Thursday, June 30, 2016

Field Day 2016

Field day is always fun but a challenge.  It's hot, the bands suck with QRM and there are always 4 people calling CQ on every 100Khz for 24 hours straight.  What a great event!  Where do I sign up?!? LoL!

This year instead of going to Justin's house to setup like we did last year, we spent the day just East of Troy MO on a friends farm.  The cows were in the other pasture, so we had plenty of free space to setup antennas and play radio for the day.

We setup 3 antennas for the day shown below.  North is basically straight up in the picture below.

Antenna setup for the day

We arrived around 8:30am and started setting up.  First agenda item was to shoot the dipole guy ropes into the trees.  And again, we had trouble with our slingshot/fishing reel.  Shot after shot would get tangled up in either the slingshot rubber bands or the reel would not release the line without hitting a friction snag.  One thing I learned, you don't need a lot of power when shooting, so only bring back the slingshot maybe 50% of the way back.  Two, when winding back your line, make sure you don't wind it over tension as that's where the friction comes into play when trying to shoot the line back out.  You want that line to come out friction free.  Our original reel was an old 6 dollar Amazon prime deal.  We've since upgraded to a 12 dollar Amazon prime deal, so we'll see if that helps.  Using construction orange braided fishing line with a bright orange weight at the end always helps with trying to find it on the other side of the tree.

Version 1.0 on the left, version 2.0 on the right.

Justin operated with his 80m - 6m Buckmaster.  I decided to string up my new cut down 80m - 6m Windom dipole from RadioWavz.  If you remember, I did have a 160m Windom that had horrible SWR on the 40m band.  I used that antenna during the MO QSO Party in April 2016.  During the Dayton Hamvention, I asked them if they could give me a new balun, cut my 160 down to 80 and redo the lengths.  They agreed and now I have a 80m - 6m Windom.  After we put it in the air, we shot the SWR on it and it's OK, not the best, but workable.  I also had my 30ft vertical radiator attached.  I think I'm going to cut the radiator down to 15ft as most of it just lays on the ground if I don't get it high enough.

Here is the SWR plot for the 80m - 6m Windom I was using.  It's not the best nor the worse, but I think it's about the best your going to get for a 5 band Windom dipole.

We also setup one of the military surplus push up masts we purchased at Hamvention.  They go up quick and can be deployed at 40ft or higher with enough guy ropes.  I made a "L" bracket to sit on top of the mast to move the balun and dipole away from the aluminum, which ended up breaking at the base due to the weight of the dipole hanging down.  Good thing Justin had an extra, so we brought the mast down and then back up again with the 2nd dipole hanger.  His worked great!

A 40m dipole was pulled to the top of the military mast at around 30 feet to start out with.  I'm thinking would use this setup in our states QSO parties and not use a tree hung dipole.  We shot this with an SWR meter at different heights to see how well it would perform.  Because I used 14 gauge wire, it has a large bandwidth with the bottom around 1.3 SWR.  Depending on the height, the SWR changes, so it will defiantly be a "setup and check the SWR" type of antenna if I'm going to use it without a tuner.

Military mast with a 40m dipole attached

For our operating position  we setup along the southwest corner of the lot under some shade trees.  This location proved good during the morning and noon hours, but as the day moved along, the shade was less.  Next time we'll setup in the northwest corner where it's much shadier during the whole day.  It was hot, even in the shade.

It's hot

Below is a picture of our operating position.  I picked up a 10x10 canopy at Wal-Mart, and glad thing I did as we would probably been spilling out with all the equipment we had.  We built the redneck A/C units to try and keep our radios cool.  A fan, a dryer vent, an cooler and some ice.  It kept my stuff cool the whole day, so say what you will about it, it actually worked.

Operating position

I learned quite a bit from contesting go box version 1.0, as there will be version 1.1 coming out soon.  I had some blue tooth issues with my keyboard.  Not sure what was causing it, but if I didn't have the keyboard and mouse right beside the PC, it would not pick up my keystrokes.  I also noticed when I transmitted one of my screens would get some interference.  I'll hopefully fix that with some snap on ferrite chokes around the A/C cords and HDMI connections.

Can you spot the redneck coolers?

My monitor setup included running the Flex software on one screen and N1MM on the other.  The fan was pointed towards me, but after it rained (yes, what would field day be with out a rain storm), it got cool and the fan was demoted to blowing air on the equipment.
We actually worked N1MM on 20m and 40m during the day.  I didn't even register that I worked N1MM, as I was in "contest mode", but I got N1MM in the video below.  
In the current setup I have one large monitor and one smaller monitor.  I think I'm going to purchase another smaller monitor so I have two of the same make/model as you can see one has a different base than the other.  Putting together bases becomes a pain, so stream lining that process would probably be best.

