Category Archives: Antennas

Pairing the MFJ-1984LP EFHW with the Elecraft KX2 at South Mountains Game Land

Last week, I squeezed in two activations on the afternoon of February 17, 2021 to test out the MFJ-1984LP end fed half wave antenna that MFJ sent me to evaluate.

The first park was Lake James State Park where I paired the MFJ-1984LP with my Icom IC-705 (click here to read the report and watch the video). The second was South Mountains Game Land where I paired it with the Elecraft KX2.

Gear:

In both instances, I did not use an ATU because the EFHW is resonant on the bands where I operated. I bypassed the internal ATU in my KX2 and, of course, the IC-705 has no ATU.

I’ve got a very busy few days ahead including a presentation tomorrow at the Virtual Winter SWL Fest (the topic being QRP transceivers). In lieu of writing a full field report, I’ll simply share the (partial) video I made at the activation.

I’ll admit it, I was not on my “A Game” at that activation. Not only did I forgot to press the start button on the camera, but I also struggled copying CW more than I usually do. I had a lot on my mind that afternoon, though, and really felt pressed for time.

I don’t mind sharing this experience, however, because we all have days like these.

POTA Field Report: Reviewing the MFJ-1984LP EFHF with the Icom IC-705 at Lake James State Park

I’ve been a ham radio operator since 1997, but until 2016, I had never purchased a pre-made portable antenna–I had always built my own.

During the 2016 NPOTA (National Parks On The Air) program, however, I purchased the EFT Trail-Friendly end fed 40, 20, and 10 meter resonant antenna and it quickly became my favorite field antenna. I found that it was simply built better than I could have built a similar antenna at home.

Pre-made antennas, though, come at a cost. Most time-tested, trail-friendly, portable antennas will typically set you back $90 US or more. You can make similar antennas much cheaper especially if you already have some of the parts (wire, toroids, RF ports, enclosures, etc).

Recently, while browsing the MFJ catalog, I stumbled upon the MFJ-1984LP End Fed Half Wave wire antenna designed for for field use and retailing for only $49.95 US.

That price point is very attractive because I believe if I built this antenna myself and needed to buy new parts, I might easily sink $20-25 in it.

Most MFJ products are manufactured in the USA and the company has an incredibly extensive and diverse selection of items in their catalog. Why I had forgotten they also sell antennas is a mystery to me.

MFJ is well-known for offering products that are basic,  affordable, and accessible (they’re available directly from the manufacturer and through most major radio retailers across the globe). I wouldn’t expect their antennas to be engineered like Chameleon Antenna, for example, but I would expect them to work well and get the job done.

I know the folks at MFJ and (in the spirit of full disclosure) they even sponsor QRPer.com, so I reached out to them and asked if I could evaluate their MFF-1984LP which is their most affordable field wire antenna.  They kindly sent one my way and I took it to the field last week.

I should add here that MFJ welcomes critical reviews, which is one of the reasons I asked them to be a sponsor. That and, well before they knew me, I was an anonymous customer and they repaired my MFJ roller inductor tuner for free a good two or three years after the warranty expired. My experience with MFJ has only been positive.

First impressions

The antenna looks exactly like the product photo in their catalog (see above).

For a field antenna, the coil enclosure is a little on the large side (especially compared with my EFT Trail-Friendly), but it’s still very backpack-able. Knowing MFJ, they kept costs at bay by using one of their standard enclosure boxes for this antenna.

The enclosure also has an open grill to allow the coil to dissipate heat (see above). I found that a bit surprising since the core is so large inside, but I assume some heat must be generated if you’re running 50% duty at a full 30 watts (the maximum rated power). The matching network impedance ratio is 49:1, so there will be loss and heat.

The 66 foot radiator wire has a dark jacket that glides nicely over tree limbs and doesn’t encourage tangling when unwinding.

The end insulator is made of a thin plastic/composite material that is lightweight and shaped so that it won’t snag on tree limbs.

To the field!

Hey–the proof is in the pudding, right? Let’s put this antenna on the air and make a real-time video of the activation!

Last Wednesday (February 17, 2021), there was a break in the weather so I made a detour to Lake James State Park (K-2739) en route to visit my parents for a few days. I left the house without deciding what park to activate, but picked Lake James because I knew I would have access to tall trees and my pick of operating locations.

Gear:

Deploying the MFJ-1984LP is no different than deploying any other wire antenna. It was super easy using my arborist throw line. That thin, rounded end insulator did certainly glide through the tree branches with ease. No hint of snagging.

On The Air

I connected the antenna directly to my IC-705 with no ATU in-line. Hypothetically, I knew this antenna should be resonant on 20 meters where I planned to start the activation.

Keep in mind that pre-made antennas are often designed to be a tad long and need to be trimmed so the operator can tweak the resonant point for their preferred spots on the band. Since I tend to use the lower part of the band for CW, I typically leave my antennas with a resonant point somewhere on the upper side of the CW portion of the bands. It’s not super critical for EFHW antennas because they tend to have ample bandwidth to give a full meter band good matches.

I had not trimmed the MFJ-1984LP, but decided it should be “resonant enough” for my purposes.

I found a clear frequency on 20 meters and checked the SWR. It was spot on at 1.3:1 on 14,031 kHz! Woo hoo!

