DD5LP/P – February 15th 2019 – DL/AL-179 Weichberg.

Preparation:

At last the weather had improved enough to get out and do a SOTA activation again! Interestingly Mike 2E0YYY in the UK and I were finding that propagation between EU and VK has been changing over the last couple of months and long path on 40m around 0830 UTC and short path on 20 metres around 1130 UTC seem to be the best at this moment in time. A cunning plot was hatched to confirm or deny this principle and at the same time test a new VP2E (Vertically polarised 2 element) antenna I have built for 20m.

As to test the VP2E’s directivity (it’s supposed to have 3dBd gain in one direction) I need quite a lot of space, I decided that I would go to Rentschen DL/AM-176 which is a very flat plateau with easy access to it. I could then set-up two antennas – the normal linked dipole for 40m and on a second mast, the VP2E on another mast. While waiting for conditions to come good on 40m, I would run the VP2E with my WSPRLite attached so I could see how it’s 200mW was getting out and rotate the antenna from time to time to see what effect it had. While there are several hours between the expected long path time and the short path, I decided I that after finishing contacts from Rentschen, I would pack up and head off to Weichberg, a 30 minute drive away. That summit isn’t quite as easy to access, so I would just carry one mast and the 20m mast up to that summit.

The equipment was packed the night before with my large Surveyors tripod as one mast support and the screw-in sun umbrella base as the support for the second mast as there are no convenient posts to strap the masts to at either Rentschen or Weichberg. The rig would be the Xiegu X108G with its “good” 20 watts of output and a USB cable and the PocketRxTx smart phone App as the OLED screen on the “outdoor version” of the X108G is totally unreadable outside! I can read and control the rig from my Android smart phone using PRxTx.

We managed to line-up Ernie VK3DET, John VK6NU from their homes and Jonathan VK7JON with Helen VK7FOLK who would drive out and set up portable on the coast They would listen on the bands for myself and Mike who hoped to get to one of his favourite Welsh SOTA summits. Unfortunately Mike’s car failed the annual “MOT” test and the garage didn’t have the parts so he had to order them, which did not arrive on time, so Mike decided to head out to a local pack within 15 minutes walk of his home and operate from there.

The Location:

Rentschen is about a 45 minute drive from home, the road goes right over the top of it and I usually park next to the one tree on the top of it. The exact summit is marked by a trig point stone about 50 metres into the field – along a track from there – under the high voltage power lines, which can sometimes cause some interference.

Weichberg is also one of my “local” summits, the drive from Rentschen should take almost exactly 30 minutes along the country roads from Weichberg back home takes about 40-45 minutes. There is a parking space and a track up through the forest which normally takes another 5 minutes. Weichberg has a small chapel on top of it along with a regional TV and radio transmitting tower so it’s relatively easy to find. There is a table and bench seats and enough room for one antenna on the lawn next to the chapel. Like at Rentschen, there are no handy posts to support the mast bases, hence the need for the tripod or screw-in umbrella base.

The Activation:

The alarm was set for 6:30am local (0530 UTC) and I was on the road by 7:30 am as per my planned schedule. The main roads were now clear of ice and snow although as I approached Rentschen, things started to look less good. There were some black ice patches on the small road up to the summit where care was needed and as I came over the brow onto the plateau, I could see I had a problem. the road had been cleared for traffic in one direction to get through but at the side of the cleared road, the snow was still almost 2 metres high in places and when I got to the small track where I normally park, it hadn’t been cleared. There would not be enough room to park at the side of the cleared road for anyone else to get past and how stable the deep snow would have been to hold my weight was questionable. I drove further along the road and started to go down the other side of the hill where I found someone’s drive way which had been cleared. I wasn’t going to park there but it served as a place to turn around and head back down to the main road (the actual road stops about a kilometre further along). This was about 8:30 am by now and I decided my best option was to head for Weichberg without any further delay in the hope that it’s car park spots had been cleared and access was possible up the forest track. I had already jotted out on a piece of paper the cross-country route to the second summit and followed that to arrive at the Weichberg car park 30 minutes later. The car park had been partially cleared but the forest track was going to be a challenge, but I could see others had used it (albeit carrying less equipment and hence  weight as I would be), but it should be possible.