My view for the day

We don't need no stinkin' goats...I think that might be Rooster and Peanut!  How did they get in Missouri?

Goat boy...

I started off S&Ping for probably 10 to 15 contacts and then got wise as everybody else was calling CQ over top of one another, so what was one more person calling CQ???  While I was searching and pouncing, I was really impressed with the Flex and my new RadioWavz antennas as I never called more than twice the whole contest before someone answered back.  When I was running, I got a lot of complements how good my signal was.  I think the antenna, the radio and the new mic with the correct EQ settings is a winning combo.

I did have a first while I was operating.  Two stations were calling CQ on the same frequency.  I threw my call out there and both came back to me.  I then said my exchange and both said 73.  Logged both contacts at the exact same time on the same frequency.  How odd is that??? I'm sure that's probably illegal somehow, but I'm going to count it!

The next portable operating goal is to reduce the amount of stuff I bring.  If I can get down to a total of 2 of the large black totes plus my radio, tool box and generator, I would be very happy.  I think 2 totes is stretching it...but I'll at least try. 

We tore camp down around 6pm and started for home.  I ended the day around 10pm and fell right to sleep.  On Sunday I got up and attended the SLSRC's field day for a few hours, made some contacts and came home.  Check out Sterling's YouTube channel for his video of the St. Louis area Field Day.  His call is N0SSC.

In total we worked 114 stations.  Our total time in the field was 5 hours.  Butt in chair time was around 2.5 hours.  It was hard telling as we had many visitors the whole day (friends who knew we were going to be down in the field), so we did a lot of socializing.  

Below is the Field Day 2016 video I put together.  Give a thumbs up in you enjoy and subscribe to my channel!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Contesting Go Box Version 1.0

I participate in a lot of contests that I enter in the portable or expedition category.  If you ever run portable, you know it takes much longer than anticipated to setup.  Antenna location scouting that should take 10 mins takes an hour, antennas support ropes take longer to pull up into the trees, running coax back to your station, etc..

One of the time consumers that should be ultra easy is the radio setup.  What if you had a go-box that housed all your contesting devices?  Your contesting radio, a power supply, a mini-computer, maybe a 2m rig?  Well, I built one.  Version 1.0 to be tested at Field Day 2016.

A total of 6U.  Probably should be 8U, but I had an old 6U 19" rack at the house from playing in a band years ago.  Here is the run down.

Rack Spaces
1U - Furman power conditioner
2U - Kenwood TM-V71A and Astron SS-30M
1U - Intel NUC i5 computer
2U - Flex 6500

Misc Items
Two (2) 1U rack mount shelves
West Mountain Radio fused distribution
DB9 to USB dongle
DB9 to Mini-DIN serial cable
19" rack grounding buss bar

I tried to clean up all the cables as neat as I could, but they might change locations in the future.  Since the Flex and TM-V71A is part of my home station, I'll need to clear out some of my desk to make room for it. I'll plug in my linear Astron 30A power supply to power distribution and leave the Astron switching supply off so it keep the heat down in the box.

On the power supply I removed the rubber feet and cut some aluminium angle brackets to keep the bottom off the metal shelf.

I attached everything through either pre-drilled holes, or I drilled them myself.  I put nylon nuts on the bottom so the nuts would not work loose over time.  This could be an issue if you stack the 1U shelves on top of one another, so watch out for that.

The Kenwood 2m/70cm radio is attached by the mounting bracket that came with the radio, I just flipped it upside down.

The PC is mounted on it's VESA mount that would be used for the back of a monitor.

Again, I'll be testing it out during Field day to see how functional it is and how hot it gets inside.  I'm assuming version 2.0 will be right around the corner, so stay tuned!

Friday, June 10, 2016

MO QSO Party 2016 Operating as W9W

Myself, Justin (KE0HXL), Chris (WX5CW) and Kevin (K0KEV) all participated in the MO QSO Party this year (2016).  Here is the write up for the weekend, as we had a blast, learned a ton and will be back next year working as W0W in the expedition multi-OP category.

Planning.  We did a lot of planning.  We planed times, dates, equipment, operating times, you name it, we tried to plan for it.  We shared large Google spreadsheets between the group as everybody had a thought, idea or action plan on the weekend.  This worked out well and will use this system for next years planning as now we have a template.  Justin and I did most of the planning leg work, but this was OK since we had most of the equipment.

Below is my packing time lapse on the Thursday before the contest.

We started by scoping out 2 or 3 county lines on Google Earth for public locations, as that would be the easiest to access and gain permission to camp on.  After obtaining a list of about 3 or 4 locations, we finally settled on a location Northwest of Kirksville MO in Union Ridge Conversation Area where Sullivan, Adar and Putman counties came together.  Union Ridge has small gravel parking lot type camp sites and one is about 100 foot away from a 3 county line, so this was perfect place to setup.  Just to verify location, trees, landscape, etc, Justin and I drove up to the site one day and did some recon work.  We stopped by the Conservation park office in Kirksville and let them know of our camping intentions and filled out a special use permit for our weekend activity.

