Monday, April 27, 2015

Testing DXpedition Antennas

I got a chance to play with the vertical dipole array cut for 10m and turned out very well.  There is a resonance dip at 27300 kC as I cut the wires too long intentionally. I ran the math to move the dip to 28300 and will need to test it out again before I move on to the other bands.  Gifts from several hams W1TEF, NJ4F and K4JPG allowed me to purchase a 12m Spiderbeam pole.  That pole is a good performer. A picture of the VDA is shown below.  This antenna design has been used in several DXpeditions and even contest stations.  It was used in the "Microlite" DXpeditions to South Georgia Island VP8GEO and South Sandwich Island VP8THU near the Antartic.  It was also used in Ducie Island VP6DX.  It is also used in the contest station CN2AA in Morocco.  They are very effective seaside antennas.

Here I am with the pack of goods I have to carry.  I reduced payload by about 5 pounds from here.

Here is my tent arrangement below.  Yes, that is a solar panel resting on the tent rainfly.  It is Powerfilm and puts out a full 30 watts (its rating) under direct sun.  I was able to run the radio without the voltage dropping below 13V for about 6 hours.  

Here is the rig in the tent

Saturday, April 18, 2015

12m DXCC Is Now Complete

When I say complete - I mean I have all the cards and LOTW confirmations plus assured LOTW confirmations through the Clublog OQRS System.

ZL7E Chatham Island #93 Confirmed in LOTW
PJ2/VE7ACN Curacao #94 Confirmed in LOTW
AT150ITU India #95 Confirmed in LOTW
PQ0T Trindade and Martim Vaz #96 Confirmed in Clublog & OQRS
E30FB Eritrea #97 Confirmed in Clublog & OQRS
V21ZG Antigua and Barbuda #98 Confirmed in LOTW
TG9AHM Guatemala #99 Card
ZD7FT St. Helena #100 Card
US5WE Ukraine #101 Confirmed in LOTW

The following cards are still in the pipeline unanswered

VP2/N2IEN British Virgin Islands
HI3TEJ Dominican Republic
HA3NU Hungary
PJ4A Bonaire
V63YY Micronesia

Thursday, April 16, 2015

FP DXpedition Website Is Now Live!!!

FP/NY4G DXpedition

A great deal of thanks to ND7J for constructing the website.  The page in this blog dedicated to the DXpedition has been reverted to inactive state.

Thanks for your continued support.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

DXpedition with less than 100 Lbs of Gear

Took Inventory of All my gear and practiced set-up and take down.  So let us break it down

Steppir Bag - Weight 16.4 lbs
Contents - 16 ft. fiberglass pole, 6 foot extension pole, 80-2m radiator unit,  80-2 radial unit, tensioning arms, clamps, small roll of gorilla tape, back up end fed antenna, 60 feet of RG-8 coaxial cable

Rig Box- Pelican 1520 case  21.67 lbs - with Shock Mounted KX3, PX3, and KXPA100, capable of 100 watts using a Gamma Research Power Supply, KI0BK Powergate, Palm Pico Paddle

Pack - 32.36 lbs and contains the following:
Computer Laptop, External Keyboard (wireless), Heil Pro-7,  Stereo Speakers powered by USB, Winkeyer USB, Antenna Analyzer, Extra Coupler, AA batteries, 24 A-h LiFePO4, 30W Powerfilm Solar Panel, Tripod for Radial Unit, Tripod for SteppIR CrankIR, Camp Chair, Tent, Camp Table, Battery Charger

Total Weight 75 lbs

Friday, April 10, 2015

Sleep - Contesting

It was first published by the Yankee Clipper Contest Club.  Thanks to Kevan Nason N4XL for posting it into the Swamp Fox Contest Group Reflector.

