Going Vertical

Progress has been made! I was able to finish up some items on my wife related to do items and put some time into working on getting the SteppIR BigIR installed. It’s been October since I last operated in a contest (CQP) and with very little free time to play radio, getting aluminum in the air hasn’t been a high priority.

I spent about 15 minutes digging a hole that would then be filled with concrete surrounding a metal support mount that the SteppIR BigIR would be mounted on top of. I spent a few minutes aligning 2×4 pieces of wood that held the 24″ metal post in place, in the center of the hole. I mixed up some concrete and began pouring. In just a few minutes I was rinsing out the bucket, washing off the tools and letting the concrete dry.

I figure I will check it on Sunday, at which time I will place the SteppIR BigIR in place. There was other work that had to be accomplished before getting on the air. I had to cut the control cables from the antenna end when we moved in December. It took about 45 minutes, but I was able to rewire the control cables and reattach them to the SteppIR BigIR.

Hopefully by Monday or Tuesday I will be able to get some ground radials in place and begin configuring the antenna for use. I am still aiming at May and the CQWW WPX CW contest as a return. I am still undecided on how to get the hex beam in the air. After being on the roof attaching my weather station, I won’t take the chance to climb on the tiled roof again. Safety is a huge concern and I am not ready to chance it.

That leaves me very limited. I am still looking at possibly at attaching a mount to the facing that hangs down off the roof. This would possibly allow me 25-30′ in which to raise the antenna. Right now the hex beam is about 7′ high sitting on a larger tripod. Obviously NOT ideal, but sometimes we must go with what we have. The last option is to raise another 4×4 post in the ground and attach the mast to the 4×4 pole and raise the hex 15-20′ into the air.

It seems the true tower options are just not viable right now. I thought I had a lead on a 55′ crank up, tilt over tower but the work to get it down and moved, only to possibly not have it installed, I could not justify following through.

Radio in May?

It’s been since CQP, last October that I actually turned my radio on and participated in a contest. Back in January I commented about an April/May return to radio (read All Out of Ham). I won’t say I am ahead of the game as we roll into the middle of February, but I have made some progress in order to get on the air. The “shack” is finally put together. Not, unfortunately it is not a free standing structure with it’s own power. Much like our last house the shack is a corner of the garage. While I have the radio and computer set up, along with the amplifier, it will take some time to work on making all the necessary connections, both inside the shack and the lines that will feed my antennas.

There are still some logistics that need to be worked out. Antennas. Where do I place them? With CC&Rs no longer a concern I have considered my options. At one point I wrote about K6EQR, who knew a ham selling a 55′ crank up tower. the further away we get from this piece, the less inclined I am to foresee this option in my future. Still a heck of a deal at $300! My original plan was to mount my hex beam on the chimney, using a specialized mount. After climbing onto the Spanish tiled roof, I am not too keen on attempting to get to the chimney as the roof was just too slippery and not a real good idea. I have been looking at mounting the hex beam back on the Rohn H-50 and trying to raise it,bracing it to the wood flashing, just below the roof. Not sure if that would be enough to support the hex of not. The other problem, trying to raise the mast extended to 35′-40′ with the hex beam already installed.

My other antenna is the 32′ SteppIR BigIR and I have found a place in the middle of the backyard, surrounded by 30′ high palm trees that will “hide” it from neighbors while allowing me to run radials in a north-east-south direction up to 90′! This antenna shouldn’t be difficult to install, as I just need to dig a hold and set the mounting post. I do have some concern, as I had to walk this antenna to our new house. Unfortunately I failed to retract the metal tape in the housing. Hopefully I haven’t suffered internal problems with the tape coming off the spool.

I am targeting the 2013 CQWW WPX CQ Contest as my return to the air. Looking at the most recent issue of CQ, I posted my best score ever (since 2009) of 510,867 points in low power, all band, assisted in W6 while operating just under 32 hours (36 max). A score and effort like this won’t happen unless I can get the hex beam up in the air. The vertical will allow for the low bands, which are the big points in WPX. Still I have to look at what other options I have and see if I can find a work around in order to get back on the air.

Radio Repair: Part 3

I am glad I did not save all this work for the day of the contest, because there would have been no way I would finished it all before the contest started. Since the XYL is off at work today and my son is keeping himself busy with toys from Christmas I had time to further troubleshoot the SteppIR BigIR and connect the Yaesu FT-1000MP MkV in the shack.

Since it was more important to work on getting back on the low bands (40/80M) I decided to pull apart the SteppIR BigIR and take a second look at it. Yesterday was nothing more than replacing the spindle correctly to take up the slack on the copper tape that runs up and down the length of the antenna, depending on what band I am on.

It sounded terrible as I let it calibrate, eventually it stopped and thankfully there was no visible damage done to the sprockets or the copper tape. I then came in the shack and changed bands to 20M. A quick check and the tape was spinning and feeding into the antenna. I reconnected the 80M coil and the 1:1 balun and the antenna seemed to work. Rarely do I use the vertical for anything other than 40 and 80M because of the hex beam ends up working 5 different bands (10M thru 20M). This is the main antenna I use when contesting on 10/15/20M.

I then turned my attention to the Yaesu FT-1000MP MkV I got on loan from George, K6GT. I cannot thank him enough for lending it to me. Hopefully I can put in a good show this coming weekend during the ARRL RTTY Roundup and give George partial credit for allowing me actually get on 15M. It’s been a while since 15M working on my Yeasu FT-1000MP.

The easy part was to remove my rig and replace it with his MkV. Once the new radio was in place, I connected my radio to an adjacent outlet and began configuring the loaner unit. There were a few new menus and the front panel is a little different than what I have been used to. The menu navigation was just as easy. Some menus went unused, but about 20 minutes and I had the new rig configured with all my settings. I went off in search of a RTTY signal.

