Tag Archives: Amateur Radio

Testing a Mountain Topper Radio (MTR) model 3B

Having seen the Steve Weber designed compact transceivers on the web and having seen an MTR owned by VK1FB, I was delighted to find one for sale on vkclassifieds.net.au recently.  After duly receiving it and waiting for my birthday to pass (due to my wife’s insistence on waiting for the actual day to receive gifts), I wanted to test it from home and learn the menu system, which like the radio itself, is very compact.

Using my home antenna, a fan dipole with elements for 80, 40, 20 and 10m, I connected the radio to power (a 3S Lifepo4), headphones and the antenna and turned it on.  It sent the number 4 in morse, saying it was on 40m.  I tuned it around the CW end of the band for a while and tried a few of the control functions.  Then I returned it to the default 7030 frequency by switching it off and on again (where have I heard that before?)

Then in the headphones I heard “cq sota de vk5cz” which was Ian at summit vk5/ne-095 in the north east of South Australia.  I listened to his contact with VK3PF and then heard him ask QRZ? (“who is calling”, or “is there anyone else there?”) to which I responded with my callsign.  He replied immediately with a good signal report.  I gave him a report and then told him this was my first contact with the MTR3B.  He acknowledged that and wished me good luck.  I returned the greetings and signed off.

Yes the new radio works despite being smaller than my morse paddle. It’s the blue box in this pic. Produces about 3-5 watts on 7, 10 and 14 MHz amateur bands. The Mountain Topper Radio 3B.

Ian/Buhd vk5cz posted to facebook a comment that this contact was the highlight of the activation, which was great to read.  And later he also published a video clip in which the contact can be heard taking place.

A day later I had the MTR connected again, this time on 14060.  I tuned it up to 14062 and there was a familiar callsign, VK5CZ, in contact with someone.  Looking at SOTAWATCH.ORG I saw that Ian had recently called CQ from another SOTA summit.  I waited until the contact was finished, then heard him send QRZ? and again sent my callsign.  Back he came with a 559 with QSB (fading) report, which was pretty good.  I told him it was the MTR again, which he was pleased to hear about.

Now I need a contact on the remaining band provided by the MTR, 10 MHz, for which I need to make some alternative arrangements as my home antenna does not have a suitable impedance on that band.  The MTR is designed for a 50 ohm non-reactive load.  I will route it through an antenna matchbox which can be adjusted to present a 50 ohm impedance to the transmitter.

So far so good.  I am very impressed by the MTR and look forward to many lightweight activations with it.

Restoring memory settings in FT817

After getting my FT817 final stage replaced, and all power settings reset to meet spec, I started to use the radio again and quickly realised that all the memory settings (frequency and mode) had been wiped.

This made it necessary to change bands using the band switch (!) and manually change between SSB and CW mode, or occasionally FM, dialing up and down the band as necessary.  With the frequency settings in memories, I only needed to move between memory channels to go from SSB on 7090 to CW on 7032, for example.  And on higher bands, I had several beacon frequencies stored in some memories, allowing me to quickly move between the various 10m and 6m beacon frequencies to get a quick impression of band conditions.

So today I dug out the details of the FT817 memory manager software, retrieved the file of frequency settings stored on the computer, added a few new ones and saved the lot in the 817.   Then repeated the process for  my second FT817.  So they now have an identical set of frequencies in their memories.  Makes them somewhat interchangeable.

All the second radio is missing is a cw filter.  I have plans to sort that out soon.

The details of the memory manager and how to interface it with the radio from a windows box are all in a previous post to this blog.  I actually read the post to remind myself of how it worked!

The previous post on this topic is here.

The blog documents it all.

 

VHF/UHF Field day/contest Jan 14/15 2017

The VHF/UHF field day in January is one of my favourite events.  I have had some great surprises on these weekends.  I had no idea what to expect this time, though the weather was forecast as damp on Saturday and dry on Sunday.

I arrived on site around 6pm Friday night.  Along the route from Yass via the Mountain Creek Road I had noticed a lot of debris on the road, including some tree branches that had been broken off by high winds.  I didn’t realise a storm had gone through Canberra while I was driving to Mt Ginini, breaking trees and strewing debris all over suburban streets and bringing trees down over some of the arterial roads, leaving damage that would be visible for weeks afterwards.

