Friday, 23 March 2018

My First Instinct...lower the power

I always have my FT-817 transmit power set to 1 watt.  When I hear a station calling CQ I always make my first attempts at 1W.  I am usually successful but if I am not I will reluctantly bump the power up to the next setting which is 2.5W.  I will do this usually with success but if all else fails I will grudgingly increase to 5W.  This doesn't happen very often which is why I am always so reluctant to increase my power.  Sometimes I even don't bother bumping the power up if it's a continental North American call sign as I know that with 5W I will not be at least 1000 Miles per watt and what's the point.  I know that's an illogical my way of thinking because isn't the whole purpose of ham radio to actually communicate with someone.  That's a flaw in my way of enjoying this hobby but I guess that's why there are so many different ways to enjoy this hobby.

Following the same "logic", as soon as I hear a signal that is fairly strong my first instinct is to drop the power to the 1/2W setting.  I get all excited when I hear the station come back to me knowing that I am using QRPp power.  It's my happiest place to be in.  The signal reports are generally 559 and I am fine with that.  I also do not want to minimize the appreciation I have for the other operators who are willing to work my weak signal.  Without them I would be sitting at my operating position destined to be frustrated.  I thank you all.

One other thing, I believe, that works in my favour is that I have low expectations and I am easily satisfied.  If I can sit down at the radio and make 1 or 2 QSOs I am perfectly happy.  I am not one to sit for hours making contacts which is probably why I am not a contest operator.  Perhaps my attention span is too short...either that or it's because I know I have other chores I know I should be doing.

Scott ve3vvf/qrp

Sunday, 18 March 2018

1000 MPW ...Even with Poor Band Conditions

So I turned the radio on this morning for the first time since last September.  My wire dipoles are in a bit of a tangle from a winter of strong blowing winds but the SWR readings are still low so I ventured onto the bands.  I heard a fair bit of activity on 40 but I prefer the WARC bands so I moved to 17M.  The SWR was too high so I moved to 30M.  With the exception of someone already in a ragchew QSO I dialed around and found nothing.  I had my FT-817 set to 1W as usual and called CQ a time or two.  Then I heard a weak response from Roger, W4RFT.  I have him in my log on 20M but not 30.  It was a very brief QSO where we exchanged 559s and then it dropped off.  Roger shows as being 1100+ miles away in Florida so I was very happy that my first QSO in months was over 1000 Miles Per Watt.  I really love this hobby.

I can't wait to work on replacing these 2 fan dipoles (2 bands each) with the same but made from ladder line (see previous post).  I already ordered it from MacFarlane Electronics near Kingston, ON.  To save on the shipping (which is almost half as much as the wire due to the weight) I will be picking it up at the Iroquois Amateur Radio Club's annual Flea Market on the 7th of April in Iroquois, Ontario.

With snow still on the ground and below freezing temperatures I have no rush to start any antenna work just yet anyway.  I can wait a few weeks for the wire and I will never pass up the opportunity to stroll through a flea market...ham radio or otherwise.

Cheers for now,
Scott ve3vvf/qrp

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Silent Too Long

Well I went the whole winter without even turning a radio on and I was worried that I had lost my interest.  A lot has been going on which has had my mind on other things but all it took was listening to a couple of episodes of one of my favourite podcasts the QSO Today Podcast to get my mojo back.  I can always count on Eric (4Z1UG) to kindle my interests...especially on the QRP front.  I also believe some of my issue was the havoc the wind has been playing on my inverted vee antennas (not to mention the grim propagation these days).  The tangling that occurs with the fan dipole style of antenna is disappointing.  I need a better solution and I believe I may have found it.  I read an article in the ARRL Wire Antenna book that I bought from Amazon last fall.  The antenna from the article I read has the radiating elements made from ladder line/window line.  I can have a 2-band dipole that will not get tangled because the wires are evenly spaced/separated by the windows.