At this point of course I had to reduce the equipment I took with me and as well as the radio equipment in my usual two bags, I decided on taking the large tripod and leave the sun umbrella  base and just take one short mast of the three I had brought with me. All of the wire antennas were in one of the two bags, along with the FT-817 which was the spare rig, so that all got left in the bags and with the 6 metre mast, the large tripod and the two bags slung on my back or over a shoulder I set-off. Then I stopped as I realised the ground was very icy and I had my shoe spikes with me in the large anorak that I had on. I fitted those to my shoes (they were a real help and stayed on all the time until I returned to the car). The walk up the forest track took a different route to what I remembered but while I was following other people footprints (in some cases in 1 metre deep holes at other times on top of the snow), I stuck with the route that the others had taken and after about 10 minutes I had reached the summit. What I found there you can see in the pictures below. The snow had drifted and was over 2 metres deep in places. Luckily with the severe frost from the night before the surface was solid as long as you didn’t stand in one place for too long. The area around the bench and wooden table was fairly clear and so everything got put on the table to start with and I would take things out onto the snow one at a time as I needed them. This would take longer but I shouldn’t lose things that way.

First of all I wanted to put the tripod almost in the middle of the lawn so that there would be room to run out the linked dipole in the correct direction for sideways radiation towards Australia – long path and also enough room for targeting the VP2E later for the short path 20m attempt.

The linked dipole, set to 40m went up first and the coax thankfully was just long enough to run back to the bench. The X108G and battery box were taken from one bag and connected up along with the smart phone as already it was difficult to read what was on the Xiegu’s screen!

I was in contact via email with Ernie VK3DET through the whole activation, so I let him know where I was going to be on 40m and also put out a spot on Sotawatch. Both of these actions were made more difficult by the fact that the phone was connected via the USB cable to the rig to act as its control display.

Activity on 40 metres was quite brisk with me making a total of 23 contacts between 0830 UTC and 0910 UTC, with breaks every 4 or 5 stations to specifically call for any VK stations (none came back).

The start-up time had been exactly 08:30 UTC and as I was later to find out, exactly the END of the 40m Long path window to VK from Europe. If I had set up at Rentschen as planned or if I had decided to use Weichberg as my first summit. I would have had a chance of some long path contacts into VK. Mike had also been delayed by waiting on the replacement parts for his car so once he was on we were both trying with Ernie and John in VK to no avail. I did get good reports from the 23 stations around Europe but nothing further a field.

Once 40m was quieter and it was obvious that it was too late for long path contacts, at around 0945 UTC I took down the 40m dipole and put up the VP2E, aimed at Australia Short Path. I was interrupted at this point by a walker and explained to her what I was doing. It was obvious she wasn’t so interested so with a few comments about the weather, she continued her journey. I then tried a few CQ calls after spotting myself on the SOTA cluster but go no contacts. As it was still some time before the hoped for short path to Australia,  I put the WSPRlite on the antenna and left it to get logged while i got something to eat from my pack-up. In the cold temperatures, despite the sunshine, some food was a good idea!

While monitoring the WSPR map, it seemed that contacts were getting better, so at around 1040 UTC, I switched back from the WSPRlite to the rig. At this point I could here a lot of interference that I hadn’t heard earlier on 40m and tracked it down to being the Smart Phone passing interference down the USB cable. So I know moved into a mode of only connecting the USB cable when I wanted to change frequency and otherwise operated the rig “blind”. Despite several moves because of QRM from other stations and several spots on SOTAWatch, I only managed one contact on 20m with the VP2E and that was with Oleg RN3QN near to Moscow and we exchanged true 5-9 signals both ways. Watching WSPR on the smart phone I could see that propagation on 20m was getting worse again – it had peaked only over about 15 minutes between 1100 and 1115 UTC. After talking to Oleg another walker came by and he showed more interest than the earlier visitor and so was given a brochure in German about Amateur Radio that I have with me for such situations. After a bit of a chat and him wishing me good luck he went off on his way. Unfortunately the good luck didn’t help and by 1145 UTC, I decided to pack up, with my VK stations heading to bed in any case, there would be no more chances today.

The trip back down the forest track didn’t have too many problems, those shoe spikes continuing to do a good job and only sinking into the snow twice, I got safely back to the car and the drive home was uneventful.