This is how far I got setting up on Friday night. After this, the wind came up and the rain and sleet started.

The weather at the time was windy and when I tried to set up the tent it was clear that it would not survive that wind.  In the hope that it would clear away in a few hours, I decided to sit it out and stayed in the car.  By 9pm it was dark and I had to decide whether to  re-pack my tent and go back to Canberra for the night or hang on.  I decided to hang on.  It rained quite heavily for a while and the wind kept howling so once it was really dark, I felt there was no other option.

In the early morning it seemed to be better.  The wind was still there but didn’t seem so bad.  The rain had cleared.  But I hadn’t slept much.

I set about the job of assembling the antennas, the tent, the interconnections and generator.  By 12 noon, the contest start time, I was just about ready to roll.

432 MHz preamp cabling
144 MHz antenna
1296 MHz antenna – end mounted

 

The erected antennas looked very much like they have for the last 10 years so I didn’t take any new photos of them. The 2m, ;70cm and 23cm yagis on one mast and the 6m 3el yagi on another, both rotated from the base using KR400 rotators.  Feedlines: RG9B for 2m, CNT400 for 70cm and 23cm, RG213 or similar for 6m.

Here’s a pic of the antennas from a previous operation at Ginini.  A few configuration differences for the 70cm antenna but otherwise very similar this time.

VHF/UHF antennas on Mt Ginini

 

Once I got on the air, I found beacons from VK3 were very low, the Sydney beacons were almost undetectable and few portables outside the VK1 area.  Only VK2IO was heard initially, but one or two others did emerge later in the weekend.  VK1DSH, VK1RX, VK1RW, VK1MT and VK1AI were all out in the field, most of them on 50/144/432 and Dale was on 1296 as well.  We had a small number of home stations operating the bands too.

After working Gerard VK2IO (Mt Bindo near Oberon) I then worked Phil VK5AKK on both 144 and 432.  We tried 1296 too, but although I could hear a signal from his 100w, my 10w was too far down to make it a two way contact.  A digital mode would have worked.  hmm.  More power on my end would have helped too.  Double hmm.

The day progressed without any more surprising dx, and I found it hard to convince myself to stay awake after 9pm, having got very little sleep in the driver’s seat of the car on Friday night.

At 5:30 in the morning, there were good signals from the vk3 beacons, Sydney was a bit better too.  And I had a very good signal from the Mt Gambier beacon on 144.550 plus a weak signal from Mt Lofty on 144.450.  I hoped this indicated something of the contacts to be made in the following hours.

It did, partly.  VK5DK at Mt Gambier was worked, as was VK5PJ.  But conditions were not good enough to give us contacts on higher frequencies.

My surprise contact on Sunday morning was being called by Mike VK3BDL/7 at Flinders Island.  After working me on 144 and 432, Mike went on to work Chris VK2DO at Batemans Bay on 144, a contact which they were both very happy with.

Eventually the contest ended and I followed it up with a short period of activating Mt Ginini as a SOTA station, using the IC703 running from a LiFePO4 battery.  I had at 6am set up the 20m vertical in the hope of making an S2S with a US station who was looking for VK contacts.  I may have been a bit unlucky with conditions, or jut not spending enough time listening for the US signals.  No luck with S2S but did have a good contact with home station NS7P on CW.

The packing process took about 4 hours and I left the summit at 5pm.  A 2 hour trip back to Yass and a welcome shower and a cold drink when I got there.

The 6m beam seen in the foreground (in the shade, sorry) travels in a partially assembled state. The gamma match stays in place, but the extensions just come out of each element and it then is not much wider than the 2m beam and is narrow enough to be carried quite safely on the roof rack of the car.

Mostly packed up and ready to be loaded into the car and trailer. 2m and 70cm mast still to be disassembled.

 

Contacts made:  183 total.

Band totals:

  • 50 Mhz:  39
  • 144:   70
  • 432:  51
  • 1296: 22

Total points claimed under distance calculation rules: 55916

Points lost due to a wrong grid locator:  about 10.