What is done is the length of the longest leg (34' for 40M) and the length of the shortest leg (24' for 30M) are added together making a 58' piece of ladder line the requirement for a 40/30 fan dipole.  Then you lay the cable out and measure 34' from one end and cut the top conductor.  Measure 34' from the opposite end and cut the bottom conductor.  What you have now, if you cut along the red line as shown below, is 2 pieces that will act as each leg of the dipole.  The long top wire is one side and the long bottom wire flipped over and end for end is the other side.

Then you need to strip the conductors bare at the double wired end and solder them together and attach them to the coax to create the feed point.  One leg connects to the center conductor and the other side to the braid of the coax.

Once this is completed you will have to raise the antenna and tune it for your desired operating frequency as with any dipole antenna.  I plan to build two of these.  One for 40/20 and one for 30/17 and I will post the results including photos of the tuning and testing process.

Cheers and thanks,
Scott, ve3vvf/qrp

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Where does the summer go?

Because I have 2 hobbies, one usually takes a back seat when the other is in full swing.  Ham Radio is currently sitting in the back...until Monday, that is.  Bag piping in a band is a summer thing for sure and amateur radio, for me, has been a winter thing for some time now.  I used to operate from parks and camp sites in the summer before piping came along but things change.  Yesterday the Glengarry Highland Games were held.  They have been going for the past 70 years in Maxville, Ontario.  It is the home of the North American Pipe Band Championships.  It is the competition we all work towards shy of going to the World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow.  Going to the World's is a dream of mine and some day I'll go...if not with a band I'll go as a spectator.  That is the Shangri-La of pipe band competitions.  It's where you see all the top bands and piping icons.  It's where you put everything on the line and hope that you are lucky enough to hear your Band's name called out in the results.  That means you got top 6 in your grade.  Dare to dream.  Anyway, back to Maxville.  This year our band has been playing better.  It's our 4th year together and we have ages ranging from 12 to 55.  We are the lowest grade (5) and hoping to earn our way to the next level.  In early July we took a band trip to PEI for a week at the College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts to work on our medley and individual play.  A week of practicing 4 hours together every day builds confidence, ensemble and camaraderie.  At the end of that week we went to Antigonish, Nova Scotia for the Antigonish Highland Games including the Atlantic Canada Pipe Band Championships.  We were fortunate enough to take first place (by the slimmest of margins) in that event for our grade.  We are definitely having our best year so far.   Yesterday's competition in Maxville was the culmination of our efforts which began last fall.  We had one of our best plays and came 1 point shy of finishing first overall for out grade.  Second place is a great accomplishment for us but it's frustrating to know how close we came to winning.

There is another Highland Games this weekend that we will be heading to this morning in Montreal.  The Montreal Highland Games is a bit more relaxed affair but just as invigorating and with the stress of yesterday over we can have more fun.  It's definitely a fun games and we spend a good bit of time in the beer tent telling stories and enjoying good company with other bands and listening to great Celtic music.  We hope for a good result today and that is our prime goal but we also plan to have a lot of fun.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Hawaii - Out of the Blue

I turned the radio on this afternoon for the first time in almost a week.  The bands seemed quite quiet for a mid-afternoon Easter Sunday.  Down at the bottom of 17M band was KH7XS on 18.070MHz.  The Big Island Contest Club is located in Laupahoehoe on the east coast of the Big Island 4783 miles away.

Their antennas did all the work today as they have quite a setup.  I had 5 watts into my inverted vee here in Eastern Ontario and through a little QSB and a few attempts they came back to me.  It was a fast operator for my speed and experience but I got the QSO in.  It was not quite 1000 Miles per watt (957) but I know that Hawaii is not the easiest contact to acquire if one were collecting entities for WAS.  I do not really operate towards any particular awards but was pleased to get HI nonetheless.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Lessons Learned

