SteppIR BigIR: Installation

On Tuesday and Wednesday I got started the tedious task of taking down the Hustler 6-BTV in preparation for an upgrade to the SteppIR BigIR Mk III, considered by many in the hobby to be one of the best verticals available. While the price tag is rather high, it was really the only option I had to improve many antenna situation. I ordered the antenna direct from Leann at SteppIR on May 13 and was told there would be a 3-4 lead time. Plenty of time to prep the location for the upgrade.

On Tuesday I took my son to play school and got home and started working on the area that will replace the 6-BTV. After the arcing incident a week or so ago on the 6-BTV I had already removed the antenna from the tilt base, so removing the remaining hardware was a simple task. The only time consuming portion of it was remove the 50 nuts from the radial plate that connected all the radials to the vertical. I removed a total of 14 radials, whose length were approximately 7′, which will be replaced. The remaining radials were bent back to allow me access around the base of the mounting post.

After removing the tilt base, choke and radial plate it was time to dig out the 4′ mounting post I sledgehammered in back in 2007. What a pain in the ass! This was more time consuming than removing all the radials. I had hoped to get it removed in one day, but after a few beers and purchasing two, 50 pound bags of concrete and a 8″ diameter concrete form I ran out of time and had to pick my son up.

Wednesday allowed me to finally pull the old mounting pole out of the ground. I widened the new hole approximately 10″ in diameter and a bit over 2′ deep to accommodate the concrete form. Overkill? Maybe, but I have a piece of mind I don’t need to worry about wind taking this vertical down, as I am not planning on using guy wires.

Once the hole was complete I dropped the concrete form in and made the necessary adjustments in order get the top of the from just above the ground. The mounting pole will protrude 12″ above the ground once I pour the concrete. The standard is 8″ to 10″ inches, but I was told to go 12″ in order to use the DXE radial plate, which will sit near the ground and connect all the radials.

So while it has been slow going the past few days, things will pick up next week. Who knows I might be able to get the concrete in by the weekend, giving me time to remount the 6-BTV in place until the BigIR arrives (May 27 thru June 3). I still need to cut 16 new radials as well. OF course being at work I don’t have access to the images I took of the process. Those will come shortly.

Time to Sell?

It was a rather quick decision to buy looking back on it. I had moderate success with the ground mounted Hustler 6-BTV I purchased from DX Engineering in 2007. I figured I could do better with a bigger antenna, which also meant more expensive antenna. Sometimes that logic is right, other times questionable. When I compared antennas to replace my 6BTV I looked at about 3 other options, but the one that rose above the rest was the SteppIR BigIR.

I spent time reading the manual and reviews of the performance of the antenna and thought it was the antenna for me. Now, some 12 months later I am beginning to have my doubts. I have not been completely happy with the purchase since it arrived. It was a rash decision I made, dropped a good chuck of change on the vertical, 80M coil and a 1:1 balun, not to mention the control cable and another cable to connect to my Yaesu.

I have said this before, but I don’t fault SteppIR, it’s a quality product, but currently it is not in the most optimal of areas. That being my backyard, which is limited in terms of space to run effect ground radials. Sure, I can still get out, but at what it cost me I could have bought something else for half the price and been just as happy I think.

So now I am considering selling the BigIR, hopefully to someone local in order to save on shipping costs. I figure I will toss an $800-$900 price tag on the entire setup, which would require me to dig up the backyard again in order to get the control cable out (100′ I believe). Not sure what I want as a replacement and I doubt it will be any better than what the BigIR has done. Considering the current solar conditions and ground radial situation I would say I have done a good job on the vertical. But could I do better?

I have begun looking at those 43′ verticals. Not sure if this is really needed or if I would see an improvement in my signal if I had an antenna tuner at the base of the vertical. Currently, the Yaesu FT-1000MP’s internal ATU cannot tune the entire 80M band, so I am limited at times on how low I can operate. These verticals and I have been looking at the one from DXE seem to be nothing more than a hollow, tapered aluminum tube with a balun and antenna tuner at the base.

I need something to get me on 30-80M and possibly 160M. Mainly for 40Mand 80M during contests is what I am after. The hex holds its own on 10-20M, but I have some issues when the sun goes down and I must move to the vertical. I am keeping my options open. Unlike the purchase of the SteppIR, this won’t be a rash decision. If I can get what I want to ask for it then I could get an all new vertical setup with an antenna tuner.

More Problems: Update

After some further reading at work and some continued thought, I worked on the SteppIR when I got home. I checked the numbers on 40M and 80M, since those will be the two bands I will be using the vertical for during SS. The hex beam will be the main antenna for 10/15/20M during the weekend run.

Using information from the SteppIR Yahoo Group I was able to lower the SWR on 30M (10.125) to about 1.6. 40M seems to be no better than an SWR of 1.8. Why? I don’t know, I can assume it is due to surrounding objects in its field. 80M on the other hand seems rock solid at 1.2 SWR at 3.500 and 1.1 at 3.800. So we will see if that holds true tonight during the practice round, which will mainly be on 40 and 80M.

