Category Archives: QRP

SOTA Plan B: An aborted activation followed by an amazing (although gusty) alternative!

On the morning of Thursday, September 23, 2021, I had one thing on my mind: SOTA!

It had been well over a month since my last SOTA activation and I was eager to hike to a summit and play radio.

It had been raining for a few days but overnight, a front moved into the area that swept out all of the clouds. We were finally feeling proper fall weather.

It was gorgeous outside and I made up my mind I’d fit in a summit activation.

I was visiting my parents in Hickory, NC, so I knew I’d have to drive a bit to activate a unique (to me) summit. On top of that, I knew I’d be alone and trails would be very muddy after days of rain. I decided to stick with an easy hike, so picked Flat Top Mountain (W4C/EM-026) off of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I announced my activation via the SOTA website and drove about one hour to the trailhead of Flat Top Mountain.

Aborted!

As I drove up US321 to Blowing Rock I noticed that clouds were hangin over the mountains. In the foothills, it was blissful: clear skies, sunshine, dry air, and quite cool. As I drove up the Blue Ridge escarpment, it started getting a little gusty outside–I realized that the mountains were still on the edge of the cold front. Continue reading SOTA Plan B: An aborted activation followed by an amazing (although gusty) alternative!

Video: DL1DN’s amazing QRP DX and being aware of uSDR clones

Many thanks to Steve (MW0SAW) who shares the following video of DL1DN making a very enthusiastic contact with VK5MAZ–Germany to Australia–QRP SSB pedestrian mobile:

What an amazing accomplishment! I think I felt as excited as David did in his video. The reception of VK5MAZ was simply phenomenal, too!

uSDR clones

David (DL1DN) mentions at the end of his video that he had been in touch with Manuel (DL2MAN) who is the designer of the incredibly affordable uSDR transceiver project. David had featured a Chinese clone version of the uSDR in some of his previous videos. These days, it’s difficult to know if you’re ordering a clone or the original item because often the clone so closely mimics the original.

As I understand it, the uSDR is completely open source and, at least at time of posting, there is no comprehensive kit version available. However, all of the information needed for gathering parts and building the uSDR are public and free.

Manuel (DL2MAN) made the uSDR project open source with the condition that it cannot be used for commercial purposes (in other words, produced by another party and sold as a product). Of course, it was very quickly cloned by manufacturers in China and is now available on eBay.

David shared a link to Manuel’s recent video speaking about the differences between the two units:

You’ll note that I try to steer clear of clones on QRPer.com. I do this mainly because I like supporting the original developers and designers of radios and kits when possible. I feel like by doing this, I’m supporting the innovators in our community as opposed to taking money away from them.

On that note, I’m in the market for an M0NKA mcHF transceiver!

POTA Field Report: Welcoming party plus QRP DX fun with the Discovery TX-500 & MFJ-1984LP

On Friday, September 10, 2021, I made a detour to the Table Rock Fish Hatchery (K-8012) on my way back to the QTH.

I love this site: it’s fairly remote, has tall trees, loads of space to set up antennas, convenient picnic tables, incredibly friendly park rangers and, most importantly, a welcoming party.

Welcoming party

These two greet me each time I’m at Table Rock. They’re incredibly friendly and now that they know I’m a complete and total sucker for dogs, they hang around and get attention for quite a while.

This time, I think they even recognized my vehicle because they were there as I opened the door. Continue reading POTA Field Report: Welcoming party plus QRP DX fun with the Discovery TX-500 & MFJ-1984LP

The new QRP Labs QDX 4-band 5 watt digital transceiver kit

Many thanks to Pete  (WB9FLW) who shares the following information about the new QDX transceiver from QRP Labs:

The “QDX” (QRP Labs Digital Xcvr): a feature-packed, high performance, four-band (80, 40, 30, 20m) 5W Digi-modes transceiver kit, including embedded SDR receiver, 24-bit 48 ksps USB sound card, CAT control, synthesized VFO with TCXO reference. QDX transmits a SINGLE SIGNAL, it is not an SSB modulator with associated unwanted sideband and residual carrier, or intermodulation due to amplifier non-linearity. QDX outputs a pure single signal.

