Tuesday, June 14, 2016

If at first you don't succeed try try again!

Well here we are once again trying to get the portable ham radio setup going. My first attempt was to place one of my mono band whips on my bike and set out a counter poise. It was with mixed results, the SWR was sometimes all over, there was a TX error message now and again on my KX3 and basically frustration trying to get it to work. So if at first you don't succeed try try again. Last week I was online searching again for another way to get my portable op's on the air. I was looking for something that was easy to deploy, was portable and worked! My interest has gone toward the Endfed  antennas. I was looking at LNR's antennas and then I came across the Endfed 40-6m antenna by Steve W1SFR. I shot him some questions regarding the antenna and he got back to me right away with the answers. His Endfed seems to be very well built using Wireman "silky" 18 gauge wire which I have used in the past and been very happy with. There was a nice noticeable quality in both the wire connections and the 9:1 unUn. The antenna is only 35 feet but you do need about 25 feet of coax to act as a counter poise. Also your rig needs to have an antenna tuner (mine does) to get the benefit of 6m-40m with only a 35' antenna and no traps. Also it was nice to see on his web site a link to purchase his antenna including shipping to VE3 land. The shipping was super reasonable the total came to 67.00 U.S. Steve also mentions that his price includes handling as well. Other sites I had gone to being very interested in their antenna to only find out the shipping at times was either 1/2 or more of the price of the antenna. There was lots of positive reviews on Eham about Steve's antenna  as well. I put some items I am not using in the shack sold them very fast and the funds were in place so I have placed my order and waiting for it to arrive. I have the 25' of coax on hand but I do have to head out to the hardware store for some rope 1/8" nylon rope. Then I'm thinking of placing a water bottle with some sand it it as a weight to get the rope up and over a tree branch.....that is going to take some practice!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

A slight change of plans.....

The test setup 
I was out today once again with my portable operations but this time there was no on air time it was time to test and decide. I went out with my MFJ antenna analyzer, mobile whip antennas and various lengths of counter poise. I wanted to see where my 20m mobile whip antenna was resonant and using the MFJ analyzer was the easiest way of doing this. The counter poise for 20m I started with was 17.5 feet long and the SWR was not showing it was resonant in the CW portion of the band but in the SSB section. So I found I have to lengthen the counter poise to 30 feet to get the SWR to 1.2:1 in the CW portion of 20m. This got me to thinking if the mobile whip was the way to go, I did have these antennas hanging around and I wanted to give them a go to see what results I would get. They are still very useful to me when I operate portable mobile from the car and they preform very well in that situation. I wanted to try the whip  antenna as I felt it would be a very small footprint of an antenna but with a counter poise of 30 feet the footprint is larger than I would like. From most of my blog reading about portable trail operation, NPOTA operations and just plan old out in the park for the day operation hands down most of the time the antenna of choice was one of LNR's par end fed antenna's.   I have looked over the antennas at LNR Precisions site and not sure yet which antenna to get, I am leaning toward the EF-20 as it's not as long (33') as say the other models. I'm really not going to use 40m and I figure (but not sure) I can use the Elecraft KX3's tuner to operate 15 and 10M?? Any feedback about this antenna or others would be appreciated.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A great weekend for portable op's

The setup by the Lake 

This past weekend the weather was great and the propagation seemed to be fair. So that meant it was time to take the Elecraft KX3 along with my bike and hit the trails again. I went out on Saturday and Monday (It was a long weekend up this way) to see if the Ham god's would smile on my QRP signal. On Saturday there was a CW contest in full swing which meant there was contesters with keen ears wanting to make contacts. On Saturday I setup at the same location I blogged about on Friday. The park located where we live was not too busy and I was able to scoop a nice picnic table. I was using the same setup the KX3 and mono band 20m whip mounted on my bike. I heard DL2SAX calling CQ test but I was not able to raise a contact from him. I did make contact with CO2RQ from Cuba who was in the contest. This contact told me my signal was getting out as up to this point I had not made any contacts with this setup. I then hung out at the QRP watering hole calling CQ there did not seem to be much action and I was beginning to wonder if Cuba would be the only contact. Then WL2LG came back to me, Len and I had a very nice QSO my report was 229 and I gave him 559. We had a nice QSO talking about antennas, rigs and weather. For Saturday that was it for my contacts.
A visitor 
On Monday I got out a bit later and the park was very active and finding a picnic table proved to be very challenging. The spot I had been at for the last couple of days was taken. I did find another spot about 15 minutes away from my first spot but again it was on the lake with a nice breeze. I setup and was on 20m in no time calling CQ at the QRP watering hole again. I did hear K4BBH and VE4AK but they did not come back to me when I sent out my call. I did notice on Monday the conditions had changed to the point where an S8 signal in no time was down at the noise floor. I did make one contact for the day with W2KJ, Joe was in North Carolina. He has a good signal that without warning would fade down to the noise floor. The Audio Peak Filter (APF) on the KX3 saved the contact for me as I was able to dig Joes fading signal to readable levels. We both were QRP at 4 watts and both of us were using Elecraft KX3 rigs. My RST was 329 and I gave him 559 and that seem to be it for my contacts for the day. I packed up and when back home satisfied with only one contact considering the conditions and my minimal setup.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Out on the trail with the KX3

