VHF/UHF Openings

Sunday was a banner day on the VHF/UHF bands.  I was over at our farm in EM41 in Southwest Mississippi.  The 432 and 144 bands had been hot and six meters opened up as it has over the last week.  I worked into the Caribbean, Central America, South America, Mexico, and the U.S.  I even picked up a new country on six!  Both the CW and SSB parts of the band were really hopping!  On most of the common frequencies there were multiple people calling CQ.  I have not seen an opening like this in a long time.  I had a good time working everyone.  Stateside the opening from my QTH was mainly east of the Mississippi River, but I heard stations in Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana.  I heard Micky, K5MC several times calling DX.  I heard someone in the same Grid Square I was in, but missed his callsign.

The northeast and middle Atlantic states were booming in.  I worked stations from North Carolina, Delaware, and on up the east coast.  The stations in the eastern Caribbean tended to have a lot of QSB on them from my QTH.  I wish I would have been at the home QTH with the amplifier and the beam, though.  The Heathkit SB-200 amplifier I have that was converted to 6 meters only runs over 700 watts and would have helped a lot.  I was using an Icom IC-756 Pro III with 100 watts into a Cushcraft R-6000 vertical.  The beam would have been a big help, also.  But I had a lot of fun and it was good to be in on a great band opening.

Later Sunday afternoon I backed my truck out into the front yard and turned on the Kenwood FM rig in the truck.  I heard the repeaters in Hattiesburg, MS full scale.  Hattiesburg is some 135 to 140 miles away.  Both 2 meters and 70 centimeters were both open.

I am sure there will be a lot of conversations about this day of openings for a long time to come.  Today appears to be a great day, also.  Hope you all picked up a new one!

 

Jeff May, W0XV

Jeff May, W0XV, a good friend passed away on February 28, 2017 at the young age of 74.  Jeff discovered he had a very aggressive form of Liver Cancer and after a short fight, subcumbed to his illness.

I met Jeff when he moved from Minneapolis, MN to Brookhaven, MS 10 years or so ago.  Jeff was a fellow DXer and had set up his station at his house in Brookhaven and opened it up for the Mississippi ARRL members to come by and look at his shack and “Museum”!

My wife and I have a farm north of Meadville, MS and pass through Brookhaven on the way.  So I would drop in and visit with Jeff on our trips to the farm.  We usually talked to each other on the phone often.

Jeff had 350 DXCC Entities confirmed and was basically waiting for new entities to be created to add to his numbers.  He was very active on 75 meter AM and built or restored most of his equipment.  The last amplifier project he worked on for AM.  His work was immaculate and his restorations were better than the original.

Jeff would always drop what he was doing to help a fellow ham put up an antenna, tower, or other project.  He became an advocate for hex beams and probably helped put up over a dozen of them over the years.

Jeff had a love of dogs, especially large dogs and was always a source for placing large dogs from the local shelter.  They were a very good alarm system for him back where he lived in the woods.  Seemed like every month or so he would have another dog.

Most of all, I lost a friend.  Jeff was a great friend and would give you the shirt off of his back.  I will miss my visits and viewing the progress on his latest projects.  I will miss the “Oh, while you are here can you help me with this?”  It seems like his Zepp antenna always needed repair from the Pine limbs falling across it.  Sometimes it would be replacing ground wires that were destroyed by limbs or critters.  But you always got a lesson on some facet of ham radio while your were there.

I lost a friend, and I will miss you!

Lost 2 More Countries (Entities) – Closer to Honor Roll

Well, we lost 2 more entities and it was no April Fools Joke!  Kure and Midway were removed by the DXCC Advisory Committee due to the actions of Presidents Bush and Obama.  Everyone was hoping that it was an April Fools Joke, but it turned out to be true.

I would dare say that everyone that has these two confirmed were well before the August 2016 cutoff.  All this does is get all of us two closer to Honor Roll.  Those of us that have them confirmed, it took us two steps closer to Honor Roll and those that did not have them, two less to get there!  Who knows, if I wait long enough, Honor Roll will come down to where I am, HiHi!

 

Another Computer Failure, NOT!

