Category Archives: Antennas

How to pack a compact Arborist Throw Line Storage Bag

Since last year, I’ve become a bit of an arborist throw line evangelist.  Arborist throw lines have made my wire antenna deployments so quick and easy compared with using monofilament fishing line or more complicated systems.

Since purchasing this arborist throw line last year, I’ve never looked back. The throw line never gets caught in tree branches, it’s reusable hundreds of times, and with it I can easily snag branches 50’+ above the ground to hang my wire antennas.

When I purchased my first arborist throw line, I also purchased this folding throw line packing cube:

It has a huge opening, is stable on the ground, and makes for an incredibly quick deployment and pack-up.

While the cube folds into a compact triangle, it’s a little too bulky for backpacks I use during SOTA and other trailside activations.

A smaller throw line storage bag

A few months ago, I purchased a second throw line for backpacking and this compact Weaver Leather throw line storage bag (note: Amazon affiliate link).

If I’m being honest, I was very skeptical about how easily this bag would work in the field. One of the reasons my throw line storage cube works so well is the opening is large allowing the line to deploy without tangling. Packing up is so fast because the line can be flaked back into the cube in a matter of seconds.

Before purchasing, I was afraid the compact throw line bag might get tangled when being stored in such a small stuff sack. I was really concerned packing the line in the storage bag might take too much time.

I purchased the the throw line bag and a new throw line from Weaver.

At home, I did a full break-in of the new throw line (attaching it to a tree, stretching it to full length, then pulling it for enough tension that some of the bend “memory” is removed). Then I attempted to simply stuff the line in my throw bag–it took ages, because the whole idea of a throw line is that it doesn’t easily tangle. The line wanted to “spring” from the bag as I tried stuffing it in.

A much better way: The “Figure 8” stuffing method

After a field activation this spring, I received a game-changing tip from one of my subscribers and I hope they step up to take credit! (Update: it was NW3S!–thank you!).

When stuffing the line back in the bag, wind it on your hand using the figure 8 method. I wind almost all of my lighter-weight cables and antenna wires in a figure 8 so that they deploy without getting tangled. I’ve been doing this for years and it works brilliantly.

I’d never thought about using this method on the arborist throw line. I was amazed with how effectively it worked.

Video demo

I made a short video (thank you for requesting this, Scott!) to better demonstrate how I pack my throw line storage bag now:

This method works amazingly well and I can usually pack the entire line within one or two minutes.

Again, I’m incredibly grateful to the subscriber who first suggested this method!

Field Report: Let’s build a super simple antenna on-site and activate this park!

Until 2016, I had never purchased a commercial field antenna; I built all the ones I had ever used.

These days, I take a number of commercial antennas to the field and use them in my real-time videos and I really enjoy deploying and using them. My buddy Eric (WD8RIF) reminded me, though, that I hadn’t actually used a homebrew antenna in ages. He was right!

You see, while I believe commercial field antennas can be incredibly durable and compact, it’s important to note that antennas are one of the easiest components of an amateur radio system to build yourself. They require only the most simple of tools and are very affordable. And the best part? They can perform as well as those that are available commercially.

I also get a great deal of pleasure out of building things.

A simple goal

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I often set a little goal that runs in the back of my mind for each park or summit activation I make.

On Monday, June 14, 2021, I made a simple goal: buy my antenna wire en route to Lake James State Park, build the antenna on site, and complete a valid Parks On The Air (POTA) activation.

A very simple antenna

I also decided to employ my Xiegu X5105 since 1.) it’s one of the most affordable general coverage QRP transceivers I own and 2.) it has a built-in antenna tuner (ATU).

One of the cool things about having an ATU is that, if it has the matching range, you can allow it to do the “heavy lifting” in terms of matching impedance.

Although I’d never put the X5105 to the test, I suspected its internal ATU would have the matching range to forgo building a 4:1 or 9:1 transformer and simply pair it directly with a random wire.

All I would need was a 28.5 foot length of wire for a radiator, at least a 17 foot length for a counterpoise, and a BNC to binding post adapter.

