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.

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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Reverse Polarity Protection

As the Yaesu FT-817 doesn’t have any reverse polarity protection or an in-line fuse, I decided to build myself one seeing I do a lot of portable work on summits or in parks.
Diodes work fine but they do incur quite high losses in eventual output power, so with only 5W max available, this isn’t desirable.
The answer lies with the P channel MOSFET (FQP27PO6)
A quick search on line turned up this schematic.

Only one component!

This is quite a simple affair: when the battery is connected up correctly, the MOSFET is turned on allowing current to flow. When connected up incorrectly, it turns off.

It works thus: when the gate to source voltage is around -4V or less, it turns on. So if the battery is a 12V gel cell (as in my case), the voltage through the MOSFET  = 12V – 1V loss (due to the parasitic body diode) which equals 11V with respect to ground.The voltage at the gate is 0V as it is connected to ground. This means that Vgs = 0V – 11V = -11V. This is less than -4V so it turns on.

If the battery is connected up incorrectly, then we have Vgs = 0V –11V = 11V. so the devise turns off.

I mounted the MOSFET on a piece of vero board and used an ice cream stick as strain relief. I also included an in-line quick blow 5A fuse in the positive line.

All the components before final assembly.

Once the heat shrink had been slipped over the component, I heated it up with a hairdryer to achieve a nice, tight finish.

While I was at it I built another one for my Elecraft KX1.

Now it was time to test it.

 

All working as expected with the battery connected up correctly.

Now to switch polarity.

No voltage with reversed polarity.

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.

Softrock RXTX v6.3 – First Smoke test

It’s always a little daunting but it’s also the part I like best – doing the smoke tests. Testing the power supply was really all about ensuring that the SMT caps had been soldered in correctly and that there were no solder bridges.

First I tested current draw with a 1K resister added to the positive probe of my DMM to restrict the current in case of a bridge. I applied 12V power and took readings.

3.0mA so all was in order.

Next I checked the power at the 12V, 5V and 3.3V rails: all fine there.

Now it was time to build the local oscillator.

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Once all the components were in place, it was time for the next smoke test.

Once more I needed to check current draw but this time I did this with a 100 Ohm resister instead of a 1K Ohm one. The readings I obtained were excellent. I was now safe to test without the protection of the resister and again got great readings, all of which were under 80mA.

Next up was a frequency test. I set the dip switch on the PCB to 7.046 MHz and applied 12V. I then tuned my FT-817 to 28.184 MHz (four times the local oscillator frequency of 7.046 MHz) and set the rig to CW mode. After attaching a length of coax in the 817’s antenna socket and draped it close to the Softrock, I heard a good, solid tone.

Excellent. Another smoke test passed.

 

SOTA action: three 8-pointers in a day

Saturday 16th January 2016 was always going to be a BIG day for SOTA in VK1; Tony (VK1VIC), Adan (VK1FJAW, Andrew (VK1DA) and I (Grant VK4JAZ) set out bright and early for New South Wales, intent on activating three ‘bad boy’ summits.

First on our agenda was Webbs Ridge (VK2/ST-005), Dingi Dingi (VK2/ST-004) and Baldy Range (VK2/ST-008).

We were well equipped for the expedition. Transport was by four-wheel-drive as this, we knew, was serious four-wheel-drive country.

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My set up was all rather standard, and chaotic. Rigs included my FT-817, Hendricks BLT ATU, 7ah battery and 5A solar panel, a CW Touchkeyer and a Boafeng GT-3TP Mk111 hand held. I had decided on using my Elecraft KX1 on Dingi Dingi.

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The first summit we activated was Webbs Ridge, which saw all of us working many stations who were keen to add 8 points to their scores. We also worked many Summit-to-Summits.

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Tony (left) and Adan in action.

Next up was Dingi Dingi, which was more challenging to get to; we had to make our way through dense bush and thick undergrowth for about 600m.

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The going was interesting enough; we came across a few Wombat holes, which could be dangerous if you inadvertently stood in one. They weren’t easy to spot in the dense undergrowth.

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The size of these Wombat holes is deceptive. These are large animals.

The trees, too, proved interesting.

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We weren’t sure what this was on the trunk of this tree.

By the time we arrived at Baldy Range, it was well into the afternoon and chasers were decidedly more difficult to work. However, we all were able to activate this summit by making the required number of contacts.

All that was left was for us to pack up our gear and head for home.

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From left, Tony (VK1VIC), Andrew (VK1DA) and Grant (VK4JAZ)