I found two hams having a QSO and it seemed I was decoding correctly using MMTTY. Half the battle won.  I found WM5DX calling CQ and answered his CQ. He told me I was “upside down” on my signal and he could not see my print. A quick flip to the correct menu and I modified one setting. I found WM5DX about 2 minutes later and answered his CQ. When he finally turned his beam towards me he said I was 10 to 20 db over. I was glad to know I could transmit and receive.

One minor issue I had was with the rotator and I can’t pin a reason as to why. I had to set up two ladders to get on top of the roof to investigate. I opened up the rotator housing to confirm all the wires were connected. They were. I checked the power in the shack, it was on, as well as the wires that move the antenna. All connected. I attempted to turn the hex beam a second time and it moved. So, while it was a problem momentarily it seems to have worked itself out. All the better, because the last thing I want to do is resort to the “armstrong” method of turning my hex beam.

So all seems ready for RTTY RU weekend. There will be 4 established practice sessions sponsored by the NCCC beginning Thursday with 2 different sessions, followed by 2 more sessions on Friday. While I can’t confirm I have either or both days off from work I am hoping to get both off. Since my 2010 effort of 652 QSOs and 49,552 points running high power (500 watts). This was one of my best efforts in ANY contest to date, based on the number of contacts made. I will post my goals on Friday.


Radio Repairs

It’s been awhile since I have turned on my radio for and attempted to make any contacts. My radio situation has gone from bad to worse, losing the ability to transmit and receive on 15 meters. This is compounded by the fact I also lost the ability to tune my SteppIR BigIR on any bands rendering it useless.

It was my hope to have both repaired before the start of the new year, but as we are now6 days away from the ARRL RTTY Roundup I am scrambling to find a usable radio more so than a repair for the antenna. Thankfully the NCCC or Northern California Contest Club is always up to help out a fellow ham. I posted a message to our reflector explaining my dilemma and George, K6GT was kind enough to respond and offer me the use of his Yaesu FT-1000 MkV.

Come the end of January I will need to send my FT-1000MP back to Georgia and WA4GEG to make repairs and possibly an upgrade or two. While the radio is dated, it’s the best I can currently afford. While many in our club have transitioned to the newer Elecraft K3 setups, many have some very good rigs being unused. Thankfully George was kind enough to allow me the use of his MkV.

As for the antenna, I am going to pull it down this weekend and see if I can make the repairs needed to allow the Copper-Beryllium tape to move freely up and down the vertical when tuned. I fear this will be easier said than done. Although talking to a tech at SteppIR, he gave me a few pointers, so with any luck I can get the antenna working without having to disassemble and ship to Washington.

I have not been all that impressed with the vertical. Part of that is because of the lack of a good ground system. Underneath the antenna is close to 1500 of copper of varying length, unfortunately the longer runs are what I am missing, so working on 40M and 80M becomes challenging.

Speaking of challenging the RTTY Roundup was one of the contests I fared very well in 2 years ago (2010), winning the category I entered; First Place, Low Power, Single Operator, East Bay. Was not able to put in any effort last year due to our remodel and I would love to come back strong this year and start the year with a real good RTTY Roundup. No idea if I would run low or high power, but given the improved solar conditions I would be inclined to run low power and see if I could best my 2010 record and win another award.

Weekend Contesting

While I was hoping to take some time this coming week for CQWW WPX (SSB) this coming weekend, it looks like I will just put in about 4-6 hours during the contest. Since it is SSB and not my strongest mode, couple that with the solar cycle that has been down, compared to what it was just a few weeks back for the ARRL DX (SSB) my commitment level won’t be what I was previously anticipating. Now something could change between today and Saturday, which would allow me more time come Saturday and into Sunday.

Thankfully the weather system that just moved through Northern California did not damage the hex beam or the SteppIR BigIR, but I have some issue looming I will need to address as we move into spring. The hex beam, while at 20′ does an admirable job, but I must tie it off at 3 points to keep it from rotating when the wind gusts.The SteppIR has two problems, the first is the concrete base. Somehow over the 2 years it has been standing the base has become loose and now the antenna will list side to side, even though I have it tied off with guy wires. The second problem to note is the aluminum coupler on the extension support tube seems to have come unglued and was sliding down. I looked it over and I could see no visible damage, so I am hoping I can make it another month of so before I pull the antenna down.

As for this past weekend, conditions were not great, especially on 20M. I decided to split time in a number of radio contests; Russian DX Contest (RDXC), BARTG HF RTTY Contest, Virginia QSO Party and the North Dakota QSO Party, none of which I really put in a big effort, but casually participated.I had a very enjoyable time in the RDXC on Saturday afternoon. I only put in a few hours at most, worked a few Russian oblasts, some JAs and JT5DX in Mongolia on15M, first call! Improved on my 2010 scores. Also found 20m difficult on RTTY on Sunday morning. Mainly worked 20M again, but the noise was terrible, but I did hand out a few QSOs.

I was more interested in the VA QSO Party, which I finished with about 15 contacts including K4NVA! Worked mainly on CW, but found a few stations calling CQ on SSB, even got 1 PSK31 contact! North Dakota was slim, worked all of 3 stations. All in all the main goal (as always) was achieved. I had fun, can’t ask for more.

From now until the end of June I need to pick and choose carefully what I want to participate in. There are some enjoyable events coming in the next few months: JIDX (CW), 7QP, NEQP, CQWW WPX (CW). At the beginning of July I will receive a group of days off in order to use for events starting in July, as well as a week of vacation earned coming in early October.