About the middle of the afternoon today I noticed that my weather station at my home was not online with the internet.  It normally means one of two things, the computer died or the internet is down.  But I soon forgot about it until later today when my wife called and said that there was a squealing coming from one of my computers.  I thought, “Oh, no, not another computer failure so soon after putting a new one online!”

A couple of months ago my old 16 year old Dell mini-tower that I ran my weather station software on had a hard drive failure (to put it mildly), but I was able to extract the data off of it before it totally failed.  The processor on this old computer had a heat issue for the last few years and I had bought a replacement, but had never installed it.  I had bought an ASUS EeeBox to put on the weather station over at our farm a couple years ago.  I ended up buying two of them so I could have a replacement here at the house for the Weather Station computer.  Well, a couple of months ago the Dell gave up the ghost and I was able to successfully get the Cumulus Weather Software, the Davis Vantage Pro 2 WeatherLink software, and all my setup and historical data files loaded and working on the new computer int short fashion.  No problems, man!

Well, when my wife called I was expecting to replacing the hard drive or the computer.  I did not get home until about seven and went into the ham shack where the weather computer is located.  I heard the sound but it was not coming from my computer.  I looked around the shack and none of my computers or other equipment had power.  I immediately got down on the floor and listened to my UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) and it the source of the squealing noise.  I did a power off of the UPS and let it sit a minute before powering it back on.  I then powered up the ASUS weather computer and everything came up and worked normally.  Alas, a computer failure was not in the cards today.  Good thing I have a good backup each day.  If I would have had a failure I would have been able to recover with the backup.

The culprit was a power outage that drained the UPS battery and it had to be reset before it would work again.  I will order a new battery for the UPS because it is about 5 years old and I am sure that it is well beyond its expected life cycle.  Like my grandfather used to say when I was young, “The more stuff you own, the more problems you will have!”

 

2016 ARRL June VHF Contest

I did not get to work as much of the June VHF Contest as I would have liked because of the weather and going to Natchez with my wife.   About the time we got back to the house at the farm the bottom dropped out and we got a good bit of rain, but we had an electrical storm that lasted until almost 8:00 p.m., which ended any hope of working the contest Saturday night.

Sunday morning I got up and worked a couple of hours on 6 meters with the Icom 756 Pro III and the Cushcraft R6000 vertical.  The vertical is not the best thing in the world to work CW/SSB with on that band.  The first couple of contacts I tried making, the stations never heard me and they were very strong.  At first I put it off on the vertical and then I started checking the settings on the rig and I had the power turned down to less than 5 watts.  I quickly turned it up to 100 watts and then the contacts came much easier.  I did only Search & Pounce and worked 26 stations in about 2 hours.  I heard a lot more stations but the QSB was pretty bad at times.  They would be S9 one moment and totally gone the next moment.  You just sat and waited for the band to come back up again.  I mainly worked the Middle Atlantic and Northeastern States, but a few others in other parts of the country.

I did not work any new states on 6 meters, but I did pick up 3 new Grid Squares.  The new Grid Squares that I picked up were EN13 in South Dakota, DM58 in CO, and FM13 with a Rover.  Just a small sliver of Grid Square FM13 is on the beach area of North Carolina,  just south of Wilmington, NC.  95 percent or more of this Grid Square is in the Atlantic Ocean!

All-in-All, I picked up 20 unique Grid Squares and 14 unique states.  Not too bad for a couple of hours of Search & Pounce on 6 meters!  When you take into consideration how bad the HF bands are, this is fantastic for 6 meters!  The states I worked were:  CO, CT, DE, KS, MD, ME, MS, NC, NJ, NY, PA, SD, TX, and VA.  I worked Maryland more than any other state.

The first guy I worked was actually in Franklin County, the same county I was in.  He was portable at his cabin in the Garden City community south of Roxie, MS.  His home QTH is in Pearl River County, out from Carriere, MS.  I thought that was really interesting to talk to someone in Franklin County, with only 8,100 people in it on 6 meters!  I heard a friend over in Brookhaven, MS, which is about 25 miles east of our farm, but he was only there for about 10 seconds and never came back up.

