Oct 152012

This weekend I decided to get back on digital modes and see what kind of QSOs I could nab on my spare time. Once I got the kinks worked out of the interface I fired up fldigi and putzed. I putzed and putzed, for two hours I putzed on 14.070 while other stations destroyed my waterfall and I perilously sent my signal into the cacophony of radio waves.

The noise level wasn’t too bad, but the 817 is not very good for this sort of thing right out of the box so I was working within some constraints. I’m not sure if it was Ubuntu and the pulse audio driver or what, but despite selecting between two inputs I was not able to get clean enough audio out of the back of the radio. Some quick handy work and I was using the audio out of the speaker jack to drive into the computer (though I was without the musical din of PSK31 signals).

Another challenge is the passband for the 817. It’s not the prettiest and really starts at 1kHz to about 2kHz. Every time I would see someone outside of that range I’d have to tune the radio and update fldigi, slowing down a quick jump to a new CQ. Eventually I want to have a full CAT interface, but that’s a project for a wintery day.

After all of this and ready to give things another go, I was able to have a QSO with Tony, CT4RC, out of Faro, Portugal. Almost 3,900 miles on just 5 watts, not too bad and a fine confirmation my antenna was still doing well. I was also now pumping my line through an antenna switch and hadn’t yet checked it out on the analyzer for any additional loss but that didn’t seem to affect a thing.

A couple more hours of intermittent checking and I made another DX contact, a new entity for me, Panama! It was a short QSO but I was happy to get another such great contact for the afternoon. I kept at it here and there trying to get other DX stations but the band fell out and I had other things to do and so ended day one of my return to digital modes.

Now that the set up was quick to fire up and ready to go, just prior to leaving for a birthday party the next day, I checked the band to see what was up.

Within a minute I saw an AA1 station call CQ and I quickly answered. Mike, AA1XQ, out of Jamestown, Rhode Island, gave me a 599 report along with an IOTA QSO for the log book. We chatted for a few minutes, which is always nice on a traditionally ‘hit and run’ mode, exchanged weather reports, talked sports, and then signed off so I could go on my way.

My father repaired an interface I had built up a couple of years ago (had a wrong resistor) and I’m anxious to put that to use. It will stand in while I build out my own interface into the mint tin. Perhaps tomorrow evening I’ll give that a go.

As is always the case, it never ceases to amaze me how far a small signal can go with a minimal setup.

73 de W8FI

Sep 012011

Several months ago I bought a used (though in fantastic condition) Yaesu FT-817ND. My previous experience with HF was only with a borrowed Kenwood TS-50 that at its lowest setting, put out 10 watts. Restrictions at the QTH meant that I could only use an indoor antenna and rarely have the peace to use anything but BPSK-31.

The antenna of was the simplest design and construction: a 17 foot piece of 18 AWG stranded copper (pilfered from an SWL antenna) twisted to the center of some RG-58, configured as an inverted-L and with a short counter-poise. Combined with an old Ten-Tec tuner, I was able to reach The Azores on only 20 watts. The setup served me well enough to build up the log book, all without a drop of soldier. (I’m not sure if it’s coincidence or not, but even the PSK interface was on a breadboard next to the rig.)

Fast forward to present time; I’ve decided to go all QRP and my new QTH offers a big tree and a good sized yard.

For some time now I’ve wanted to build a simple 20-meter dipole and string it up into the tree. The only thing between me and an inverted-V was some low hanging branches in the tree out back, and initiative. Several weeks ago the branches were cut down so it was just a matter of getting off my butt and making the antenna.

Having toyed with the idea of using some more of the 18 AWG wire (though this was insulated), I finally decided to chop up some 14 AWG solid copper wire. Now in the perfect world, I’d have ‘done it right’, but I was impatient and wanted to get on the air before Europe went to bed.

My materials were: One center insulator, 2 banana connectors, 2 16-foot lengths of wire, and a length of RG-8. It was a simple matter to connect up and the banana connectors to the wire and put a string over a tall branch. I wound up with an inverted-V dipole with the center about 20 feet up and each leg ending about 8 feet up. This setup also allowed me to get the radiators above the cable and telephone lines going directly through the middle of my yard.

The 817 had finished charging earlier in the day (I have the stock battery with it) and was ready to help electrify the ether. I sat down in a chair directly beneath the feed point (the RG-8 length I had was just long enough to get near the ground) and set up the station.

This was the first time I was going to use the 817 on only its battery using sideband phone. I tuned the radio to 14.243, listened (always listen first!), then pushed the button on my LDG Z-817 tuner. It clicked away until it found its match and the static came alive with tons of European stations coming through loud and clear. I heard Estonia, Slovenia, Italy, and Luxembourg.

The Luxembourg station, LX/PA9JO, was just finished a QSO and I dropped my call as soon as they cleared. A feeling of suspense, terror, and anxiousness filled my blood. Since getting into QRP, this feeling has become much more present in my operating and it’s kind of a rush. All of a sudden I heard my prefix come back! After another sending of my callsign a couple of times, Jo was able to copy me and my QTH before the band started to drift out. We both 73’d and cleared.

I was already excited having just proved the antenna with a mere 3 watts, but then I finally did the calculation for miles per watt… 4062 miles from SE Michigan to Luxembourg! Not only had I broken the 1000 miles/watt, I exceeded it by 25%! Talk about a true testament to the power of low power!

I also discovered that PA9JO was one member of a team of hams who were on an LXpedition, a special trip to get Luxembourg on the air. You can find out more information about it here: 2011 Luxembourg DXpedition.

My QSO with The Azores was cool in its own right, but this QSO, by far, takes the cake. I’m really looking forward to getting the QSL card in the mail and putting it up on the wall. And, given the outcome from my first attempt at using my ‘lazy-man dipole’, I hereby dub my design, the Luxembourg Dipole. I’ll have pictures of its construction by this weekend.

I’m hoping to spend more time on the air this weekend with my new antenna, so perhaps I’ll catch you on the air!

73, 72, and good DX!
Andrew, W8FI

Apr 272011

This week I was excited to open up my new, slightly-used, Yaesu FT-817ND fully bringing me into the QRP community. I’ve been jonesing after this radio for a long time due to its portability and ease of use. Despite the threat of excommunication from my family (my father is a Kenwood man), I picked up the radio with all the accessories for an excellent price.

The first order of business was to go all the way and sign up for a QRP ARCI membership and join the FT-817 mailing list. The second order is to build up a cable to interface the radio to my computer for what is ultimately my main goal with the radio, PSK-31 work. I’d like to pick up a completed set of the cables as well, just to have for backup and guaranteed operation. My PSK interfaces are generally cobbled together and I enjoy tinkering with them on breadboard.

I’ve yet to make my first QSO with the radio, hopefully I’ll get to that tonight or this weekend, weather pending. I’m really excited to use the radio and take it places I only dreamed about a week ago!

See you on the air and 72!