Photos:

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Equipment taken to summit:

Xiegu X108G 20w transceiver, with FT-817ND along as a spare.

SOTABeams Band Hopper linked dipole.

Home made VP2E 20m antenna with 20/17m linked version along as backup

LambdaHalbe 6m Mini-mast.

Surveyors tripod with wooden plate and hole for mast to pass through.

Thick plastic painters sheet (not used).

Logs (WSPR & SOTA):

Conclusions:

  • Too late for the 40m Long path into VK. 30 minutes earlier and there may have been some VK entries in the log.
  • The surveyors tripod, despite it’s size and weight gives a reliable support when no other is available – even on top od 2 metres of snow!
  • The test of the VP2E antenna was inconclusive because of conditions and the lack of possibility to do a comparison test against the dipole.

To be fixed / changed:

  • On 20m, the RFI from the smart phone back down the USB cable to the rig is totally unbearable and needs to be addressed.
  • The BNC plug on the cable to the VP2E antenna was intermittent and should be changed for a PL-259 to avoid the need of using an adapter.

73 ’til the next Summit!

DD5LP/P – October 10th 2018 – DL/AL-179 Weichberg.

Preparation:

Following an aborted activation on Monday the 8th. due to bad radio conditions and as part of an investigation to see if we get better conditions on the HF bands after a Solar Storm passes the Earth (we already know we get better propagation, the two days before – or at least so it seems), Mike 2E0YYY and I decided head out on Wednesday the 10th. hoping this would be the day after the Solar Storm passed.

In my case this activation would be the first one using the Xiegu X108G since I repaired it, replacing its soldered in rechargeable CMOS memory lithium button cell. So this would be a check that everything was working correctly. I also wanted to test three loaded whip HF Vertical antennas that I have in preparation, perhaps of another attempt to activate DL/AM-031 Breanderschrofen as this summit does not have room for a dipole antenna and lightweight compact equipment is needed as the ascent is a little difficult in places.

The equipment had already been packed for the aborted Monday activation, so a quick check was all that was needed.

Ernie VK3DET promised to try to hear Mike and myself and Jonathan VK7JON was also going to head out to a Tasmanian summit.

The Location:

Weichberg is one of my “local” summits, the drive taking 40-45 minutes and the track up through the forest from the parking spot another 5 minutes. Weichberg has a small chapel on top of it along with a regional TV and radio transmitting tower so normally it’s relatively easy to find. There is a table and bench seats and enough room for the antennas next to the chapel. There is no longer the small tree in the middle of the grassed area which used to act as the support for my mast, so nowadays I take my screw-in umbrella base along to provide that support.

The Activation:

The alarm was set for 6am local (0400 UTC) and I was already on the road by 6:45 am as the morning, like the last two was foggy, so I wanted to allow myself more time to get to the summit. I did not set the Navi (GPS) for this summit as I have been there several times before but as I nearly missed one turn-off in the fog I wondered if it would have been a better idea! In any case, I arrived at the parking spot without any issues picked up the various bags and headed up the track to the summit. On trying to screw the base into the ground I had forgotten that there’s a level of stones not far underneath the grassed area with the result that the support was at somewhat of an angle – it held up though, which was the main point. Once the linked dipole was up on the 6m travel mast, I connected up the X108G and turned it on and …. nothing! Oh NO! now what’s wrong? I checked the fuses in the power cable, they looked fine and then opened the battery box to make sure nothing was shorting there, I lifted out the voltage regulator and put it on top of the batteries but did not see anything wrong. I tried turning the rig on again – this time it burst to life. OK, I made a note to investigate the battery box when I got home. The battery box and regulator worked fine during the activation but when packing up I spotted the problem – the output lead had come out of the terminal block. As I had positioned it on top of the batteries it made contact again but could have stopped at any time!

This was now 05:45 UTC and I spotted myself and put out a call on a free frequency – no takers. OK possibly a bit early. Then I saw that Peter VK3PF was out in Australia on 40m – I took a listen – nothing. So another couple of CQ calls and tuning around. Apart from some italian and Russian nets there was not a lot on, so I took the opportunity to put up my second antenna, A Komunica Bazoka Pro on my converted camera tripod with an SO239 socket and 4 radial wires. I then saw a spot for Herbert OE9HRV who was out on a summit not too far away. I gave him a call and we had a bit of a chat and asked him to listen for me on the loaded vertical. He could not hear anything from me and he was probably 3-4 S-points weaker on the vertical than the dipole.  I let Herbert get off and try for more DX contacts and in fact later he achieved the best DX contact of any of us who were out with a contact into ZL on 20m.

