All posts by Thomas Witherspoon

Elecraft AX1 and AX2 packages with free shipping in February Specials

This month, I’ll be posting a number of field reports using the Elecraft AX1 on a wide variety of radios.

Serendipitously, Elecraft is offering up AX1 and AX2 package deals for February 2023. Many thanks to Mark (KM3P) for the tip!

The AX1 Package ($151.85 US) includes an:

  • AX1 Multi-Band Whip Antenna
  • AXB1 Whip BiPod
  • and AXT1 Tripod Adapter

Note that this does not include the 40M coil extension. That would need to be purchased separately.

The AX2 Package ($101.94 US) includes an:

  • AX2 Minature 20-Meter Whip Antenna
  • and AXB1 Whip BiPod for AX-Line Whips

Ironically–and a testament to my terrible timing–I purchased the equivalent of the AX2 package on Jan 30 (yes, two days before the Feb sale started) and I paid $130.51 shipped. I can confirm that $101.94 shipped is a great price!

I decided to purchase a second AX1 package yesterday, basically to have a dedicated AX1 system for my Elecraft KX2 field kit.

Click here to checkout the full February 2023 specials at Elecraft.com.

Note that Elecraft is not a sponsor of QRPer.com (though they really should be, shouldn’t they–? Please put in a good word for us!) and I have no affiliation with them other than buying, using, and evaluating their products.

Limited openings for a free intermediate CW class via CW Innovations

Many thanks to Andrew (K0AWG) who shares the following news about an upcoming intermediate CW class via CW Innovations.

Andrew writes:

The class will be 10 weeks starting March 13. There are a limited number of seats for this round, but we hope to have many more classes in the future too.

The class is currently free of charge. It will be held on Monday and Thursday from 7-8pm central time. We’re looking for ops currently operating from about 10-15 wpm and having a simple on-air presence. If you are making POTA and SOTA contacts that’s perfect!

This class is a great way to really nail the characters down so that you can start to build speed with head copy in mind. One perk for POTA and SOTA is this skill will really contribute to being able to go “off script” when activating. It will help ops follow along when things aren’t quite what you expect.

Here’s the full press release:

CW Innovations presents The Comprehensive ICR Course

Dated Jan 25, 2023

Imagine being able to advance your present CW proficiency without facing the prospect of getting stuck on a plateau. Imagine too that the characters you hear become easily familiar to copy and send, as familiar as the alphabet itself when you were first learning language.
There’s no need to imagine any of this: An independent, new Comprehensive Instant Character Recognition Course delivers this as a reality, delivering the best of CW training techniques while helping operators understand their own best way to learn, progress and further challenge themselves.

Announcing CW Innovations. This is an independently run course that is module-based. It is built on scaffolding in which each successive module provides a gentle ramp upward through the learning process. This methodical process is created to address the mental and emotional roadblocks that have typically halted learners’ progress via other teaching methods.

Introduced to students in October 2022, CW Innovations has been further refined by a highly skilled and experienced team of operator educators. While there is no “magic pill,” CW Innovations provides a breakthrough process that is unique. Students have gained proficiency beyond their expectations. These results are unprecedented.

The 10-week course is designed for those currently operating with 10-15wpm proficiency, at least a simple presence on the air, and eager to improve both.

See w4yes.com for details.

A few students have shared these thoughts with us:

“I almost gave up. Stuck on a plateau for a frustrating stretch of forever, I had very little proficiency and even less confidence or hope that I could be a decent operator. After receiving 10 weeks of coaching and support from this terrific team, I have all the tools I need in order to teach myself. I can help myself make progress, sharpen both my listening and copying skills and most of all, I can have fun. Being able to do head copy was an unexpected bonus. Plateau? What’s a plateau??”
Licensed Operator since 2014 – New York

“It’s no longer learning dits and dahs…. It’s allowing yourself to hear and comprehend the sound of the characters subconsciously that will allow you to move forward in your CW skills and goals. You’re learning how to learn CW all over again. I’ve made more CW progress in the past 2.5 months than in the previous 6 years.”
Licensed Operator since 2017 – Missouri

“Why should anyone take the Comprehensive ICR course? Because if you put in the time and effort, your CW skills WILL improve. This course enabled me to go from 10 to 15 wpm copy speed as well as begin head copying my QSOs. I also, now, have the tools I need to reach any of my CW goals including listening to books in morse code, something which I never dreamed would be possible for me. The icing on the cake? The friendships I formed with facilitators and team members alike as we shared our successes and difficulties and helped one another find solutions. This course is a game changer for the world of CW.”
Licensed Operator since 2022 – Georgia

Brian puts a new antenna to the test during Winter Field Day!

