Category Archives: Portable

Parks On The Air Pro Tip: Finding more park sites to activate

Many thanks to QRPer, Curt, who recently left the following comment on a recent post and noted:

I too was a NPOTA activator. My first HF contact ever was on 9/10/2016 and then I threw myself to the wolves so to speak activating my first park on 11/12/2016.

When NPOTA was over I went into withdrawal and I thought POTA was going to fill that void but here in Western PA there’s not much to pick from. We have a lot of parks but none that fall into the park list. One of the local parks I’ve been told not to bother because it’s in the middle of the city and the local police don’t seem to like any activations there for whatever reason.[…]

You’re right, Curt, and I totally understand.  Many local, county, and private parks are not included in the Parks On The Air (POTA) program. POTA tends to include parks that are on a state, provincial, or national level. Not always in every country, but it’s the general rule of thumb.

I don’t know the POTA scene in western PA well because I’ve never thoroughly researched it. With that said, I’m willing to bet there are more accessible parks in your neck of the woods than you might realize at first blush.

The only entry to this state park is very easy to find and marked well along the highway.

Historic sites and parks–both state and national ones–tend to have very defined borders with conspicuous entry points. They’re, in many senses, “low-hanging fruit” for POTA because they’re super easy to find and usually have picnic and camping areas.

You simply locate one on the POTA map, tell your smart phone to take you there, arrive, find a picnic table or parking area near trees, setup,…et voilá! You’re on the air and activating. Typically, a very straight-forward process.

I would suggest new POTA operators start with these types of parks to give their field radio kit a good shake-out.

Digging deeper…

There are so many other POTA entities out there, though, and the POTA map (while an excellent resource) can’t represent them well.

I should add here, that POTA is an international radio activity and I do not know the various types of parks and POTA entities in other countries. There’s a lot of variability.

Here in the States, aside from parks and historic sites, we have other POTA entities like:

  • Game Lands
  • Rivers
  • Trails
  • Wildlife Management Areas & Refuges
  • Recreation areas
  • Conservation areas
  • and Forests

These types of public lands can be vast with many possible parking areas and entry points. Some have multiple, disconnected tracts of land and the POTA map only typically represents them as one clickable geo point because it would be incredibly difficult to represent them otherwise.

It requires the POTA activator to do a little planning and research.

One example

Here in North Carolina, we have a lot of state game lands and they’re some of my favorite spots to activate.

Some game lands may only be a couple hundred acres large, others may encompass hundreds of thousands of acres.

Case in Point: Nantahala Game Land is only one entity on the POTA map, but it is located in no less than six western North Carolina counties–dominating the majority of them, in fact.

Check out this map of Nantahala Game Land from the NC WRC website below:

Click to enlarge.

There are probably hundreds of spots where you can find public access to activate this particular POTA park.

Trails are another POTA entity that should not be overlooked. They often snake through areas and have multiple trailheads where you can easily find parking and ample room to activate.

Here’s how I find the more elusive POTA parks…

Being a bit of a map geek, I actually love this process!

1. Take a close look at the POTA list

The POTA map is amazing, but as I said, it simply can’t display the size and geographic shape of each park.

Start with the complete list of POTA entities in your location.

An example from Pennsylvania.

Click here to display a list of all POTA entities at your location.

If you have lived the majority of your life where you are now, you’ll likely recognize some of the names associated with the park entities in this list.

Regardless, comb through this long list carefully. Do an internet search on the park names and you’ll quickly discover roughly where the land is located

2. Make a spreadsheet of potential parks

A sample of my park spreadsheet from early last year.

On this sheet make column headers for at least:

  • The park name
  • The POTA designator for that park (K-6937, for example)
  • The travel time to the park
  • The geo coordinates of potential activation spots

I also added

  • How “rare” the park might be (how many times it’s been activated)
  • How easy access to the park might be
  • If it could potentially be a two-fer (meaning two POTA entities overlapping)

3.) Find an activation site with Google Maps satellite view

Now that you’re developing an activation plan (via your spreadsheet), and you’ve located all of the nearby parks, game lands, wildlife management areas, trails, refuges, etc. it’s time to research each entity and find activation sites.

Most states (and provinces, counties, regions) have sites that will help you find access points to public lands. Each state is different–some (like North Carolina) have amazing online resources, others may not.