The Optional enclosure is black anodized extruded aluminium, very sturdy and elegant. The enclosure size is 89 x 63 x 25mm without protrusions. The front and rear panels are drilled and cut to match the QDX PCB with laser-etched lettering. The enclosure includes four self-adhesive feet.

List of features: 

    • Four bands 80, 40, 30 and 20m
    • 5W output at 9V supply (can be built for 4-5W at 12-13V supply)
    • Single signal transmission (zero unwanted sideband, zero residual carrier, zero intermodulation distortion)
    • Solid-state band switching and transmit/receive switching under CAT control
    • High performance embedded SDR SSB receiver with 60-70dB of unwanted sideband cancellation
    • Built-in 24-bit 48ksps USB sound card
    • Built-in USB Virtual COM Serial port for CAT control
    • Si5351A Synthesized VFO with 25MHz TCXO as standard
    • Easy to build single-board design, Professional quality double-sided, through-hole plated, silk-screen printed PCBs
    • All SMD components factory assembled
    • Connectors: 2.1mm power barrel connector, USB B (for audio and CAT control), BNC RF input/output
    • Built-in test signal generator and testing tools
    • Receive current 100mA, Transmit current 1.0-1.1A for 5W output with 9V supply (around 0.7A for 5W with 13V supply).
    • Optional aluminium extruded cut/drilled/laser-etched black anodized enclosure

Full details, see main QRP Labs QDX page.

Video tour of the QDX

Click here to view on YouTube.

Absolutely amazing! I’m not sure how Hans is able to innovate at the pace he does, but I think we’re all better for it. This will be a big seller for those who’ve been looking for a high performance QRP digital mode transceiver.

Thanks for the tip, Pete!

Click here to check out the QDX at QRP Labs.

Elecraft KX2 and AX1: Seriously…how effectively can such a compact field kit work?

On September 20, 2021, I had a full day planned in town. It was one of those days where my few errands and appointments were spread out across the day in such a way that driving back home between appointments made no sense. I knew I might have a bit of time to kill.

The big appointment holding me in town was recall service work on my Subaru that would take most of the day. The dealership reserved a loaner car for me.

That morning, I cleaned out my car (removing a couple of radios and antennas) and I packed a backpack with the supplies I’d need for the day; water, sandwich, laptop, and (fortunately) my Elecraft KX2 and AX1 antenna.

I would take this pack with me in the loaner car as I ran my other errands.  I remember thinking that there was  likely no possibility of doing an activation–it was rainy and I knew even getting set up at the service center might take an hour. I packed the Elecraft gear nonetheless. (Never leave home without a radio, I say!)

That morning, I drove to the Subaru dealership and–long story short–the service work had to be cancelled. While I wasn’t happy that I’d made the early morning trip to the dealership for nothing, this did essentially free up a good portion of my morning to play radio. Even though I had my own car for the day, I had completely emptied it of radio gear, so the KX2 and AX1 were truly all I had. Continue reading Elecraft KX2 and AX1: Seriously…how effectively can such a compact field kit work?

Video: A tour of my Red Oxx “Micro Manager” Discovery TX-500 field radio kit

Shortly after acquiring a lab599 Discovery TX-500 earlier this year, I did what I always do: invest an insane amount of time in researching and configuring a dedicated field radio kit.

As I’ve mentioned numerous times, I’m a serious pack geek, so this is incredibly fun for me even though the choice is often difficult.

I like to buy packs and cases from manufacturers in the US and Canada when possible, so started searching through all of the options.