I had a great time for the little bit of time I was able to spend on the air.  Hopefully by this time next year I will have my 53 foot crank-up tower up at the farm with long-boom antennas for VHF/UHF.  It will give me a better signal on 6 meters and I will be able to run the homebrew amp that gives me about 700 watts out on 6 meters.  I will keep an eye open on 6 meters for Field Day weekend and see if I can pick up a couple of new grids over the weekend.

Zero Sunspots

This is the 4th day in a row that there have been zero sunspots!  There are more spotless days than since 2010, when there were 51 spotless days.  In 2009 there were 260 spotless days and I remember talking to my friend Jim, N5OHL, about all of the spotless days and wondering when we would see sunspots again.

Currently the 10.7cm Solar Flux Index is 79, not a very good number for HF propagation.  You would think 6 meters would be in the tank, but a lot of hams on the U.S. east coast have work CT1HZE this morning in Portugal.  There are a good number of 6 meter contacts going on within the U.S. and within Europe right now.  This goes to show that you can still have 6 meter openings without sunspots.

The HF bands are not fairing so well, though, the MUF (Maximum Usable Frequency) is only at 14.240 MHz, which is only considered Fair Conditions.  So the higher HF bands are pretty useless right now.

It has been 4 days since we had a sunspot and the X-Ray output of the Sun is zilch, zero, nada, nothing!  Looks like we have fallen off into the doldrums of the spiral to the bottom of another Solar Cycle.  It appears that 40 meters will soon be the band of choice for DX !

Installing the Kenwood TM-D710GA in my Truck

I have slowly been working on getting my new Kenwood TM-D710GA multi-mode FM/APRS radio mounted in my Chevrolet Z71 pickup truck.  I have mounted the face plate to the top of the dash, as far to the left as possible.

I have been using a temporary MFJ Magnetic Mount Antenna that was mounted on top of the cab.  Where it was located it should have given the best coverage.  But I have been extremely displeased with the antenna because repeaters I should be able to get in to easily were extremely difficult to bring up.

We went to our farm over Memorial Day weekend and I had trouble getting into the repeaters in Collins, Brookhaven, and Natchez.  When we came back home I got the MFJ-269C Antenna Analyzer out and checked the antenna.  The SWR was 24:1 on 2 meters and 14:1 SWR on 70 centimeters.  Needless to say I have not turned the radio on all week.

Last night when I got home I got my high-powered flashlight out and looked for a way to get the coax and power cable into the cab of the truck.  There was an opening at the back of each front fender that came into the door frame.  After checking the battery out I found that each of the battery cables have a separate screw, washer, and nut for attaching accessories.  So it is set up to do exactly what is needed to properly mount a rig.

This morning I got up and gathered the new antenna and all the parts and pulled the truck out in the yard to mount it.  I bought a Diamond SG7500NMO dual band mobile antenna with a Diamond K400 mount and the Diamond C213SNMO coax and connectors at the Jackson Hamfest earlier this year.

I mounted the K400 mount to the driver’s side of the hood, about half way down the hood.  Then I mounted the NMO mount and coax to the K400 mount.  I took a coat hangar and cut the hook off and straightened it out.  Then I slide it through the opening from the cabin to the to the engine compartment.  I taped the end of the coax to the coat hangar and then pulled it into the cab area.

After mounting the new Diamond antenna on the mount, I hooked the MFJ-269C antenna analyzer to the coax and swept both bands.  On 2 meters the SWR was 1.4:1 at 144 MHz and at 148 MHz the SWR was 1.1:1, very acceptable.

Next I went up to 70 centimeters and did a SWR sweep on that band and the SWR was 1.2:1 all the way across the FM part of the band, from 440 MHz to 450 MHz.  This is how an antenna is supposed to work.

Sitting in the yard I was able to key up repeaters in Hattiesburg and Collins, both of which are about 25 miles away, and Laurel, about 10 miles away.  I had not been able to work these repeaters until I was just a few miles from the repeater.  It works much better now with the new antenna mounted.  Another good outcome is that when I pull the truck up in the garage the antenna does not bang against the raised garage door.

It appears that the capacitor in the base of the MFJ antenna was shorted.  When I tested it with a multimeter it showed a dead short between the center conductor and the shield.  I am surprised that it worked at all.