During this activation, I switched often between 40m and 20m as at the moment both are possible candidates for a contact into VK/ZL if one was going to be possible at all.

I now tried my other two vertical antenna (a Diamond RHM-8B and a no-name antenna with a banana plug lead to short out parts of the loading coil) on the tripod to see at least how they were receiving and what the SWR on transmit looked like. None of the three loaded vertical antennas seemed to be working very well. The one with the banana lead appeared to receive the best of the three but its SWR was very bad. It was only after testing the last of the three antennas and was removing the coax from the rig to go back to the dipole that I heard the receive signals get stronger as I was removing the PL259 plug. At this point I thought there may be a problem in the plug and made a note to test it when I got home.

Later in the day when I tested the coax, I found the problem at the tripod end not the rig end. The braid on the coax is only crimped into the socket (a commercially built one) and was intermittent at best, most of the time open-circuit. This would mean that the radial wires were never connected to the antennas and as two of the three are designed to have a metal car roof underneath them a set of radials when there is no car roof, is very important. No wonder they didn’t work well ! The joint is now repaired and all three antennas will need to be tested again.

After the loaded vertical antenna testing, I tuned around 40m and found what appeared to be a free frequency, but to make sure called “is the frequency in use” and got a polite reply back that it was and I said OK I’ll QSY. Then I stopped, I recognised that voice and in fact the next thing I heard was Mike 2E0YYY (or from the summit he was on in Wales 2W0YYY) call CQ SOTA. So of course I went back to him and we had a short chat and that was contact number two, another S2S contact in the log. I then searched for another free frequency, spotted myself and put out several calls with no responses. I tried 20m as well as 40m – no callers – I know I was getting out – why there were no chasers calling me is a mystery.

The conclusion regarding the hoped for better conditions was that the solar winds had not yet passed the Earth as the K-Index was still up at 4, so another couple of days may be needed before the “day after the storm” comes along.

Photos:

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Equipment:

Xiegu X108G 20w transceiver.

SOTABeams Band Hopper linked dipole.

LambdaHalbe 6m Mini-mast.

Modified camera tripod with SO239, coax cable and radial wires.

Komunica Bazoka Plus wideband loaded vertical

Diamond RHM-8B loaded vertical with sliding coil tuning

No-Name loaded vertical with banana plug cable band switching on the coil.

Thick plastic painters sheet.

Sun Umbrella screw-in base.

Log:

Conclusions:

We were out too soon to test the “after-the-solar-storm” conditions and any contacts into VK/ZL would have been a fluke. There were stations specifically listening and calling from VK and this time I could not hear anything from Ernie (who I was in touch with via email during the test).

As regards the loaded vertical antennas, these will need to be tested again, now that the mount has been repaired.

Lets hope that conditions do improve for October 20th. which is when a large group of operators in VK/JA/ZL/UK and EU will be trying for S2S contacts.

73 ’til the next Summit!

DD5LP/P – March 15th. 2018 – DL/AM-178 Ammerleite.

Preparation:

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.

The Location:

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.

The Activation:

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.

5 amp intelligent regulator

10 amp non-intelligent buck regulator

Photos:

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Equipment:

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).

Log:

Conclusions:

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) !

DD5LP/P – August 13th. 2017 – DL/AL-149 Blender and DL/AL-179 Weichberg (sort of).

Preparation:

After meeting Thomas DK1TK in a local electrical retail store, where he works and realising we were both Hams, we discussed me taking him on a SOTA activation, so he could see if it’s something he would like to get involved with. He was already equipped with good portable gear and operates portable QRP with a KX2 and a home made vertical antenna on a 10m fibre glass pole.  After some discussion we decided on activating Blender (a reasonably easy summit) along with Hauchenberg (DL/AL-145). My research on Hauchenberg however showed that the location in SOTA Maps for the summit and that shown on other maps was different and so I sent a note to the last activator – Herbert OE9HRV to ask his advice. Unfortunately I only received a reply on the day of activation, when we had already decided to play it safe and make Weichberg our second summit. Perhaps we’ll do Hauchenberg next time – it will require a lot of time to climb and we were limited on time as it turned out anyway.

