Category Archives: QRP

Upcoming Event — 2012 QRP ARCI Fall QSO Party

This coming weekend is the 2012 QRP ARCI Fall QSO Party, one of the  most popular contests of the QRP calendar. This year, new entry categories are based on the antenna used; those participating with a simple wire antenna or a vertical won’t be competing against those using beams or other multi-element antennas.

The Fall QSO Party runs from 1200UTC on Saturday the 13th through 2400UTC on Sunday the 14th.

Here are the complete rules:

http://www.qrparci.org/content/view/8399/118/

I won’t be competing in the Fall QSO Party to win. Instead, I’ll do as I’ve done several times in the past–I’ll use this event as an opportunity for what might be my last outdoor “field event” of the year. A good friend and I will be spending a few hours at Mt. Gilead State Park in north-central Ohio enjoying what promises to be beautiful fall weather, good friendship, and an opportunity to enjoy CW in the great outdoors.

If you participate in the Fall QSO Party, you are very likely to hear stations participating in the Pennsylvania and Arizona QSO Parties. Here are the rules for these two events:

Pennsylvania QSO Party:
http://www.nittany-arc.net/pqppdf/paqsorules12.pdf

Arizona QSO Party:
http://www.azqsoparty.org/rules.html

 

Video: See a prototype Begali Adventurer in action aboard the USS Slater

This video features operations of the QRP DE-Xpedition aboard the USS Slater.  Among other innovations, they show a protoype Begali Adventurer in action.  The Adventurer is a miniature set of paddles which attaches to portable QRP rigs like the new Elecraft KX3.

Author interview: Dennis Blanchard’s (K1YPP) “Three Hundred Zeroes: Lessons of the Heart on the Appalachian Trail”

Dennis Blanchard (K1YPP) at Four Days In May 2012

This year, at the Four Days in May (FDiM) Dayton QRP gathering, I had the pleasure of meeting Dennis Blanchard (K1YPP) and his wife, Jane, as Blanchard signed copies of his book, Three Hundred Zeroes: Lessons of the Heart on the Appalachian Trail. I had previously heard about Blanchard’s book, and it was great meeting the author in person.  Both he and his wife were most friendly, and I instantly felt a connection–after all, he is a fellow QRPer!

As a result of this meeting, I recently decided to purchased a copy of Three Hundred Zeroes on my Kindle eBook reader. Though I’ve always been a fan of turning pages on a traditional book, the eReader does afford one instant gratification, as you can order it on-the-go and start reading immediately.  And that’s exactly what I did…

The result? I’m very glad I took the time to read Blanchard’s Three Hundred Zeros.  Though I don’t like to spend much time away from my young family at present, I’ve always thought it would be a wonderful challenge and adventure to through-hike the AT (Appalachian Trail); reading this book was a vicarious opportunity to do so. Indeed, my favorite trail, the BT–the Bartram Trail, which follows the path of early American naturalist and explorer William Bartram–which I hike when I can, and whose NC chapter I’ve served as a board member for nearly 10 years now, parallels the AT at different points.  So the temptation to hike (and QRP, of course) continues.

“This photo was taken in NJ. Shortly after I took these photos, and walked down the trail about a 100 feet, a bear came over to check the table to see if I had left anything.” (Photo: K1YPP)

Blanchard’s book gives me hope. Three Hundred Zeroes is a well-documented, informative, and–despite his truly serious heart condition–often humorous journal-style account of his successful thru-hike of this 2176 mile trail. His writing style is very informal and likeable, focusing on the many personal interactions that make the trail hiker’s experience unique, and interweaving his day-to-day accounts with trail lore and history.

In contrast with the arduous journey Bill Bryson describes his well-known (and hilarious) book, A Walk in the Woods, in Three Hundred Zeros Blanchard calmly and routinely deals with misadventures and hair-raising encounters with wildlife, rolling with the punches and somehow emerging unscathed. He describes the journey as “long stretches of boredom, punctuated by brief moments of excitement” in the lively and unpredictable form of bears, mice, snakes, and even other hikers, to some degree. Blanchard was obviously a great hiking companion, thus rarely hiked alone–no doubt, other hikers sought his company.