Requirements

The Discovery TX-500

I wanted a pack that was compact, versatile, and offered proper padding (even knowing the TX-500 is a rugged little transceiver). I don’t handle my packs with kid gloves, so I expect them to cope with sometimes rough field conditions and still protect the gear inside. I also like a certain level of organization inside the pack.

I wanted the kit to be relatively compact, but large enough to hold the transceiver, all accessories and connections, logging pad and pencil, paddles, a proper arborist throw line, portable ATU, and a 3Ah LiFePo4 battery. A the end of the day, I wanted this TX-500 field kit to be fully self-contained.

For more on my field radio kit strategies and philosophies, check out Part 1 and Part 2 of my Anatomy of a Field Radio Kit series.

In the end, I adopted a pack with which I’m already very familiar…

The Red Oxx Micro Manager

Product image via Red Oxx

Red Oxx is my favorite pack company and if you’ve been a reader for any length of time, you’ve obviously seen a number of their bags and packs in my field reports.

Back in 2016, when they introduced the first iteration of the Micro Manager EDC bag, they actually reached out to me–as an existing customer–knowing that I had been looking for a good radio pack with proper padding (many packs don’t require side padding and internal padding). They sent me a prototype of the Micro Manager for my feedback and then incorporated some of my suggestions.

My KX2 NPOTA Micro Manager kit

I ended up using the Micro Manager as my dedicated Elecraft KX2 field kit which served me very well during the National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) event.

I also purchased a Micro Manager for my wife who quickly turned hers into a mobile art studio!

She chose a red Micro Manager!
Her field-ready art kit

Much like my buddy Steve (AC5F)–whose XYL creates some amazing water color art in the field–my wife (K4MOI) is also an artist and loves to paint/draw during park and summit activations. Her art kit is always at the ready and she’s traveled with it extensively over the past five years.

The Micro Manager is a pack carried over the shoulder, much like a messenger or laptop bag.  Those times when my field activations require a lengthy hike, I’ve simply pulled all of the items out of the Micro Manager (since I do modular packing, this is super easy), else I’ve even been known to stick the entire Micro Manager pack into a backpack!

Over the years, Red Oxx has made iterative upgrades to the Micro Manager including a pleated front pocket, slip-in external pocket, and they started lining the internal pocket with a more flexible and thinner dense foam padding. The new padding not only fits the TX-500 better than the first Micro Manager version did, but I believe it will have enough dimension to accommodate the TX-500 battery pack when that’s available next year.

Inside the Micro Manager I also use a Tom Bihn Large Travel Tray to hold all of the TX-500 accessories: key, microphone, ATU, battery, and cables.

I own a number of these large travel trays and highly recommend them. I especially like the ballistic nylon versions for radio kits as they open and close so smoothly.

Video tour

I made a short video tour of the TX-500 Micro Manager kit before a recent activation at Table Rock:

Clci here to view on YouTube.

TX-500 Micro Manager Kit Contents:

I’ve used this pack for a number of field activations and couldn’t be more pleased. Looking back at the contents, it’s funny: the pack and almost every single item inside (save the notepad and pencil) are made in the USA while the radio is made in Russia! A bit of international harmony going on here!

If you have a field pack for the TX-500 (or any radio), I’d love to know more about it. Please consider commenting with details or even submitting a guest post with photos!

73,

Thomas (K4SWL

POTA Field Report: Picnic table activation with the FT-817ND, CHA UCM, and MPAS Lite

The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the easiest POTA sites for me to activate when I’m at the QTH.

Pretty much anytime I head into Asheville from home, I’m going to cross the parkway. The BRP is such a refuge, I often take it to avoid hitting the Interstate or a busy highways. It takes longer, but it’s orders of magnitude more peaceful and pleasant than, say, Interstate 40.

On Monday, September 13, 2021, I had a small opening in my schedule in the afternoon and decided to  pop by the Folk Art Center for a quick picnic table activation since I was passing by.

The Folk Art Center is a site where I typically deploy smaller, lower-profile antennas to keep from interfering with others who are enjoying the park.  I try to keep my antennas very close to my operating spot and my counterpoises on the ground in a space where others aren’t likely to tread.