Panoramic of the site
Now that we had the idea of what the site looked like, we could then go back on Google Earth and start placing antenna locations in the orientations we needed them in.  We went back and forth on where to place antennas, what trees to use, how to orientate to not interfere with each other...etc..finally deciding on one approach.

I would put my 160-6m through the trees on the northwest side, Justin would set up his 80-6m antennas in the field to the south with a tilt up mast, Chris would be off to the northeast and Kevin would be to the southwest with his dipole for digital.

As we got closer to the contest, our lists started to climb with equipment needs.  Backups to backups, misc items, extra this...extra that.  We had a lot of stuff to haul, as we had masts, radios, antennas, tools, food, personal items, the end we brought too much stuff!!!

Getting ready to head out!

Drive time lapse.

Let the setup begin!

We headed out of town early Friday morning and was at the campsite around noon after stopping at the Kirksville Wal-Mart for some last min items.  After scoping out the area and unloading all our equipment, we started putting up antennas around 1pm.  This took us all day, and longer than expected.  We had borrowed a large tilt up aluminum mast, which Justin used for his two homemade Buckmaster antennas.  Raising that tilt up mast proved to be harder than it seemed.  Trying to orientate the antennas correctly on the mast was also a challenge, as we wanted one in a N/S and the other in a E/W configuration.

Raising of the aluminum mast with the Buckmasters

My 160-6m Windom was a challenge too to put up in the trees as the wind kept throwing our slingshot with a weight over the wrong branches.  We knew the wind was going to be an issue, but we had no idea it was going to be such the factor the whole weekend.  After pulling my antenna up into the trees, we started working on running coax to all the antennas.

Down in the weeds stringing the dipole

160-6m Windom with vertical radiator

Before we knew it, it was getting dark, we had not eaten dinner and we didn't have any radios setup in the trailer.  After we ate dinner, we shifted our energy to setting up radios and testing out the equipment.  We got lucky and nobody had any huge radio issues.  No smoke!

Inside the trailer setting up equipment

We used N1MM as our contesting software.  This allowed us to network all the computers together with a wireless access point.  We borrowed a Verizon hotspot which allowed us internet at the site for self spotting.  The N1MM software works great if you can get your machines configured correctly.  One lesson learned was to get all the machines together to ensure they are sharing info correctly before the contest via N1MM as we had some time outs and a Windows firewall issues with one of the laptops.

For power we used 3 gas powered inverters.  One powered the trailer and the other two powered radios.  We plugged misc items into the trailer outlets and pulled extension cables in for radio power.  We positioned these about 100 foot away from the trailer and antennas.  Each inverter was grounded.

Captain, we need more power!

Sat morning we woke up and cooked a big breakfast. It was cold in the morning and I actually think we got sleeted on for a portion as a rain cloud moved over early morning.  The weather was crazy the whole weekend.  We hit all the seasons.  Rain Friday morning, cold sleet Sat morning, wind the whole weekend and hot temps on Sunday.

Nothing like an awesome griddle breakfast - more bacon!

Saturday morning 9am....It's go time!  The QSO party started out awesome, lots of stations, we were running around 60 to 70 SSB QSO's an hour, which isn't great, but it wasn't zero!  The wind was gusty in the morning, but not horrible.  Little did we know, the wind was going to be our biggest enemy during the weekend.  Union Ridge is positioned on a...well a RDIGE!  Our elevation was around 1100 feet with very little trees blocking us.  As the day progressed, the wind got worse and worse.  At times it would gust to 40 to 50 mph rocking the trailer back and forth.  We felt like there was a constant earthquake happening in the trailer, as our monitors would do a little jiggle dance.

Saturday operating in the trailer

As Sat moved along, the bands started to decline.  Our QSO count came down, but we kept at it.  At one time Justin had a run rate of around 95 QSO's an hour, but that didn't last long.  I ran 40m the whole day with very little search and pounce.  I worked a lot of counties, quite a few of the mobile stations and neighboring states.  20m was quiet for us as we didn't reach the west coast.  We worked a lot of stations in the plains and east coast, but nothing over the Rockies.

40m was hot, 20m not so much

Sat late afternoon we had our first antenna failure due to the wind.  Justin's PVC tubing on top of the aluminum mast gave way and just could not survive the 50Mph gusts.  I actually saw it snap in half, but didn't get it on video.  Both of his Buckmasters came tumbling down.  It took us about an hour and half to get the tilt up mast down and the back up with the dipoles secured in a new location.