Points lost due to not enough other portables:  500,000.

haha

 

Pheasant Hill, sota vk1/ac-021, south of Canberra

After activating Boboyan Range successfully the week before, I wanted to grab a few winter bonus points before they ended.  Pheasant Hill is located west of the Boboyan Road, almost at the southern border of the ACT(VK1) with NSW (VK2) in southeastern Australia.  It is in ecalytpus forest country and is 1455m above sea level.

So on this Saturday morning I drove along Boboyan road to the parking area of Brayshaw’s hut (dating back a hundred years or more) and hiked westward through the forest with the sounds of nature around me.
About 20 minutes in you pass this sign

Map and information about the area
Map and information about the area

After turning to the north and heading up the hill the forest is thicker in places.

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Forest views

 

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Path faintly visible

Finally I reached the summit area and found a suitable clearing with a handy tree stump for one of my poles.

I used one pole for the linked dipole which can be used on any of the 40, 30, 20, 17, 15, 12 or 10 metre bands.  The other pole supported the 6m vertical and a 2m dipole offset from the pole on a short length of 19mm PVC conduit.

Vhf antennas
Vhf antennas

Conditions on the bands were not bad. I made 4 contacts into New Zealand (ZL) on 20m, several “local” contacts on 2m FM back into Canberra using the dipole mounted at about 3m above ground.  Only one contact on 6m, with VK1MA.

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Radio and camera operator

Originally in our sota summit list this one was named Pleasant hill, but that was corrected later.  As Ian VK1DI remarked after first activating this summit, it is indeed a pleasant hill.
I was tempted to stay there longer but the wind was rising and I didn’t want to be caught in rain. So after about 2 hours I packed up and headed home.

Approaching Brayshaw's Hit from the west
Approaching Brayshaw’s Hit from the west
One of the direction markers close up
One of the direction markers close up


Summary:

Contacts:

Band Contacts
50 MHz 1
144 MHz 6
432 MHz 1
7 MHz 17
14 MHz 5
21 MHz 1

Walking distance: it took me about 45 mins to reach the summit from the car park.  The return trip was a bit faster.

Permissions: not required – it’s in the Namadgi National Park and day trips are automatically OK.

Round trip from southern Canberra – about 120 km.

VK1 Deferred QSO Party and VK2/4/6 SOTA anniversary

It’s not hard to think of a reason to have a QSO party. SOTA contacts are a lot of fun for all involved.  For activators there is the question of whether to reactivate a summit already visited, possibly visited this year, or whether to look for a new personal unique summit, ie. one you have not previously activated.

This event was a combination of the postponed VK1 QSO Party and the anniversary of SOTA for VK2/4/6.   For this event I wanted to make the best use of the winter bonus and also activate some new uniques.  Yankee Ned and Mount Tumorrama seemed to be good options and I looked carefully at maps and planned my trip.

It was a fairly clear day as I drove from Yass to Wee Jasper, then continued towards Tumut on the Wee Jasper Road.  There were many roos and wallabies feeding near the road, some creating hazards by reacting unpredictably to the approaching or passing car.  I realised when I reached Brindabella Road that I did not have the map prepared at home.  I looked up the lat/lon of Yankee Ned using Sotagoat on the phone (which had no coverage there), converted the decimal degrees to degrees, minutes and seconds and input the coordinates into the Garmin GPS.  That gave me a direction and distance to reach the foothills of the summit, however on reaching the vicinity of the summit, my location was clearly wrong as there was a much higher summit to the west.  I decided to walk up the higher summit and on reaching the top I compared the lat/lon details with SOTA Goat data.  It was identical so I knew I was in  the right place.  I later decided I must have made an error in the conversion of lat/long in decimal degrees to degrees/minutes/seconds, so in future I will use decimal degrees on the GPS unless there is a reason to do otherwise.

Yankee Ned operating site
Yankee Ned operating site

Getting the radios going I made contacts with Matt 1MA, Andrew 1NAM and Andrew 1MBE, Roald 1MTS.  Then on 40m I had some CW contacts with a number of VK3 and VK5 callers.  Close-in contacts were difficult, indicating propagation was favouring longer distances than usual.