I started calling CQ and collected several stations in short order despite the poor propagation that day.

I then moved to the 40 meter band and discovered the antenna also gave me an excellent match there. I started calling CQ POTA and was rewarded with a steady stream of contacts.

I imagine I could have racked up a lot of contacts at that activation, but I made up my mind that I wanted to fit in another quick activation afterwards, so cut it a bit short.

In the end, here’s a map of my 18 contacts made in 26 minutes of on-air time:

Not bad for five watts and a wire!

Video

I made a real-time, real-life, no edit video of this activation which starts shortly after I deployed the MFJ-1984LP and ends a few moments after my last QSO. Against my better judgement, it includes all of my mistakes (including my inability to form the number 4 that day!):

Click here to view on YouTube.

MFJ-1984LP summary

No antenna is perfect and each time I start a product review, I keep a list of pros and cons. Here’s my list for this EFHW antenna:

Pros:

  • Very affordable at $49.95
  • Effective: results so far have been excellent
  • EFHW is a proven field antenna design and resonant on several bands
  • No coil on the radiator to snag in trees (see con)
  • Backed by MFJ warranty
  • Purchase supports US manufacturing

Cons:

  • Bulkier than comparable low power field antennas
  • No built-in winder (MFJ should consider altering the design to include one!)
  • Radiator is 66 feet long since there is no in-line coil to electrically shorten the length (see pro)
  • End insulator is effective, but feels slightly flimsy

In the end, there’s no magic here: the end fed half wave is a time-tested, proven antenna design and the MFJ-1984LP delivers. In terms of performance, I couldn’t be more pleased with it right out of the box. This isn’t a military-grade antenna, but it should last for years with proper use.

POTA activators that have access to trees in the field will appreciate the MFJ-1984LP. I should think you could also make an effective “V” shaped antenna if you have a telescoping support that’s 29-33′ tall.

I’m not so sure the average SOTA operator would find this antenna design as convenient–especially on high summits where you’re near or above the tree line. It could be difficult deploying a 66′ wire. That and this antenna is bulkier than other designs. If you’re backpacking it in, you typically want the most compact solution possible (this is where the EFT Trail-Friendly, Packtenna, and QRPguys designs really shine).

I will certainly employ the MFF-1984LP regularly–especially on days with less-than-stellar propagation.  I think this might become a go-to antenna for the MTR-3B, LD-11, and IC-705 since all of them lack an internal ATU.

If you’re looking for an affordable, effective wire antenna, I can certainly recommend the MFJ-1984LP.

Do you have an MFJ end fed half wave antenna? What are your thoughts?

Click here to check out the MFJ-1984LP at MFJ’s website, and click here to download the PDF manual.

Maxpedition Fatty: My choice Elecraft AX1 antenna case/pouch

I’ve gotten a number of inquiries from QRPer readers and YouTube subscribers regarding the case I use for my Elecraft AX1 antenna.

It’s a Maxpedition “Fatty” Pocket Organizer and I think it’s nearly ideal for the AX1.

The elastic straps inside the pouch keep the elements of the antenna organized and separated. They don’t hold the sections tightly in place, but they do the trick.

I store the two AX1 counterpoise wires (one for 40M, the other for 20/17) in its interior zipped pocket.

The Fatty pouch also stores a small Muji notepad and mechanical pencil (for logging).

I actually keep a logbook specifically for the AX1 because it’s so fun to see just how many miles per watt I’ve achieved with this pocket antenna.

I also like the clam shell opening.When I arrive on-site, I open the case and everything is arranged and prepared for assembly (which takes all of 2-3 minutes). Since every piece of the AX1 assembly has its own dedicated spot in the Fatty pouch, I can tell at a glance if I’ve forgotten something.

In the spirit of full discoure, you should know that besides being a radio enthusiast, I’m also a hopeless pack geek.  I almost exclusively buy backpacks and travel gear from smaller manufacturers mostly located here in the USA. I support companies like Red Oxx, Tom Bihn, and Spec-Ops Brand to name a few. I have even helped pack companies with their designs and pre-production evaluations (much like I do for radio manufacturers).

Maxpedition is a US-based company that manufactures much of their gear in Taiwan (I believe). Although I originally purchased this Fatty pouch and two other Maxpedition pouches about six years ago, I can say their their quality and durability are superb.  The zippers all work fluidly, seams are well-stitched, and I’ve never had one fail on me in any way. Their gear is more affordable than most of the packs I typically purchase.

I wish Maxpedition made a padded case that would fit my IC-705, Elecraft KX3, or even the Elecraft KX2 (although the Lowe Pro packs Elecraft sells seem to work well). I’ve never tested Maxpedition slings and backpacks, but I may give one a try soon. I would love input from any readers who are familiar with larger Maxpedition packs.

Click here to purchase a Maxpedition Fatty puch from Amazon (this affiliate link supports QRPer at no cost to you). Or click here to purchase directly from Maxpedition.

Josh tours the Chameleon Antenna factory

Many thanks to Don (W7SSB) who shares the following video produced by Josh at Ham Radio Crash Course.

In this video, Josh tours the Chameleon Antenna manufacturing facility and gives viewers a close-up view of how their gear is built.