Thanks to Charlotte, KQ1F for digging up this article, and Fred, K1VR for editing it.
 At the February 1988 meeting, YCCC member, Thomas Scott Johnson, KA1QXI (now NW1I, who now lives in Concord, MA), a physician at Brigham & Women's Hospital specializing in sleep problems, spoke on sleep deprivation strategies - or how to sleep four hours out of 48. This is the first program we can remember where the majority of those present took notes! He began by telling us that most people come to the Hospital's Sleep Clinic complaining that they have trouble sleeping, and it is interesting to speak before a group that wants to learn how to avoid or minimize sleep. After a brief overview of the physiology of sleep (90 minute cycling, REM sleep, and so forth), he gave his recommended schedule. On Friday afternoon, have a reasonably good meal (but no alcohol) and take a three-hour nap, preferably from 4:30 to 7:30 PM EDT (for CQ WW Phone, which starts at 8 pm EDT), or 3:30 to 6:30, if the contest starts at 7 pm EST. When you get up, have some coffee. Eat no large meals during the contest, just snacks with high carbohydrates, low fat, and reasonable protein. Two hours before your normal waking time, take a 90-minute nap (this allows a full sleep cycle so that you will wake up refreshed), or sleep for 180 minutes. Then have another cup of coffee.

Only drink coffee when you awaken from your naps; otherwise you will have trouble falling asleep and will not awaken rested when you do sleep. The first afternoon of the contest, Saturday afternoon, schedule a 30-minute nap for sometime between 3 and 4 PM. Take another 90 or 180 minute nap the second morning. Optionally, take another nap the second afternoon, Sunday afternoon. [Ed. note: However, since you don't care what happens after the contest ends only a few hours later, you may load up on caffeine Sunday afternoon to avoid that Sunday afternoon nap.]

Avoid alcohol during the contest. Avoid heavy physical activity (such as tower or tree climbing) right before the contest since it promotes deep sleep. Keep the shack very brightly lit to keep you alert. When you do nap, do so in a darkened room.

Keep the shack warm, 72 to 74 degrees, since low body temperature encourages sleep.

Copyright © 1997-2002 Yankee Clipper Contest Club

First Simulation - Battery Draw Down Tests

Rig: KX3-KXPA100-PX3
PS: Gamma Research HP100
Powergate: KI0BK
Battery: Battery Tender Li-Fe-PO4 24 A-h
Computer: Toshiba Laptop
Software: N1MM Classic
Power Monitor: Watt's Up
Starting Voltage: 13.4 Volts (Fully charged)
Power Level: 50 watts on key-down (measured on a peak reading watt meter)

I wanted to realistically assess how many QSO's and how long I can run on my primary battery and how long I can keep logging and keying the rig with the laptop.  I had the laptop running in power save mode.  I turned off the Panadapter to reduce current draw on receive.  Current draw on receive with the Panadapter on is about 630 milliamps and with it off is about 480 milliamps.  My resting current draw is about that level.  Keying the rig brings the peak amperage to about 7 amps (6.5 amps with the PX3 off) but that is only momentary.  I ran for a steady 2 hours at about 175 Q's per hour.  At the end of the 2 hours I was down 4.4 amp hours according to the power monitor.  So, effectively, my average current draw was about 2.2 amps.  Voltage at the end of the second hour was about 12.9V.  At the end of the 3rd hour, the voltage had dropped down to 10.5V and the KXPA100 will not key up anymore.   At the end of the 3rd hour the laptop battery was almost depleted.  Realistically, 450 QSO's can be had in 3 hours of operating.  I generated that many mock QSO's in 3 hours of the simulation.  A second battery would double my run time.  However, unless I can extend the laptop run time through another laptop battery, logging will have to be done by paper and pen.  A solar panel can extend operating time if sun is available.  So between a solar panel, a second battery, a second laptop battery, 6 hours of operating time should be realizable with run time to spare.  That will be the subject of a second test.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Thin Film Solar Panel - For DXpedition, Field Day, or Camping Use

The question is how much power output is needed?  Is 25 watts output enough?.  Not sure how long this will extend the operating time at 50 watts RF output.  Since it is just a math game - 50 watts out uses 7 amps.  Duty cycle with CW is 33%.  So 7/3.  Receive current drain is 300 mA or 0.3 amp - so let's sy 3 amp continuous draw.  Discharge to 50% energy from 24-amp hour battery.  The math says the operating time with 1.5 amp maximum input is 14h.  Let's just say with real life conditions - input is 1 amp or 66% rated max.  So we go from 4 hours at 50 watts to 6 hours with just a 25 watt panel.  This folding panel weighs 1.75 lbs and easily folds into a backpack.  Dimensions are the size of a piece of paper 8.5 x 11 in folded form.   It is also available from Amazon at $135.  Is this a worthwhile investment for a 2 hour extension of operating time?  Does it actually work in practice?

