Beating the downturn with the miniHFPA2

Everyone’s been complaining lately about poor propagation when it comes to amateur radio. But I think I have found the answer to my situation, especially considering I run an essentially low power operation.
I ordered a miniHFPA2, a linear amplifier that is made for portable operation out in the field.
This little beauty is the 5th generation HF Packer amplifier that comes pre-assembled, tested and calibrated. All I had to do was to hook it up to my Yaesu FT-817, then feed the output through an SWR/Power meter and Antenna Tuning Unit to my long wire antenna.

All set up and ready to test on air.

I happened to notice, on checking SOTA Spotter, that VK2IO Gerard and VK2/G4OBK Phil would be activating three summits, VK2/IL-001, 002 and 005 on Thursday 8 February 2018.. This would present me with an excellent opportunity to try out the new amplifier.

I tuned up on 40m and responded to their calls. Gerard mentioned that he was receiving me well and gave me a signal report of 569. This was excellent news, given the marginal conditions. I worked all three summits as they were activated and couldn’t have been more pleased. You see, normally my 5W output wouldn’t have been up to it in current conditions.

So what is this little gem of an amp all about?

According to Virgil Stamps, who makes the amps, the aim of his project is to give your signal a boost so you can start making memorable contacts under marginal conditions. It certainly has lived up to that! The amp gives a clean, more powerful output signal from a QRP transceiver with a good balance between output power, physical size and weight. And what’s sure to excite any SOTA or WWFF operator, it can be powered by any battery such as a 7.2 AH gel cell or 4.2 AH LiFePo4 battery. The amplifier provides a full output of around 30-35W with as little as 9V DC, making it very tolerant for outdoor battery operation.

What makes this amp a little different is the heat sink that is secured to the top of the enclosure. It isn’t the more common type that features rows of serious fins; it is a flat metal plate of around 1mm in thickness. And it does the job it is intended to do very well indeed. It lends itself to outdoor use as it can easily be accommodated in any backpack, but care does need to be taken so as not to damage the toggle switches on the front panel.

I particularly like the slim heat sink that is secured to the top of the enclosure.

The amp comes complete with two low pass filter modules (60/40m and 30/20m) but mine came complete with additional ones for 160m, 80/75m, 17/15m, and 12/10m as well. These modules are inserted into place by unscrewing the left and/or right hand side panels of the enclosure. They slip in effortlessly, thanks to cleverly designed guide posts on the LPF boards. I think when I proceed on my next SOTA activation, I will decide beforehand what bands I will be operating on as I think unscrewing side panels in a hostile environment such as on a summit could be a little tricky. Virgil did send along a sealed package containing spare enclosure screws, heat sink compound, two spare MOSFETS and some other items. Great service and attention to detail.

At the time of ordering you need to specify what level of input power you will be using. This could range from 1 to 5W; I chose 5W. Output power is an easy 30W. Spurious products are -40dB or better at 35W, with harmonic content at -45dB or better at 35W.

If you’d like to read up on the specifications, visit the web site http://hfprojects.com

 

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VHF Packer 6m Amp alignment

Andrew VK1DA pointed out to me that I had inadvertently set the bias on the amp to 0.5A instead of my intended 0.7A. This meant I had set it up for use on FM instead of SSB.

This was easily corrected; all that was needed was to adjust the variable resister while monitoring the DMM.

Now the bias is set correctly, it’s time to see if it makes any difference to live, on-air operations.

All set for SSB now.

 

Climbing Mt Ngungun in the Glass House Mountains, QLD.

One of the most recognizable mountain groups in Queensland would have to be what is known as the Glass House Mountains. Named by Capt James Cook during his voyage of discovery, these remarkable geological formations are what remains from ancient volcanic activity.

Getting to Mt Ngungun, the northern most mountain in the group, is easy. Drive up the Bruce Highway and turnoff down Steve Irwin Way. Then follow the signs to the Glass House Mountains National Park. You’ll find a good place to park your car at the car park in Fullerton Road.

Plenty of parking available.

The track to the summit is well maintained, with good dirt surfaces and rock steps. It is a Grade 2 track all the way to the top. However, there is a short section where there is a warning to beware of cliff edges.

Signposting is good.

The walk up is interesting, through open forest with fern understory. There is also an interesting rock that features an overhang.

Looks much like a cave.

The walking track is excellent but care needs to be taken in wet weather as the rocks could be slippery.

The going is steep at times.

There are excellent views of the local area to make the journey up even more enjoyable. Photography is a must as there are good close-up views of nearby Mount Tibrogargan, Mount Coonowrin and Mount Beerwah.

There is plenty of space on the summit but little shade. And there are lots of visitors; this is evidently a popular mountain for day excursions.

The small trees and rocks provided me with a good spot to erect my antenna and operate my low-powered radio station while enjoying spectacular views.

The round trip took about 2 hours, not counting time spent on the summit. The walking distance was around 2.8km.

QRP Hours contest

Sunday 22nd October was a good day for QRP in VK-Land. And even thougth HF conditions haven’t been good at all (especially according to some), I had success and a lot of fun by taking part in this short contest run by the CW Operators’ QRP Club Inc.

This year the contest was restricted to the 40m band and consisted of two sections: the first hour CW and the second Phone. I took part in the CW section only.

The rig I used was my trust Elecraft KX1, this time with 12v gel cell power as I didn’t have to worry about weight: I was to operate from the back deck of my home. The antenna was the Buddistick that I attached to the hand railing of the deck by means of my new Buddistick G-clamp. My key was the Pico Paddle. Power output was 3W.

My set up for the contest. All ready to go.

Tuning up the antenna on 40m was not easy. I couldn’t get a match at all with my Hendricks BLT Tuner, so I hauled out my LDG auto tuner, which gave me a 1.9:1 reading, which was the best I got. QRP is all about compromise, so I went with that.

The Buddistick mounted to the railing with my new G-Clamp.

I do think that the proximity of metal guttering didn’t help, but I had to make do with the situation I found myself in. At least there was some good height, facing south – which would be good for VK1 and VK2 contacts.

Nice height even though I needed to angle the whip.

Noise levels were high on the band but nevertheless, I was able to work VK2IG, VJ2GAZ, VK2FGBR, VK1DA, VK2JDR and VK2IO.

Next time I’ll try a long wire antenna.

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.