If you can’t get the details you need online, don’t hesitate to call those public departments in charge of the lands and ask them about access points. They’re experts on the subject and often your taxes pay their salary. 🙂

To find game land activation sites in North Carolina, I first go to the WRC Map and click on a site. The WRC site will offer up maps and even indicate obvious parking and camping locations.

I then find public roads in/around the game lands and do a Google Map search (you can pick your favorite mapping tool).

I compare the WRC map with the Google map (side by side) and search for parking spots using a satellite view.

Here’s how to find the satellite view on Google Maps using a sample POTA site:

Find the park area based on public roads, then click on satellite view:

Now you’ll be able to see a bird’s eye view of the land:

When you zoom in, you often can identify a nice parking spot:

Using the satellite view I can zoom in and see that there’s a parking space with trees surrounding it. Score!

That’s how I do it.

Important note: of course, it’s incredibly important that you compare public land boundaries with your activation site and make sure you will, indeed, be on that POTA entity when you activate. While there are no POTA police–nor will there ever be–I personally want to be 100% sure I’m activating entirely within the boundaries of my chosen park. Google Maps can’t be trusted to indicate unit boundaries–one needs to compare the state or federal maps of the unit to be sure.

Next, I take those geo coordinates (map links) and embed them in my POTA spreadsheet.

Later on, when I decide to activate that park, all of my research is done! I simply grab my gear and go.

That’s it!

If you’re like me, you may be surprised how many potential activation sites there are in your region when you take a closer look at public land boundaries and access points.

I found at least five POTA sites within a 90 minute drive of my home that were ATNOs (All-Time New Ones) that no one had activated.

How do you research parks–?

I probably should not call this a “Pro Tip” because I’m not a professional!

There are many different ways you can find great POTA sites within your region. Please feel free to share your POTA procedure with us in the 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)

Should I sell my Elecraft KXPA100?

Although I’m at heart a QRPer, I do occasionally serve up more than 5 watts. It’s rare, though.

A few years ago, I purchased an Elecraft KXPA100 amplifier with the optional built-in ATU. I did this in lieu of considering a 100 watt rig since, at the time, I had no 100 watt transceivers.

My thinking was the KXPA100 could serve both my Elecraft KX3 and KX2–pushing them into 100 watts of service when needed. The KXPA100 is also super portable and operates quietly (no fans).

I purchased the KXPA100, connected it to my KX3 in the shack, and then barely used it.

Last year, I realized the KXPA100 could serve me well during Parks On The Air (POTA) activations when conditions were poor for SSB (they were very poor at times in the spring and summer) so I took it to the field a few times. That was before I started using CW during my activations, though.

Since I’ve started using CW, I haven’t taken the KXPA100 to the field once. I also haven’t used it in the shack since then.

I do now have other QRO radios at my disposal: the Icom IC-756 Pro my buddy Matt so kindly gave me in 2019, and the Mission RGO One transceiver I continue to test and evaluate for the manufacturer.

The KXPA100 is unique in that it can pair with almost any QRP radio. I do like that fact because I’ve a lot of QRP transceivers.

These days, about the only time I run anything north of 10 watts is to possibly chase weak signal DX or participate in contests like the 13 Colonies event where I’m up against blowtorch stations in SSB.  I tend to do that at the QTH, not in the field.

Should it stay or should it go?

The only reasons I feel I should keep the KXPA100 is because, in my mind, I feel like it essentially turns my KX3 into a poor man’s K3. It can also directly connect to my KX2 and even the FT-817ND via a command cable for seamless control. That and, occasionally, there may be a good reason to take it to the field.

Still: I feel like if I’m not using it, I should sell it to someone who can. It would also free up $900 or so to re-invest into my gear. That would certainly come in handy!

I would appreciate your thoughts and comments.

The magic of low-power amateur radio never dies

I’ll keep this post short and sweet because I plan to write up a full field report with video sometime next week.

Tuesday (December 29, 2020), I fit in an impromptu Parks On The Air (POTA) activation in the afternoon. The station was very modest: basically, my Elecraft KX3 paired with the super compact Elecraft AX1 antenna.

Here’s what I did with 10 watts and a wee telescoping whip during mediocre propagation:

I got a huge thrill out of this.

