John Moyle Field Day 2014

One of the aims of the John Moyle Field Day is to test your ability or readiness for portable operations. This is an even I like to take part in as it not only allows me to prepare for remote operations, it also guarantees contacts.

This year as always, I prepared my kit, made a check list and ensured I had thought of everything. My mode of operation would once again by CW only on the HF bands. My rig of choice was my Elecraft KX1 and my antenna my new Buddistick. My location would be up on Mt Coot-tha, which is not very far from my QTH.

This year I took the added precaution on including a few backup options, and boy was I glad I did. These included a long wire antenna, extra batteries and a multi-tool.

When I reached to top of Mt Coot-tha, I found an unattended BBQ area off the side of the road near the Channel 9 TV studios. Perfect. There was a nice table and bench seat provided too.

I unpacked my gear and started by assembling the Buddistick antenna. Bugger, I had left the all-important antenna mast and stand at home in my haste to get going. And worse still, it had the mounting plate still attached so I couldn’t make use of the small tripod that came with the Buddistick.

Thank goodness for the long wire antenna. I proceeded to cast the end of it up over a high branch of a nearby tree but the weight at the end of it twirled around the branch a few times causing the thing to become stuck. I wasn’t able to pull on it and raise the wire antenna up into the tree. There was now nothing for it but to cut the line loose and try again. Second time around was more successful.

The stand I made to keep the counterpoise off the ground.

The stand I made to keep the counterpoise off the ground.

The rest of the station deployed easily enough and I was able to get a 1.3:1 SWR reading using the new inbuilt antenna tuning unit in the KX1 on the 40m band. No such luck on 20m; 7:1 was the lowest I could obtain and there was no time to fiddle with reducing the length of the wire. I needed to make contacts and score points.

My operating conditions.

My operating conditions.

In total I operated for three hours and chalked up eight QSOs, mostly with VK2 stations. So considering I was only putting out a tad over two watts, I was more than satisfied. Oh, the new paddle worked fine too, even though I found it to flex a little too much for my liking on the enclosure, resulting in some errors in sending. But all in all, I was satisfied.

Listening for signals.

Listening for signals.

Now to wait for the results. At least I have learnt the lesson about being prepared and taking contingencies into account.

 

Building and adding the KXAT1 automatic antenna tuner to the KX1

The final part of the upgrade to my Elecraft KX1 involved building and installing the internal antenna tuning unit.

The kit is remarkably small; it comes in one plastic zip up envelope together with a concise and well put together 12 page Assembly and Operating Instructions booklet. It also contains a note telling you who put the kit together, which is nice and reassuring. If anyone is willing to put there name to something, there must be good reason! Confidence that no parts are missing is my guess, and I think I’d be right because none were. This, of course, isn’t generally the case with electronic kits, as most builders would know.

The kit was very easy to build and align. The instructions are excellent and leave nothing to chance. I found winding the three coils and one transformer easy to do too.

Populating the PCB.

Populating the PCB.

As the KX1 is a small, compact piece of gear, the ATU needs to fit in without touching other components because if it does, the back of the enclosure won’t fit properly. This is one reason both sides of the PCB are used.

The yellow relays are on one side of the board while other components nestle underneath.

The yellow relays are on one side of the board while other components nestle underneath.

The only ‘snag’ I ran into (I always tend to make things more difficult for myself) was when it came to installing the mating male connectors. I misread the instruction to ensure they were fully seated before soldering. I read that to mean the black plastic bodies needed to be fully seated on their female counterparts. So I slid them down further until they did with a pair of long nose pliers. This presented problems when it came to ensuring the ATU’s PCB seated properly, so I returned them to their original positions, soldered them in and all went together well.

Fitting the ATU into the KX1.

Fitting the ATU into the KX1.

Alignment was easy to accomplish. All that was needed was a DDM and an insulated screwdriver.

Time to put it all back together again.

Time to put it all back together again.

The ATU worked perfectly first time. This is a wonderful addition to the KX1 that adds to its functionality.

Review of the Elecraft KXPD1 Plug-in Keyer Paddle

I have now had a chance to actually use my new KXPD1 paddle and must say, I was pleasantly surprised. It works remarkably well.

Picture courtesy of Elecraft.

Picture courtesy of Elecraft.

I was operating from a chair in my back yard. I had my KX1 on my lap, resting on a pile of note paper, that’s all. No table to lean on, nothing but me and a chair. Perfect portable operations.

I found I needed to set my software in the rig to Iambic B and the CW speed to 14. Once that was done, operating was effortless.