The antenna would benefit from multiple 17′ counterpoises, but I really wanted to keep this setup dead simple to prove that anyone can build an effective field antenna with a very minimum amount of components.

Even though I have plenty of wire lying around the house to build this simple antenna, I wanted to pretend I had none to prove that any wire would work.

And to add just a wee bit more challenge, I also limited myself to shopping for antenna wire between my home and the park without making a serious detour from my route. That really limited my options because there isn’t much in terms of commercial areas between me and Lake James State Park.

The wire

As I left the QTH, I decided that the best spot to shop was a Walmart in Marion, NC. It would only be a four minute round-trip detour at most.  I had a hunch that Walmart would even have speaker wire which would be ideal for this application.

In my head, I imagined I would have at least three or four choices in speaker wire (various gauges and lengths), but turns out I had a difficult time finding some at Walmart. We live in such a Bluetooth world, I suppose there isn’t much demand for it these days. A store associate helped me find the only speaker wire they had which was basically a 100 foot roll of the “premium” stuff for $17 US.

While I would like to have paid a fraction of that, in the end it’s not a bad price because once you separate the two conductors, you have double the amount of wire: 200 feet.

Although the frugal guy in me cringed, I bit the bullet and purchased their speaker wire. To be clear, though, I could have found another source of wire in that Walmart, but I preferred speaker wire for this application. And $17 to (hopefully!) prove a point? That’s a deal! 🙂

Lake James State Park (K-2739)

Once I arrived on site, I found a picnic site I’d used before with some tall trees around it.

I cut 28.5 feet of the speaker wire and split the paired wires so that I’d have two full 28.5 foot lengths.

Next, I stripped the ends of the wire and attached banana jacks I found in my junk drawer. Although these aren’t necessary as the binding post adapter can pair directly with the wire, I though it might make for a cleaner install. In the end, though, I wasn’t pleased with the connection to the radiator, so dispensed with one of the banana jacks.

Next, I deployed the 28.5 radiator with my arborist throw line, and laid the other 28.5 half on the ground (the ground of this antenna would pair with the black binding post, the radiator with the red post).  I only needed 17 feet of counterpoise, but once it couples with the ground, I don’t think any extra length makes a difference (although less than 17 feet likely would).

The antenna was essentially set up as a vertical random wire with one counterpoise.

My new speaker wire antenna in all its glory.

Gear:

On The Air

I’ll admit: I was a bit nervous putting this antenna on the air. Although I felt the X5105 ATU *should* match this antenna, I had no idea if it actually would.

Fortunately? It did.

At this point, if you don’t want any spoilers, I suggest you watch my real-time, real-life, no-edit, no-ad, video of the entire activation (including buying and building the antenna!).

Click here to watch the video.

Otherwise, scroll for my activation summary…

I was very pleased that the X5105 found a match on the 40 meter band.

I started calling CQ in CW and validated my activation by logging 10 stations in 13 minutes.

Honestly: it doesn’t get much better than this.

I logged three more stations on 40 meters CW, then moved up to the 30 meter band where the X5105 easily found a match.

I worked one station on 30 meters before heading back down to the 40 meter band to do a little SSB. I logged three SSB stations in five minutes.

Mission accomplished!

In the end, I logged a total of 17 stations including a P2P with K4NYM.

Not bad at all for speaker wire!

After the activation, I tested the X5105 ATU by trying to find matches on other bands–I was able to find great matches from 60 meters to 6 meters. Most impressive!

X5105 battery

You might recall that I attempted to deplete my X5105 internal battery at my last (rather long) activation of Lake Norman State Park.  I wasn’t able to deplete the battery at that activation, but I finally did at this one.

All I can say is that I’m incredibly impressed with the X5105 internal battery.  This was my fourth activation from one initial charge on May 16.  The battery lasted for 20 minutes, taking me well beyond the 10 contacts needed to validate this park. I’ll now consider taking the X5105 on a multiple SOTA summit run!

Short Hike

Even thought the heat was intense and the humidity even more intense, I decided to take in a 2 mile hike post-activation. I snapped a few shots along the way.

This is the Christmas Fern which derives its name from a few characteristics: its resilience to early season snows maintaining a dark green color beyond Christmas, and because folks believe its leaves are shaped like Santa’s boots or even Santa on his sleigh.

