-7300. Lots of nearby noise sources including PC’s, cable modems, wifi routers etc.

So the task before me is how to lower the noise floor at my QTH to bring in weaker signals. I have done quite a bit of research and finally came upon some discussion of the effects of Common Mode currents on noise floor. My next post will detail some measurements on various common mode current chokes but for now suffice it to say that changing my common mode choke arrangement has had a positive effect on the noise floor. Here is what I did:

  1. Added a CMC consisting of 12 turns of RG-8X around a FT240-43 toroid core right at the IC-7300 antenna connection. This resulted in a 1 S (6dB) unit reduction in the received noise!
  2. Replaced the ugly balun with a choke as above. No significant change noted in noise floor.
  3. Replaced 30 feet of RG-8x feed line to the shack with 30 ft of RG-213 coax. No significant change in the noise floor was noted. this change should help in reducing losses though.

Adding the choke to the antenna input made a big improvement in lowering the noise floor. I adjusted the Timewave ANC-4 to further try and negate any remaining noise.

So the results are as follows after 20m WSPR was run for 24 hours:


Pulled ahead of N5CEY by 8 unique spots and made the DX list still lagging a bit behind Cliff. Here are my spots during this period (right image is Cliff’s and the one on the left is mine):

2018-03-18 (1)2018-03-18

So all in all a significant improvement by addressing Common Mode Currents. More on the Chokes in an up comming post.


The S9V31 is Working…but How Well?

I have been trying to collect some solid data on the performance of the S9V31 antenna configured for multi-band operation. It is currently configured to be non-resonant on any band and I go through an antenna tuner in the shack. WSPR results have been lackluster and possibly a little worse than when run as a resonant 40m antenna. FT-8 spots on on the other had have been quite good on early morning 40m. I am being heard all along the western Pacific rim consistently.

I have noticed quite a few stronger European stations in the late afternoon on 20m and have made several SSB contacts. I actually closed four all time new ones this week: St Eustatius on 12m, Republic of Congo & Easter Island on 17m, and Revillagigedo Island on 20m. Interesting that 12m and 10m have had brief openings in the late afternoon. Band conditions have been pretty bad with long periods of zero sunspot numbers.

I am still working on what to do to lower the noise floor at the shack. I feel that is the key to improve station performance and should be readily visible when running WSPR. More on that coming up….