A closeup of Dennis’ AT Sprint 3A taken at Four Days in May (Click to enlarge)

With QRP in mind, I had a few questions for Blanchard after reading his book.  He has kindly taken the time to respond to QRPer‘s questions, as follows.

QRPer:  I always thought that the AT would be a lonely place, but your book certainly changed my mind. Were there many stretches of trail where you were completely alone while trekking or camping at night?

Blanchard: There were times when I was alone for extended periods. However, “alone” is a relative term. Throughout the day I would encounter other hikers going in the other direction, or people that were slower or faster than I. In 180 days on the trail, I think I had three nights when I camped alone.

“2007-Damascus, VA was where I operated Field Day in 2007. It was shortly after this that I left the trail for the heart surgery.” (Photo: K1YPP)

QRPer: What was your favorite stretch of trail?

Blanchard: That’s difficult to answer…The trail is so varied and weather can change one’s views of any section. For me, it was a coin toss between the New Hampshire White Mountains and the 100 Mile Wilderness in Maine. The remoteness of both areas was just so spectacular. Of course the high altitudes made for great antenna opportunities as well.

QRPer: Did you bring a radio to listen to local AM/FM or shortwave?

Blanchard: For most of the hike, I carried a Yaesu VX-1R 2/440 handi-talkie. I think I used it about three times on two-meters. In a few situations, such as up in the White Mountains, I used the VX-1R to tune in NOAA for weather news. It also has AM/FM and on a few very rare occasions, I tuned into local stations for news. Would I carry it again? I don’t know. It is wise to have something for emergencies, and the radio wasn’t too big or heavy, but it was extra weight.

QRPer:  Specifically, what ham gear did you take with you? Do you have a photo?

Blanchard:As noted in the book, I did carry a home-brewed 80/40 meter CW rig for the first 600 miles. For the rest of the hike I carried Steve Weber’s ATS-3A. The radio was powered by six Energizer disposable lithiums, in a home-brewed battery pack. The pack could also charge my cell phone and power the 2-meter VX-1R radio. I used a 51 foot random wire for the antenna and some counterpoise wire, usually about 15 feet. Altogether, the gear weighed around two pounds.

QRPer: If you were to do the hike again, would you take the same equipment?

Blanchard: I’m not certain I would carry the VX-1R again. I didn’t use it much and it is extra weight. However, the NOAA weather, and 2-meter capability could prove extremely useful in an emergency.

QRPer:What was it like coming back off the trail once you completed it? Any especially notable things about how you perceived the world around you? Did it change you? Any culture shock?

Blanchard: The only real “culture shock” was riding in automobiles. Everything seemed to move so quickly. I much more enjoy walking and biking now. I would be happy if I never had to drive again.

“KD2VX, Kathy, was the trail angel that helped out with my hike up in New Hampshire. She is a QRP fan.” (Photo: K1YPP)

QRPer: How many other hams did you meet on the AT who were either through-hiking the AT, or hiking sections?

Blanchard: Since we [hikers] don’t wear being a “ham” on our sleeve[s], I can’t really say how many hams I encountered. The few that I was aware of were mostly section hiking. One benefit of setting up my QRP station along the way was public visibility for ham radio. On a number of occasions I inspired my fellow hikers to look into ham radio when they returned home. I’ve even had a few readers of the book write me to tell me they went off and got a ham license based on inspiration from the book.

QRPer: If any other QRPers are inspired by your story, and are thinking about hiking the entire AT, how much money should they budget for such an adventure? Based on what I read, there are a number of budgetary considerations for shuttles, food, gear, and the like.