Improvements

I’ll plan to add more counterpoises to the speaker wire antenna as I know this will only help efficiency.

In addition, I’ll plan to build even more antennas with this roll of speaker wire. If you have some suggestions, feel free to comment!

Thank you for reading this field report!

Cheers,

Thomas (K4SWL)


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G4USI has fun testing the matching ability of the Xiegu X5105 ATU

Many thanks to Stephen (G7VFY) who shares the following article posted on G4USI’s blog:

Xiegu ATU’s – just how good are they?

Preamble: Based on some social media comments, let me say at the outset that: a) I know that the ATU does not tune the antenna, but provides a good match to it; b) resonant antennas are more efficient; c) that you can tune a dummy load; d) just because you can tune something doesn’t make it an effective radiator. I do know these things. This post is intended as a bit of fun and to see just how much of a mis-match this ATU can handle to press objects into service as an antenna, even a very inefficient one. Please don’t take it too seriously!

Ask any Xiegu owner of the X5105, G90 or the XPA125B linear amp, and they will all tell you that they have great auto-tuners. Well, I own a X5105 and recently was lent a G90 for review for Practical Wireless. I decided to put the ATUs to the test using my X5105.

But what challenge to give it? Well, how about trying very, very long and very, very short antennas? What about metal gates, a cow shed roof, the framework of a polytunnel and a stock trailer?

Read on to find out how it really performs.

Click here to continue reading…

I love G4USI’s philosophy with this fun experiment: see if it’ll match, then see if you can get spotted!

Xiegu ATUs certainly have a wide matching range–so do the Elecraft KX series ATUs. Indeed, having a super capable trans match means that you don’t necessarily need an extra inline transformer to make matching a non-resonant wire easier.

And I see why G4USI mentions that there’s a difference between a good SWR and efficiency. It’s an important note because, yes, dummy loads will yield perfect SWRs!

Many, many moons ago, I used to participate in a fun contest where the idea was to make as many contacts as possible from not-so-standard antennas. The rules of the contest really pushed the operator to metal objects that, in no way, resembled an antenna. They didn’t allow electric fences or even gutters, if I recall correctly.

One year, I remember loading two identical small trampolines and my in-law’s house. I think I ran them QRP with my Elecraft K2 and used a ZM-2 manual tuner to match them. I’m sure they weren’t efficient, but it worked! I made several contacts with other contest stations and it was amazing fun!

Have you ever had success with a non-traditional antenna? Please comment!

Pairing the Chameleon CHA LEFS with the Discovery TX-500 at Table Rock Fish Hatchery

Last time I visited Table Rock Fish Hatchery–this activation–it was a struggle to get the ten contacts I needed for a valid activation. Propagation was horrible that day, making it a proper struggle.

On Thursday, May 20, 2021, I thought I’d go back to the fish hatchery for another try! I really like the site: it’s open, has lots of trees, and the staff (and neighborhood dogs) are all very friendly.

My not-so-QRP diesel truck!

Thing is, as I drove to Table Rock, my buddy Mike informed me that propagation took a nose dive. Earlier in the day, it had been reasonably stable, but he noted that POTA activators were struggling in the afternoon and the propagation numbers were in the dumps.

There’s a beautiful little creek next to the picnic area.

My secret weapon: The Chameleon CHA LEFS

Shortly after I posted my “unboxing” video of the lab599 Discovery TX-500, Carl at Chameleon Antenna made a comment on my YouTube channel that he was going to send me their CHA LEFS (Lightweight End Fed Sloper) wire antenna since it’s resonant on 40, 20, 17, 15, 12 and 10 meters. In many ways, it’s ideally suited to pair with the TX-500 since this transceiver lacks an internal ATU. Side note: there is a cool project in the works called the DIY599 that adds a 60 watt amp and ATU to the TX-500 . 

I had only recently received the CHA LEFS and had not yet taken it to the field. Table Rock was the perfect opportunity.

When I know in advance that propagation is poor, I try to make my portable set up as efficient as possible, so that’s when I 1.) make sure I pull out a resonant wire antenna and 2.) use a wire antenna with longer radiators. The CHA LEFS fits both of these bills.

