First portable operation with the Packer 6m amplifier

I decided to take the bull by the horns and activate a SOTA summit on 6m only, using my newly-built Packer 6m 30W linear amplifier. The summit I chose was Tamborine Mountain, VK4/SE-059.

My rig this time was the Yaesu FT-817 and the antenna was a homebrew 6m dipole, strung up as a sloper.

The rig connected to the amp and the LDG antenna tuner. The battery is a 7a/h gel cell. The power cords are routed through a SotaBeams 4-Way distribution box.

As soon as I put out my first call, the game was on. In the space of a short 30 minutes I had made 15 contacts. Wonderful.

The action came thick and fast and the view was excellent.

One aim of the activation was to test the amp, especially how long the battery would last as it draws around 6A.

At the start of the activation my battery had 12.58V, and at the end, 12.49V. That’s pretty incredible, especially seeing I was operating almost continuously. Input power from the radio was 1W and output 30W.

Another test I carried out (with Peter VK4JD) was to get an idea of the difference the amp made to an actual QSO. On bypass, with 1W, my signal was down some 20dB. So the amp was doing a fine job.

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Building a VHF Packer 6m Amp

I was given this kit by Wal, VK4CBW, as he had purchased it some years ago and knew he would not get around to building it.

The kit was produced and sold by http://www.hfprojects.com in America and came well packaged in a series of sealed plastic packets. Everything including the enclosure and heavy duty heat sink were included.

This little amp requires 1W drive for 30W output and features a Mitsubishi RF mosfet module mounted on the heatsink. There is also a filtered Anderson Power Pole DC input that takes 12V at around 6.2A. And measuring only 5.25 x 3 x 3 inches and weighing less than 1 lb, I figured it would be perfect for SOTA or VKFF operations.

I started my working on the well-made PCB.

Populating the PCB

Then I began making the power cable assembly, the RF cable assembly and the switch cable wiring.

The cables were installed inside the top enclosure case.

I had to fabricate a make-shift mounting plate for the Anderson Power Poles as this was missing from the kit. It has been ordered but hasn’t arrived yet. Eager to avoid delays so I could catch the 6m band opening, I made a replacement out of PCB material.

This isn’t perfect but it would do until the genuine item arrives in the post.

After a little fiddling it went in well and did the job.

The mounting plate in place.

Next, the circuit board and amp module were installed and the initial check carried out.

Ready for alignment and the first smoke test.

The bias current had to be set to 0.7A if the amp is to be used for SSB work, or 0.5A for FM. I chose the former.

The bias current set correctly.

I skipped the next step, which was to align the low pass filter as I don’t have the correct instrumentation. But as I had constructed coils L1 and L2 according to the instructions, this wouldn’t be too critical.

The power output test was more important. I connected the amp up to my Yaesu FT-817 (with power wound back to 1W) and attached my homebrew dummy load and an SWP/Power meter. RF output was shown to be a mere 16W. So I flicked the bypass switch and measured the output as 1W with an SWR of 1.0:1. All good there.

Tweaking the coils of L1 and L2 soon produced the required 30W, so it was time to disconnect the dummy load and attach my 6m monoband dipole antenna.

My homebrew 6m dipole strung up and ready for action.

Keying down produced the power output reading I was after.

RF out was now 30W with the SWR indicated as around 1.7:1. Not bad at all.

Next, I attached my LDG auto tuner to the chain and was ready for an on-air test.

All set up and ready for action.

The result was most pleasing. I worked a bunch of VK7 stations (SSB and CW) and well as VK2s and 3s. I am in business and ready to take advantage of the summer openings.

Oh, and all reports received were most favourable. Nice clear signals, good reports and clear audio were what most operators reported back: they were all impressed that I was only using 30W – most stations were in the 200-400W range.

Windcamp proves its worth in Samford CP activation

Today I activated Samford Conservation Park VKFF-1639 once more in an attempt to secure four contacts to bring my total to ten. It would also be the first time I would use my new Windcamp LiPo battery.
Setting up my long wire antenna was interesting: I needed a heavy tree branch to act as an end support. The far end was supported by my squid pole.

It’s all about improvisation.

At the start of the activation, my internal Windcamp LiPo was putting out 12V which allowed me to operate at a full 5W. By the time I had made four contacts, I had been operating solidly for an hour and seven minutes. The voltage on the display was now reading 11.8V.

I am more than happy with that.

New battery power for my FT-817

I have long wanted/needed to upgrade my battery power for my Yaesu FT-817. The prompt came when the internal battery died. My choice was the kit put out by Windcamp; a 3000mAh internal LiPo battery and new battery compartment lid for the radio that comes fitted with a PCB and charging circuitry that allows the supplied mains charger to charge the battery while inside the radio.

The parcel arrived from China beautifully packed. The battery and the new replacement lid came packaged in very nice plastic cases, which, together with the instructions and charger, all fitted into a compact cardboard box for shipping.

The contents of the parcel.

