Ham Radio Science Citizen Investigation (HamSCI) and the Personal Space Weather Station project

Many thanks to Tracy (K7UO) who shares the following article from EOS (Science News by AGU):

Ham Radio Forms a Planet-Sized Space Weather Sensor Network

For researchers who monitor the effects of solar activity on Earth’s atmosphere, telecommunications, and electrical utilities, amateur radio signals a golden age of crowdsourced science.

Space weather events, triggered by solar emissions and their interactions with Earth’s atmosphere, can have significant effects on communications and navigation technology and on electric power systems. As with terrestrial weather events, the economic impacts of space weather–related disruptions can be substantial, affecting satellite systems as well as systems on the ground. A severe geomagnetic storm (on the order of the Carrington Event of 1859) could have a catastrophic effect on modern infrastructure. Even solar storms of more ordinary size can induce currents in the power grid that drive up energy prices, affecting manufacturing and commerce.

Considerable interest exists in developing space weather forecasting technologies that use Earth’s ionosphere as a sensor for events in its neighboring atmospheric layers. The ionosphere occupies a privileged niche in the geospace system, as it is coupled into both the terrestrial weather of the neutral atmosphere below and the space weather of the magnetosphere above.

Although we have a good understanding of ionospheric climate—diurnal and seasonal variations are well known, as are the rhythms of the sunspot cycle—there are new and vital areas of research to be explored. For example, it is known that the ionosphere—and near-Earth space—experiences variability (e.g., radio signals can fade in and out over periods of seconds, minutes, or hours due to changes in ionospheric electron densities along signal propagation paths), but this variability has not been sampled or studied adequately on regional and global scales.

[…]The Ham Radio Science Citizen Investigation (HamSCI) is a collective that unites amateur radio operators with the research community in the space and atmospheric sciences. This confederation of scientists, engineers, and hobbyists holds annual workshops during which ham radio operators and space scientists share findings. A new HamSCI effort, the Personal Space Weather Station project, aims to develop a robust and scalable network of amateur stations that will allow amateurs to collect useful data for space science researchers. The next HamSCI workshop will be held virtually 19–21 March 2021, and it will focus on midlatitude ionospheric measurements.

A Ready-Made Volunteer Science Community

From a communications point of view, the electromagnetic spectrum is a finite resource. Signals from broadcasting, telecommunications, and navigation all have their own demands of bandwidth and range. Spectrum allocations are managed by government agencies, such as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States. Most countries allot some of the available spectrum to amateur users for the purposes of recreation, experimentation, and the promotion of international goodwill. There are more than 760,000 licensed amateur radio operators and uncounted shortwave listeners in the United States alone.[…]

Click here to read the full article at EOS.

Click here to learn more about HamSCI Workshop 2021.

Josh tours the Chameleon Antenna factory

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks again, Don, for the tip!

Click here to check out the HRCC YouTube Channel.

Click here to check out Chameleon Antennas. 

POTA Field Report: Activating South Mountains Game Land in gusty winds

Last week, I had a hankering to visit a site I hadn’t activated in a few months: South Mountains Game Land.

This game land is pretty vast and has a number of entry points, almost all of which are very accessible. When I re-visit a site multiple times, I like to try different entrances when I can because it gives me a chance to check out a site better and, frankly, even enjoy a little light off-roading.

I found a western road leading deep into South Mountains from the Wildlife Resource Commission map and decided to explore it and do a quick activation.

South Mountains Game Land (K-6952)

I avoid activating Game Lands on days when I suspect there will be a lot of hunting. Tuesday afternoon was *not* ideal for hunters. Besides being the middle of a work day, it was cold and very gusty.

As I drove about 4 miles into the site, I didn’t see a single car or truck parked in any of the parking areas. I could tell I had the place to myself.

A Few Precautions

It goes without saying that if you’re doing a POTA or SOTA activation in a rural/remote area that has no mobile phone coverage (quite common at the ones I activate), you really need to take a few precautions.

First of all, let someone else know where you’ll be and how long you plan to be there.  I always let a couple radio friends know where I’ll be so if I don’t show up on the air or they don’t hear from me, they could contact authorities to look for me.

Secondly, always take a proper first aid kit. If you get hurt, you need a way to apply first aid until you can get help.

Take a handheld radio with local repeater frequencies pre-loaded. Even though I might not have cell phone coverage, I can almost always hit at least one repeater.

Of course, carry a little food and water with you and make sure your vehicle has fuel as well.

Always wear a high-visibility vest, jacket, and/or cap. Many game lands require these. Besides, would you rather perform and activation or get shot? I don’t like getting shot. I also don’t like the idea of being bear food, so at least pack a little bear mace if you’re in bear country.

When I’m activating a game land I don’t hike deep into the woods. In fact, I try to stay on or very close to a parking area. Even though POTA is becoming a very popular radio activity, I can promise that you’ll likely be the first POTA activator most hunters will see. It’s a good idea to be near areas of activity like a parking spot or road where they’re much less likely to be hunting.