The CHA LEFS has a 63 foot radiator made of 20 gauge PTFE antenna KEVLAR wire. The winder has a large efficient transformer to match impedance, and there is an inline coil to make the most of the 63′ radiator. They also include 50′ of Micro 90 paracord.

 

Like all Chameleon antennas I’ve used, it’s built to military specs.

Table Rock Fish Hatchery (K-8012)

Table Rock is ideally-suited for a long-ish sloping wire antenna, too. The site has tall trees and open spaces that make stretching out the sloping radiator quite easy. Just watch those power lines!

The CHA LEFS takes longer to deploy that end-fed antennas with a feedpoint near the ground. I find it quicker to deploy, however, than dipoles.

I deployed the LEFS by first stretching out its radiator wire in the direction I planned to deploy it.

Next, I connected the coax feedline to the SO-239 on the LEFS winder and stretched it in the opposite direction of the radiator. Why do this? It helps keep the radiator and coax from twisting together as I raise the winder/feedpoint into the tree.

This is not a difficult antenna to deploy as one person. Of course, if you have a helper, it’ll go even faster (I’ve yet to convince Hazel to help me with antenna deployment).

I had launched the arborist line quite high into a tree at the picnic table where I planned to operate. I was able to elevate the LEFS feedpoint/winder about 47′ into the tree.

I used the supplied paracord to attach the radiator to a nearby branch. The end of the sloper was perhaps 6 feet off the ground (if memory serves).

Gear:

On The Air

Knowing how poor conditions were from real-life K8RAT observations, I didn’t expect to actually validate my activation by logging the required 10 contacts. As I stated in my activation video, I was fully prepared to walk away with three or four contacts–I didn’t have a few hours to burn on an activation. I was simply happy to play with a new antenna, the TX-500, hang with the local canine welcome committee and enjoy the fine weather.

First, I hopped on 40 meters and discovered the LEFS provided a perfect 1:1 match on 7063 kHz. Very promising!

Next, I started calling CQ and the Reverse Beacon Network functionality of the POTA spots page must have quickly auto-spotted me.

Within 13 minutes, I logged six contacts! I was impressed. Mike (K8RAT) was in that first six contacts and he later told me it was one of the strongest signals he’d ever heard from me at a POTA activation. He asked what I was using as an antenna that day and said, “it was working!”

Next, I moved to the 30 meter band and worked K8RAT again (a rarity on 30 meters!) along with four other stations.

I ran out of time, so called it quits with 11 stations logged.

I did not expect to not only walk away with a valid activation, but to have completed it in such short order.

QSO Map

Here’s the QSO Map of my contacts all made with 5 watts of power:

Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life, no-edit video of the entire activation. Next time I take the LEFS out, I’ll try to remember to include setting it up:

Loving the CHA LEFS!

Talk about good first impressions!

As Carl suggested, I’m going to keep the CHA LEFS tucked away along with my PackTenna EFHW in the Discovery TX-500 pack.

When conditions are poor, I’ll spend the modest amount of extra time deploying this fine antenna.

The only CHA LEFS criticism I noted–and it’s a minor one–is that the in-line trap/coil isn’t very low-profile and takes a little attention to make it fall in the right spot when reeling the antenna up post-activation. Seriously. A minor criticism and I’m guessing Chameleon has a reason for it being on the large size–likely for power handling reasons.

Field Day is coming up, and I think I’m going to make the CHA LEFS one of Team Baklava‘s main antennas (Team Baklava = my buddy N3CZ and me!).

As for the CHA LEFS, I highly recommend it!

Max’s simple MFJ-1984 EFHW antenna winder mod

Many thanks to Max (WG4Z) who writes:

Thomas, my MFJ 1984MP arrived today so looking forward to using a resonant antenna with my 705 but also have the LDG Z-100Plus tuner as a back up.

I’ve seen many antennas that have a winder built in allowing the user to wind in a figure eight fashion. It might help keep the kinks down.