If you’re not familiar, Chameleon Antenna is a specialist antenna manufacturer that makes military-grade, field portable antennas that are low-profile and stealthy. Chameleon products are 100% made in the USA and their customers range from amateur radio operators to the armed forces.

I’m also honored that Chameleon Antennas sponsors QRPer because they love promoting field radio operating. They’ve sent me a number of their antennas to give a thorough evaluation in the field and I’ve been very pleased with their ease of deployment and overall quality.

To be clear, their antennas are not cheap, but they are a prime example when we talk about “you pay for what you get.” In all of my years of evaluating radio products, I’ve never seen better quality field antennas–they’re absolutely top-shelf.

You’ll see in this video how focused the company on producing quality products.

Thanks again, Don, for the tip!

Click here to check out the HRCC YouTube Channel.

Click here to check out Chameleon Antennas. 

POTA Field Report: Taking the LnR Precision LD-11 out for some fresh air

I mentioned in a previous post that I recently did a thorough clean-out of my shack and home office. It took two full days, and kept me out of the field during that time, but I’m very pleased with the results.

After re-arranging my grab-and-go QRP rigs on their dedicated shelf, one rig was very conspicuous: my LnR Precision LD-11.

Thinking back, it has been ages since I used it in the field–possibly more than a couple of years, in fact. As I packed my bags Sunday morning for a multi-day trip to my hometown, I grabbed the little red LD-11 and stuffed it in my main radio bag. It was time to take it to the field!

Lake James State Park (K-2739)

I didn’t have a lot of time to play radio Sunday afternoon, so Lake Jame State Park was a no-brainer. There, I know I have a number of picnic table options, mobile phone service, and it’s a modest detour off of Interstate 40. Low-hanging fruit in my POTA world.

There was snow on the ground Sunday afternoon, but it was 36F/2C so not terribly cold, just damp.

Due to snow melting in the trees, I set up my station in a picnic shelter where things were dry.

Gear:

Although I’d used the LD-11 recently at home to chase a few SOTA and POTA stations, I had not operated it intensively so it took a little time to reacquaint myself with this little rig.

It’s a gem of a transceiver and has a lot to offer in the field. If you’re interested to learn more about it, I’d encourage you to check out my original review of the LD-11 over at the SWLing Post.

Like the FT-817ND and G90, the LD-11 has no memory keying in CW or Phone. Memory keying is such a useful feature for park and summit activations because it frees up your fist and voice while calling CQ or sending 73s. With the LD-11, I’d be doing all of this “old school” which is absolutely fine for a short activation.

On the air

Although my EFT Trail-Friendly antenna should be resonant on 40, 20, and 10 meters, it was not Sunday because I’m almost certain I’ve finally damaged the radiator coil. I’ve deployed this antenna well over 150 times and yanked it out of countless trees when it got stuck. It’s lasted much longer than I would have ever guessed.

When I tried transmitting on 40 meters, I got a high SWR. Instead of replacing the antenna with another one, I simply hooked up the Elecraft T1 ATU and found a match. This is one good reason why you should always pack an antenna tuner. While employing an ATU might not be as efficient as using a resonant antenna, it can save your bacon in a situation like this and will certainly get the job done (especially if your only goal is a valid field activation).

After matching the antenna, I hopped on the 40M band and logged five CW stations in short order. Obviously, the antenna was working “well enough”–!

As I’ve done with a number of my recent activations, I started recording a video at this point.  I started it after my first five CW contacts due to a lack of space to record a 60 minute video (this one turned out to be 40 minutes and change).

I then moved up to the 20 meter band where I worked one CW station, then switched modes to SSB where I was surprised to work Jon (TI5JON) in Costa Rica, Steve (WA4TQS) in Texas, and Paul (NL7V) in North Pole, Alaska.

Video

This was one of those rare instances where my QRP SSB signal snagged more distant stations than my QRP CW signal.

I’m certain, however, had I spent more time on 20M CW, I would have logged a number of other distant contacts.  Here’s my QSOmap from the activation–not bad for 5 watts into an inefficient antenna:

All-in-all, I was very pleased with the activation. Even though I was making do with a faulty antenna and even though my CW was a little sloppy since I wasn’t quite used to the LD-11 keyer timing, it was so much fun!

I do love the little LD-11 and would certainly recommend grabbing a used one if you find a good deal.

As I mention in the video, the LD-11 is no longer manufactured and it never will be again. The main engineer behind the LD-11, SKY-SDR, and ALT-512–Dobri Hristov (LZ2TU)–passed away in 2020. Dobri was a well-respected fellow and distinguished ham radio operator/DXer. I corresponded with him quite a few times in the past. Sadly, when Dobri passed away, he took the design of all of these rigs with him. His brief period of sickness leading to his death all happened within a year.

So if you find one of these fine transceivers, keep in mind that some internal components (LCD screens, ICs, etc.) might be hard to replace if they fail. These radios are built well, however, so I wouldn’t expect something like that to happen for a very long time.

It was a lot of fun using the LD-11 during this activation and I certainly plan to put it in rotation from now on. Wherever Dobri is now, I like to think he’ll feel those LD-11 signals running through the ether!

Any other LD-11, SKY-SDR, or ALT-512 owners out there?  Please comment!