In the past, I’ve used the Wolf River Coils TIA, the Elecraft AX1, Chameleon MPAS Lite & MPAS 2.0, and once, a Packtenna 9:1 UNUN random wire. I avoid anything that slopes so that I don’t inadvertently “clothesline” unsuspecting vacationers!

On this trip, I had the Chameleon MPAS Lite vertical and a new toy: the Chameleon Universal Clamp Mount (CHA UCM).

Continue reading POTA Field Report: Picnic table activation with the FT-817ND, CHA UCM, and MPAS Lite

New lab599 Discovery TX-500 firmware upgrade, UK availability, and RadCom review

This morning, I finally remembered to do a firmware upgrade on the lab599 Discovery TX-500. I’ve been in the terrible habit of only remembering to do a firmware upgrade when I’m in the field.  Much like remembering to repair your roof while it’s raining! 🙂

New TX-500 Firmware

Fortunately, Lab599 just published their 1.10.10 firmware release this weekend, so my TX-500 will sport all of the latest upgrades including (in this upgrade) corrected AGC, improved receiver parameters, and (from previous upgrades) SWR analysis tool and message memory beacon mode.

I’ve been so incredibly impressed with the Lab599 team’s dedication to continuously upgrading and improving this already phenomenal little radio. It’s such a pleasure to take to the field.

UK TX-500 availability

I also understand that lab599’s UK distributors, Nevada Radio and Waters & Stanton, will soon have their first batch of Discovery TX-500s (first part of October 2021, if I recall).  Waters & Stanton (and possible Nevada) may even have a handful of units unallocated yet. It’s best to call them to check status and possibly reserve one.

Upcoming RadCom Review

Speaking of the UK, my full review of the Discovery TX-500 will appear in the November 2021 issue of RadCom.

POTA Field Report: Conquering South Mountains State Park with Max!

One of the closest parks to my parents’ home in Hickory, North Carolina (where I travel most weeks) is South Mountains State Park.

Despite its convenient location, I haven’t activated South Mountains many times and, in fact, the times I have activated it, I’ve always found it a struggle to log the ten contacts needed for a valid park activation. I suspect it’s had less to do with the physical location of my operating spot (which has admittedly been in a bit of a “bowl” surrounded by hills) and much more to do with the fact that propagation has been crappy on the days I tried to activate.

Ironically, I’ve activated the adjoining South Mountains Game Land numerous times with wonderful success. It’s funny how that works.

South Mountains State Park (K-2753)

Max (WG4Z) set up the CHA TDL.

I had a good reason to hit South Mountains on September 9, 2021. My buddy Max (WG4Z) had just purchased an Elecraft KX3 at the Shelby Hamfest (at an incredible deal, I might add). He plans to pair it with a Chameleon CHA TDL (Tactical Delta Loop) he has on order.

Continue reading POTA Field Report: Conquering South Mountains State Park with Max!

POTA Field report: Pardon my French…

Sometimes we do things that take us outside of our comfort zone.

That’s exactly what I did on September 8, 2021 at Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861).

My friend, Jérôme, asked I would consider doing a POTA activation video in French!

Jérôme lives in France and wants to do a POTA activation there eventually, but had a number of questions about what to do in the field (spotting, logging, etc.). He’s been watching my videos for a while but admits that while he can understand written English (with the aid of Google Translate), he doesn’t understand spoken English.

Although I regularly listen to news and YouTube videos in French, it’s been ages since I’ve spoken French for any extended period of time.

Jérôme has been bugging me about the French video for some time, actually, but I’d put it off because there were a number of radio terms I simply never learned when I lived in France (well before I was a ham radio operator).

When he very diplomatically asked me again via email on the morning of September 8, I thought, “Why keep waiting? Just do it!

So I did.

Continue reading POTA Field report: Pardon my French…