After a poor activation for the VK-EU S2S on the 10th. of March I had returned home with some things I wanted to check in my equipment and possibly improve things ready for a new attempt at long path VK contacts on Good Friday morning – 30th. March. In addition to that I had finished my QRP-GUYS lightweight tri-band HF antenna and this would be an opportunity to try this out along with the commercially made J-Pole antennas for 15, 17 & 20m from LambdaHalbe. The weather was a little better than it has been for several months and the winter bonus of 3 activator points was valid until the end of the month.
So my intention was to give all the new equipment – the Xiegu X108G rig and antennas a good try out and see how they performed from a summit that I didn’t include in my 5 summits in a day action about a month earlier – Ammerleite. I also had downloaded a WSPR beacon program to my smart phone which I had tried from home, with the intention that if I could not find any contacts on a particular band, I would send out the 2 minute long WSPR signal and check where my beacon was heard when I got home.
Ammerleite, whose correct name is Schnalz (Ammerleite is the whole region alongside the Ammer river) is a one point summit with an impressive cross and importantly, two nice bench seats and a fence to keep the cows away and provide mast supports. It’s located above the village of Boebing and is about a 45 minute drive from my home so definitely a “local” summit for me. In nice weather the views are lovely and at least for this day any rain would only come after lunch time.
Upon arrival at the summit there was actually some sunshine, the first we’ve seen for some time. I decided I would perform my tests methodically one band at a time and start with 21MHz (15m) and then go in sequence down in frequency. I had only brought the one, 6 metre mini-mast, so tests of antennas would have to be done one at a time, at least until I got to the QRP-GUYS tri-bander.
My first problem was that with the rig sat on the bench, I could not read the LCD display. I have had this problem before with the FT-817, and so I had a small fold-up box in my rucksack to provide shade but no matter how I set it up, I couldn’t get the X108G’s display screen shaded enough to be able to read it. I ended up putting the rig under the seat bank on top of the re-flattened box and operated that way. I would research what was possible to have greater contrast on the display when I got home.
After setting up and tuning around 15m, I could hear no stations – this didn’t bode well, but I sat myself on 21.285MHz put out a spot and started calling CQ SOTA – nothing, tried again – nothing. Is all the gear working and the antenna connected – yes. It was band conditions! I was prepared for this in that I had bought a WSPR Beacon App for my smart phone that can create WSPR messages and send then out time-synced to fit the WSPR beacon system. Ideally this should be wired into the rig but I had tried it out at home and simply holding the phone to the microphone and pressing the PTT before the 2 minute sequence starts and releasing it afterwards works fine. So I tried it, set the rig to the correct frequency and keyed the PTT 8 seconds before the sequence started. Then I waited and waited until the whistling finished (2 minutes is a long time – luckily this was at a time before I got my three separate visitors, all with a dog with them (this appears to be on a favorite dog walking route) otherwise the dogs and the owners would most likely complain about the noise). When I released the PTT something was wrong. There was no sound from the radio, the display was off. What had happened? I looked at my intelligent voltage regulator – voltage – zero volts! I turned it back on again and tried again – this time watching the red Tx light on the microphone – the same thing happened again after about 40 seconds the power was cut to the rig.
I was not sure why this was happening – perhaps RF getting back into the electronics in the regulator that I use to reduce the LIPO4 16.5v down to 13.8v? So I turned down the RF to 10watts from 20 and tried again. This time the transmission completed. OK, that’s a solution, I thought.
I now took down the 15m J-pole antenna and put up the 17m one and repeated the process – still no takers on 17m SSB, no reply to the spot and this time the WSPR spot action dropped off even with the rig set to 10 watts so I decided to leave the WSPR actions until I knew exactly what was causing the problem. I left the rig set to 10w for the rest of the activation “to be safe”.
Testing the 20m J-pole I actually heard a couple of stations on the band but again there was no response to my CQ SOTA calls despite the fact that I spotted myself.
My operations at this point were interrupted by a young guy who was interested in what I was doing as he had been in the communications section while in the military. He and his dog were quite entertaining, with stories about how he had loaded up a barbed wire fence to get an NVIS antenna as their other antennas couldn’t make the needed contact just over the next hill and that his senior officer had come along and exploded worrying that he would damage the equipment! His dog brought pine cones for me to throw so he could catch them. It’s interesting who you meet on summits sometimes!