Many thanks to Brian (K3ES) who shares the following guest post:


A shelter for Winter Field Day operations in a field

Field Report:  Winter Field Day with a New Antenna

Winter Field Day (WFD) 2022 found me operating indoors, despite my best intentions to get out in the field.  I was recovering from a bad cold, and did not want to risk having complications arise from sitting out in the cold and damp.  So for WFD 2023, outdoor time with my radio was a must.  I wanted to operate a 1-Oscar station, and to do that I had to set up more than 500 feet from my home QTH.  So a site next to the pond in our back field, about 800 feet from the house, became my WFD shack.

I started planning and collecting kit for the operation in mid-January, with the long term forecast hinting at near-freezing temperatures with the potential for rain or snow.  Let me introduce you to my WFD station.

Shelter

A shelter was needed to keep out rain and snow, and to provide a barrier against the winds whipping across the adjacent field.  A few poles lashed together, and steadied by stakes, provided the frame to support the shelter.  With a poly tarp secured to this frame, the resulting a-frame shelter, while not completely enclosed, did provide effective weather protection for both operator and equipment.  There was about 3 inches of snow on the ground when I set up the shelter, and I was able to pile some of it along the bottom edge of the tarp to keep the wind from getting under it.

A-frame shelter constructed of a poly tarp stretched over a frame of poles

Antenna

I know that when setting up a station, the antenna is not generally the first thought, but I had recently finished building a homebrew 9:1 random wire antenna with a 144 ft radiating wire, and I wanted to test it out.  There are better ways to put a new antenna on the air, but the opportunity was a good one.  Besides, I had backup antennas that could be quickly substituted if the need arose.  In the event, things worked well, and the antenna proved agile and capable on all activated bands.  I particularly wanted to see if it would tune on the 160m band.  More on that later.

The feedpoint of the 9:1 random wire antenna is built into a wire winder to support transport, deployment, and recovery for field use.  The RF functional components include a female BNC connector, a 9:1 unun, and miniature banana jacks for connecting the radiator and counterpoise wires.  There is no wire on the winder, because a corner was broken off during WFD deployment, and a mechanical repair is needed. (Click to enlarge)
The 9:1 unun is mounted near the BNC connector, and is electrically connected to a one miniature banana jack for the radiator and another for the counterpoise.  The unun and wiring are covered with hot melt glue to provide mechanical integrity and protection from the weather.

Radio

The goal of trying the antenna on 160m left me with only one choice for a radio.  I would use the Lab599 TX-500 Discovery, because it is the only transceiver among my field rigs that is capable of operating on the 160m band.  Since a tuner is required, I paired it with an LDG Z-11Pro II, a wide-range autotuner.  I also included a Monitor Sensors Power and SWR Meter in the feed line to help assure that I was legitimately running less than 5 watts to qualify for the QRP power multiplier. Continue reading Brian puts a new antenna to the test during Winter Field Day!

A quick two park KX2/AX1 POTA run starting at South Mountains State Park!

You might have noticed that I’ve been taking the Elecraft AX1 antenna out quite a lot recently. At time of posting, I’ve almost used it for a month’s worth of activations.

In December, I thought it might be fun to only use the AX1 for one 2023 calendar month–say, the month of March–but since I evaluate and review radios and antennas, it’s just not realistic to make that kind of commitment.

That said, I did decide to simply start using the AX1 as my primary field antenna for roughly a 30-ish day period and, so far, that’s working out very nicely. I thought it might give some real-world context and usage for those who still believe I’ve just been lucky the days I use the AX1 in the field. No better way to test that theory than to just do it!

Mini rove!

It’s been a while since I’ve had time to do a proper park rove. I hope to do a five park rove within the next month or so, if I can clear out space in the schedule. I find roves so much fun and a nice change of pace.

On Saturday, January 21, 2023, on the way back to my QTH in the mountains of WNC, I had just enough time to activate two parks in short order. Having just been challenged by a short activation window at the Vance Birthplace (which, turned into a normal length activation due to a schedule change in my favor) I thought it might be fun to once again, show the whole KX2/AX1 set-up and pack-up process in my activation video.

South Mountains State Park (K-2753)

I chose South Mountains State Park as my first stop.

South Mountains has a number of public access points. I decided to drive to the main park entrance and set up at the equestrian picnic area. Choosing the main park entrance added about 15 minutes to my overall driving time; the Clear Creek access would have been quicker, but I’d been there only recently. Continue reading A quick two park KX2/AX1 POTA run starting at South Mountains State Park!