POTA Field Report: Pairing the Icom IC-705 with the Elecraft AX1 pocket antenna

I think I’ve said before that I don’t like doing things the easy way. At least, I’m coming to that conclusion.

This Saturday (Jan 30, 2021), I had a small window of opportunity to perform a Parks On The Air (POTA) activation.  My park options were limited because I needed to stay near my home and a store where I was scheduled to do a curbside pickup.

The only viable option–since time was a factor–was my reliable quick hit park.

The Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378)

I plotted a quick trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway Folk Art Center which is centrally-located and, this time of year, there are few visitors.

But what radio take? It had been a couple of weeks since I used the IC-705 in the field, so I decided to take it and rely only on its supplied BP-272 battery pack.

My buddy Mike (K8RAT) had warned me only a few minutes before my departure that propagation was pretty much in the dumps. I’d also read numerous posts from QRPers trying to participate in the Winter Field Day event and finding conditions quite challenging.

Saturday was the sort of day that I should’ve deployed a resonant wire antenna and made the most of my meager five watts thus collect my required 10 contacts in short order.

And that’s exactly what I didn’t do.

You see, a really bad idea popped into my head that morning: I had a hankering to pair the IC-705 with my Elecraft AX1 super compact vertical antenna.

This made absolutely no sense.

I tried to get the idea out of my head, but the idea won. I suppose, at the end of the day, I’m not about taking the easy path (and I’m obviously a glutton for punishment).

I was also very curious if the mAT-705 Plus external ATU could tune the AX1 on 40 meters. More on that later…

Gear:

I arrived on site a few minutes before noon. Setup was fast–that’s the big positive about using the AX1.

Normally, I deploy the AX1 antenna with my KX2 or KX3 and simply attach it to the BNC connector on the side of the transceiver. The AX1 Bipod gives the antenna acceptable stability during operation.

The IC-705 also has a side-mounted BNC connector, but it’s much higher than that of the KX3 or KX2. I’m not entirely sure I could manipulate the Bipod legs to support the antenna without modification.

That and the AX1 needs an ATU to match 40 meters (where I planned to spend most of the activation). Since the IC-705 doesn’t have an internal ATU, mounting it to the side of the transceiver really wasn’t an option.

I employed my AX1 tripod mount for the first time. On the way out the door, I grabbed an old (heavy) tripod my father-in-law gave me some time ago and knew it would easily accommodate the super lightweight AX1.

On The Air

I first tried using the Mat-Tuner mAT-705 Plus ATU to tune the AX1 on 40 meters.

No go.

I tried both the phone and CW portions of the 40 meter band, but the mAT-705 Plus simply couldn’t find a match. SWR was north of 7:1 – 9:1.

Instead of grabbing the Chameleon MPAS Lite or 2.0 from the car, I decided instead to see if the Elecraft T1 ATU could tune 40 meters.

It did.

In short, I logged my ten contacts to have a valid activation, but it was slow-going. All but two of my contacts were on 40 meters CW. The last two logged were on 20 meters CW.

It was a challenge, but I really enjoyed it! And, frankly, considering the propagation, 5 watts of power only using the IC-705 battery pack, and the inherent inefficiencies using a loaded compact vertical antenna and ATU? I was impressed.

Here’s a QSOmap of my 10 contacts:

I bet my effective radiated power was closer to 2-3 watts.

Typically, the AX1 antenna acts almost like an NVIS antenna on 40 meters, but Saturday it favored Mid-Atlantic and the states of IN, OH, and PA. Normally, I would expect more of a showing from the states surrounding North Carolina.

My last two contacts on 20 meters were with KE5XV in Texas and KB0VXN in Minnesota. Not a bad hop!

It took longer to collect my ten contacts than I had hoped and I ran nearly 25 minutes late to my curbside appointment. I’m a punctual guy, but there was no way I was leaving without my ten! 🙂

Here’s a video of the entire activation. Hint: it’s the perfect remedy for insomnia:

Next time I try to pair the IC-705 with the AX1 antenna, I think I’ll try adding a couple more ground radials and see if the mAT-705 Plus can more easily find a match.

One thing I know for sure: the T1 is a brilliant little ATU. While the mAT-705 Plus was never designed to do this sort of match, it’s comforting to know the T1 can.

I’m very curious if anyone else has paired the Elecraft AX1 with the Icom IC-705 or other QRP transceivers. If so, what was your experience? Please comment!

The importance of quality cable and connectors

Note that this post was originally published on the SWLing Post, but I feel like quality cable is especially important for those of us who are into field activities like Parks On The Air (POTA) and Summits On The Air (SOTA) where our gear gets a lot of handling and outdoor time.

Two radio accessories I often forget to mention in my posts and reviews are cable and connectors. When a cable functions well, it’s taken for granted and easily overlooked.

You’ll hear me say that a radio is only as good as its antenna and while that’s true, the important link in the system is your antenna cable and connectors. If you have a fabulous antenna and a benchmark radio, but you connect the two with substandard cables, it will create unnecessary losses and even shorts if you’re not careful.

But let’s be honest: it’s easy to cheap out on cables.