So to answer the above questions I have done a little research:

Type of Panel: Powerfilm or Crystalline?

This is a very important question to answer.  Crystalline (either poly or mono crystalline panels) are highly affected by shading such that even partial shade in a small part of the panel drops output by closel to 90%.  There is a video of this at the following link.

Powerfilm vs. Crystalline Panel

Goal Zero Versus PowerFilm

So in reality with a powerfilm panel - effectively 70% of the panel rating is retained and the requirement is for a much larger crystalline panel to keep up under real world conditions.

Optimization Parameters:

Run Time (or run time extension via a solar panel)
Cost as measured in dollars per hour of run time
Weight - as in lbs per hour of run time
QSO per session (before power runs out)

Assumptions: Drawdown to 50% battery capacity, 33% duty cycle for CW, 100 QSO's per hour

The above are my self imposed parameters to optimize on because I have to buy what I carry, and carry what I buy.

The baseline is a 24 amp-hour Lithium Iron Phosphate battery which weighs 2.6 lbs and which cost $147 dollars which allows me to run for 4 hours at 50 watts on the beach.  50 watts is a good power level because my ERP with a vertical near the ocean is 200 watts according to EZNEC models.  So my baseline is $36.75 per run hour and 1.54 hours per pound.  The baseline set-up allows me 400 QSO's assuming a 100 QSO/hr run rate.

Let's put a Powerfilm solar  panel in the mix.  First a 20 watt panel ($214).  The 20 watt panel reduces my current draw by 1.33 amps so I can effectively operate for 6 hours.  This translates to $63 per run hour and 1.82 hours per pound, and 600 QSO's.

Now a 30 watt panel. (Price $283-$350) The 30 watt panel enables a current draw of 1 amp or an operating time of 12 hours.  That is - $63 cents per run hour and 1.89 hours per pound and 720 QSO's.

The crystalline panels are going to be much heavier in general and about the same price since you have to buy more wattage to get the same output.  Air St. Pierre charges 3.3 Euros per kilo of extra baggage.  So a 30 pound panel will cost me $100 extra just to transport plus I have to carry it on my back - a non starter.  DXpeditions to Sable Island, for example, carry a weight limit of 1400 lbs for people and cargo for a one way trip costing $6000.

The above are best case scenarios assuming there is 100% sun.

Let's examine the case of an extra battery.  It is identical to the first (baseline) case except, now you have 800 QSO's  which can be had with or without the sun.  So the overall winner is: Extra Battery

Best Solar Option

Either 30 watt or 20 watt Powerfilm are equivalent on a $/hr or hrs/lb basis.  The edge goes to to 30 watt Powerfilm on the basis of 120 more QSO's than 20 watt panel which is, after all, what you are paying for.  The extra battery gets an extra 400 QSO's over the baseline which can be had with or without the sun.  But If I only had $350 or so to spare, I would get the extra battery and the 20 watt panel.  That combination gets you 1000 QSO's using the above mentioned assumptions.  For an extra $100 get 1120 QSOs with the extra battery and a 30 watt panel.

Friday, April 3, 2015

New DXCC ATNOs and K1N Just Confirmed in LOTW

The first bit of good news is the confirmation of Navassa on all 9 bands in LOTW.  This brings the total confirmed on 12m to 92 and the candidate pool for 100 DXCC on 12m to 109.  If I can just confirm 7 of the 16.

