First real test of the HF Packer Amp

HF conditions are terrible at the moment, so when could be better to put the latest version of the HF Packer Amp, the miniHFPA2 edition, to the test?

The amp is set to accept an input of 5W for an estimated output of around 30W. It also has the 60/40 and 30/20 Low Pass Filters installed.

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A side view of the amp enclosure with the side panel removed, showing the clip-in LPF board.

I chose to look for a station operating on 40m as this is the best band for local (VK) signals during the day. My luck, the band was dead. Then I heard Gerard, VK2JNG calling CQ from Lake Innes Nature Reserve (VKFF-1955). I returned his call and received a report of 5/9.

I was delighted as I seldom receive such good reports when using my Yaesu FT-817 at 5W into VK2. You see, a quick check on Google Maps told me that we were 445 Km apart. So I asked Gerard if he could give me another report, this time with the amp in bypass mode. He gave me a 5/3. He went on to say that with the amp switched on, my signal was “crisp and the audio nice and clear.”

So there we have it: the amp certainly does what Virgil, the designer, set out to achieve.

I have LPFs for all bands and will use them when the time is right.

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The LPF boards are professional quality.

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Each board is marked with the bands they are designed for. The while guides aid with slotting them into place.

Each LPF is a 2×1 inch plug-in circuit board that is interchangeable in the field with the entire family of same size modules. Each LPF has a unique ID, and the panel LEDs inform you which LPF is active. Two LPF boards are plugged into the enclosure, one on each side. To select the one you need, all you have to do is flip the LPF toggle switch on the front panel of the amp. Field replacement consists of removing a side panel, unplugging an LPF and sliding in a different one.

To find out more, visit http://www.hfprojects.com

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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

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.