Honestly, this hobby never gets old and I honestly believe there’s magic in QRP!

Here’s wishing everyone a safe, healthy and happy New Year!

 

POTA Field Report: Three park run with two transceivers & two antennas

Yesterday, I started the day hoping I might fit in one afternoon activation at a local park. In the morning, however, my schedule opened up and I found I actually had a window of about six hours to play radio!

Instead of hitting a local park, I considered driving to parks I’d been planning to activate for months.

I may have mentioned before that, earlier this year, I created a spreadsheet where I listed of all of the parks I planned to activate in 2020.

From earlier this year–many of the parks listed as “rare” are much less so now!

Each park entry had the park name, POTA designator, priority (high/medium/low), difficulty level for access, and a link to the geo coordinates of where I could park and possibly hike to the site. I spent hours putting that list together as finding park access–especially for game lands–isn’t always easy.

Yesterday morning, I looked at that sheet and decided to knock two, or possibly three off the list.

I had already plotted the park run, driving to Perkins State Game Land (K-6935) near Mocksville, then to the NC Transportation Museum State Historic Site (K-6847) in Spencer, and finally Second Creek Game Land (K-6950) in Mt Ulla.

The circuit required about three hours of driving. Here’s the map:
When I plan an activation run, I factor in the travel time, add ten minutes extra if it’s my first time at the site (assuming I’ll need to find a spot to operate) and then assume at least one hour to deploy my gear, work at least ten stations, and pack up.

Using this formula, I’d need to allow three hours for driving, plus an additional three hours of operating time, plus a few minutes to sort out an operating spot at Perkins Game Land. That would total six hours and some change.

Knowing things don’t always go to plan, I decided I’d quickly omit the NC Transportation museum if I was running behind after the Perkins activation. In fact, I felt like the NC Transportation Museum  might be out of reach, so I didn’t even schedule the activation on the POTA site.

Perkins State Game Land (K-6935)

I arrived at K-6935 a little before noon (EST).

Since this is the week after Christmas, I had a hunch game lands could be quite busy with folks trying out their new hunting gear and I was correct.  I passed by the first small parking area and it was packed with vehicles, so I drove on to the second parking area I identified via Google Maps satellite view.

The second parking area was also busy, but was larger. There was just enough room for my car to park between two trucks.

Gear:

I donned my blaze orange vest–a necessity at any game land–and walked outside to asses the site. In short? It was a tough one. There were no easy trees to use for antenna support and I simply didn’t have the space. I knew folks would walk through the area where I set up my antenna so a wire antenna would have acted a lot like a spider’s web.

I pulled out my trust Chameleon MPAS Lite vertical antenna and deployed it next to the car. I rolled out the counterpoise into the woods paralleling a footpath so no one would trip on it.

Since I had no room to set up outside, I operated from the backseat of my car–it was actually very comfortable.

I pulled out the Elecraft KX3 and hooked it directly to the MPAS Lite–it easily tuned the antenna on both 40 meters, where I started, then later 20 meters.

I very quickly logged 13 stations on 40 and 20 meters.

While on the air, a number of other hunters discovered the parking area was nearly full–some turned around and left. I decided to cut the activation with 13 logged and skipped doing any SSB work. I accomplished what I set out to do here, was short on time, and I wasn’t actually using the game land for its intended purpose. Better to give others the parking space!

I quickly packed up and started the 30 minute drive to my next site.

NC Transportation Museum State Historic Site (K-6847)

The Cameleon MPAS Lite

I knew what to expect at the NC Transportation Museum because I’ve visited the museum in the past and, earlier this year, scoped out a spot to activate the park in their overflow parking area.

The museum is closed on Mondays. In general, I avoid activating parks and sites that are closed. I never want to give anyone at the park a bad impression of POTA activators.

In this case, however, the overflow parking area is wide open even when the park is closed and there was no one at the site. I felt very comfortable setting up the CHA MPAS Lite which is a pretty stealthy antenna. Indeed, as I was setting up, I’m guessing it was a museum employee that passed by in their car and waved–no doubt, POTA activators are a familiar site!

Gear:

I set up my portable table behind the car under the hatchback so I took up the least amount of space.

I used the table primarily so I could shoot one of my real-time, real-life videos of a park activation. Readers have been asking for more of these and I’m happy to make them if they’re helpful to even one new ham.