Prime candidates for 12m DXCC are as follows:

ZL7E Chatham Island #96 Confirmed in Clublog
PJ2/VE7ACN Curacao #94 Confirmed in LOTW
AT150ITU India #93 Confirmed in LOTW
PQ0T Trindade and Martim Vaz #95 Confirmed in Clublog
E30FB Eritrea #97 Confirmed in Clublog
V21ZG Antigua and Barbuda #98 Confirmed in LOTW
TG9AHM Guatemala #99 Card
ZD7FT St. Helena #100 Card

VP2/N2IEN British Virgin Islands
HI3TEJ Dominican Republic
HA3NU Hungary
PJ4A Bonaire
V63YY Micronesia

ATNOs are as folows:

#259 Singapore 9V1YC Confirmed LOTW
#260 Dem Republic of Congo 9Q0HQ  Confirmed in LOTW
#261 Navassa K1N Confirmed LOTW
#262 Uzbekistan UK8AR confirmed in LOTW
#263 Pakistan AP2NK Card
#264 Malawi 7QAA Confirmed in Clublog
#265 Cocos Island TI9/3Z9DX
#266 Trindade and Martim Vaz PQ0TConfirmed in Clublog

Thursday, April 2, 2015

DXpedition Rig

Here are some pics of how I configured the rig for the DXpedition.  I was able to shoehorn everything into a Pelican 1520 case - KX3 , KXPA amplifier, PX3 panadapter, power supply and DC distribution.  The whole arrangement was shock mounted to a piece of polycarbonate.  I used the SOTABEAMS stands to get the viewing angle just right.

I can then take everything out to setup on a table or on the case itself as shown below.  I kept all the wires as short as possible.  The battery just connects to the blue Powergate.  The whole arrangement case included weighs 9.6 kilograms.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Wire Length For End Fed Random Wire

I thought I had written about this once before but I looked into my archives and found nothing.  I did do tests previously on 44 feet of wire for my EARCHI Matchbox and I thought I would revisit what the optimum length is for a random wire.

The random wire antenna is probably one of the least expensive, easiest and cheapest HF antennas to use if you have a tuner and you want to get the "most" out of a length of "random" wire without having to pull out that calculator, doing the math, getting the center insulator built or bought, running the feed-line, and all the rest that goes with putting up a more elaborate antenna.

However, there are lengths to avoid because if you pick that wrong  length, the tuner may not work in one or more bands

Jack, VE3EED, solved the major headache of doing all the math of figuring out what the multiple of half wavelengths of the ham bands are.  These are the lengths to avoid.

So in a nutshell - Here are the lengths to use which form a sweet spot for tuning all the ham bands.  All the numbers are in feet.  Make a note of it.

29  35.5  41  58  71  84  107  119

Well does it work?  Before I settled on 41 ft, I used 50 feet which is also OK but I found that with 50 feet 80m is difficult to tune.  41 feet is much better.  I did give up the tunability of 30m but the tuner in the KXPA100 does not have a problem.  All the other bands are a cinch and 12m is almost resonant.  All the SWR figures will change with length of feedline so don't worry about it and let the tuner do the work.

VE3EED is now SK but the internet article can be found here

The visual solution to the coding that was done Jack is here

Contacts made with the end fed random wire using the EARCHI matchbox  are all with 50 watts and the KX3/KXPA100 are G0ORH, KR5N, MI0AHH, EA6NB, EA8/DL2DXA  CO8LY on the WARC bands during the tests I conducted today.  This will serve as my backup antenna for the DXpedition to Saint Pierre.  It can be deployed as a dipole or an inverted L vertical.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

DXpedition Planning - Lessons Learned

(1) Never assume that anything is admissible to the airline as far as checked baggage goes

  • Case in point – I assumed that my tiny 450 watt generator when inside my checked luggage is OK with the airlines.  Once inspected and if there is any smell of gasoline – the generator will be confiscated.  Research this ahead of time.   I re-thought my power source and settled with LiPo batteries when operating away from commercial mains
  • Make sure the size of any tripod is under the limit that will otherwise classify it as oversize baggage.  This can be quite expensive $175 one way.  Stay under the 62 inch limit L+H+W <62 inches.  For my tripod, I had to fabricate a box that was 46 inches high and 5 inches wide and 4 inches deep which is about 54 total inches – which is inside the parameters set forth by the airlines
  • Make sure your rig fits in a Pelican Case sized for carry on size limits – the Pelican 1520 is the largest case that fits these parameters.
(2) Make sure you research the QRN and man-made noise sources are minimal in the places you need to operate from.