Equipment from my side would be the usual FT-817 plus amplifier, 6 metre pole and linked dipole.

The Locations:

Blender is located quite a long way from my home QTH, west of Kempton and north of Buchenberg. After a small diversion to pick up Thomas en-route, we got there at around the planned time. I had hoped to go to a different location on the hill than my last activation of this summit a couple of years ago but it turned out that what is shown on open street maps as a road is not much larger than a footpath, so the road up to the radio tower was the route we ended up going on and parking before climbing the last (steep)  ascent and in fact going and finding a seat across the summit from the tower, (well within the activation zone).

Weichberg, near Rettenbach is a summit I know very well, it’s “almost” a local summit for me but this time we would be approaching it from the other side along the B472 road.

The Activation:

These were not to be quick activations. The weather was nice, we set up both Thomas’s and my equipment at Blender so that we could demonstrate and compare. This was the first time I had seem a KX2 from Elecraft – it is indeed a very nice (if expensive) piece of equipment. Most impressive is the ability of the built-in ATU to tune almost any antenna. Unfortunately the front end was not able to filter my transmissions on 40m out from the 20m band (we were very close after all). From my side, it was clear the extra power of the amplifier (35w on 40m) makes a difference when calling non-SOTA stations.

Although Thomas did work a couple of SOTA stations, as well as a few non-SOTA stations (so qualifying the summit) he was put off a little by the pile-ups. English is not Thomas’s first language and this combined with the speed of the contacts took a little away from the SOTA experience. I have suggested that we look at GMA next time, while this would be mostly in German and somewhat less hectic.

We had several interested people come by either on foot or on bikes and a few stopped to ask about the hobby. One I thought was an amateur as he knew about propagation and antennas, but it seems he was more of an SWL. In any case I gave him a brochure and he went off happy.

After about 90 minutes on Blender, we decided to pack up and head off for what I expected to be a 30-40 minute drive over to Weichberg.

The drive turned out to be almost an hour, which surprised me and restricted what we could do. We agreed to just take Thomas’s equipment up to the top of Weichberg and let him have a go without interference from my station. Thomas decided to use a different antenna this time and he tied a large nut to the end of some thin silver coated copper wire and threw it up over a convenient tree branch. Again the ATU in the KX2 amazed me that it could tune this random length of wire, but it did. How well the 10w from the KX2 radiated, I don’t know but reception was good, we could hear a station from the middle east as well as stations from all around Europe. The band conditions were very good this time out. Thomas worked a couple of special event stations in France and Germany as he likes to collect their QSL cards and then we decided to call it a day.

  After dropping Thomas off, I arrived home about 90 minutes later than I had planned. A good day out, but next time I need to check better how long the drive to, and between, the summits will take.

Photos – Blender:

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Photos – Weichberg:

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Equipment:

Yaesu FT817ND.

SOTABeams Band Hopper Linked Dipole.

LambdaHalbe 6m Mini-mast.

Modified QAMP amplifier (35W on 40m, 25W on 20m).

Thick plastic painters sheet

Screw-in sun-umbrella base

Log Blender:Log Weichberg:

No log for DD5LP. DK1TK/P operation only.

Conclusions:

Although the GPS Navi only let me down once on this trip (en-route to Weichberg from Blender), I knew the suggested route was wrong (probably shorter but using farm roads) and was able to quickly correct the route. There are a few summits, not far from Blender that I have either never activated or not activated this year. I would like to go back to the area and combine two or three into a day. I MUST however check driving times very carefully and also plan for rapid installation and pack-up to fit them all in.

At the moment 40m is still the “money band” but 20 metres is getting better again. The luxury of a short antenna and speedy installation may have me using my 15/17/20m J-pole antennas again next time.

73 ’til the next Summit!

DD5LP/P – March 24th. 2017 – DL/AL-169 Auerberg & DL/AL-179 Weichberg.

Preparation:

After failing on these two summits over the previous week, I was determined to bag them, before the winter bonus ran out. This was to be two “normal” activations, not trying for long path into VK and not trying out new equipment. So the standard FT-817 + home made amplifier + Aerial-51 OCF antenna (I used this antenna rather than the trapped dipole as that one still has the 60 metre extensions on it and hence needs more space for installation) were packed ready.