In the end, I logged 13 stations and didn’t try to work more because I was still on track to activate one more park. I didn’t feel bad about only working 13 stations, because this site has been activated many times in the past–in other words, it wasn’t exactly rare.

Here’s my video of the activation:

Second Creek Game Land (K-6950)

The Cameleon MPAS 2.0

I arrived at K-6950, the final park, around 14:50 EST (19:50 UTC).

Only one vehicle car was in the parking area, so it was easy to pick out a spot to set up.

Gear:

Again, since I planned to make a video of the activation, I set up my portable table.

I decided en route to the site, that I’d use the Chameleon MPAS 2.0 vertical at Second Creek. Although I’ve used the more compact Chameleon MPAS Lite at a number of parks–including the two previous parks–I had a great spot to deploy the taller MPAS 2.0.

As with the MPAS Lite, deployment was very quick. the MPAS 2.0 vertical is made up of folding pole sections–much like tent poles. As with all Chameleon gear I’ve ever used, the quality is military grade. Full stop.

I started calling CQ on the 20 meter band in CW this time. Within a minute or so I logged my first contact, followed by five more.

I then moved to the 40 meter band and logged twelve more stations in twelve minutes.

I decided to then give SSB a go as well and logged two more stations for a total of twenty stations logged.

Here’s a video of the activation:

I would like to have stayed longer at Second Creek and even used the MPAS 2.0 on 80 meters, but frankly I was pushing my time limit to the edge.

All in all, it was a brilliant three park run!

These days, it’s difficult to pack more than three parks in my available time–in fact, I think this was the first three park run I’d done in months. During National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) in 2016, I’d been known to pack four or five parks in a day–it was so much fun.

Here’s my QSOmap for the day (click to enlarge):

Getting outside on such a beautiful day, driving through some picturesque rural parts of my home state, and playing radio? Yeah, that’s always going to be a formula for some amazing fun!

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!

Icom publishes AH-705 antenna tuner details

Many thanks to Rob Sherwood (NC0B) who notes that Icom has published details regarding their new AH-705 antenna tuner which is designed to pair directly with the Icom IC-705 QRP transceiver.

Many Icom IC-705 owners have been waiting to learn more about the AH-705 before purchasing a dedicated portable ATU for their IC-705. Some of these details may help potential customers make a purchase decision.

Key specifications and features per Icom:

 

  • Covers the 1.8 MHz to 50 MHz bands

30 m, 98.4 ft or longer antenna: 1.8 – 54 MHz, 7 m, 23 ft or longer antenna: 3.5 – 54 MHz
* Depending on operating conditions or environments, the tuner may not be able to tune the antenna.

  • SO-239 antenna connector for 50 Ω antenna such as dipole or Yagi
  • “Terminal connector”, binding post socket adapter supplied for a long wire antenna

  • 2-way power sources using alkaline batteries (2 x AA cells) or external 13.8 V DC*
    * 13.8 V DC should be taken directly from an external power supply, not through the IC-705.
  • IP54 dust-protection and water resistance construction*
    * The connectors should be covered with an adhesive tape or a jack cover to prevent water seeping into the connection.
  • Full automatic tuning, just push the [TUNER] button on the IC-705
  • Latching relays used for saving power consumption
  • 190 × 105 × 40 mm; 7.5 × 4.1 × 1.6 in, 450 g; 15.8 oz* compact design
    * Battery cells are not included.
  • 45 tuner memories

Of course, I don’t have an AH-705 in hand to test yet, so there’s no way I can comment on performance.

Still, I can’t turn of the reviewer inside so I feel I can make some superficial comments assuming the specs don’t change.

Potential positives?

  • Complete integration with the IC-705
  • Could (potentially–?) be permanently mounted outdoors at the antenna feed point as a dedicated remote tuner
  • IP54 dust and water resistant
  • Power from internal batteries and an external DC source
  • It’s an Icom product, so I would expect excellent overall quality

Potential negatives?