  • I learned from previous DXpeditioners that areas close to the city center in Saint Pierre tend to have a lot of noise and so I sought out a place that was on the outskirts of town
  • In addition I gave myself the ability to relocate using batteries as a power source
(3) Take advantage of verticals near the ocean

  • I did a lot of research on the advantage verticals have over yagis for DX when operating close the ocean, and there are several for a solo DXpeditioner, weight, gain, omnidirectionality all contribute to the vertical being the solid choice and performer
  • b. A single elevated radial is all that is needed because the ground plane conductivity and reflective properties overwhelm the directivity.

(4) Don’t take on the role of a solo DXpeditioner unless you have several field day and extensive contesting experience, operating split, and operating long hours in the saddle.

  • Nothing prepares you for the rigors of a DXpedition than contesting – that is making QSO’s for hours on end.
  • You will be more successful if you are an experienced contester because you can maintain high QSO rates.  You don’t want to kill yourself but an operator who is comfortable running 150-200 Q’s per hour with a DX exchange is going to be less “under the gun” than an operator who can only operate at 50 Q’s per hour.  The 50 Q/hr operator will feel guilty about not making enough QSO’s and not take breaks – end result – burnout and a not so pleasant DXpedition experience.  Remember, you will be all alone and need to pace yourself.  
  • Field Day experience allows for less stress in set-up and break down because you know the routine, you know just how much or how little to bring, and is comfortable with having to lug equipment.
  • Operate as many Field Days as possible ahead of a planned DXpedition.  In my case I have participated in 4 Field Days prior to taking on the DXpedition mission.  On the last Field Day prior to the DXpedition, I am simulating activating an island and set up on a beach with the same equipment I will take to the DXpedition.  I will be doing this in Hunting Island SC for Field Day 2015 with the call sign K4J and with WM4AA.
  • Operate as many contests as possible ahead of the DXpedition that your schedule will allow.

(5) Take inventory of everything and prepare backups for any piece of equipment that might be prone to failure

  • Extra bolts and nuts, clamps, etc.  Guy ropes and stakes
  • Weigh everything and be prepared to pay any extra luggage fees.
  • Minimize the weight but maximize redundancy.  These are competing goals – so weigh the risk-reward carefully
  • Make a list of everything you bring – and make it some sort of a checklist (so you don’t lose anything as you set up and break down
  • Bring an extra headphone, keyer, and make sure you have programmed NIMM to function with the main rig and a back up rig.

(6) Know how to operate your rigs and antennas efficiently

  • Again nothing prepares one for this other than contesting, operating split, using morse and voice keyers, contesting software (N1MM, Win-test).  N1MM is my first choice.  N1MM has a DXpedition mode that allow you to log Dupes.
  • Know the current draw at the power levels you intend to operate.  If the propagation is good – cut back on power.  You are the DX and you have an 18 dB advantage over the chasers
  • If the pileup gets too heavy – turn down the power.  The big boys with big towers and sensitive receivers will still be able to hear you and work you.  When the pileup gets too thin – turn up the power.  This is the tip from Vlad N3CZ who has activated many a DXpedition.
  • Know how use your rig as an antenna analyzer as a backup
  • Know how to use your antenna analyzer efficiently
  • If you have to paper log – make contingency plans that allow you to do this – have a handy UTC time source and an all-weather notebook (just in case your laptop battery craps out).  Make sure you have an extra paddle or two – just in case.