“Duncannon, PA was were I operated Field Day. The station table was a few rocks I moved around.” (Photo: K1YPP)

Blanchard: The answer to this question depends on how many “creature comforts” one wishes. Hiking as I did, with stops along the way about every 5-10 days, can cost about $1-$3 a mile. Those on a tight budget could do it for much less, and those that enjoy getting to hotels and eating in fancier places could spend more. Most of the shuttles were really not that expensive, at least those that cater specifically to hikers. The hostels are a real bargain, compared to standard hotels, but one may have to tolerate annoyances, such as snoring and people coming and going at unusual hours. If you’re a light sleeper, this could be an issue.

QRPer: On zero days [based on your descriptions] it seems like hikers simply stuff themselves with food. I’m really curious what you typically ate on the trail?

K1YPP’s 2008 Field Day “table” in Duncannon, PA (Click to enlarge, Photo: K1YPP)

Blanchard:The short answer is: I ate everything. I’m not fussy, and don’t have any diet limitations. If someone is diabetic, or vegetarian, it is still possible to undertake such a hike, it just might require more preparation. My typical day was a few Pop Tarts first thing in the morning, or hot oatmeal on cold days, followed by an on-trail mid-morning snack, such as a Snickers Bars or trail mix.

Lunch was usually something that didn’t need cooking. Roll-up tortillas, or bagels with peanut butter won out most of the time. In the colder weather, bagels and cream cheese was a favorite. Gatorade powder mix, or hot chocolate in cold weather, was my favorite drink for lunch.

The evening meal was usually a pasta-based affair, or couscous. I really preferred the couscous; it is very light to carry, needs very little energy to cook, and is loaded with nutrients. I would usually stir in some dried vegetables with it, or dried meat. As a side I would carry a dried sausage, such as pepperoni, which could also serve as a snack for lunch. I usually carried some desert items as well, such as cookies or dried fruit. Of course energy bars would supplement all of this along the way. Many hikers preferred candy bars, but I tried to avoid them in the warmer weather since they melt.

Overall, even though the diet sounds bland, it wasn’t bad. Of course, whenever we hit a town, I would stuff on everything in sight. I actually did eat well, but couldn’t find enough calories to maintain my weight. I ended up losing 35 pounds at the end of the hike and looked like a refugee.

Well, Dennis–all I can say is that I hope you’ve gained back some of those lost pounds, continue to be in good heart-health, and are able to enjoy a little QRP on your forthcoming hikes.  Thanks very much for taking the time to answer our questions; we wish you the very best!

You can purchase Dennis’ book from Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble and visit his website at threehundredzeroes.com.

New England QRP Club “QRP Afield” this Saturday!

This coming Saturday, the 15th, is the third Saturday of September and that means it’s time for the New England QRP Club’s annual QRP Afield event!

http://newenglandqrp.org/afield

QRP Afield is one of the best QRP field events in the calendar. Hit the great outdoors this Saturday with a QRP station and make some contacts!

A Grocery Store Find — a Portable QRP Station Bag!

QRP Bag -- click to enlarge

I found an almost perfect bag for carrying a small QRP transceiver, simple antenna, and accessories yesterday in our local Aldi grocery store. The bag (photo) is manufactured by “Adventure Essentials”, is described as an insulated lunch bag, is available in several color-schemes, and cost all of $3.99 plus sales tax. I purchased the grey-and-black version, product number 41991. The bag looks to be very rugged, is covered by a two-year warranty, and the tag even includes a toll-free telephone number for customer service.

QRP Bag -- click to enlarge

As can be seen in the photos, the bag is almost ideally sized for carrying any of the current crop of trail-friendly-radios such as the Elecraft KX1 or KX3, the Ten-Tec 40×0 two-band or 4040 four-band rigs, the Youkits HB-1A three-band or HB-1B four-band rigs, or the MFJ 92xx single-band rigs.

If I didn’t already have a Pelican Case for my KX1 Mini Travel Kit, I could probably be very happy carrying the station in this insulated lunch bag!

Standard disclaimer: I have no relationship with Aldi other than being a satisfied customer.