The 40ft mast is about ready to snap!

The second antenna to go was Kevin's dipole he was using for digital later in the afternoon.  His fiberglass mast snapped in two.  With the mast he had left, he raised his dipole, anchoring it to the back of his car.  Kevin's tent didn't even make it through Sat night, as the wind was too much for it.

Kevin's tent and dipole

Chris operated with his Buddipole for all of the contest.  It was raised to around 15 foot in the air and it flopped in the wind all weekend.  He really didn't have the best orientation as it would swing north to south, then back to east/west as the wind blew.  Every couple of mins he would peek out the window to see if it was still alive and standing...

Chris operating CW

On Sat we made 669 contacts (with our 3 county multiplier) for a total of 223 contacts.  We spent probably 3 hours total working with antenna issues, we took an hour off to eat dinner and quit operating around 9pm on Sat.  The contest stopped at 11pm local time.  If you remove the non-operating time and use the 80% efficiency rule,  I think BIC (butt in chair) time was around 7 hours on Sat for one person.

Sleeping arrangements

Sunday started off slow for us, both on the air and physically as we were tired from the night before.  I think Chris got the least amount of sleep out of all of us, as Kevin's snoring kept him up all night.  I didn't hear any of it as I had ear plugs in, but I did hear when Chris would yell "Kevin, your snoring again!".  Oh the magic of earplugs...

Sunday operating
Sunday morning the bands were dead.  We called CQ hundreds of times with nobody coming back to us.  I even switched over to digital for a time period and made around 3 contacts.  Everybody was struggling as we could see the anger on the spotting page, so I knew it wasn't us.  In talking with others after the contest, all the bands were dead in the morning but improved as the day went on.

Sunday around 11am we had our 3rd antenna failure, my 160m Windom.  The trees swaying in the wind were no match for a 14awg wire and some rope, as the insulator gave way and brought the antenna down.  After that we called it quits for the weekend.  We were tired, wind blown and beat up from the contest as a whole.

The point when we realized the Windom was gone!

No more support rope or insulator

Sunday the BIC time was around 3 hours.  During those three hours we made around 225 total contacts with our multiplier, 75 total.  I think Chris had the majority of those contacts on CW, as SSB and digital band portions were degraded.

Here are some stats from the weekend.

Claimed multipliers

Contacts by band

Lessons learned for the weekend.

1) Need quicker antenna setup time.  We are working towards quicker antenna deployment and also mast deployment.  A huge purchase at Dayton is going to solve one of these to tackle the next!

2) Need quicker contest radio setup time.  Again, working on a solution.  Everything radio/power supply/ant tuner/etc will be in one box ready to go.  No putting together components, everything will be ready to go.  Only three things to connect.  Monitor cable, monitor power and antenna leads.  

3) Rate!  It's all about K9CT said over and over at Dayton.

4) Need to learn more N1MM tips to get more efficient at keyboard shortcuts to automate simple tasks.

5) Bring less stuff!

6) Food makes everybody happy and gets people motivated.  Start meals early and feed for maximum performance!

...the results are out and we placed 2nd in MO Expedition Multi-Op.  Our claimed score was 116K,  the organizers gave us 95K.  This is a reduction of 18%.  I think 18% is a little high with busted calls, so I'll be asking for some clarification.

Below is a video recap of the weekend.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Dayton 2016 Driving Time Lapse

Do you know where I can get a really generic video of someone driving from St. Louis to Dayton with some creative commons music playing in the back ground that you downloaded off You Tube?

...well today is your lucky day!  Click on the below video for such generic low produced effort video!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Quick Change Dipole

While I was at Dayton, I picked up a 1:1 voltage balun from RadioWavz to make an quick change 20m and 40m dipole.

I used 12awg stranded wire for each leg so I'd get a little bit more bandwidth out of the dipole.  I crimped on the yellow permanent connector and attached that to the balun posts.  I then created a pigtail with a bullet connector soldered on the end with some heat shrink.  This pigtail is around 7 inches.  On the longer end, I created a small loop and wrapped the wire around itself for a point to connect the S-clip.  I attached the S-clip to some paracord and then to the actual balun housing.

I measured out 35 feet of cable as my resonate length is around 32' 6", as I wanted it a little bit longer.  To tune it out in the field, I'm using dog bone insulators, so to bring the dipole up the frequency, all I need to do is pull the insulator closer to the balun and wrap the extra cable back around itself so it doesn't radiate.

Here is the final product, ready to be tested out in the field.  We'll give this a go for an NVIS antenna for Field Day 2016.  I plan on running this around 25 feet off the ground.

Once you create the pigtails connected to the balun, all you need to do is make different length ends for the different bands.  Use the same technique to solder the correct bullet end and make the loop to connect it to the S-clip.