(7) For making audio and video recordings

  • Make sure everything in the audio chain works and practice using your sound capture software ahead of time.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Plan B - Power Source for the DXpedition

I have researched the airline regulations concerning small generators in checked luggage.  Generators have never been small enough to be packed into a a piece of luggage.  With the PowerHouse 500 Wi, it is small enough to be packed into a suitcase.  The question is, will it be accepted by the air carriers?  Some carriers will accept it as checked luggage provided it has never been run and never filled with fuel.  Some carriers will not allow it in any condition.  This forced me to rethink my power source for the time I am away from commercial power.

Plan B is to use Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries.  They have 1/5 the weight of the equivalent capacity SLA (sealed lead acid) and have a deeper discharge (80%) before needing a recharge.  The KX3 will stop working long before the battery reaches a deep discharge.  I just need a charger now that will work with 220V and 50 Hz commercial power.  I will also need to sell the generator I acquired.

I found a voltage converter at Batteries and Bulbs which will step the voltage down from 220 to 120V.  I also found a 3.5A charger that will charge a Lithium Iron Phosphate battery in the same store.  I found 35Ah and 24Ah Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries at Amazon for a very reasonable price.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Aerial Tour of Prince Edward Island

Aerial Tour of Prince Edward Island

Bill N4IQ, Bob ND7J,  Phil AC4Q

It would be a good idea for us to take a similar tour and do a video/slideshow documentary operating from various places around the island near the ocean.  We will have a rig and portable antennas to make this possible now.  We can put that into our planning.

My one vote is to visit Avonlea, site of the movie Ann of Green Gables.  This movie was shot entirely in Prince Edward Island.

Anne of Green Gables is a 1985 Canadian television drama film based on the novel of the same name by Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery. The film starred Megan Follows and was produced and directed by Kevin Sullivan for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. It was released theatrically in Iran, Israel, Europe, and Japan.

The film aired on CBC Television as a two-part miniseries on December 1, 1985. Both parts of the film were among the highest-rated programs of any genre ever to air on a Canadian television network. On February 17, 1986, the film aired on PBS in the United States on the series WonderWorks.

If you ever have the chance, try to watch the movie - a great family movie.


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Testing Antennas for the DXpedition


I put up the 17m OmniAngle to see how it would perform in a real world situation.  Height AGL is about 27 feet.  SWR was 1.2 at 18.069 MHz so tuning was OK.  7QAA was on the air. 7QAA is some 8100 miles in Africa.  I was in the pileup with about 80 watts of power - barefoot on the KXPA100.   7QAA was peaking out at S4 on the PX3 with the Hexbeam pointed 87 degrees.  The omni angle was about 1/2 S unit down on the Hex.   I decided to work 7QAA in the pileup with the Par Omni-Angle at 80 watts.   Well - what do you know, without turning the amp on I was able to work 7QAA.  The Par Omni-Angle was on my deck.


Wow.  This antenna is super easy to put up and tune.  Got the SWR at 1.2 at first try.  Moved the radiator an inch to tune it down to 1.0.  The radial is super easy to set-up.  I already used my NY4G call.  I used my ex call AJ4YM to see if 7QAA will come back. (Side Note - NY4G is so much easier to key up than AJ4YM) .Two calls at 200 watts and no problem.  Again, the CrankIR was only down 1/2 an S unit on receive.  The CrankIR was half an S unit higher noise floor.

The video below was only a receive comparison


Here are images  of the CrankIR 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

St. Pierre and Miquelon DXpedition Update

March 16:  I was able to get more support.  Supporters  now include the following:

Don C Johnson
Matt Collier WM4AA
Tom Rouse N0TR
Dave Watson W4DJW
Scott Zemitis
Matt Holley KU4XO

March 9:   I made a presentation at the Greer Amateur Radio Club and made an appeal for support.  Thanks to Tom Rouse's and Bernice's generosity, I am a little bit closer to my goal.  Dave Anderson was looking to loan me a backup rig.

Anyone wishing to contribute may do so in the following link:

Support and Funding Website

The SteppIR antenna came in via UPS.

I was able to order the pelican case for the main rig.

This coming weekend I will be conducting tests on my equipment especially the 450 watt generator - to make sure it runs.

Informational Presentation at the following link:

For additional Info