Yankee Ned operating site
Yankee Ned operating site

I was hoping for a good number of S2S contacts from this summit.  With conditions so unusual, I failed to reach Adan VK1FJAW at Mt Gillamatong.  While I was on Yankee Ned, he ended his operation at Mt G and drove over to Mt Palerang, where he had a (self-imposed!) steep climb up the eastern side of the mountain.  Conditions were still unfavourable so we missed each other on that occasion.

At about 1pm I packed up and walked down the north side of Yankee Ned, reaching the fire trail that encircles the hill, then walking back along the fire trail where my car was parked.

Lunch
Lunch

I spent 10 minutes making a cup of tea and lunch. Then drove on to Mt Tumorrama, which is easily reached by car all the way to the top.  In fact the track I used to access Yankee Ned went back to Wee Jasper Forest Road and the access for Tumorrama was about 10m along the road, almost opposite where the Yankee Ned fire trail emerged from the forest.

At Mt Tumorrama I was unsure of whether the equipment in the building there would create any radio interference for me.  In fact there was a lot of noise on 40m and 20m, making some frequencies very hard to use.  The noise coincided with the running of cooling fans inside the building compound.  I think operating further away from the building would be a better plan next time.  Avoiding the blackberry bushes would also be better.  A few thorns pierced my jeans and that was not a good experience…

Mt Tumorrama
Mt Tumorrama
Mt Tumorrama
Mt Tumorrama
view from Mt Tumorrama
view from Mt Tumorrama

On  this summit I spent some time on 2m FM working into the Canberra area, then some time on 40m, both CW and SSB.  A text message to Adan discovered he was about to arrive at his third summit, so I asked him to let me know when he would be ready for a contact on 144.150 SSB, as it was clear that HF would not allow any contacts between us.  It was about 100km and I felt sure that our little radios would be able to do that distance on 2m ssb.  Eventually we did make that contact so that was worth waiting for.

The weather on the hill had gradually changed so by 4pm it was quite cool and rain clouds were building up.  I packed up soon afterwards and started the 2hr trip back to Yass at about 4:15pm.

IMGP1703

view from Mt Tumorrama
view from Mt Tumorrama

On the way back I noticed this unusual circular pattern of partly submerged rocks on the hillside opposite the road.  Not related to SOTA.  Included as a bonus.

IMGP1706

Two summits on 9th August 2015

Today’s plan was to  activate three summits to add them to my 6m/10m log and in two cases, gain activator points for 2015 as I had not activated them yet in 2015.

The summits were One Tree Hill near Hall, ACT, Isaacs Ridge to the east of the Woden Valley in Canberra and Mt McDonald, adjacent to the Cotter dam west of Canberra.  This selection was designed to complement the plans of VK1NAM and VK4JAZ who were activating three summits that day.

Leaving Yass at 7:10 after discovering the chooks had no water (and getting my bike gloves wet), I found the Barton Hwy was fogbound for part of the trip to Hall.

IMG_1871s IMG_1872s

 

I planned to ride my bike to the base of One Tree Hill, hoping to save some time.  I recalled the walk as basically flat with a few undulations but I didn’t mind walking the bike for a few hundred metres.  Well, it was about 4km and most of it seemed to be uphill.  It took about an hour so to reach the hill so riding the bike seemed to have saved very little  time on this leg of the trip.

At One Tree Hill I set up the antennas including the dipole for 6m, connected both to the FT817 transceiver and looked at SOTAwatch to see who was on from where.  I was excited by the spot for JS1UEH on a Japanese summit and tuned to his 21 MHz frequency, but the whole band sounded dead.  Hearing nothing there I resumed normal operation, moved the antenna links to 28 MHz and tuned up to 28.48.  This sounds simple but my antennas were attached to the barbed wire fence and naturally, when the antenna was dropped down to make link changes, it caught on the fence when it was raised, making it a frustrating process.  At the same time the 6m dipole was getting caught also.  Finally I  got the antenna up again and I could use it.

I found Gerard VK2IO at Mt Marulan on 28 MHz with a good signal.  I called him and received a low signal report so I looked at my setup to check with antenna I had used on 28 MHz.  The 817 has two antenna sockets and I use both, making it possible to switch between antennas as the 817 stores the antenna selection by band (or groups of bands actually).