The Locations:

Please refer to the previous two blog entries.

The Activation:

These turned out to be two of the quickest activations that I have ever made, not because of the weather, although that wasn’t very pleasant with a constant wet mist hanging around, not because of a tight timescale, rather because after working about 8 chasers in 8 minutes on both summits, there were no more chasers!

The drive to Auerberg, the first summit of the day went well, although the last kilometre or so was at a snails pace due to the fog on what is a narrow road. When I arrived in the car park, I was able to calmly collect together the two bags of equipment and stroll up the hill and around to the back of the church where I had set up many times before. One bench had gone but the one still there made a satisfactory spot for the station. The fence posts gave their usual service as mast support and ties off points for the ends of the antenna.

Once up and running after a spot there was a pile-up of many of the usual chasers, whom I worked through and then after one last call, just caught Holger OE7HPI in the noise (too close for HF) but after that no more chasers, so I packed everything up and headed back down to the car.

Once back in the car, I decided to let the Navi tell me the route over to Weichberg – I would have normally simply headed back into the village and then taken the normal road between the two villages Bernbeuren and Rettenbach but the Navi decided to take me cross-country along narrow one-lane roads, past farm yards and other businesses, but it got me there. Next time I’ll take the simpler route which I suspect although longer, would have been quicker.

The weather didn’t improve by the time I got to the car park for Weichberg and the mud on the walking track up through the trees was worse than the day before, but still passable. On arriving, a group of what looked like builders were just leaving, having been into the small chapel on the summit. Some trees have been cleared over the last year from Weichberg, so it was good that I had brought my screw-in base to support the mast and again the Aerial-51 antenna was quickly up and the station laid out on the convenient picnic table and I was on the air. By this time 40 metres was a little busier and signals in general 1 or 2 S-points stronger than at Auerberg. After again eight contacts (some of them followed me from the earlier summit) the flow of chasers ran out and I decided as the weather was still cold and wet, to pack up and head back home arriving a good 1.5 hours earlier than originally planned.

I monitored the internal LIPO in the amplifier on both activations and all 4 cells appeared to discharge at about the same rate, so I’m not sure whether the problem that I had about a week ago was just a fluke or the alarm board that I had connected may have caused the problem?

Photos – Auerberg:

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Photos – Weichberg:

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Equipment:

Yaesu FT817ND.

Aerial-51 OCF wire dipole antenna.

LambdaHalbe 6m Mini-mast.

Modified QAMP amplifier (35W on 40m).

Thick plastic painters sheet

Log Auerberg:

Log Weichberg:

Conclusions:

Going back to a reliable band and using known equipment can ensure a quick and problem free activation. This is nice for a change but I’d still like to try the J-Pole antennas out again once the weather and radio conditions get a little better.

73 ’til the next Summit!

DD5LP/P – March 23rd. 2017 – DL/AL-179 Weichberg.

Preparation:

As Andrew VK1AD planned to go out, I decided to make an activation in Germany to coincide with his activation in Australia as well as Mike  2E0YYY’s in the UK. Mike had also tipped off a chaser on Adelaide Island in the Antarctic, so this could be a good variety of contacts. I had planned to perform the activation of Auerberg that had failed because of weather the previous Saturday, it wasn’t to be. The plan was to activate Weichberg for the Long Path contacts and then head on to Auerberg (about 10 minutes drive away) for a second activation.

Equipment to be used would be the FT-817ND plus amplifier and the 6m portable mast along with the J-Pole antennas for 20, 17 & 15m.

The Location:

Weichberg is just about 35 minutes drive from my home QTH – so a local “one pointer” it does have a nice take-off being the site of the regions radio broadcast transmitter tower (which causes no QRM – at least not on HF).

The Activation:

Well that was fun – NOT.

The weather wasn’t bad but the morning mist soaked everything (including me). Set-up was fairly quick with the J-Pole strapped to the holy cross and the table and bench seats at Weichberg are always better than sitting on the floor. At this point I received an email from Andrew saying the weather in Australia was terrible and he would not be heading out. I decided to stay in any case as I had already set everything up.