  • Maximum wattage is only 10W, which I suppose is okay if you never put an amplifier between the IC-705 and the AH-705
  • Based on Icom specs, the AH-705 is larger than other portable ATUs at 7.5 × 4.1 × 1.6 inches. For example:
  • Some have noted pricing around $350 US price–that’s a premium for a portable ATU considering the Elecraft T1 is $180 assembled and many LDG models are less than $200. Of course, none of those ATUs have an IP54 rating, either.
  • Speculation here, but the AH-705 might only work with the IC-705 or Icom radios with similar ATU commands. One original pre-production prototype image of the AH-705 shows a power switch; the latest images do not. Like the mAT-705Plus, I’m not sure if the AH-705 can be turned on in order to tune only via RF sensing without essentially modifying a control cable to trick the ATU into powering up.

I was a little surprised to see that the AH-705 “only” has 45 tuner memories. In truth, I never really pay attention to this spec because I’m primarily a field operator. My radio sessions are only an hour or two long and I routinely pair my transceivers with a wide variety of antennas, so a portable ATU never has a chance to develop a complex tuner memory map for any given antenna. But as a reviewer, I try to step in other operators’ shoes so I see where this could be a slight negative for those who plan to use the AH-705 at home and connected to only one antenna. As a point of comparison, the mAT-705Plus has 16,000 tuner memories. Still, memories only help shave off a bit of the auto-tuning time. This would never have an impact on my purchase decision.

Biggest positive for me? IP54 rating

Since the AH-705 is designed to be dust and weather resistant,  it could be mounted at the antenna feed point. At home, perhaps it could act like an externally-mounted, remotely-controlled antenna tuner. I’m not sure what the maximum length of the control cable could be, but Icom Japan even lists a 16 foot control cable as an accessory. Of course, you would still need to follow Icom’s guidance about protecting the antenna, transmitter and control cable connection points.

Biggest negative for me? The size.

If the AH-705 specs are correct, it’s a little surprising Icom designed a portable ATU that’s this large. As you can see in the image above, it easily fits in the LC-192, but frankly since I’ve been an Elecraft T1 tuner user, I’ll notice that the AH-705 is 3.1″ longer, 1.6″ wider, and .7″ taller than the T1. It will certainly take up more backpack space.

Of course, unless I build an IC-705 control interface for the Elecraft T1, I can’t directly pair it with the IC-705 like I could with the AH-705. That said? I personally prefer pressing a tune button on the T1 and sending “QRL?” instead of hitting the PTT or CW key and allowing the IC-705 to kick in a continuous tune cycle for a few seconds. You might have noticed in some of my videos that when I tune to a new CW frequency, I’ll listen for activity, then tap the TUNE button on the T1 and send “QRL?” or “QRL de K4SWL”. By the time I’ve sent that string, the T1 has typically already found a match.

How will it perform?

I’ve got to assume the AH-705 will perform well. Icom tends to give their products thorough QC before shipping them to customers. I don’t anticipate any issues with the AH-705 as I did with the original maT-705, for example.

I’ll plan to test the AH-705 after it’s available.

For more information about the AH-705, check out the product page on Icom Japan’s website.

POTA Field Report: Lake Norman State Park (K-2740) December 14, 2020

Monday afternoon (December 14, 2020), after completing a long to-do list of errands, I found myself with a chunk of free time in the late afternoon. Of course, I like to fill free time with radio time, so I packed the car and headed to one of my favorite spots: Lake Norman State Park (K-2740).

I love Lake Norman because it’s only a 35 minute drive from my parents’ house (where I was that Monday) and it’s nearly ideal for POTA because they’ve a number of picnic tables widely spaced, and lots of tall trees–a perfect spot for wire antennas. It’s also a quiet location and has good “POTA Mojo”–meaning, I’ve never had difficulty racking up contacts there.

Gear:

I was the only person at the picnic area of Lake Norman that afternoon. No surprise as it was after 3:00 PM local and temps were on a fast downward trend after a front moved through earlier in the day.

You may be able to see the Emcomm III hanging in the tree.

I used my arborist throw line and deployed the Emcomm III Portable antenna with ease.

On the Air

I hopped on the air around 21:30 UTC and started calling CQ POTA. The Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) spotted me and the POTA website auto-spotted me under a minute. Within ten minutes, I logged 8 contacts on 40M.

I then moved to 20 meters and worked an additional 5 contacts within 15 minutes.

Since I had worked a total of 13 stations, I had three more than needed for a valid POTA activation.