An External Battery for the KX1

NOTE: I am embarrassed to admit that I made a significant error in my original measurement methodology and the numbers originally listed below were inaccurate. I’ve redone all the measurements and the text and tables below reflect the corrected measurements. *

Your host, K4SWL, asked me to share my experiences in trying to find a small, lightweight, battery pack for use with my field-portable QRP station. While I’m looking for a battery pack specifically for my Elecraft KX1, what I’m learning should be useful for users of any low-current QRP transceiver.

original 10-cell battery-holder -- click to enlargeCurrently, I’m experimenting with a pair of ten-cell AA battery-holders, one of unknown provenance (photo) and a new, more rugged one from Batteries America (p/n 10AAT, photo). When filled with ten AA NiMH cells, the resulting battery-packs provide about 14v at full-charge. At the 2012 Flight of the Bumblebees, my KX1 generated an indicated 2.6w on 20m and 4w on 40m while being powered by one of these packs; the nearly four hours of low-stress operating during this event did not discharge this pack of 2,000mAh cells very deeply. The use of two AA dummy-cells will also allow the use of eight lithium primary or alkaline cells in an emergency.

new 10-cell battery-holder -- click to enlargeI became concerned about using this style of spring-contact battery-holder when I found an article (link) by Phil Salas, AD5X, in which he reported that this sort of battery-holder is likely to display significant voltage drop under load.

I tested my original battery-holder with ten 2,000mAh NiMH cells and my KX1 transmitting into a dummy load. In addition to measuring whole-pack voltage-drop, I measured the voltage-drop of each of the individual 2,000mAh cells as I transmitted into the dummy load on 20m.

Original Battery-Holder / 2,000mAh cells
Band ΔVpack ΣΔVindiv.
20m 0.76v 0.52v
30m 0.79v
40m 0.75v
80m 0.70v

The sum of these individual drops was 0.52v, so I’m losing 0.24v in the spring-contacts and/or battery-holder’s “transistor battery” output connector.

After replacing the original nylon connector with a pair of Anderson Powerpoles, I tested the same 2,000mAh NiMH cells in the new, more rugged battery-holder, this time only on 20m:

New Battery-Holder / 2,000mAh cells
Band ΔVpack ΣΔVindiv.
20m 0.73v 0.53v

I’m losing about 0.20v in the battery-holder’s spring-terminals, slightly less than with the older battery-holder.

The 0.20v ~ 0.24v drop from the spring-terminals doesn’t seem excessive to me and the difference in these measurements between the two battery-holders is probably not significant. I am more concerned by the 0.53v ~ 0.54v voltage-drop I measured in the individual cells. It is likely that these older 2,000mAh cells, which have been cycled many times, are exhibiting greater voltage-drop than new cells would. To test this theory, I purchased new 2,100mAh cells to measure.

I measured the new cells as above, again on 20m into a dummy load, and found that with each of the battery-holders, the sum of the individual cell voltage-drops was 0.22v, so my speculation appears to have been correct–the new cells do have lower voltage drop under load than the old cells do.

Orignal Battery-Holder, 2,100mAh cells
Band ΔVpack ΣΔVindiv.
20m 0.48v 0.22v
New Battery-Holder, 2,100mAh cells
Band ΔVpack ΣΔVindiv.
20m 0.47v 0.22v

The new 2,100mAh NiMH cells are marketed by Polaroid and cost $6 per four-pack at Big Lots; the least expensive AA NiMH cells available at Batteries America, 2,500mAh Sanyo cells, cost $3 each at the time of this experiment. I don’t know if the Polaroid cells will last for as many cycles as the probably-higher-quality Sanyo cells would but trying the significantly less expensive Polaroid cells seemed like a a good gamble.

As indicated above, the new battery-holder (Battery American p/n 10AAT) is more rugged than my original battery-holder; it holds the AA cells more securely and and doesn’t use a “transistor battery” connector to connect to the load. I replaced the original nylon connector with a pair of Anderson Powerpoles. This battery-holder will be my preferred battery-holder for field operations with the KX1.