Band conditions started off very strange, the 20m band was so quiet that I thought the receiver (or the new antenna) wasn’t working – I had to do a full reset on the 817 after wide-banding the 817 for 60 metres, so I wondered if that has affected receiver sensitivity. With a K Index of 4, I was expecting a high noise level, which I wasn’t getting. After tuning around though, I found a station in Africa talking back to his old mate in Germany, so the receiver certainly WAS working. I then heard VK4YS and various VK stations on some kind of evening meet-up on 14.210. There was a net in Scandinavia (I think Finland) that was ridiculously strong but not moving the S-meter as far as I expected.

I called several stations with no response, I put out several CQs and spotted myself on various frequencies on 20m to avoid any chance that QRM from a station I couldn’t hear. NOTHING! I was about to rip down the antenna and put up the old Inverted-V when I heard and called Z35A and got a 5-9+ report from him. So I WAS getting out but just couldn’t pick up any contacts. Very disheartening. I switched the base connections on the antenna and tried 15m – although the noise level was higher, there was absolutely no one on the band!

In desperation I tried 40m using the 15m antenna and although Terry G0VWP called me, he got stomped on by some Italian stations who simply came up without checking (as usual). So nothing on 40m either. By this time I was getting very cold so decided to throw in the towel and also cancel my planned 2nd. activation – Auerberg as with either propagation conditions or my equipment, like this – I wasn’t going to get anywhere from Auerberg either.

After the LIPO alarm going off and not being able to easily stop it on the last activation, I have now run the leads from the internal LIPO in the amplifier outside and attached a LCD display which shows overall and individual cell voltages and percentages. I monitored this during the activation and all cells were discharging at about the same rate (last time cell 1 & 2 appeared to empty when 3 & 4 still had 30% charge). Only when I was shutting down did the display make a noise (which I guess was low battery) and when I got home all 4 cells were down to 0% charge – so it looks like this battery runs fine to a point and the “falls off a cliff”. Thankfully the battery was fully recharged without any problems when I got home, so it still is strange how it appears to discharge so quickly after being fine for so long.

Photos:

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Equipment:

Yaesu FT817ND.

J-Pole antenna (20/17/15m).

LambdaHalbe 6m Mini-mast.

Modified QAMP amplifier (25W on 20m, 15W on 15m).

Thick plastic painters sheet

Log:

Conclusions:

Lots to learn from this activation, but I don’t know if the J-Pole is working reasonably or not and the LIPO in the amplifier appears to be acting strangely. I missed out on activating two summits with winter bonuses, so I might get out to them again before the end of the month. This time probably later in the day when it is warmer and not with the J-pole, rather the old reliable Inverted-V.

73 ’til the next Summit!

DD5LP/P – October 18th. 2016 DL/AL-179 Weichberg.

Preparation:

With the planned EU-VK S2S SOTA event set for Saturday October 22nd, I wanted to test a new antenna that I built from information given on the SOTA reflector. A 20m halfwave, coax fed end-fed vertical. This antenna has no BALUN/UNUN or ACU, it uses a quarter wave stub to match the 2.5K ohm of the end of the half wave to the 50 ohms needed by the rig.coax-efhw-calculatorI tested the antenna on my antenna analyser and was very happy with the results:

The results on the Analyser after building to the dimensions from the spreadsheet –

Resonant frequency 14.285 MHz (as required by me for SSB operation),
SWR 1.42:1
IZI = 52.4 ohms
R = 49.4 ohms
X = -17.4 ohms
C = 634 pf.

Very impressive for an end-fed simply cut and soldered – no trimming at all was necessary!

Now I needed to test the antenna in the real world and decided on an activation of DL/AL-179 Weichberg as I knew I had the choice of vertical supports to strap the 10 metre mini-mast to.

Equipment would be the 817, the amp, the 10m mast and the new antenna.

The Location:

Weichberg is about 45 minutes drive from where I live and as such one of the closest summits to my home. It is only a 1 pointer however relatively easy to get to – about 10 minutes walk up a forest track from where I park the car. Navigate to Rettenbach and then follow the road “Dolce” as far as you are allowed to drive and there is a parking spot for 4 cars and the track to the summit is across the track behind you.

The Activation:

Subtitle – Wet hands make sloppy installations!