Since I was using the amazing Emcomm III Portable random wire antenna, I decided to move to 160M just to see if anyone work work me on the “top band.”

To be clear, 160 is one of the least active bands in POTA for obvious reasons: few ops care to deploy an antenna that can tune up on 160M, and few POTA hunters have an antenna at home to work the Top Band. Although it’s not as efficient as a resonant 160M antenna, the Elecraft T1 and mAT-705 easily tune it and get a great match.

I called CQ for a few minutes on 1810 kHz in CW and N4EX replied. Woo hoo! My first 160M POTA contact as an activator.

I then moved up to the phone QRP calling frequency of 1910 kHz and called CQ for about 10 minutes. No dice. Since I spotted myself, about two stations attempted to make contact, but unfortunately, my five watts just couldn’t be heard.

I checked the time at this point and it was 22:30 UTC. The sun was setting over Lake Norman, so I started packing up.

It was then received a text from my buddy Mike (K8RAT). The message read, “80M?”

I thought it might be fun to work Mike on 80M, so I re-connected the antenna and tuned up on 3538 kHz.

I think I called CQ once, and Mike replied with a strong signal. We had a nice exchange and when we sent our 73s, I heard a few stations calling me. Of course…the RBN picked up my CQ for Mike and the POTA site spotted me.

To be clear: it’s next to impossible for me to cut an activation short when I have hunters actively calling me, so I started replying.

Getting late…

Turns out, 80 meters was on fire. In 15 minutes, I logged 17 more stations–from Florida to Ontario–with 5 watts.

Next thing I know, it’s dark. Like, pitch dark…

My iPhone struggled to make this photo look brighter without the flash engaged.

Side note: someday, remind me to write a post about how one of my earliest National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) activations carried on until it was pitch dark outside and how that one activation forever changed how I pack my gear. In short: if you’re in the field and you aren’t intimately familiar with your gear and how its packed–even if you have a headlamp–there’s a good likelihood you’ll leave something behind.

It then hit me that Lake Norman State Park closes at sunset in the winter.  Doh!

Friendly park rangers

I finished my last exchange (with W3KC) and sent QRT despite a few others still calling me.

 

As I quickly powered down the IC-705, I noticed a truck pass by slowly on the road behind me. He drove to the end of the road then turned around and stopped behind me. I knew it was a park ranger doing final rounds.

He walked down to my table with flashlight in hand and I greeted him with an apology as I quickly packed up my gear. He was incredibly kind and encouraged me to take my time. He also saved me a trip to the car to grab my headlamp by illuminating the area with his Maglite flashlight/torch.

The park ranger asked a number of questions about ham radio, POTA, and the equipment I was using as I packed up. He told me he’s always found it fascinating and had met other radio amateurs at the park doing activations. I gave him my contact info and I hope he considers checking out the world of radio.

Because I’m meticulous about how I pack (again, lessons learned from the past) I had no issues in low light and left nothing behind.

I drove out of the park at exactly 6:00PM which is the park’s closing time. I was happy, at least, that I hadn’t delayed their closing!

All-in-all, it was a very fun activation–so much fun, I lost track of time. I logged 30 stations all over North America on four bands with 5 watts.

Have you ever found yourself operating and packing up in the dark? Any stories to share or advice? Please comment!

Testing the updated and upgraded Mat-Tuner mAT-705Plus portable IC-705 antenna tuner

On Wednesday (December 16, 2020) I took delivery of the new Mat-Tuner mAT-705Plus ATU.

Mat-Tuner sent this updated and upgraded version of the mAT-705 ATU to me at no cost and asked that I give it a thorough evaluation in the field.

History of the mAT-705

If you’ve been following the story of this tuner, it was the first introduced in September 2020 and designed to pair directly with the Icom IC-705 transceiver. Note that Icom plans to introduce their own IC-705 antenna tuner (the AH-705) but it is not yet on the market at time of posting, so the mAT-705 has certainly had a market opening.

The original mAT-705 had a mechanical power switch on the front/faceplate.

I received the original mAT-705 ATU via Mat-Tuner US distributor, Vibroplex, around the same time I received my Icom IC-705 in early October. I took the original mAT-705 to the field and made a quick video demonstrating its ability to find matches from 160 to 6 meters. In short, it did a brilliant job.