In his article (link), Phil Salas, AD5X, recommends foregoing battery-holders in favor of soldered/welded battery packs but I will continue to experiment with battery-holders. I prefer to charge my NiMH cells individually, using an intelligent MAHA charger, rather than charging an entire pack. In addition, my KX1 draws significantly less current on transmit than Phil’s IC-703 does so the the IxR losses I’ll experience will be less significant than that which Phil experienced.

Visit my website to learn more about my QRP operations or to learn more about my KX1 Mini Travel Kit.

* What had I done wrong? I discovered when testing my new battery-holder that the previous measurements of the old and new NiMH cells in the original battery-holder had been made with the KX1 transmitting into a 50Ω dummy load with the KX1 autotuner configured in tune mode instead of in bypass mode; because the KXAT1 autotuner doesn’t sense a mismatch and automatically tune, this meant that transmitter current–and the measured IxR voltage losses–might be also be significantly different than with the KX1 transmitting into a matched load. Comparisons of my original numbers to measurements made later of the new battery-holder wouldn’t be meaningful, so I had to do all the measurements again.

Ten-Tec Model 418 100 Watt Amplifier now shipping

The Ten-Tec Model 418 100 Watt Linear Amplifier (Click to enlarge)

(Source: Ten-Tec)

TEN-TEC Inc. Announces the Model 418

160-6 Meter Solid State Linear Amplifier in stock and ready for shipment

Generating 100 Watts of output from as little as 5 Watts of input, the Model 418 Amplifier raises the bar for reliable and efficient recreational, emergency, and even contest communications.

TEN-TEC Engineers have utilized state of the art, silicon MOSFET technology to create a continuous 100% dutycycle operations in both CW and SSB Modes. The Model 418 is also compliant with AM, FM, AFSK, and PSK modes of operation.

Measuring only 3.625” x 6.5” x 7.6” inches and weighing just 5.4 lbs, the Model 418 will operate from any 13.8VDC (+/-15%), 20 Amp power source.

Designed to interface with the new TEN-TEC Model 539 QRP Transceiver, the Model 418 amplifier can be easily connected to most low power transmitter designs (20 Watts or less input). The amplifier’s comprehensive User’s Manual and TEN-TEC’s industry standard Technical Support department make set up quick and easy.

The Model 418 can switch bands automatically or manually. It also has a two position manual antenna switch. Bypass operation allows low power operation until higher power is needed.

The Model 418’s large LCD front panel readout gives the operator essential information about Output Power, SWR, Operating Voltage, and even Operating Temperature.

The TEN-TEC Model 418 Amplifier is competitively priced at $785.00

Don’t for get to send us your latest Shack Photographs and submit links to your club or community event for the community page. This is a great way to get some exposure for your organization or a community event station.
The TEN-TEC SSB Net meeting frequency has changed to 7.260 LSB Sundays at 4PM Eastern Daylight Saving Time.

73
Jim Wharton, NO4A
Vice President

Elecraft KX3 Tops Sherwood Engineering’s Receiver Test Data

Wow–the Elecraft KX3 has some serious ears! Most impressive, Elecraft!

2012 Fort Tuthill QRP Conference July 26-28

(Source: John Stevens, K5JS, via QRP-L)

It’s time once again to join the Arizona ScQRPions at the annual Fort Tuthill QRP Conference in mountains of Flagstaff, Arizona!! Spend the weekend camping with us at a cool 7500′ playing radio and listening to our outstanding speakers present topics on using Microchip micro-controllers, troubleshooting, Software Defined Radios, and
batteries.

Thursday afternoon, July 26, is for the early bird campers to arrive and get set up. Stake out your territory at our reserved campground site. Water is available, but no electricity. There are fire rings / grills for your outdoor cooking and no known fire restrictions inside
the campground at this time. Daytime temperatures should range from mid-70s to low 80s during the day and 50’s at night. Brief (usually) mountain thunderstorms with gusty winds are possible at all times especially during the afternoons.