Another advantage I found in operating with this setup was that I was able to practice receiving without writing down what I copied. This is a fantastic skill to master. I must confess I wasn’t able to sustain it though; it is very tiring mentally. But I will continue to develop this ability as it does allow you to travel and operate even more frugally. If I can dispense with the need for something like a table, operating portable will be so much more enjoyable.

Back to the paddle.

The spacings as built are fine, in my opinion. I found no need to reduce the gap on the paddles at all. The rubber grips are perfect and give the levers a nice feel. My fingers didn’t tend to slip or slide off during long periods of sending, which is great. They gave me a sense of confidence that I haven’t felt until now.

So overall, I am very satisfied with the paddles. They make a nice addition to the KX1.

A case for my Elecraft KX1

With a view to the upcoming John Moyle Field Day, I decided to make a tough carry case for my Elecraft KX1, its paddle and power lead. I had just the thing in mind: a metal case that housed a cordless drill that had long since given up the ghost.

I started by removing the padding material from the case and cleaning it up.

The case with its old internals ripped out.

The case with its old internals ripped out.

I then got hold of some spare foam material I had lying around gathering dust in my shed and cut it to size.

A modelling knife worked fine.

A modelling knife worked fine.

Once all the cutting was done and the foam pushed nicely into place, all that remained was to insert the components and see how it looked.

Everything in place, and looking good ready for the field.

Everything in place, and looking good ready for the field.

Now all that remains is to try it out.

Building Elecraft’s KXPD1 plug-in keyer paddle

Part of my Elecraft KX1 upgrade program involved adding the KXPD1 plug-in keyer paddle to the rig. I decided to do this as I like the idea of having one less component to worry about, especially when operating portable. And with the annual John Moyle Field Day only a week away, now is the time to get organised.

I placed my order for the kit over the phone and it arrived in Australia in less than a week.

The kit came well packed and with good instructions. Typical Elecraft.

This was a rather simple kit to put together, being more mechanical in nature than electronic. I only had to use the soldering iron once to solder the wires to the 3.5mm stereo plug. This was also the most tricky part as you need to ensure that there are no short circuits. The space in the aluminium bracket where the soldering takes place is small and cramped.

When all was together, it was time to run some tests. I plugged the keyer into the rig and turned it on. I immediately heard a series of dits and dahs in the headphones, indicating that something was wrong.

I read through the instruction manual and found this case covered: there was a short between one of the plug wires and the bracket. But I knew this not to be the case as I had checked with my DMM beforehand and all was okay. So I read on and found the next test was to remove a rubber grip and see if that stops the noise. It did. So now I knew I had a build up of solder or something between the lever and contact wire.
I pulled the lever apart and inspected it closely. There was a small bit of flux on the lever. That responded well to my finger nail and fell off. So I put it all back together again, slipped on the rubber grip and plugged it into the rig. I held my breath as I turned on the power and heard … nothing. Phew, all good.

Now all I need to do is try out the keyer paddle next time I fire up the rig for the QRP net.

My new KXPD1 keyer paddle all ready to go.

My new KXPD1 keyer paddle all ready to go.

QRP with an Elecraft KX1 and a Long Wire Antenna

Having gone 100% QRP, I have decided to operate in the true spirit of doing more with less. That means all my radio work takes place on my deck, using battery power and as basic set up as possible.

And boy, am I having fun.

Since making the switch to QRP I have been operating on Tuesday nights with the CW Operator’s Club net on 7.028 MHz. My equipment so far has been the KX1 feeding 3W into a long wire antenna that I string up along the railings of my deck at my QTH.

The long wire antenna is attached to the deck railing and works surprisingly well.

The long wire antenna is attached to the deck railing and works surprisingly well.

The deck is up on the second floor of my house facing SE. I use a BLT Tuner to take care of tuning the antenna, a Whiterook paddle and a 2 Ah rechargeable battery.

My operating position on my deck. From left: battery, KX1 with Whiterook paddle connected, BLT tuner.

My operating position on my deck. From left: battery, KX1 with Whiterook paddle connected, BLT tuner.

I have no trouble making good contact with operators in Sydney and Canberra and have worked into Melbourne too with this setup. But I need to maximise efficiency so have embarked on an upgrade. I have ordered an internal antenna tuning unit and the plug-in paddle as well as a Buddistick vertical antenna from Elecraft. That should arrive this week. I expect better performance once I’ve had a chance to build and install these pieces of gear.

Upgrading my Elecraft KX1

The time has come to upgrade my Elecraft KX1. To make this little rig even more versatile, I will be adding an in-built ATU. This comes in kit form and needs to be assembled and installed into the rig.

I will also be adding the custom paddle as it will mean I no longer need to take a separate key or paddle with me when going portable.  This too comes in kit form.

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