Alan’s window-mounted Elecraft AX1 POTA activation!

Many thanks to Alan (W2AEW) who shares the following guest post:


New AX1 POTA Activation

by Alan (W2AEW)

I have to admit, I have been bitten “hard” by the POTA bug!  (I blame Thomas!) It started for me in August 2022 while I was on vacation at the Jersey shore.  Since that time, I have completed 48 activations at 19 different parks.  All of these have been QRP, and almost exclusively on CW. This story is about one of my recent activations, which was unique for a couple of reasons.  Read on…

The Park

My job puts me on the road, covering a large portion of the northeastern United States.  When my schedule permits, I’ll hit the road earlier than needed in order to potentially stop for a quick activation along the way (usually giving up a lunch-on-the-road stop in favor of a bit of QRP CW operation at a park).

This particular park was not your typical state park.  It wasn’t a nature preserve, or a mountain lake, or a hiking or picnic paradise.  No, this park is decidedly urban, occupying 2 blocks in the city of Holyoke, MA.  This is K-2439, Holyoke Heritage State Park. According to the state park website, this park celebrates the rich industrial heritage of the city of Holyoke.  The park also includes a Children’s Museum, a Volleyball Hall of Fame and a restored antique Merry-Go-Round.

The park is situated along a canal that once powered some of the mills that were located on the property.

It certainly is not like any other state park that I’ve been to!

One of the reasons I chose to stop at this park is that it had only been activated 4 times in the past.  In retrospect, I suppose this could’ve been because of the city/industrial setting.  Was it going to be noisy? Maybe this was a bad idea.. Thankfully, it wasn’t… Another thing that appealed to me is that it had not been activated on CW before.  So, my activation would be a CW ATNO (All Time New One) for this park, which is kind of cool.

A New Antenna

Largely due to Thomas extolling the virtues of the Elecraft AX1 compact vertical antenna, I “had to” purchase one for myself.  This activation would be its maiden deployment. Continue reading Alan’s window-mounted Elecraft AX1 POTA activation!

Replacement battery for the Xiegu X5105?


Many thanks to Chuck (K8HU) who writes:

Hi Thomas,

The battery in my Xeigu 5105 seems to have bit the dust and have been looking for a replacement part.

Any sourcing suggestions?

Best

Chuck Rippel, K8HU

Chuck had checked with the dealer, but their only suggestion was a battery (model BP-X5105) at Sinotel in the UK. Here’s the battery image from their catalog:

Unfortunately, they will not ship batteries internationally.

I did a little research of my own and the only other company I could find with a replacement X5105 pack is Limmared Radio & Data in Sweeden. The image above is the battery they have listed in their catalog.

Readers: if you’ve replaced your Xiegu X5105 battery pack, can you comment on this post with a link to the source?  Many thanks in advance!

POTA Field Report: The Elecraft AX1’s secret power? Speed of deployment.

I believe I mentioned in the past that when I first purchased my Elecraft AX1, I assumed it would be a bit if a toy or novelty item. I thought it was a fun concept–and that’s why I bought it–but I remember the first time I took it out to the field on an activation, I thought I’d be demonstrating that a compromised antenna delivers compromised performance.

In short? I was wrong.

The AX1 has instead become one of the most valuable tools in my antenna arsenal.

When you are the DX–activating a park or summit–the AX1 is more than capable as long as you live in an area with a reasonable amount of hunters/chasers within your normal propagation footprint.

Speed

The AX1’s secret power, as I mention in the title, is speed of deployment.

Although I can launch a line into a tree and deploy an end-fed half-wave pretty quickly–I’ve literally done this hundreds of times–I can deploy the AX1 even more quickly without breaking a sweat.

Case in Point: Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace (K-6856)

On Tuesday, January 17, 2023, I had a day full of errands and projects in town, but needed to pick up my daughters at a school function around 15:00 local. There were too many variables to accurately predict where I would be at what time, so I didn’t schedule an activation that morning.

As the day progressed, though, I realized I had a very short window and K-6856 was practically en route to the pickup point. After I finished my last errand in south Asheville, I made my way north and based on Google Maps, I had no more than a 25 minute window to fit in a full activation from deployment to pack up.

I stopped in a parking lot en route, pulled out my iPhone, and scheduled an activation at K-6856 on POTA.app.

Keep in mind that my activations are typically short, but 25 minutes for set-up, on-the-air time, and pack-up leaves very little margin for error.

The AX1 is perfect for this type of activation.