When I first started using tabletop receivers and transceivers in my youth, I had a tight budget. When I would go to a local hamfest where I’d find excellent prices on cable assemblies from those accessory retailers who sell a little bit of everything.  You know…the tables with everything from $10 multimeters to $5 blinking lights–? I’d find their prices for cable assemblies too attractive and would grab them.

No more.

Back when I owned my original Yaesu FT-817, I used one of these cables on Field Day and blew my finals due to a small short ono a connector end (if memory serves, braiding was touching the conductor). From that point forward, I decided I’d invest in quality cables.

ABR Industries

At the Hamvention in 2010, I found ABR Industries’ table. The only thing they had on display were cable assemblies and a handful of cable accessories. I picked one cable up and inspected it–I could tell it was good quality. Although I know how to make my own cable assemblies (with PL-259s, at least) I appreciate professionally-built assemblies.

I spoke with the representative that day and learned about their company and how they go about making standard and custom cable assemblies in the USA for the consumer, commercial, and government markets.

Although the price was at least double what I would have paid at one of the discount retailers, I never looked back.

From that point forward, I’ve only purchased ABR cables typically at Hamvention, Universal Radio, or even directly from ABR’s website (when I ordered custom assemblies).

The quality of ABR cables is second to none. I have never had one fail at home or (especially) in the field.

For my QRP POTA activations, I started investing in ABR316 and ABR100 BNC to BNC assemblies. I’m especially fond of the ABR316 assemblies (above) because they’re so resistant to memory when I coil them.

You pay for what you get

I suppose this is on my mind because I’m about to do an assessment and make another ABR order so that my new field radio kits have their own dedicated cable assemblies with correct ends (so I’m also not forced to use BNC or PL adapters for matching).

I’m also replacing some of my 3 foot cable assemblies with SMA connectors to PL-259 for my bank of SDRs. This is a part of achieving one of my goals for 2021. I’ll know then that each receiver will have a quality link to my antenna splitter and antenna.

My point here is don’t skimp on your cable, adapters, or cable assemblies.

If you have the skill to build your own, buy quality components and take your time building them.

If you prefer purchasing pre-made cable assemblies, talk with your local ham radio retailer, or seek out cable assembly houses like ABR Industries. I’d avoid purchasing cheap cables you may find on eBay or Amazon.com, for example. That’s not to say that there aren’t quality discount assemblies out there, I just prefer buying from a company that takes pride in their work and stands behind the quality.

Click here to check out ABR Industries. 

ABR Industries isn’t a sponsor of the QRPer (although I’d love to add them!)–I’m just a long-time customer who is happy to plug their products. I can recommend them without reservation.

I’ve also bought numerous long cable runs, wire, DC cable, ladder line, paracord, and sealant from The Wireman. I also highly recommend them.

ABR isn’t the only quality cable assembly house–there are many others throughout the world. Who do you recommend? Please leave a comment and links to your picks!

Mistakes and miscalculations might make us better field radio operators

I don’t know about you, but part of the fun of playing radio in the field are the inevitable frustrations.

It might not feel like it in the moment, but when I eventually overcome the challenges of a mistake, I feel like I’ve truly accomplished something.

That was my little epiphany this morning: making mistakes has perhaps made me a better radio operator. Less-than-efficient field deployments have honed my skills and had a major influence on the gear I pack.

If you’ve read some of my (rather rambling) field reports in the past, you’ll note that I rarely do field activations with the exact same gear combinations each time. I feel fortunate enough that I can pair different radios with different antennas and different accessories.  I get a small thrill out of not knowing exactly how well a combination will work, especially if I’m not activating a rare all-time new park or tough summit for that matter. In cases where getting to the site is a challenge in and of itself, I want to use a trusted combo of gear.

It’s that wee bit of mystery that attracts me to the field.

If I approached POTA more like a contest–where activation and contact numbers were my focus–I would have installed a mobile HF rig in my car a long time ago. I could rack up way more parks and contacts that way. It especially simplifies multi-site activation days since it effectively eliminates the time involved in setting up and later packing up gear.  Mobile operating is the most efficient way to hit number goals: drive up to a site, start calling CQ, work your stations, then move on.

K-6937 & K-4510

(Photo credit: K4TLI)

Yesterday, I did a last minute “two-fer” activation of Pisgah National Forest and Pisgah Game Land. I had not planned to do an activation that day–temps never rose above 29F (-2C) at the QTH day and it also snowed and flurried all day long. Winds were very gusty as well, so it effectively felt much colder on the skin.

I wanted to hike up to the ridge line behind my QTH and do the activation but I knew up there temps would be lower and (worse) winds much stronger. Cold doesn’t really bother me, but strong winds do. This was also the first weekend my ankle felt almost normal after twisting it badly last month. It’s healing and I hope will be in shape for a long hike from my QTH to a six point SOTA summit next weekend with my daughter (K4TLI).

All of those factors combined pointed toward simply staying at home, drinking coffee, and reading a book.

Hazel was ready for some field radio fun, though. (Photo credit: K4TLI)

But I really wanted some outdoor time. And I really wanted to make an activation with my Elecraft KX1, so I decided that instead of hiking up in elevation 800 feet, I’d drive down about 900-1,000 feet to a forest trailhead. That would get me on the air in a protected valley with less wind,  less snow, possibly warmer temps, and much less hiking which would be easier on my ankle.