I found that I had used the wrong antenna on 10m, so had been using the 6m antenna when I called and worked Gerard.  What’s more (or less), one side of the dipole had disconnected from the binding post in the process of raising it with the barbed wire fence not helping.  So I had used half a 6m dipole to make that contact.  Later I called Gerard again on 10m and found he was much stronger on the 10m antenna and also upgraded my signal report too.  Barbed wire fences are off my list as a possible mounting point for antennas.

At this point I abandoned 6m and used only HF bands.  There were a few contacts to be made on 10m and 40m found a good list of chasers.

During the activation there were several visitors to the hilltop, including some goats.  And no, none of them seemed to be SOTA goats.

IMGP1675s IMGP1673s IMGP1672s

After making a reasonable number of log entries  I packed up and walked back to my bike.  The return ride to my car at Hall took only 18 minutes, not bad for 4km and clearly it was nearly all downhill! That time included chatting with some other riders when lifting bikes over a gate.

Then a quick drive across Canberra to Woden Valley where I parked near Isaacs Ridge on Long Gully Lane.  About 20 minutes to walk up to the operating position and 10 minutes to set up the antennas.  This time I had the vertical for 6m so was able to work a few locals on that band, including VK1NAM on Mt Taylor, about 4 km away on the other side of Woden!  We had exchanged SMS messages updating each other on our progress and plans, so I knew he and Grant VK4JAZ were planning to operate from Isaacs Ridge after me.

I made a page full of contacts on 40m and a few on 10m.  I was slow walking up this one so was then considering whether I could manage Mt McDonald later.  I decided against it as it would be near the end of the daylight when I got there and would almost certainly be walking back to the car in the dark and would still have to drive home.  So while I wanted to add one more summit to my 6m/10m challenge scorecard, I had to drop the idea.   Coffee and food seemed a more attractive option, so that was the next step.

VK1 SOTA party 2nd August 2015

The SOTA party on 2nd August was almost washed out, with all night rainfall and rain continuing in the morning.  By about 8am though, there was some sign of the rain easing for a while.  Some of us decided it was too risky as we are generally not prepared to operate in the rain, but others decided to activate though not on the original sites.

I changed from my planned activation of Castle Hill to Mt Stromlo.  A retreat could be made from Mt Stromlo within 15 minutes whereas at Castle hill it would take more like 30 minutes or more to reach the car, including packing time.

I originally set up on 6m and was about to set up the 10m antenna when two things happened. First I heard Dimitri VK1SV/VK2COW operating at his new home location near Gundaroo on 6m so I had to log contacts with him.  Then Mark VK1EM arrived on site, so we organised for him to make the 6m contacts that were available.

The linked dipole went up then, giving us 10m coverage.  ALthough not all originally planned activations were on the air, enough were on to keep us busy, with Mt Ainslie (AC040) operators including Marcus VK3TST and Paul VK1ATP, Adan VK1FJAW was at Black Mt (AC042) using 2m fm only (and having trouble with overload in his Baofeng), Roald VK1MTS and John VK1JP were at One Tree Hill (AC035).  Then Grant VK4JAZ arrived on Mt Ainslie and it must have been bedlam on that site.

After struggling to make his contacts on Black Mt, Adan decided to join us on Stromlo and was soon there, making his contacts on 2m and 10m.

In among this a few spots turned up on 40m so the antenna was changed over to 40m to work Tony VK3CAT, then a spot turned up on 10m showing Gerard VK2IO, so the antenna was changed back to 10m, but although I even rotated the dipole to favour that direction better, I could hear nothing of Gerard.  Should have tried CW.

Finally as lunch time approached, so did the dark clouds so we packed up quickly and were being lightly rained upon by the time we reached our cars.

In something of a compensating operation for the cancelled activation on 2nd August, VK1NAM has alerted for a 3 summit day on 9th August.  I am planning a 3 summit day too, activating two of the same summits and another different one.  Aiming for 10m/6m contacts on each, so hoping for fine enough weather to let it happen.

In addition, there will be a combined VK1/VK2 focussed SOTA QSO party on Sunday 30th August.  Already, interested VK1/2/3 activators are making plans.  Why not join in?  VK4/5/6/7/8 activators would be welcomed with many potential contacts…