The next task in this installation is getting the permanent power cable installed.  I have some heavy gauge red and black power cord that I am going to run from the battery into the cab on the passenger’s side of the truck.  I have inline fuse holders so that I can fuse both sides of the power coming from the battery.  This way there will no danger of fire if there is a short in the power leads.

After the power leads are installed I will decide where I will mount the radio itself.  I am debating on putting it under one of the front seats or mount it under the dash.  But that will be sometime this week and I will get a better idea once I get the power cable installed.

More later and Good DX!

 

New Solar Radiation Sensor at the Farm Weather Station

My wife gave me a new Solar Radiation Sensor and Mounting Shelf for Christmas.  This unit is for the weather station at our farm near Meadville, MS.  It is an identical Davis Pro 2 Wireless weather station like I have here at our house in Ellisville, MS.  We went over to the farm this weekend and I was able to mount the shelf and sensor this morning and configure my software so that it would report on my weather web page for our farm at:  http://www.n5pa.com/dx-farm/wx/wxindex.php

This update to the farm weather station makes both stations identically equipped now.  One of these days I may purchase the UV Sensor, but it cost as much as the complete weather station all by itself.  I think my next purchase will be a Boltek LD-250 Lightning Detector, though.  This should give me a fairly complete weather station.  I have purchased some cameras to use as weather cams and will be hooking them up soon.

It is good to have complemented my farm weather station with the same sensors as the station at home and I can start expanding here at home again.

 

K4KIO Hexagonal Beam SWR Testing at 5 Feet

This past weekend I was able to get my newly assembled K4KIO Hexagonal Beam up on a 5 foot long pipe to test the SWR curve.  As usual, I had a setback that took extra time.  Friday night when I left work I stopped by Lowe’s and picked up a 6′ long 1 1/4″ galvanized pipe.  Well, I found out Saturday after I had the pipe standing up and guyed that it was a 1 1/4″ Inside Diameter pipe and not Outside Diameter.  So it was back to Lowe’s and I got a 1″ Inside Diameter, 1 1/4″ Outside Diameter Galvanized Pipe that was 5 feet long.  I quickly got the old pipe down and the new pipe up and guyed.  I mounted the beam on the pipe and here are a couple of pictures of it on the pipe 5 feet off the ground.

hexbeam5ft01


hexbeam5ft02

Next I got the MFJ-269C Antenna Analyzer out and connected it to the beam.  I sat at the bottom of the beam and measured the SWR curve on all six bands from 20 through 6 meters.

MFJ-269C

I started on 20 meters and worked my way up to 6 meters.  Here are the SWR curves for each band on the K4KIO Hexagonal Beam:

20meterswr

17meterswr

15meterswr

12meterswr

10meterswr

6meterswr

Pardon the clarity of these images, but the images were blurred when I cut and pasted them out of Excel.  According to the documentation it said I could expect 3:1 SWR when the antenna was close to the ground.  It said that as long as I saw a dip in the SWR Curve that it should be okay and that when I got the antenna up to at least 20 feet off of the ground the SWR would go down.  For the operating I do, these are very respectable SWR Curves.  So when I get it up to about 27 feet the SWR should be great on all the bands.

I mainly work the low end of the bands and most of the bands have excellent patterns.  10 and 15 meters tend to get pretty high at the top of the bands, but I am hoping that when I get it up at operating height I should see better SWR.

Next I will get the 25 foot push-up pole mounted and the rotator and mast pipe on top of it.  I have to cut a trench from the house to the antenna so that I can bury my coax, rotator cable, and switch box control cable.  Hopefully I will have this beam up and operational before Thanksgiving and the big DXpeditions that are coming up this Winter and Spring.

K4KIO Hexagonal Beam Assembly

I purchased a K4KIO Hexagonal Beam 4 years ago on the advise of my friend, Jeff May, W0XV, in Brookhaven, MS.  A hurricane had taken down a lot of trees at his place and it brought down his tower and antennas.  He purchased the K4KIO Hexagonal Beam and has been extremely pleased with it.  He has put up several of these beams for friends and they all seem to be very pleased with its operation, even at low heights.