The Last-Minute Antenna

When I use the KX1 in the field, I typically pack a very simple antenna: one length of radiator wire and one length of counterpoise wire–connected to a BNC binding post adapter, I let the built-in ATU sort out the match.

When I owned my first KX1, I had a magic length of radiator wire (the length of which I can no longer remember) that seemed to work amazingly well  on 40, 30, and 20 meters.

My new-to-me KX1 came with two lengths of wire: one 23′ and one about 20′. Although I made a fun and successful activation with this setup, the radiator was simply too short for the KX1 to find a decent match on 40M.

On the way out the door, I decided to cut a new radiator and counterpoise out of scrap wire I use for antenna experiments.

Being a bit stubborn and also in a hurry to beat sunset, I did no Internet research to sort out the ideal lengths for 40 meters.  I simply cut a 17′ length for the counterpoise and about 27.5′ for the radiator.

In the Field

After arriving on site, I deployed the antenna and tried finding a match on 40 meters with the KX1’s internal ATU.

No go.

I tried a few times hoping maybe the ATU would find something even semi-reasonable in terms of a match, but there simply wasn’t enough radiator to make it work. That was a shame because forty meters would have been the ideal band for yielding quick contacts this time of the afternoon.

I had options, but I wanted to make what I had work.

The activation took time and patience. The 30 meter band was now my best bet and it’s where I logged all ten contacts for a valid activation. I tried 20 meters where I had a 1:1 match, but the band was dead.

At one point, I switched out the KX1 with my KX2 that I also packed. I tried to find a 40 meter match with the superior KX2 ATU, but physics got in the way again. 🙂

40 meters was an option

Let’s be clear here: I could have easily cut 4′ off of the counterpoise and attached it to the radiator and I bet I would have gotten a match on 40M. Since the counterpoise was lying on the ground, its length was less crucial.

The EFT Trail-Friendly end fed antenna was also in my pack.

I also had a perfectly capable 40/20/10 en-fed antenna in my pack. Switching out the antenna would have only taken four minutes.

I bet I could have easily yielded 20 additional contacts on 40 meters because the band was in great shape. Almost without fail, 40 meters is my most productive band.

Working with limitations

Thing is, I’m starting to understand that I like working with self-imposed limitations.

Perhaps this is why I love QRP and low-power radio so much: I get a little thrill out of doing more with less.

Yesterday, even after I realized it would be a struggle to log my final three contacts on 30 meters, I persisted. One motivation was I’ve never completed a full activation using only 30 meters. With a little patience, I knew I could snag my ten contacts.

The only things making it a challenge were the facts that temps were dropping rapidly, winds were picking up, and the sun was setting. Hazel (the POTA dog) who so eagerly jumped in the car when she saw me put on my hiking boots earlier, was also starting to shiver.

Fortunately, after trying another short stint on 20 meters, I returned to 30 and worked two more stations in quick succession giving me a total of nine contacts.

It started to get darker, so I hunted and found an operator calling CQ  on 30 and simply made contact with him. He wasn’t a POTA station, just a general CQ call. He kindly gave me his details for the logs.

Lessons learned

I made a video of most of this activation and will upload it when I have a little bandwidth to do so. I’ll embed it in a shorter field report here on QRPer since I’ve described so much already.

Even though it was a challenge making ten contacts to accomplish a valid field activation with my time constraints, I’ll admit that I really enjoyed the challenge.

Next time I head to the field with the KX1, I’ll actually test the antenna prior to leaving the QTH.

In fact, I’m planning to make two radiators: one at an ideal length for 40 meters and above, and another–much longer–for 80 meters and above. Any advice and personal experience from KX1 owners would be much appreciated.

Perhaps most importantly, it’s only now dawned on me how much I enjoy making the most with self-imposed limitations or “trying to make lemonade with lemons.”

Do you feel the same? I’d love to hear your comments.

POTA Field Report: Pairing the Elecraft KX3 with the AX1 antenna and seeking distant stations

Although I’m a huge fan of wire antennas in the field, since I started using CW during my Parks On The Air (POTA) activations, I’ve really enjoyed experimenting with compromised portable antennas.

Typically, there’s a trade off with field antennas:

High-performance antennas tend to take more time to install. Some of my highest performance antennas are dipoles, doublets, delta loops, and end fed wire antennas. All of them require support from a tree if I want maximum height off the ground. Some (like the dipole) require multiple supports. While I actually enjoy installing wire antennas in trees, it typically takes me at least 10 minutes to install a wire antenna if it only needs one support and one counterpoise.

Compromised or low-profile antennas may lack performance and efficiency, but are often much quicker and easier to deploy.

In my opinion, field operators should keep both types of antennas in their arsenal because sometimes the site itself will dictate which antenna they use. I’ve activated many sites where wire antennas simply aren’t an option.

That was not the case last Tuesday, however.

Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)

On Tuesday, December 29, 2020, I stopped by Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)–one of my favorite local state parks–for a quick, impromptu activation.

I had no less than four antennas in my car that day and Tuttle is the type of site where I can install pretty much anything: they’ve a spacious picnic area with large tables, tall trees, and parking is close by. Tuttle is the perfect place to deploy not only a large wire antenna, but a large radio if you wish since you don’t have to lug it far from the car.