The bike all loaded up
I had Friday off and it was a beautiful sunny day so it was time to take my KX3 out on the trail to see how my new bike/ham radio setup works. My goal today was to see how to fit all I needed and find out what I really don't need to take on my bike and to make sure my antenna setup worked. I wanted to have an enjoyable ride and at the same time have all needed to setup for portable operations on the trail. The antenna was my mono band whip antennas from 10m-40m. I have them in a nice nylon roll up canvas bag I found they fit just perfect on the bikes horizontal support frame. I also have 2 canvas carry bags mounted on the rear of the bike that can be removed. While also loading the side bags I came to the conclusion that less is more! I had to trim down on what I was bringing. First off my KX3 was in a Pelican case and the case has to go as it takes up one side bag Since the KX3 is a trail rugged rig and I have a protective face cover ( from GEMS) for my next trip the KX3 is not going in the Pelican case. I also found the binder I use would not even fit in the side bags so that has to be re-thought out as well. The binder I have now is nice as I put a small metal plate in it for my Palm paddle to secure too via it's base magnets.
After loading up the bike the first thing I found out was the kick stand on the bike would not support the bike and the loaded side bags. It turned out to be a fine balancing act when it
Diamond K400 mount
came time for setup making sure the bike did not tip over. Since the bike is brand new and I told the bike store what I was doing he wanted to see if this bike stand would work as it is lower profile. I was told if it was not doable then to come back and a more robust kick stand will be installed free of charge.
Here is a list of the items I am packing:
KX3-on it's own with no Pelican case
Extra battery just in case- The Tracer battery pack
18 gauge counter poise- only for 20m at this time
Pens, paper and 3x5 cards with programming Kx3 instructions
Headphones- I don't use ear buds as my hearing is not that great and any noise around me tunes out CW.
Trunk lip mount base for antenna- Diamond K400 
Miscellaneous items- antenna connectors, adjustable wrench, tire repair kit for bike, hat, sunglasses and so on.
Lets get to the trail adventure..........I was able to bike to one of my pre picked spots down at the Lake where a nice size picnic table was available. The antenna mount setup worked great on the bikes rear rack which I mounted back at the condo in case there was issues. I attached the counter poise via a male female 14 gauge connectors. The rig setup was straight forward as I have done this many times in the past. I fired up the rig  and I wanted to see at this point if the counter poise was sufficient for a decent SWR and it was. BUT after
The setup
the tuning process had finished and my KX3 display returned it returned with an error message "ERR TXG D=114. Never had I seen this error before on my KX3 but then again Murphy is always close by to make things interesting. I was not able to transmit at all so I was dead in the water........and I was even picking up a G4 station calling CQ! I got the Iphone out and Googled the error code and it came back that possibly a TX gain calibration was needed to be done. That was not a big deal as the Elecraft software utility does this automatically but the rig has to be at home to do this. The trail/ham radio outing had come to a grinding halt but that was just fine as I really accomplished what I set out to do and that was see how things packed up, transported and how the rig operated using the bike to mount the antenna on. Back at home I did the TX gain calibration and the same issue persisted. I went online to the Elecraft reflector and was advised that it may be my internal AA batteries were low. They were just charged I thought.........Julie informed me it was about 3 months ago that happened. I
The surprise error code
charged the unit and all is well. So today it's another great day and it's off to the trails again to hopefully make a contact or two.