I have fashioned a cord winder for the MFJ 1984 EFHW Antenna. It is a winder made for electrical drop cords and comes in a 3 pack at Lowe’s. Very inexpensive solution for adding it to the MFJ antenna with a couple of zip ties. I’m set to go works some POTA with an efficient antenna. Thanks for your videos deploying the MFJ antenna in the field.

Thank you for sharing this tip, Max! I like how you can so easily secure the antenna to the extension cord winder with cable ties.

While I couldn’t find the three pack link on the Lowe’s website, here’s a link a single winder ($3.48).

Discovery TX-500: Attempting a speedy POTA activation with a new rig and new antenna

While I love the opportunity to head outdoors and play radio, I also love shaking up my field kit and trying different combinations of radios, antennas, and other station accessories.

When using new-to-you gear, though, a best practice is to set everything up at home before you hit the field. This way, you can confirm that you have everything you need and you can also familiarize yourself with the gear prior to activating a park or summit.

Last Sunday (May 2, 2021), I threw caution to the wind. Well, sort of.  At the very last moment, I decided to squeeze in an activation en route to my sister’s home to do some brush-cutting and yard work.

The lab599 Discovery TX-500

Basically, I was chomping at the bit to take my lab599 Discovery TX-500 to field.

You see, in August 2020, I received an early pre-production TX-500 to evaluate for one week. In that seven day span, I activated seven parks with the TX-500 and enjoyed every minute of it. Because the loan period was limited, I packed a lot of TX-500 air time that week, then wrote this review for The Spectrum Monitor magazine.

As I mentioned in a previous post, if I would have had the opportunity to buy that loaner TX-500 last year, I would have. It wasn’t an option, though, as so few working models existed at the time. Now that I had a TX-500 in hand again, I couldn’t wait to hit the field with it.

Last Sunday, the weather was beautiful in western North Carolina, but clouds were moving in and we expected scattered showers in the latter part of the afternoon. The last thing I wanted to do was my sister’s yard work in the rain, so I needed to make the activation a speedy one.

But the TX-500 wasn’t the only piece of new gear. I also recently ordered and received a PackTenna 9:1 UNUN random wire antenna. I wanted to see how well it would perform, too, so I decided to pack my Elecraft T1 ATU and give it a go, too!

For the record: when you’re in a hurry, it’s not only a really bad idea to hit the field with a new radio and antenna, but to also throw the entire field kit together in 5 minutes before walking out the door.

On the drive to Lake James,  I mentally packed and re-packed the field kit trying to decide if I might have left out a crucial component (say, an adapter or cable). I also made the decision not to make a real-time, real-life video because 1.) this would surely  turn into a very clumsy deployment, 2.) I was pressed for time and didn’t want to set up the video, and 3.) I only had my iPhone with me to make the recording which would mean I would be giving up Internet and mobile phone access at the park which is important for spotting purposes.

So what did I do?

As I turned into the park entrance, I decided to make a recording of the entire activation from set up until the last logged contact.

Why would I do this to myself?

I reminded myself that the goal of my YouTube channel is simple: real-life, unedited examples of field radio operating. 

All of us, at some point, use new equipment in the field and we stumble through the process as we give the system a shake-out. So why not record it, right?

My iPhone battery had about 80% capacity. I knew if I tried to use the personal hotspot while recording the video–so that I could spot myself on the Microsoft Surface Go tablet–it would run down the battery in 20 minutes or so.  I immediately put my iPhone in airplane mode to preserve the battery.

Lake James State Park (K-2739)

I know this park quite well and assumed it would be busy on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. It was, in fact. I was confident I’d find a good operating spot, though, because they’ve a large picnic area and loads of tall trees to support wire antennas. And mid-afternoon, it was unlikely all of the picnic tables would be occupied.

Gear:

I found a nice spot to set up and deployed the PackTenna in short order.

Since my iPhone was doing video duty, I didn’t take extra photos.

I hooked up the Elecraft T1 and attempted to find a match on 40 meters.  I thought I did find a match at first, but it turns out that the T1 was in Bypass mode. I didn’t have my reading glasses handy, so thought I saw a great match on the TX-500’s display. Turns out it was floating around 2:1. Still: not a bad match.