But en route to Tuttle I decided to take a completely different approach. One of the four antennas I had in the car that day was the Elecraft AX1 antenna.

Without a doubt, the AX1 is the most portable antenna I own. It’s so compact, I can carry it in my pocket if I wish.

When I first purchased the AX1, I was very skeptical and assumed it would only work when “the stars aligned”–days with better-than-average propagation and lots of POTA hunters/chasers looking for me.

The first time I used the AX1 in the field, it impressed me (understatement alert).

The second time, same thing.

In all of my AX1 activations, however, I had only operated on the 40 meter band where the antenna’s footprint looked more like a NVIS antenna than a vertical. Meaning, most of my contacts were in neighboring states like Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia (typically, those states are in my 40 meter skip zone).

The reason I hadn’t tried 20 or 17 meters with the AX1 is because I would start an activation on the 40 meter band and accumulate enough contacts to achieve a valid activation. Since I’m often pressed for time, I simply didn’t bother configuring the antenna for the higher bands.

Time for that to change!

The question I wanted answered at Tuttle: could the AX1 antenna work “DX” stations? By DX, I mean POTA DX, so distant states and provinces primarily–not necessarily other countries.

Gear:

On the air

I paired the Elecraft KX3 with the AX1 at Tuttle. This was the first time I’d ever tried this particular transceiver/antenna combo.

After setting up, I started on the 20 meter band and called CQ for a few minutes.

The first two stations I worked were in Texas (KF9RX and K5RX).

The third station (W6LEN) was in California.

California!?!

Honestly, it was/is hard for me to fathom how in the world 10 watts into a tabletop telescoping whip antenna could work a station exactly 2,083 miles (3,352 km)–and three time zones away–from my picnic table. I’m sure W6LEN has a great antenna on the other end, but I bet he would be surprised to learn that my 10 watt signal was being radiated by such a wee antenna.

 

 

I then worked stations in Florida (K2WO), Minnesota (N0UR), and New Hampshire (W2NR) and decided to move to 17 meters.

On 17 meters I worked W2NR in New Hampshire once again.

I should note here that each time you work a station on a different band or with a different mode, it counts as a separate contact in POTA. In other words, my contacts with W2NR on 20 meters and 17 meters counts as two logged contacts toward my overall QSO count. I’m very appreciative of hunters who go out of their way to work me on different bands and modes: those extra contacts help me achieve a valid activation in short order.

I then moved to 40 meters and worked stations from Tennessee, West Virginia, Ohio, and Michigan.

Video

Here’s a video of the entire activation. It’s a long video as it starts at set-up and continues until my last contact. There are no edits in this video–it’s a real-time, real-life deal and contains all of my bloopers:

Note that in the video I had the KX3’s volume maxed out so that it could be picked up by my iPhone microphone. The KX3’s wee internal speaker was vibrating the chassis ever so slightly. On the 40 meter band, it resonated enough that it moved the encoder slightly. Next time, I’ll plan to bring a portable external speaker (if you have any suggestions of good ones, let me know).

And here’s a QSOmap of the activation:

Click to enlarge.

Bioenno 3aH LiFePo battery

I should also add that I’m very pleased with my new Bioenno 3aH LiFePo 12V battery. You can see it in the photo above–it’s slim, lightweight, and very compact.

I purchased it during Bioenno’s Black Friday sale. I was a little concerned it might not have enough capacity to carry me through multiple activations–my other LiFePo batteries re 4.5 and 15 aH–but that does not seem to be the case at all! Not only did it provide nearly an hour of intense use on this activation, but it also powered three activations the previous day–all four activations on one charge! Brilliant!

Radio magic

As I mentioned in a previous post, this was one of those activations that reminded me of the magic of low-power radio. It was incredibly fun!

For all of those phone/SSB operators out there, I will eventually see how successful I can be doing a phone-only activation with the AX1 antenna. I’ll plan to make a video of it as well. I’ll need to plan this for a day when I have more time to spend on the air and at a site where I know I’ll have internet access to spot myself to the POTA network.  SSB isn’t quite as effective as CW when operating with a setup this modest. Still–it can be done! It just requires a little more patience. Please let me know if this sort of thing would interest you.

Until then, Happy New Year and 73s to everyone!

Cheers,

Thomas (K4SWL)

Could the Icom AH-705 be used as a permanently-mounted remote ATU? Sure, but I believe there are better options.

Icom uses this photo to demonstrate one of the ways the AH-705 ATU can be mounted for remote operation.

Many thanks to Bruce (W0MBT) who writes:

Hey Thomas,

After many years of inactivity, the combo of this blog, the IC-705, and Covid shutting down all the other fun things I like to do has finally got me somewhat active again. I agree with you that [the Icom AH-705] seems pretty large and expensive for a portable tuner, given the available alternatives. To me, the most interesting possible application is in a semi-permanent outdoor installation.

Currently, my setup is an EmTech ZM-2 installed in a watertight toolbox on my fifth floor balcony, grounded into the metal siding of my building, with a stealth radiating wire tossed onto a conveniently-located tree. It seems to get out pretty well, but QSYing across bands is a pain, and not really practical when it’s raining, which happens a lot in Seattle. I could replace that whole setup with an AH-705 stuck to the siding with double-sided tape.