The amp seems to have come back online nicely. Maybe it was more operator problems than technical problems, I don’t know. I still need a 2kW dummy load so I can actually tune the amp to the hex beam and get some better settings. The settings I am currently using were the ones shipped to me from N4UQ when he cleaned up my Alpha.

I’ll keep my fingers crossed as we race towards the start of the practice round tonight. I will be running N3FJP’s logger for Sweepstakes (v4.5). I was planning on using it during SS CW, but could not give up Win-Test. Since I don’t have a voice recorder, I could be hoarse by the end of the weekend.

More Problems

It seems there are a number of issues I am facing as we rapidly approach the ARRL Sweepstakes SSB. First, the lack of output power from the Alpha 76PA. Second, the reflected power as recorded with the Bird 43 or the meter on the Alpha 76, which has been recorded as high as 500w! Third a poor mismatch between feed line and antenna. Lastly, I have been seeing an excessively high SWR on the SteppIR BigIR.

First order of business today will be to modify the element length of 40 and 80M on the SteppIR. I have been reading previous threads on the SteppIR Yahoo Group and have a few things to try. With any luck I should be able to get the SWR of 40M (7.100) down to 1.3-1.5:1 by days end. If not, I will go back and consult the hams on the Yahoo Group for further direction.

It was mentioned in one post to use a line isolator to reduce common mode currents on the coax. So, today I ordered an AS-50-LI, a 50 ohm line isolator from Array Solutions. I must give Bob some serious props. I asked for next day shipping and he said he was out of stock. I told him I was hoping to have it in line for Sweepstakes, at which point he said he would get one built. Talk about customer service. Array Solutions, outstanding! So I will place the line isolator in the shack, use a jumper from the transmitter to the line isolator then the feed line to the BigIR.

The line isolator is not fixing the problem, but more like masking a known issue. I have yet to pinpoint the problems with the Alpha 76PA. RTTY seems to do fine putting out about 500w, with about 200w reflected back. CW was not really that good a few weeks back during SS and in my phone testing the past few days, it is all I can do to get 300w out.

*sigh* With any luck I might get one of the problems resolved before the contest. Hopefully the line isolator proves worthy and limits the reflected power enough to operate without causing issues with the AT&T gateway modem. That is my main concern. It is more than possible to work SS with only 100w. Hell, I would be happy with 150w! Since I have a nice amp, I would like to use the legal limit (if needed).

Fix’er Up

I spent some more time over at N6RO with Ken, N6WM and N6ML, replacing the 20M rotor. As we got to talking, I decided to voice some of my problems, since I am still a bit lost when it comes to troubleshooting some of the ongoing problems I have in the shack. The first and most important was the RFI that bit me a few weeks back at about 500w. While I have added some ferrite toroids to the NID that AT&T has their equipment in, this has not solved the problem of about 500w of power reflected when I have the Alpha 76PA on.

One of the first adjustments I made was to move the hex beam (again!). Thanks to N6WM, I now have it mounted close to 20′ when I am operating, but it is closer to the shack. Actually it is mounted on the exterior wall off the shack. I need to upgrade the stock RG-8 coax and solder on some good silver PL-259 connectors, as K3LR does at his station. I also need to added some tinned copper braids as grounds from the amp, rig and power supply to the copper grounding bar.

I finally measured the SWR of the hex beam and the measurements were relatively flat across each band, only starting to climb above 1.5 near the edges on a few bands. I know I am loosing quite a bit with the bad cable, but I am not able to use the LMR400 I have on the SteppIR, since it is buried in conduit. I figure 35-40′ should work.

All this work and adding more 33′ long radials to the BigIR are on the list of things to accomplish before SS SSB in about 2 weeks. I am hoping to get the coax on Saturday and add the PL-259 connectors to it and test it. The ground straps won’t arrive until next week from DXE. If I am still having reflected power issues, then I will have to call in “the experts” to stop over and see what else is incorrect in my shack set up.

If there is anytime I need the amp to perform it is in a SSB contest. Sure I could go < 150w, but I want to push legal limit. I am still reviewing my performance during the CW portion of SS and wanting to implement some changes. While I am still going to set my personal goal high, there are a few things I want to accomplish. One of those things on the list knocking off the states I need for 20 and maybe 40M WAS. I would like to really push for the “clean sweep” since I missed out on it for CW. I was 10 sections short and outside of 2 of them, I probably could have worked the other 8.

Speaking of fix’er up, I have finally updated the Contesting page. While my claimed scores are nothing worth of recognition, I have listed all the contests (outside of a few) I have participated in. I am hoping to use these as a baseline and work on improving these scores. Some of the scores…well many of them are not worth even mentioning, but a contesters has to start somewhere. Since I don’t have weekends off and time to dedicate to 24-30 hours of straight contesting, I will take whatever I can get, whenever.