I worked five stations, then moved to the 30 meter band. It was then I finally realized the T1 was in bypass mode. I found my spectacles, read the front panel of the T1 and remedied that in short order (I can never remember the button press combo to toggle bypass mode!).

I tuned 30 meters and got a great match.

On 30 meters, I worked two stations.

I then moved up to 20 meters where I worked two more.

Then I moved back down to 40 meters where I topped off the activation with an additional three contacts for a total of 12 as I called QRT.

I’m very grateful to my buddy Scott (KN3A) who worked me on three bands all while he was activating a park in Pennsylvania! Thanks for those P2Ps, Scott!

In fact, I’m grateful Scott took the time to work me on multiple bands because it help bring my numbers above the 10 stations needed for a valid POTA activation.

Video

QSOmap

After going QRT, I quickly packed up my gear (which was easy because there were so few parts), and started the 45 minute drive to my sister’s house. Fortunately, the rain held off the whole time I did the yard work!

I’m so happy to have a TX-500 back in the field radio arsenal.

Shortly after this activation, I officially purchased this loaner TX-500 unit from lab599. As I said in my “unboxing” video, there was no way I was sending this unit back. 🙂 Now I won’t feel bad if it gets dinged or scratched!

I’m sure the TX-500 will be in heavy rotation for a while. Please comment if you have any questions about this radio or the 9:1 UNUN PackTenna. I’d be happy to answer your questions!


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Paul’s updated RF Exposure Calculator

Many thanks to Paul Evans (VP9KF), who writes:

Yes, after a couple of years of regulators trying to bring their new rules into effect, the new RF Exposure Calculator is available at:

http://hintlink.com/power_density.htm

v2.0 denotes that the new rules to be introduce on 2021-05-03 are included.

There are a number of follow-on documents yet to follow from FCC,ARRL, Ofcom and RSGB in order to fully correct the documents which have covered amateur radio ‘exemptions’ in the past. There are now no exemptions except for 0 dBm (1 mW) or less for ANY service under the FCC (not just the amateur radio service). The new rules both sides of the Atlantic are different but cover all RF emitters. The only not fully finalised are the wireless high power, low frequency chargers intended for electric vehicles (a daft, inefficient way to charge them).

If you have questions, use the Help page indicated (‘CHANGES’). This is still untidy because it has grown into coverage of USA, UK and EU regulations, including some that are not technically in effect until 2021-05-18 in the UK by Ofcom. EU transition, when you see how it’s already done, is a mess.

Multiple sources are not included. There are differing views on this subject, some of which may yet be amended and have certainly been over-complicated by the regulators.

The biggest thing to note is that in the USA and the UK practically all radio amateurs must now do an assessment of their RF Exposure levels with virtually NO exemptions. The UK rules are more onerous in some ways, with everything over 10 W requiring examination and with portable and mobile stations needing (somehow) to justify their results. Imagine being on a public hilltop with your transceiver for HF or 10 GHz?

Both sets of rules include exposure limits for technically trained professionals and for members of the ‘public’; with 6 minute and 30 minute power averaging. They assume that members of a ham’s household are ‘trained’. If somebody else wanders over your property, they are not.

The massive FCC document (169 pages) makes for hard reading and either contradicts itself in some places or leaves some questions un-answered. However, it is a ‘final’ document and not a draft and comes into force on 2021-05-03. If you have an existing station you can wait 2 years to comply by calculation. If you have a new station or you change anything, you need to comply by calculation after 2021-05-03. Put up a new dipole on 80 m? You’ll need to comply.

Move house? You’ll need to comply. Go out on Field Day? You’ll need to comply. How it gets policed by the FCC is anybody’s guess. In the UK, Ofcom can monitor your signals undercover and knock on your door and ask you to produce your calculations from 2021-05-18 onwards (no two year grace period!).

Enjoy your new 5G maniac induced RF Exposure regulations, even when a huge distance away in the RF spectrum.

Operations Group Fort Irwin: Winning QRPX 2021 with Chameleon antennas

I just received an email announcement from Chameleon Antenna, and I thought I’d share it here.