Campground activities Friday, July 27, could include such things as easy expeditions to local SOTA peaks, operating, trading, renewing old friendships and making new ones, experimenting with antennas, and many other activities. There are plenty of tall Ponderosa pines for those wire antennas. Friday evening is our traditional group supper at one of the local restaurants.

Saturday, July 28, is our day for the technical forums at a nearby facility. We’ll adjourn about 3pm and head back to the campgrounds for our Saturday afternoon picnic. We have a covered ramada that will accomodate 70 easily. Water and electricity is available. You might want to bring a chair and/or table just in case as we don’t have quite the number of picnic tables as we’ve had in the past.

No tickets to buy. Prizes. No tickets to buy. All are welcome.

Bring your own entree for the picnic and we’ll do the rest! Look for many more details on our website at http://www.azscqrpions.com which is being updated. Watch for updates at the website or from @azqrp at Twitter. Send me your cell phone number if you want text updates.

Select Ft Tuthill 2012 in the menu.

Pass the word and we hope to see you there!!

73 john k5js

A QRP Family Holiday on Prince Edward Island, Canada

K4SWL portable VY2!

This year, during our family’s summer holiday, I’m enjoying the hospitality of Prince Edward Island, Canada (hence, the lack of recent posts on QRPer).  This is our family’s second visit to the maritime island, and each time we’ve been  fortunate to stay at the same off-the-grid cabin on the eastern coast, less than twenty meters from the water.

Of course, staying in an off-grid cabin comes with its radio challenges—namely, supplying power—but also comes with one supreme advantage:  no noise from the typical electrical devices that plague most of our homes. What’s more, this cabin sits on 60 acres, so not even a neighbor’s home appliances disturb my RX ears.

On our previous visit, I brought my (then) Yaesu FT-817, a 9aH gel cell, Micro M+ charge controller, 10W Solarex PV panel, some 300 ohm window line, loads of 22 AWG wire and an LDG ATU.  Unfortunately, I found I had very little time for radio, and propagation was dismal. Indeed, it was during that trip that I discovered my FT-817’s finals had blown, so part of the time I was transmitting less than QRPpppp levels.

This year, since I knew the site well, I came better prepared.

My full 2012 setup consists of the following:

  • An Elecraft K2/10
  • An Elecraft KX1 (4 band w/built-in ATU)
  • Elecraft T1 ATU
  • LDG 4:1 Balun
  • One 35 aH gel cell
  • Two 9.5 aH gel cells
  • Two PowerFilm Solar foldable 5 W PV panels
  • My radio toolbox with various connectors, crimpers, cutters, wires, caps, multi-tester, etc.
  • Enough wire and 300 ohm antenna line to make a couple of wire antennas

So…how’s it all working out? Brilliantly!

In the past few years I’ve done a lot of QRP CW—mainly rag-chews with some buddies on the lower bands. I’ve done less QRP SSB phone. When I first arrived at the cabin and began the process of unpacking, I couldn’t find the jumper cable to attach to my Vibroplex single-lever paddle (the paddle being a Dayton 2012 find, by the way). So, I plugged in a microphone and tuned to the phone portion of the 17 meter band.

Talk about radio fun!

I’ve once again re-discovered the joy of operating QRP SSB. It’s challenging to make those DX contacts and to transmit a long call sign (“VY2 portable K4SWL”) across the ether,  but occasionally the propagation gods smile upon you, and you’re able to participate in a good rag-chew or quick DX with a 57 to 59 signal report.

Being 20 meters from the salt water is a bonus I don’t usually enjoy in my US hermitage. Due to its excellent propagation characteristics, despite my lower power set-up, I have easily worked stations from Russia to North Africa, from  the Caribbean to Japan.   I am thoroughly reveling in it, and the process has re-connected me with my ham radio roots.

As Gunter, VA3GA, told me in a recent Canadian rag-chew, “ham radio holidays give you a chance to explore areas of the hobby you don’t normally think to enjoy.”

So true, Gunter. That’s what I love about ham radio in general– the hobby is so broad, you constantly discover and re-discover favorite elements about it.