First Australian SOTA and VKFF DMR contact?

After weeks of poor weather in Queensland, Saturday 10th November dawned bright, sunny and hot. This would be the perfect day to head for the hills and make a DMR contact, in simplex, on Talk Group 99 in Time Slot 1.

At first, my plan was to climb to the summit of Mt Beerwah (VK4/SE-057) but on reading a few blogs about the climb and what it entailed, I decided that discretion would certainly be the better part of valour on my part as I am not as young as I’d like to be. Much of the way up is undertaken on all fours, so the bloggers said; I didn’t want to chance becoming a helicopter Medivac casualty. Moving about on all fours isn’t advisable especially if you have gear that includes a rather long and unwieldy ‘squid pole’ to contend with.

So I set my sights a little further up the Sunshine Coast and settled on Mt Coolum (VK4/SE-114). And to make things even better, it falls within the Mt Coolum National Park (VKFF-0344).

My gear for this activation was my Elecraft KX1 (with six internal AA cells) and 24 ft long wire antenna with two counter-poises of 16ft and 32ft respectively. For seating arrangements I took along my Helinox Chair One.

Mt Coolum is the second largest solid rock mountain in Australia; the largest is Uluru (previously known as Ayers Rock) in the Northern Territory. This fact alone made it fitting that I should climb it as I had visited Uluru in July.

The way up to the summit is very steep but the path is excellent, consisting of suitably arranged rocks that act as steps. It is a very popular outdoor venue with the locals and as a result the way up and down is very busy.

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The was a constant stream of people making their way to the summit.

As soon as I arrived at the top I put out a call to Greg, VK4MHC, on DMR simplex with my CS750 hand held radio. He replied and sounded as if he were a few feet away, so strong and clear was the audio. And considering he happened to be at a local resort some 2km away, the quality of the signal was nothing less than astounding.

The simplex calling frequency in Australia is 439.200 MHz.

This I believe is the first time DMR has been used as a mode for SOTA and WWFF in Australia. (Our local VKFF representative in VK4 later told me after I had submitted my log that he was unable to process the DMR QSO as the system wouldn’t accept a Digital Voice call even though it’s listed as an accepted mode. He has progressed the issue further up the line, something that tells me it hasn’t been encountered before.)

We then proceeded to talk on 2m and 70cm FM; I used my Yaesu FT-70D and he used his Yaesu FT-818.

I then looked for a suitable spot out of the way of curious onlookers to set up my HF station. That spot turned out to be right in the middle of a thicket of sharp bushes that I cleared just enough for the chair.

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Keeping out of the sun was the name of the game.

Once my gear was in place, I settled down into my chair and uploaded a spot to SOTA Spotter. Who said the bands were dead? Here’s the list of the stations I worked using only 2W.

VK4JAZ 09/11/2018 22:39 VK4/SE-114 433MHz DV VK4MHC. (First DMR call in VK?)
VK4JAZ 09/11/2018 22:43 VK4/SE-114 144MHz FM VK4MHC
VK4JAZ 09/11/2018 22:44 VK4/SE-114 433MHz FM VK4MHC
VK4JAZ 09/11/2018 23:26 VK4/SE-114 14MHz CW VK7CW
VK4JAZ 09/11/2018 23:30 VK4/SE-114 14MHz CW VK1MCW
VK4JAZ 09/11/2018 23:35 VK4/SE-114 14MHz CW VK3CAT/P
VK4JAZ 09/11/2018 23:37 VK4/SE-114 14MHz CW VK3ARH
VK4JAZ 09/11/2018 23:40 VK4/SE-114 14MHz CW VK3IL/P
VK4JAZ 09/11/2018 23:43 VK4/SE-114 14MHz CW ZL3GA
VK4JAZ 09/11/2018 23:53 VK4/SE-114 7MHz CW VK2IO/P

In addition, VK3CAT, VK3ARH and VK3IL were also summit activations.