I’ve often referred to Chameleon antennas as “military-grade” because I’ve seen numerous military portable antenna systems over the years and Chameleon antennas are engineered to that standard. The quality is simply uncompromising.

Chameleon antennas are at the top of the amateur radio price bracket for portable antennas, but affordable compared to other military field antenna systems.

Their recent email announcement showcased a real-world example of how their antennas are used in military communications exercises. From Chameleon:

For QRPX 2021, the NTC Operations Group, Fort Irwin, CA station had the opportunity to deploy several Chameleon Antenna systems to use in the competition. This article is a summary of how each system performed during the contest, and how each could serve a military operator best.

Every year in mid-March, Army NETCOM hosts an annual HF Low Power Competition where stations across the globe try their best to establish HF communications with each other over a variety of modes, including USB Voice, ALE, 3rd Generation ALE, and Tactical Chat messaging application.

Participants include:

    • Active Duty, Reserve, and National Guard elements of the US Army
    • The three Army MARS HF Hubs in Ft. Detrick, MD; Ft. Huachuca, AZ; and Ft. Shafter, HI
    • Any other military branches including Air Force, Marines, Navy, Space Force, and Coast Guard
    • Canadian military teams
    • Army MARS Auxiliarists

As a Signal Coach out here at The National Training Center (NTC), Fort Irwin, CA, I found out about this competition, and competed the last two years. In the 2020 QRPX, I operated my station alone using only an L3Harris AN/PRC-150 with its accompanying antenna, the L3Harris RF-1944 dipole kit. I operated as I was able to, not expecting much, only to find out that my station placed third with 48 points and was only a few contacts shy of the winning score of 53 set by a fully stacked team from Joint Base Lewis-McChord. I was absolutely hooked from there.

Click here to download the full PDF report.

I’d recommend you download and read the detailed report.

If you can’t tell, I’m proud to have Chameleon Antenna as a sponsor of QRPer. They’re a brilliant company that designs and builds all of their gear here in the USA. Their gear is built for the long haul. They’ve never heard of the marketing concept “planned obsolescence.” I’m guessing Chameleon’s idea is to impress you enough with their product quality that you buy more and more of their systems.

By the way, if you think I’m supportive of amateur radio manufacturers that build quality products, don’t even get me started about my obsession with US-made backpacks and camping gear. Seriously. Just slowly back away while you can… 🙂

Testing the new Chameleon Tactical Delta Loop (CHA TDL) antenna

Chameleon Antenna has sent me a number of their antenna systems to evaluate in the field over the past few months at no cost to me. I appreciate not only the opportunity to test these antennas, but to provide the company with my frank feedback.

As I’ve mentioned previously, Chameleon antennas are military grade and build here in the US (check out Josh’s tour of their factory).  You pay a premium price–compared to imported options–but their gear is built for performance, easy deployment, and longevity.

What has impressed me most about Chameleon gear is how flexible and modular it is. Their antenna systems are adaptable to almost any situation and always built around the idea of emergency communications.

Recently, Chameleon sent me their new CHA TDL or Tactical Delta Loop antenna. This vertical loop antenna has been designed to be portable, and tunable from 3.5 to 54.0 MHz (80-6M), but, as Chameleon points out,  “is most effective on the bands from 10.1 to 54.0 MHz (30-6M). ”

TDL deployment

If I’m being perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect this antenna to look like–in terms of size–once deployed, so I set it up in the front yard prior to taking it to the field.

Set up couldn’t have been more simple: attach the 17′ telescoping whips to the stainless steel spike (with one whip attached to the Hybrid Micro), extend the whip sections, then attach the loop wire to connect the tips of both whips.

It might have taken me four minutes to set up the TDL on the first go.

This antenna needs a little space  for sure: this isn’t one you could easily deploy in a dense forest, but it has a very flat profile vertically. I can’t think of a single park I’ve activated that couldn’t accommodate the CHA TDL.

I like to try to give gear a fair chance when I do evaluations and thought I’d wait until propagation was at least stable before taking the TDL to the field and making a real-time, real-life video (as I used it for the first time). But, frankly, I’m way to impatient to wait for the sun to play fair! Trial by fire…

Lake Norman State Park (K-2740)

On Monday (March 15, 2021) I packed up the CHA TDL and headed to Lake Norman; one of my favorite parks to play radio.