A little time math

It takes me two easy minutes to set up the AX1 and maybe one minute to pack it up.  If I wanted to, I could speed that up a bit (I take much longer on camera talking my way through the process). So that’s roughly three minutes to both deploy and pack-up the AX1.

My speaker wire antenna, on the other hand, is also very quick to deploy. With my arborist throw line, I can easily prepare that antenna in four minutes and pack it up in three minutes. Thus, I need to allow roughly 7 minutes to both deploy and pack-up the speaker wire antenna (we have to assume it might take 2 launches of the throw line to snag a branch).

Since it has a built-in ATU and battery the Elecraft KX2 takes maybe 20 seconds to set up. Seriously: pull it out of the pack, connect a key, turn it on. Continue reading POTA Field Report: The Elecraft AX1’s secret power? Speed of deployment.

Michael builds a Pacific Antenna Mini SWR Indicator for his Penntek TR-35 field kit

Many thanks to Michael (N7CCD) who writes:

Hi Thomas!

I just watched your last activation video (very fun by the way!) using the TR-35 and thought I’d share really quickly my solution to the lack of an SWR indicator.

It was a cheap (and fun) $5 for the kit, build project I did with my brother, N7BHP, while visiting him in Mexico. It was actually the first little precursor project to building the TR-35 while on that same trip.

We picked up three (one for me and two for my brother) Pacific Antenna Mini SWR Indicator kits, and some cheap cases off of Amazon that just fit the meter. Of course, we had to add the BNC connectors also.

The kit is a 50ohm dummy load, and the LED lights up if the SWR is above 2:1. I’ve actually used this to tune my AlexLoop with the TR-35. When the light goes out, you’ve hit 1:1. I’ve found the LED on this kit to be more sensitive than the AlexTune light on the antenna.

I modified my kit to eliminate the switch. The way they have you build it is to leave it inline with your antenna, and just flip the switch from ‘forward’ to ‘reverse’. To save space and fit into the little plastic case, we jumpered where the switch would be so it stays in the ‘engaged’ position. I then just put it in at the very beginning of my setup to ensure the SWR is good on my antenna, then take it out of the circuit completely when using the radio.

It’s small enough to just live with my TR-35 at all times.

Hope all is well!
Michael -N7CCD

I love this, Michael. I think I might have to build one as well. Looks like a fun, inexpensive build that’s actually quite practical! Thank you for sharing!

André’s All-Season Yaesu FT-891 Go-Box

Many thanks to André (PY2KGB/VE2ZDX) who writes:


Hi Thomas!

I’m writing to share my idea for a cheap and easy to build go box. It’s not for a QRP rig, but the concept can be applied for the ft818, for example. Check out this YouTube video:

I’ve been operating under snow with this box, in “ninja” style.

Because if I wait for it to stop snowing here I’ll do nothing for 3 months, hehe!

Photos:

Continue reading André’s All-Season Yaesu FT-891 Go-Box

Jonathan takes the Yaesu FT-818ND on an inaugural POTA activation!

Many thanks to Jonathan (KM4CFT) who shares the following guest field report and video:


Chatfield State Park (K-1212)

January 20, 2022

by Jonathan Kayne (KM4CFT)

The honorable Yaesu FT-817/818. You all know it and love it. I had been wanting to get myself one for a while but after just buying myself a shiny new ICOM IC-705, I had been planning on getting myself an 818 in the spring to play around with. December came and I find out that Yaesu was going to discontinue the 818, so I went and bit the bullet and bought one from Ham Radio Outlet.

I had been getting into CW for portable operations lately after wanting to learn CW for a while and my friend Zach Thompson (KM4BLG) had pushed me to learn it. I learned it over the course of two months through an app called “Morse Machine” and listening to Thomas’s YouTube videos while working so as to get used to the exchanges and pick up words. Then I activated and all the rest is history! (If you want to see my 3rd time activating see this video here.)

Why is this important? Because the FT-818ND does not have a narrow 500 Hz filter for CW operation by default, and since I consider myself to be still a newbie I wanted to install a Collins Filter before I take my new 818 into the field. Since these filters are hard to obtain, I went with the build your own route. The method I used has been outlined in this blog and I have made a video of it here.

Now that I had my radio all ready to go with a filter, side rails, and Windcamp Battery, I wanted to get it in the field as soon as possible. Unfortunately due to a snow storm, the temperature in the Denver area was quite cold.

I can handle myself pretty well in the cold if I put on enough layers, but my fingers are another story. I have found that I cannot write properly unless my fingertips are exposed. The solution: do the activation in the car! Continue reading Jonathan takes the Yaesu FT-818ND on an inaugural POTA activation!