My questions (and I realize you won’t yet have answers) are:

* How long will it run on AAs? This will determine whether I need to run 12V out to my balcony.
* What’s the maximum control cable run? In my current apartment layout, I’m looking at about 25′.

Bruce
W0MBT

Hi, Bruce,

First of all, I’m so glad to hear you’ve gotten back on the air and honored to hear this blog might have contributed to that a bit! Based on your current setup, it’s obvious that you’ll go out of your way to play radio. Anyone who’s willing to manually adjust a remote ATU each time they wish to hop around the band is dedicated to their radio play!

Since the AH-705 hasn’t been released yet at time of posting, I really know nothing about the AH-705 other than what I’ve read in the specs. I’m not sure how long a control cable could be nor how long AA batteries would last. We won’t know this until the AH-705 is tested.

If I were in your shoes, though, I wouldn’t wait on the AH-705.

I can think of  at least two other options I consider to be better choices for a permanently-mounted remote antenna tuners:

1.) Assemble a remote tuner box

So at my QTH, like yours, I rely on an external, remotely controlled ATU. My shack is located on the first floor of my house. There’s a carport with a metal roof behind my shack. Since we designed and built this house. we installed conduit in the walls so that I could run cable from my shack to an antenna switching and tuning point mounted outside.

It’s built around an LDG Z11 Pro which is not marketed as a remote ATU. The Z11 Pro is mounted in a (rather ugly but effective) weather-proof box a friend gave me–I think the box was originally  used in a remote sensing application. It actually has some penetration points on the side I was able to use.

In 2011, when I installed this ATU, I found an old sealed lead acid battery to power the Z11 Pro knowing the Z11 actually requires very little in terms of power. I had planned to bring the battery indoors and occasionally recharge it, but I also happened to have a 5 watt solar panel and Micro M+ charge controller, so I put them to use charging the remote ATU battery.

From inside my shack, I bypass all internal ATUs in my transceivers and only use my remote Z11 Pro.

The Z11 Pro is RF-Sensing, so as I move across the band, it automatically finds matches and keeps the SWR well within an acceptable range (I monitor it indoors with an SWR and Power meter, of course).

This entire system costs less than the $350 projected cost of the AH-705 and doesn’t require a control cable. The best part is it can be used with *any* radio and can handle 125 watts.

I used the Z11 Pro because I already owned it, but there are less expensive, smaller LDG tuners that could be used. You wouldn’t need to have solar charging as you could simply replace an external battery from time to time. These tuners are super efficient–so efficient, the sealed lead acid battery I installed in 2011 was nearly dead back then, yet it has provided enough voltage via my small PV panel to reliably power the Z11 Pro over 10 years of seasonal temperature swings.

But there’s still an easier and possibly cheaper solution.

2.) Buy a proper remote ATU

When I originally built my remote tuning system, there were really no affordable options commercially available. I believe SGC and Icom had remote tuners but they were very pricey.

Since then, LDG introduced the RT100 remote antenna tuner.

The RT100 costs $250 US and is designed to be used outdoors permanently-mounted. You need no outdoor power source because the ATU is powered from a Bias T 12V source via the same coax cable between your transceiver and the ATU. Makes for a neat, tidy package outdoors.

Again, this ATU–unlike the AH-705–can handle up to 125 watts and work with any transceiver in your shack.

Indeed, I’ve been thinking about grabbing an RT100 for use with another outdoor antenna I plan to build!

Also check out the MFJ-926B for $330 US. If you’re like me, you may never operate north of 10-20 watts, but some may appreciate the 200 watt power handling of the MFJ.

Summary

To get back to your original question, I suppose what I’m trying to say here is the Icom AH-705 is a portable antenna tuner that can be put into service as a remote antenna tuner. It can do both jobs.

To me, though, it makes more sense to split these two applications: install a permanent remote ATU–that works with any transceiver–and also invest in a quality portable ATU for field work.

What are the major drawbacks of the AH-705 compared with a proper, dedicated remote ATU?

  • You’ll need to change AA batteries in the AH-705 on occasion or design a 12V source that can easily be recharged.
  • The AH-705 may (we don’t know yet) only work with the IC-705 and possibly similar Icom models. The LDG and MFJ ATU models above work with any radio.
  • The maximum power handling of the AH-705 is 10 watts–if you use other transceivers (if that is even possible) you’ll have to be extremely careful of your power settings, else fry the AH-705.
  • The AH-705 is pricey if the actual retail price ends up being near the projected $350 mark. Hopefully, it’ll be less than this.
  • The AH-705 will require a control cable. The options above are RF-sensing and do not.

My advice?

Build or buy a permanent remote tuner and hit the parks and summits with the ZM-2!

Since you already have the Emtech ZM-2, you’ve got a fabulous manual portable ATU. I use my ZM-2 in the field all the time (see photo above). Some folks prefer an automatic tuner for ease of use, but I’m guessing at this point, you’re an expert ZM-2 “tuner upper!”

Later, if you want to add an automatic portable ATU to your field kit, consider the Elecraft T1, the Icom AH-705, or an LDG model.

Readers, feel free to comment with your suggestions as well. I’m sure there are a number of options I haven’t considered!