Gear:

Propagation left much to be desired that afternoon, but the weather was perfect.

I decided to pair the CHA TDL with my Icom IC-705. Since the CHA TDL requires an ATU, I connected the mAT-705 Plus.

NVIS on the low bands

I had no idea what to expect from the CHA TDL in terms of performance, but Chameleon notes that it provides Near-Vertical Incidence Skywave (NVIS) propagation on 40 and 80 meters. NVIS antennas are very popular for the military and for emergency communications since the propagation footprint is much closer to home than it might normally be.

NVIS is also a brilliant option for park and summit activators, especially if they’re activating in an area with a high density of park/summit chasers. For example, if you live and activate sites in the state of Maryland, employing a NVIS antenna might make your site more accessible to the DC metro area, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York, Delaware, and New Jersey–regions that might otherwise be in the skip zone of your 40 meter signal.

On the air

Operating five watts CW, I started calling CQ POTA on 20 meters and snagged four stations in about seven minutes.

I was very pleased to work a station in California and one in Montana with five watts. (Though I need to check, this might have been my first MT station logged from a park.)

Next, I moved to 40 meters and was very curious if the TDL would provide me with proper NVIS propagation.

It did! One litmus test for me is when I work stations in Tennessee on 40 meters. Typically, I only log TN stations when on 80 meters or when I’ve configured one of my wire antennas for NVIS coverage.

Here are my logs from this 28 minute activation:

Here’s a QSOmap of the activation–the delineation between my four 20 meter contacts and eight 40 meter contacts is pretty evident:

Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life video of the entire activation which also shows how the CHA TDL easily fit in among trees:

In a future video, I’ll show how I deploy the CHA TDL.

Unfortunately, I left my tripod at home, so apologies for the viewing angle as I operated the IC-705.

Summary

This first test of the CHA TDL really couldn’t have gone better.

I was able to easily deploy it on sloping ground, among trees, in a state park, and snag both locals and QRP DX within a brief window of time on the air.  All this, while our local star tried its best to interfere.

In terms of construction, the TDL is what I would expect from Chameleon: military grade.

For park activators and Emcomm purposes, the CHA TDL makes for a convenient, portable NVIS antenna on 40 and 80 meters.

While I have lighter, smaller footprint antenna options for SOTA, I must admit I’m very curious how it might perform on 20 and 17 meters from the summit of a mountain. The idea of being able to rotate the antenna and change the propagation footprint is very appealing. I’ll save this experiment for a summit that doesn’t require hours of hiking, though, and one where I know I can jab the stainless steel spike in the ground (i.e. not on top of a rocky mountain).

Any negatives? When I first deployed the TDL at home, we were having 30+ MPH wind gusts. When the gusts shifted, it did move the antenna. This could be remedied pretty easily by using a bit of fishing line filament to tie off one side of the loop. With that said, I’m not sure I’d configure the TDL as a loop if I expected strong winds. Also, as I mentioned earlier, this might not be the best antenna to pack if you plan to include a multi-hour hike in your activation.

And herein lies the brilliant thing about Chameleon Antennas: If I packed in the CHA TDL and found that winds were strong on site, I would simply configure it as a vertical instead of a loop!

The CHA MPAS Lite vertical

The CHA TDL can easily be configured as a CHA MPAS Lite portable vertical: all it’s missing is a counterpoise wire which you can buy separately from Chameleon or, better yet,  just use some spare wire you have on hand!

Or, you could configure it as a random wire antenna by directly connecting a length of wire to the Hybrid Micro transformer.

That’s the thing about Chameleon HF Antennas: they can be configured so many different ways.

If you’re interested in the CHA TDL, I’d strongly encourage you to read though the user manual: it’s chock full of info and ideas. Click here to download as a PDF.

Next time I take the CHA TDL out, I think it’ll be to a summit where I’d like to see how it might perform on the higher bands with the ground sloping away from the antenna site.

Click here to check out the CHA TDL at Chameleon Antenna ($355 US shipped). 

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.