This is a picture of a completed K4KIO Hexagonal Beam (not mine):
hexbeam

Like I said, I purchased my K4KIO Hexagonal Beam four years ago and had not put it together.  Things like work, grandchildren, and the failing health and death of my father took a toll on my time.

The K4KIO Hexagonal Beam covers six bands, 20 through 6 meters and is fed by a single coax.  It has low SWR and no tuning is required.  It has improved broad band response over the original hex beam design and performs well at lower heights.  It also handles full legal limit power.  It has a small physical foot print and is light enough for a push up mast.  The symmetrical shape withstands wind better.

I am really not happy with the mast that I will be using and I am continuing to look for a better alternative.  Currently I will be mounting the beam on a Rohn 25′ push-up mast with a Yaesu G-450A Rotator on top of the mast and the Hexagonal Beam on top of the rotator.  I really want to get the antenna up to at least 40 feet minimum.

I took my last day of vacation on Friday, October 2nd and I got up and mowed the yard.  Hopefully this will be one of the last times this year I will have to mow grass.  But I will probably have to mow it at least one more time.  It had turned cool that day and the highs were in the 60’s, a big departure from the low 90’s.  After lunch I got the boxes for the K4KIO Hexagonal Beam out of the garage and started to put it together.  I knew because of the time I had that I was not going to be able to finish it on Friday because we had to go to our Son-In-Law’s football gave he was coaching in Columbia, MS that night and it was over an hour’s drive.

I bought the version with 20 through 6 meters on it.  First I mounted the “P-Clips” with hose clamps to the bottom section of the spreaders, 34 inches from the bottom.  This is for the 6 meter wires to run through and were not pre-mounted as the rest of the bands were.  You can see the bottom sections on the table below with the “P-Clips” mounted:

hexbeam1

hexbeam2

The picture above shows the rest of the spreader elements and the center post in the cardboard tube waiting to be assembled.

I spent about an hour and a half on Friday afternoon unboxing the parts, reviewing the instructions, getting the few tools needed to assemble this antenna, and mounting the spreaders to the mounting plate.  Like I have said, this was a simple assembly.  When I finished on Friday afternoon the picture below shows the progress for the day:

hexbeam5

hexbeam4

I had to get cleaned up and ready to leave when my wife got home from work for the football game in Columbia, MS.  I could have finished the assembly Friday afternoon except for the football game.  We got home from the game around eleven that night and we had to be at a Pee-Wee Football Game in Petal, MS Saturday morning at ten.  Our granddaughter was cheering at the game.  After lunch we headed back home and I was very tired from the short night and I ended up taking a four hour nap and it was dark before I woke up.  To say the least I did not get anything done on the antenna on Saturday.

Sunday after lunch I got out and finished assembling the beam.  My wife came out and helped me run the wires for each band, so the task went quickly.  I mounted the Center Post and then the Support Lines and then we ran and attached all of the wires for each band and wire-wrapped them.  Here are some pictures of the finished product:

hexbeam8

hexbeam7

I have not purchased the mast pipe to go on top of the rotator yet and I will get one at Lowe’s this afternoon after work.  I will try to get a 10 gallon bucket to fill with bricks and sand so that I can get the antenna up off of the ground and test the SWR on each band before putting it up on the push-up pole.

I am going to mount the remote coax switch out on the push-up pole so that I can switch between this beam and the 80-10 meter Carolina Windom I am putting up later.  I do not have any trees in my yard because of our experience in Hurricane Katrina, so I will mount the Windom on a 50 foot fiberglass push up pole.  Before Winter sets in I am going to put up a 43 foot vertical just for 160 meters.  I plan on purchasing the MFJ-2910 160/80M Matching Network for the 43 foot vertical.  I already have the ZeroFive 43 foot vertical and a top grade 1:4 Unun.  I will be feeding it with LMR-600 that will give me plenty of current handling capabilities.  At that point I should be ready on 160 through 6 meters as a little pistol station!  But I do run QRO with my Ameritron AL-1500 amplifier, Alpha 76A amplifier, and my Heathkit SB-200 that has been converted to a 6 meter only amplifier.  Hopefully this setup will get me into the logbooks of the upcoming DXpeditions and contests!

I will have another entry after I get the K4KIO Hexagonal Beam on the air!