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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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

 

Trends in Amateur Radio

It’s always been accepted that one of the attractions of amateur radio was that it involved the building of kits; if you needed (or wanted) a better or more specific transmitter, receiver or transceiver but couldn’t afford to purchase one from your local retailer, you bought one in kit form and built it yourself.
Kits were ordered over the phone and posted to you. Some were better than others but all had potential risks involved, such as the odd missing component.

The Elecraft KX1 kit came professionally packed with a great instruction manual.

This kit from Virgil Stamps at http://www.hfprojects.com is a good example of a well-produced kit that involves soldering all the components into place in the PCB.

And it wasn’t only on the electronics front that you could heat up your soldering iron and get busy; making a suitable antenna was also a huge part of the hobby.

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

Baluns are also popular construction projects with homebrewers.

I wound the entire length of coax on a piece of PVC piping I had in my workshop.

Of course, you didn’t have to stick with kits if you needed to construct a radio; you could always build one from scratch with components you happened to have in your proverbial junk box.

I built this regenerative receiver using what I happened to have on hand at the time.

Test equipment is also easy to build from kits.

QRPometer on the left, Hendricks dummy load/power meter on the right.

I have noticed a trend beginning to appear in the world of amateur radio, and that’s a swing away from ‘melting solder’. I first noticed this with the advent of the Elecraft KX3 a few years ago. For the first time this world leader in kit production began marketing a rig that only required mechanical construction; all the electronics came pre-manufactured and only needed slotting into place in the enclosure, which needed first to be put together by the ham. This was due to the high number of surface mount components present.

And now Virgil Stamps, proprietor of the beautifully designed and manufactured HF linear amplifier that is aimed at the SOTA and WWFF fraternity (http://hfprojects.com/) has gone this route with the launching of his latest offering, the HFPacker Amp MiniHFPA2. By all accounts it looks like this new trend in amateur radio is here to stay, but as long as it helps get more people on air, that’s sure to be a good thing.

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.

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

Activating Fort Lytton, VKFF-0179

I decided to activate Fort Lytton National Park ¬†on Sunday 23 April 2017 for two reasons: firstly it has never been activated before and secondly, it’s considered to be the birth place of Queensland’s military history.

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The above picture is of the Fort’s parade ground.

This coastal fortress served as Brisbane’s primary defences from 1881 until 1965. It was even used during WW11, when some 89 US submarines were docked here for repairs during the war.

There is an interesting museum there now, including a good display of military radio’s, which I particularly liked.

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I was fortunate in finding an excellent operating position, right alongside the river under a gazebo. The picnic bench was just perfect and it was unoccupied.

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Being a first activation meant that I was able to make a quick ten contacts, on both SSB as well as CW. The rig I used was my FT-817 that tuned an end-fed long wire by means of an LDG auto tuner. My key was my new pico paddle, which worked beautifully.

The weather was perfect, the exhibits were wonderful and the activation was a success. Will need to revisit this site again sometime.

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Samford Conservation Park VKFF-1639

Easter Saturday was the day I decided to activate Samford Conservation Park, VKFF-1639, which is situated around 40km from my QTH. This time I had insect repellent in my go-bag and I’m glad I did.

I set up my equipment on a park bench that was at the far end of Iron Bark Gully, a picnic area in the park. As usual, I had my FT-817, LDG Z100 Pro ATU and endfed antenna held up at the far end by a 7m squid pole.

All set up and ready for calls.

I could hear lots of SOTA action but even though I had self-spotted, I was getting nothing. So I decided to pounce on a SOTA QSO. The first one I came across was VK2HRX operating fromVK2/NW-019, which also happened to be a National Park, VKFF-0111, so when he completed working a chaser, I pounced. He replied and I was up and running. And with a park-to-park QSO at that. Then I heard my old mate John, VK4TJ working him so I tail-gated that QSO and worked him too. Two in the bag, but that’s as far as I got.

I think my position in the gully was not the best, so I decided to pack it in and head off for a restaurant for lunch. Also, using only 5W could have been the problem. Mean time, Scott VK4CZ posted on Facebook that he would like to visit my operating position as he lived nearby. But I had already hit the road. Along the way I stopped to admire the view from McAvee’s Lookout in Mount Nebo, which is situated in the D’Aguilar National Park VKFF-0129. As luck would have it, he called me on 146.500 FM (simplex calling frequency) so I was able to add that to my log, and from a different park.

So I was happy with the way the day turned out. But there is unfinished business. I will return.

Denmark Hill Conservation Reserve VKFF-1529

Saturday 8 April was the day chosen to head out to Ipswich and activate Denmark Hill Conservation Reserve VKFF-1529. I chose this park as it happens to be around 30km from my QTH as well as the fact that it hadn’t been activated before. This would be sure to arouse the interest of hunters.

On arrival, I was amazed to discover that the club house of the Ipswich and District Radio Club borders the Reserve. They were holding a meeting when I walked past in headed into the think bush.

It wasn’t long before I came across a picnic bench which would make an ideal operating position. So I assembled my gear and prepared to put out my first CQ. That’s when the giant mozzies began their attack. I knew then that I should have packed in some insect repellent. I added it to my check list for next time.

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The rig I was using was my trusty FT-817 with an LDG auto tuner and end fed long wire antenna that was supported by a squid pole. I mounted the pole to the support for a dust bin that was conveniently situated nearby.

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I usually operate CW but decided to stick to 40m and 20m SSB this time: what a difference it made. In the short space of half an hour I had made 11 good contacts. With CW I’d be pleased to have made 4 in that time.

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Delighted with my results, and reeling under the concerted efforts of the mosquitoes, I packed up and headed for the car. Along the way I came across the site of some dinosaur footprints. There was a well presented display that explained the history of the site and its rich fossil field.

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This was a most enjoyable activation, especially as the weather was good; we have had plenty of flooding and chaos thanks to Cyclone Debbie.

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