I spent Sunday afternoon making and installing a replacement 40/20 inverted V for the flimsy one I had put up in the fall.  Here is one lesson I learned...QRP low power with lightweight wires is all well and good for temporary use but it is not robust enough to last through a windy winter.  The work was going pretty well and the weather was just above freezing and sunny.  Great for antenna work.  I had to raise and lower the antenna 4 or 5 times for trimming before I got it to resonance on both bands but I'm not quite sure if it's there just yet because as I was raising it the final time, a knot I had tied in the string I was using as a hoist came untied leaving 2 feet of string hanging from the pulley 40' up.   I had now been fiddling with this antenna for few hours.  I should have quit for the day and addressed this at a later date.  I didn't.  All I needed to do was climb the tower and detach the "yardarm" which keeps the antenna away from the tower.  The pulley is on the end of it.  Not too challenging.  Climbed up and realized that I had the wrong socket in my pocket for the U-bolts.  Back down and back up.  I ran a fresh piece of string through the small pulley and tossed the spool down to the ground keeping the loose end with me.  This was very challenging as the sun was directly behind the pulley.  I was clinging to the tower and struggling with the string.  I was cursing but eventually I got it after a few minutes.  I climbed down with the loose end and attached it to the antenna and started raising it up.  Half way up it got stuck.  The string (which is Mason's string) is very thin and quite durable however it jumped off the wheel and got stuck between the wheel and the side plate. I always knew this was a risk but figured the chances were slim of it ever happening.  No such luck.  My blood pressure and frustration level was maxed out at this point.  Luckily I did not have the right rope on hand to finish the job properly.  This gave me a good excuse to leave the task for another day.  This is a hobby and is supposed to be enjoyable.  We learn in many ways...from reading or watching videos or being taught by someone but the lessons learned through trial and error (mixed with frustration and possibly pain) are the ones we will never forget.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Battle of The Beams

No, I am not talking about Amateur Radio HF Beams but a more clever system used by the German Luftwaffe during WWII.  Let me step back for a moment.  About 10 years ago I listened to a fantastic presentation at the Kemptville Amateur Radio Group from Al Penney (VO1NO) on this topic and it intrigued me immensely.  I got some references from him and got a couple of books from the library.  I read them from cover to cover as it was so interesting.  I wanted to touch on the Battle of The Beams and more specifically the Knickebein here in case anyone else would be interested.

Back in the 1930s the Germans were using something called the Lorenz beam as a Navigational Aid at landing strips.  Simplified, this consisted of 2 antennas on either side of the runway with one transmitting "dits" and the other transmitting "dahs".  Each aircraft had a receiver for these transmissions.  An approaching aircraft would line up on the runway and he drifted too far left or right he would only hear the dits or only the dahs.  If he were centered on the runway he would hear both dits and dahs.  This worked well.  Here is an image from the Wikipedia Lorenz Beam page.

Jump ahead to WWII.  Bombers were slow large aircraft and were easy targets for anti-aircraft weapons so bombing raids were generally held under the cover of darkness.  The problem with this is that it made it very difficult for the bomber pilots to see their targets below.  The British had blackouts in place so that the town showed no light should bombers be overhead.  The bombing raids tended to take place during the full moon so there would be a lot better vision however this made the raids more predictable.  Nighttime flying was generally difficult with minimal navigational aids at their disposal.

What the Germans did was use the technology of the Lorenz beam and beef it up.  Very large directional antennas were built and high power was used to provide the German pilots with a secret navigational aid.  The antennas were aimed at a specific target and the pilots would fly so that they were on course by listening for the dits and the dahs.  The receivers had to be hidden very cleverly in the aircraft so that if a bomber were shot down their secret would not be discovered.  This method of flying at night and finding their targets was extremely clever and quite successful.  There were different versions and names of this system as well as different antennas as the system was improved.

Wartime generates a lot of technological advancements and the German/English air battle really spurred on the development of Radio and RADAR technologies including countermeasures such as jamming.  If this interests you as much as it did me you should look up the history of the Knickebein, Freya, and the Battle of the Beams.
Here are some links of interest on the subject:
Radar Recollections
PA0PD's page

Cheers for now,
Scott ve3vvf