A couple weeks later, however, I discovered that the original mAT-705 had some design shortcomings. I updated my review with this follow-up post.  In brief, the mAT-705 could deplete a 9V alkaline battery within a couple of days if you failed to turn off the tuner’s mechanical on/off switch.

Replacing the internal 9V battery was a complicated procedure requiring the user to carefully detach the front panel without losing the LED lenses that were prone to simply pop out. The 9V battery was mounted internally on the board with adhesive–obviously, not an ideal situation for an ATU that would require frequent battery replacement. Due to this, I simply could not recommend the original mAT-705–it was too pricey at $220 for an antenna tuner with so many design shortcomings. For full details, read this post.

Introducing the mAT-705Plus

Mat-Tuner was obviously listening to customer feedback, because within two months they introduced the upgraded and updated mAT-705Plus antenna tuner.

I love the USB-C charging port!

Here are the mAT-705 upgrades:

  • No mechanical on/off switch–power is internally managed
  • 9V battery replaced with 1000 mAh internal lithium cells
  • Batteries are internally charged via USB-C port
  • No longer necessary to open the enclosure/housing

Update: Using the mAT-705Plus with other transceivers

Since the new mAT-705Plus lacks a power switch to manually turn it on, I originally noted that I was unsure if it could be engaged via RF sensing when paired with other transceivers. I tried to no avail. Before posting this review, I sent an inquiry to Mat-Tuner about this. Here is their reply:

The power of the new version of the mAT-705Plus tuner is controlled by the KEY signal of the control cable. When KEY is high, the tuner is automatically turned on. The function of following the transmitter to automatically turn on and off is realized.

In addition, the mAT-705Plus tuner follows the ICOM tuner protocol. Like other ICOM tuners, you can manually start the tuning cycle by manually customizing the control cable, just like the AT-120 tuner.

After you solve the KEY signal to trigger the tuner to start and make a manual control cable, you can use it [the mAT-705Plus] for other non-ICOM brand transmitters.  But we do not recommend you to use it this way.

Because it is specially designed for the IC-705 transmitter, [it must be modified for use with] other transmitters, which many customers cannot do.

[Since] it uses a magnetic latching relay, after completing the tuning cycle, you can completely turn off the IC-705 transmitter power and connect the tuner to other transmitters.
The tuner will remain in the tuning state.

To clarify, I believe what the Mat-Tuner engineer meant is that if you tune an antenna with the IC-705, you can power the rig down, connect the mAT-705 to another transmitter and the mAT-705 will preserve the last tuner setting (the last match).

Let’s see the mAT-705Plus in action!

Yesterday, I took the mAT-705Plus to the field and paired it with my Chameleon Emcomm III Portable random wire antenna.

I made the following real-time no-edit video yesterday afternoon. Other than charging the mAT-705Plus batteries the night before, this video captures its first time being connected and used.

The Emcomm III Portable random wire antenna’s frequency range is 160-6 meters–the mAT-705Plus quickly found matches on every band.

Summary

At first blush, the mAT-705Plus looks like the ATU Mat-Tuner should have released on the first go: it’s portable, lightweight, fully automatic, rechargeable, and quickly finds matches across the HF spectrum.

Size comparison: mST-705Plus (left) Elecraft T1 (right)

 

We’ll see how well the power management works in real life. I plan to take it to the field over the next few months and carry a small USB battery pack to recharge the mAT-705Plus when the batteries are finally depleted. Hopefully, I won’t need to recharge it for a long time! The proof will be in the pudding!

Of course, I’ll also pair the mAT-705Plus with an assortment of antennas: random wires, verticals, delta loops, doublets, dipoles, and end-feds.

Stay tuned! [See what I did there? Rimshot anyone? Anyone–?] 🙂


Mat-Tuner authorized distributors:

Bioenno 3A Car Charger for 12V LiFePO4 Batteries

Many thanks to Gerry KG8HZ who notes that Bioenno has now added a 3 Amp Car Charger to their product line.

Click here to view at Bioenno.

This charger would allow you to safely charge your 12V LiFePo batteries from a 12V source. This could come in very handy for mobile POTA and SOTA operators who activate multiple site in short order. RVers will also find this accessory useful since it’s DC powered. The price is $99.99 which is a bit steep, but then again Bioenno products tend to be very high quality.