After extracting the individual components from their packaging, it was time to think about installing the battery into the radio.

It is a tight fit but the components plugged together as intended. Note the PCB on the underside of the new lid.

When the battery and associated wiring was all nice and snugly fitted, I popped the lid closed and got ready to charge the new LiPo battery.

The new lid in place and ready for charging.

The charger has a double-coloured LED to indicate the state of the charge: red for charging and green for a completed charge. The initial charge takes around 5 hours to accomplish.

According to the supplied documentation, the rated voltage of the battery is 11.1V, with the output voltage range stated as between 9 and 12.6V. The maximum output current is 4A.

Now to test it in the field.

Working F0-29

Now that I have worked an FM satellite (in my case SO-50) the next challenge was to try a SSB satellite.

The basics would be the same I figured, except I would need to use my Yaesu FT-817. In fact, all I needed to do was to switch rigs and take into account that I would be needing to run to 817 off my 7 a/h SLAB, which I would need to slip into a spare camera bag so I could carry it over one shoulder.

The battery is in a camera bag hanging on my left side, and the FT-817 is slung around my neck (I knew the strap would come in handy some day).

So that I could work the satellite single handed out in the field without the aid of computer software, this is what I did:

  1. Set the rig into split mode
  2. Set VFO A to 145.960. This is the uplink.
  3. Set VFO B to 435.840. This is the down link
  4. Make sure the antenna connection is set to the front connector on the radio
  5. Keep the radio set to VFO B

When I saw the satellite is within range (using Satellite Explorer on my PC), I went outside and pointed the antenna into the rough direction of the satellite’s approach. This was roughly north. Then I put out a call (the radio switches to VFO A automatically when the PTT is activated but returns to VFO B when it is released. Then I immediately began tuning down the band to listen for replies.

Sure enough, I heard Wal VK4CBW, George VK2WEL and Geoff VK2ZAZ. I had a very satisfying QSO with them, but it was challenging having to continually alter the receive frequency by hand during the receive cycle while altering the direction of the antenna to take into account changes to direction as well as height, all at the same time.

Next is to think about improving my operating setup, perhaps with some form of automatic tracking capability.

 

 

Springbrook National Park dissapointing

Sunday 21st May 2015 was to be a good opportunity to work some Park to Park contacts as the VK5 mob had organised a mass activation to coincide with the WIA AGM. So I decided to activate Springbrook summit VK4/SE-011 and Springbrook National Park VKFF-0463.

The only problem was that Cyclone Debbie had washed away all bridges leading up to Springbrook. The only access road was a back road through the Numinbah Valley. So my wife and I set off nice and early on the 1 hour 40 minute run, but missed the crucial turn and ended up going the normal way up, via the Gold Coast. By the time I realised my mistake it was too late; we were committed.

Just as we drove into the Springbrook National Park, we encountered a road block. Those manning it told us what I suspected. If we wanted to reach the summit we’d have to retrace our route back and go the back route – an additional 40 minutes they told us. So we decided to set up the station along the banks of the river just inside the boundary of the park.

My shack for the activation. Nice cover at least.

My rig for the day was the Yaesu FT-817 with an LDG Z-100 Plus ATU, 7a/h gelcell and an endfed antenna supported by a squid pole. My paddle was the Pico Paddle from Palm Radio in Germany.

This was the first time I used my new Sherpa pack. Fabulous.

All went well and I heard loads of traffic on 40m, all working the various VK5 parks. It was the first time I had been working against pile-ups! Fortunately I was able to tail gate a few contacts and worked two parks: Gerard VK2IO in VKFF-1278 and Rob VK2AAC/2 in VKFF-0004. That was the end of my SSB contacts as my 5W was no match for the 100W stations I was competing with. So it was out with the Pico Paddle and within a few minutes I worked Mike VK2CCW and Ian VK2BJT. CW is really great as it allows you to make contacts despite being low power.

I wasn’t able to activate the summit for SOTA; that will be another time now as I have unfinished business. But we did get to log four contacts towards WWFF and saw first hand the damage a cyclone can cause.

DSC01800

These are some of the trees that were up-rooted during the cyclone.

FT-817 Escort for portable work

I came across mention of the FT-817 Escort on You Tube recently and decided it looked like just the thing I needed. So I ordered one from Portable Zero (http://www.portablezero.com/). It arrived, together with a Sherpa Pack that I also fancied, in about a week.

 

The contents of the package, with a good set of instructions.

Installing the side rails and fold-out stand was easy enough, with no dramas at all. And the completed job looked real cool.

I ordered mine in military green; it also is available in black.

The stand eliminates one of my dislikes of the Yaesu FT-817: it’s hard to read the display when out in the field or even in the shack due to the lack of a tilt stand. The escort also offers protection for the knobs, which are easy to damage or move while in the field.

The stand tilts the rig up nicely. It folds away easily too for transportation.

I have enjoyed using the rig now in the shack and look forward to taking it on an activation.

The radio is use in the shack.