The trip down to Weichberg was uneventful except for a diversion through a beautiful small village because one of the main junctions on my route is being repaired/upgraded. The further south I drove, the heavier the rain became, until I turned off the main road onto the small road to Rettenbach when it started to clear. By the time I got to the parking spot it was down to a light drizzle, at this rate this is going to work out! I thought. …

I walked up the track through the forest to the summit and into increasing rain – never mind, I’m here now, let’s get busy! I unloaded my two rucksacks and started attaching the 10m mast to the best vertical post available – the holy cross outside if the small chapel. With hands getting wetter and colder I stretched my first “Double Bongo Strap” around the post and just as I was about to interlock the bongo in the rubber band – “TWANG” – it was gone and no amount of searching would find it! OK, have to make do with just one double Bongo Strap, that went on OK and then I unrolled the 1/2 wave 20m coax fed vertical antenna across the ground, attached it’s crocodile clip to the top section of the mast and started winding the thin wire around the fibreglass pole as I raised it section by section. Slowly but surely the antenna was raised. By this time the rain had become heavy but I thought there’s no point stopping now as I’m soaked anyway. The rain had started coming through the sleeves of my so called waterproof winter jacket.

Once I had the antenna raised, I went back to the small table on this summit where I assembled the FT817 and amplifier, connected batteries and turned everything on. 20m sounded quite busy which was a good sign. I checked 14.285 which appeared free, put out a call to check and then started calling CQ. In parallel I tried to place a spot but with water running over the face of the smart phone, it was difficult to type anything in! Then someone called – QRZ? So I went back a couple of times but the caller said they had too much QRM from a station 2 KHz down so I announced I would QSY up to 14.290, which I did and started calling again. About this time I got the first spot out but the call that came back on 14.290 was from someone who had just heard me calling rather than a SOTA chaser and I had a nice, if short, QSO with Panna from near Athens in Greece. We exchanged 5-9 and 5-5 reports – so the antenna was certainly working.

I started to put out another CQ hoping for a SOTA chaser who would have seen my spot but just at this time there was a loud “CLUNK” behind me and the fibreglass mast had telescoped itself down to ground. This was probably just one junction that I didn’t pull out enough with the cold, wet hands as there was next to no weight on the mast.

I took a look and while the mast and antenna were not broken, the antenna had tied itself in so many knots that it would take me 10 minutes to un-taffle it in good weather with non-frozen hands. As I was finding more areas of my jacket where the, now heavy, rain was coming through, I decided to pull the plug and pack up and head back to the car and its heater to dry me out.

To add insult to injury, by the time I arrived home, the rain had stopped completely but the TV said there are banks of rain storms coming through.

Despite aborting the activation (it counts as an activation as I had one contact, and as activated this summit earlier in 2016, I would not get any activation points in any case if I had “qualified” it with 4 contacts) it was still a useful exercise. I now know the antenna works. I know to take more care “locking” each section of the mast in place. I have already found a replacement “Double Bongo Strap” that was holding some other antenna and it’s coax together. If anyone finds the strap on Weichberg – they’re welcome to it. Who knows perhaps I’ll find it there next year but searching for it longer in the grey, rainy environment today was pointless.

I will take both my usual dipole and this new antenna on Saturday for the VK-EU S2S party. I’ll decide which to use on the day – if Long Path to VK doesn’t look good I’ll need the 40 metre capability of the dipole to contact EU stations but the vertical up first to give it a good “go”.

All parts are currently drying out and I’ll most likely untaffle the antenna while watching the TV this evening!

 One amusing point is that I found the Trig Point stone on this summit as well. In fact there were three stones(see pictures) – the two with metal tops I suspect might be used for mounting the measuring instruments.

Photos:

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Equipment:

Yaesu FT817ND.

Modified Ramsey power amplifier.

CO-AX fed half-wave end-fed 20m vertical.

DX-Wire 10metre “Mini-Mast”.

Thick plastic painters sheet

Log:

activator-log

Conclusions:

The antenna worked. I would have liked to have more reports from different directions and distances but in the weather, I was glad that I managed the one contact. I know to be mre careful with this mast now, making sure each section “locks-in”. This appears to be more of a problem on the DX-Wire mast than on the cheap “Lambda-Halbe” one!

73 ’til the next Summit!