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At leas the view was good amongst the prickly shrubs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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First C4FM SOTA contacts in Queensland

Going through the Activator Roll of Honour results for QLD recently, I noticed that there were no results for Digital Voice. Checking the state of play for the other states, I saw that the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria had one each.

It was time to put that right, so on Saturday 23rd June, I headed out for Mt Cotton (VK4/SE-115) with nothing more than my Yaesu FT-70DR hand held radio.

I had activated this summit more than a year previously, so if I logged at least four qso’s, it would count as another activation and my tally would increase by one point.

The climb up to the summit was uneventful and I headed to a clearing that featured a rather tatty picnic table and a good view.

I set the radio’s frequency to 147.400, the calling frequency for digital modes, and the mode to DN (Normal Digital Mode).

I had pre-arranged with Wal, VK4CBW, to listen out for me on simplex. His was the first contact I made. The distance between us was 26.33 Km (16.456 miles) and his Yaesu FT-2DR connected to a beam antenna sounded excellent. I ran a few quick tests too, to see what difference it would make to the signal if I placed my radio flat on the ground while he spoke. It made absolutely none!

Trying to get more height when calling CQ.

I am well used to using FM simplex on summits and noticed immediately that with C4FM there was no background hiss at all. The audio was as perfect as can be, very similar to that of a mobile phone.

I then had a long qso with George, VK4HGT, followed by Phil, VK4MOT and Bob VK4YA. All contacts were remarkable in that the audio was perfect. I think C4FM is far superior to FM analogue and it’s a mode I’ll be using more often in future.

 

 

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

 

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.

Mt Beerburrum VK4/SE-112

Getting to Mt Beerburrum is easy: proceed along the Bruce Highway from Brisbane towards the Sunshine Coast for about 55km. Look for Exit 163, which will take you to the Glass House Mountains Tourist Drive. At approximately 4.8km take the Beerburrum Road turnoff and look out for the sign for Mt Beerburrum Lookout. There are a few car parks here, but rather continue along the gravel road for about 800m to the end, where there is ample car parking.

Park your car here and begin the walk to the summit.

The path to the summit is concrete all the way, but be aware, it is very steep. Classed as a Class 4 climb, the going is unrelenting all the way to the top. But there are many resting places along the way.

The concrete track may be only 700m long but it is deceptively challenging.

Allow an hour for the return journey and be sure to take frequent breaks.

This is a Class 4 climb.

It took us 40 minutes up and about 19 minutes down. And enjoy the views.

Take advantage of the many opportunities to take photos.

There is a small fire tower at the summit. As soon as you spot it you’ll know you are just about there.

The fire tower at the summit.

There is not much open space on the summit, especially if you want to erect a long wire antenna. I made use of a wooden pole to attach my squid pole to. Be sure to put out calls on 2m FM as well as there is excellent reception on the summit. I was able to talk to local hams easily from there.

There is also good phone reception from the summit.

Mt Beerburrum is part of the Glass House Mountain range and is within the Glass House Mountains National Park (VKFF-0200).

Matthew Finders mentioned this summit in his journal.

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.

Building SOTABeams’ PowerPole PP-4 Way power distribution board

One of the challenges I was having while operating portable was making sure that my power polarity was correct. Fiddling around on a mountain peak with red and black connectors on a 7a/h gel cell is fraught with danger. And when I have two or more components to connect, well …

The answer I found on the SotaBeams web site (http://www.sotabeams.co.uk/).

I placed an order for their PowerPole PP-4 Way power distribution board.

A week or so later, a padded envelope arrived in my mail box.

The contents of the envelope.

Construction was easy as the kit is very simple. All that was needed was a soldering iron and some solder.

 

The power poles ready for soldering.

I ordered the kit only (without the enclosure), so I headed to the local supermarket and bought a cheap plastic sealable container that would do just fine. All I had to do was to cut out a piece wide enough from the lid for the connectors to stick through.

The PCB sits under the lid with the connectors sticking through. I secured it into place with four nuts and bolts.

The power supply connects to one set of power poles and the radio, atu and other items connect to the others. Simple.

Works like a charm. Will make a difference in a park or on a summit.