At this point, I had planned to go on and test the QRP-GUYS tri-bander vertical but as I had lost so much time and the sky had grayed over and the temperature dropped (the sun was gone), I decided that it was important to qualify the summit, so down came the 20m J-pole vertical and up went the SOTABeams linked dipole after moving the mast along two fence posts to give me enough room.
I left the links closed for 40 metres and breathed a sigh of relief as I got my first contact for the summit from Jan OK2PDT. After that the calls came in quick succession with a couple of breaks as QSB hit the band and I had to change frequency once because of QRM. At the point that I thought the calls had finished and was prepared to start packing up, the second wave of calls came in. In all I worked 35 stations on 40m from this summit – I’m sure there were more calling but either I couldn’t pull them out of the noise as they were weak or (more often) a stronger chaser came on top of them. So, my apologies to those who called but could not get a completed contact.
As I had tidily packed away each antenna as I took it down, the pack-up action went well and relatively quickly. The drive home was uneventful and the rain started just as I got home.
Investigations at home:
As is often the case with activations with new equipment, a review is valuable when you get home to see what had caused problems or what can be improved.
Rig Display: Looking at the manual, I though the LCD visibility issue would be simple to solve by increasing the contrast and brightness settings in the engineers menu in the rigs firmware. Not so – the menu option to adjust contrast was not in the menu and the brightness option was already set to 100%. I have sent an email to the manufacturer and posted a question to the help forum for the rig. My suspicion is that my (latest model) version, has the OLED screen rather than the LCD, which is a high contrast screen in any case and so perhaps there is no way to increase its contrast. As this is the “outdoor” model of the X108G, I hope the manufacturer has a solution for me. In the meantime, I’ll look into creating a sunshade specifically to fit around the display.
Rig powering off: One should ALWAYS read the specs! I had thought that for a 20w rig 5 amps at 13.8v should be sufficient. It would be just for the PA stages but all the other stages before that also consume power and the drain can peak at 7.5 amps. The intelligent regulator that I bought and built into the battery box is rated at a maximum of 5 amps – hence the reason when on the 100% duty cycle WSPR transmissions, the regulator closed off the power thinking a short had occurred. Solution – order a 10 amp, non-intelligent, “buck” voltage down converter to replace the intelligent 5A one. I have found one rated at 8 amps continuous and 10 amps peak current and found a supplier in the UK who can supply this within a week as opposed to 4-5 weeks from China. Hopefully I will be able to test and install this before I want to make my next activation, where I will test out the QRP-GUYS antenna.
QRP-Guys Antenna and LambdaHalbe J-Pole tests incomplete: while I do not expect any problems with the commercially built Lambdahalbe antennas, the QRP-GUYS antenna that I built will be tested on my next activation.
Noise when trying to do WSPR: I already have a data interface that I have used to send and receive FT-8 with the X108G and my laptop. I should be able to add a cable adapter to go from the current 2 x 3.5mm mono audio jacks to a 4 pole jack suitable for the smart phone. this will then mean no loud audio to disturb visitors. I wont bother with any vox-ptt solution as this set up will be used only rarely to test antennas.
Xiegu X108G HF 20w transceiver.
Battery box containing a 4S (16v) 5Ah LIPO and automatic voltage regulator.
Separate J-Pole antennas from LambdaHalbe (20/17/15m).
LambdaHalbe 6m Mini-mast.
Modified QRP-GUYS tri-band loaded vertical (my version for 20, 40 and 60m).
SOTABeams Band hopper linked dipole (20,30,40,80m).
Unexpected problems with the power supply regulator turning off the rig mid WSPR transmission can only be resolved with a regulator that is capable of handing higher currents. I have ordered one and hope it will arrive in time for me to test it out in another action prior to the VK-EU one on Good Friday.
I’m not sure what I can do as regarding the readability of the screen in sunlight – I have sent an email to Xiegu in the meantime I will try to build a sunshade.
The QRP-GUYs antenna still needs to be tried “in the field”.
The SOTABeams inverted-V linked dipole and the 6 metre Mini-Mast are the most reliable parts of the pack.
73 ’til the next Summit (s) !