Finally, as I mentioned before, I personally do not activate game lands on busy hunting days.

Of course, check the weather forecast in advance.

On The Air

I found a great spot to set up my station near a ridge line deep in the game lands.

Normally, I’d set up right next to my car, but Tuesday the winds were very gusty so I found a semi-protected area maybe 10 yards off the road. I located a spot with the least amount of overhanging branches (always check for widowmakers and dead trees!).

Gear:

It only took me five minutes to deploy the Chameleon Emcomm III Portable random wire antenna with my arborist throw line.

Random wire antennas require tuners, so I employed the Mat-Tuner mAT-705 Plus.

This site has no mobile phone coverage, so I had no easy way to spot myself to the POTA spots page had I decided to do a little phone/SSB operating. I decided to stick with CW as the POTA spots page will auto-spot me using my information from the Reverse Beacon Network (as long as that system is working).

It’s so rare that I do activations around noon or early in the afternoon, so I decided to start on 20 meters just to see if I could snag a European station.

I felt pretty chuffed to quickly snag the Azores (CU3BL) and a few west coast stations with my 5 watts and a wire. QRP rocks!

I then moved to 40 meters where I worked a number of stations in succession and topped off the activation with one 30 meter contact.

Here’s a QSOmap of this activation:

Not bad for about 40 minutes on the air.

Video

I also made one of my real-time, real-life videos of the activation. Note that my camera died on me perhaps five minutes before I completed the activation, so it will end abruptly. Sorry about that!

My ankle is healing nicely so I’m feeling more comfortable with the idea of hiking again. I’m plotting a SOTA activation with my daughter in the coming weeks.

60 Meter “Woodpecker” QRPp Transceiver Kit From Breadboard Radio

I’ve just received the following announcement from Breadboard Radio. Looks like a fun build and quite useful QRP radio for the 60 meter band!


60 METER “Woodpecker” QRPp Transceiver Kit From Breadboard Radio

Breadboard Radio has just released the “Woodpecker” a 60 meter low power CW transceiver for the 60 meter band. The Woodpecker features a crystal controlled transmitter with a 500 milliwatt output on 5332 kilohertz, sometimes referred to as channel 1. The transmitter provides sidetone, receiver muting and QSK with delay.
The Woodpecker’s direct conversion receiver has an adjustable bandpass filter, attenuator and an audio amplifier suitable for headphone level output plus a selectable low / high filter which helps with band noise and static crashes.

The designer, W4FSV has made multiple contacts using a 160 meter inverted L antenna including many from 500 to 1000 miles. The kit is complete with all parts including a cabinet and attractive front panel plastic decal. A two channel 40 meter version will be available soon.

More information is available at www.breadboardradio.com

The introductory price is $49.95 US.

Click here to read the full PDF manual (note this is a large file).

Are you ready to FYBO?

(Photo credit: K4TLI)

Here in portions of North America, we’ve been receiving some seriously cold and snowy weather the past week. It’s the sort of weather that encourages one to conjure up images of warm slippers, sitting by the fire, reading a book, and drinking hot chocolate.

Or, you can choose to Freeze Your B___ Off!

Against my better judgement, that’s exactly what I plan to do tomorrow.

My buddy Eric (WD8RIF) reminds me that tomorrow (Saturday, February 6, 2021) is FYBO: a long-standing winter QRP contest sponsored by the Arizona ScQRPions.  FYBO runs for ten hours starting at 1400 UTC to 2400 UTC.

It’s a fun contest that is limited to QRP HF operation only using SSB or CW with 5 watts output max. You can choose to work from home or the field and there are three categories of operators (single op, multi-single, or multi-multi).

FYBO is an easy contest in that the exchange is flexible and there’s no pre-registration required.

The cool thing about FYBO (see what I did there?) is the temperature multiplier which favors those who operate in the coldest temps!

For full information about FYBO including rules and how to submit logs, check out the FYBO information page.

If you’re a POTA, WWFF, or SOTA operator, you can perform a straight-up activation and submit those same logs for FYBO. It just needs to take place during the FYBO contest time frame.

Plotting…

If all goes well, my daughter (K4TLI) and I plan to hike from the QTH up to Pisgah National Forest and perform an activation there.

This will be a test to see if my ankle has healed enough to plot a much longer hike to a SOTA summit from the QTH soon. My fingers are crossed because I’m so eager to get back to hiking.

Plan to Freeze Your B___ Off?

Do you plan to participate in FYBO? Parts of the US and Canada are getting Arctic blasts so those temperature multipliers could be quite impressive! (Just play it safe.) It’ll be chilly here for sure, but I doubt much below freezing.

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

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

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

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

Lake James State Park (K-2739)

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

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

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

Gear:

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

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

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

On the air

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

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

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

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

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

Video

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don recommends pop-up shade products for field radio use

Many thanks to Don (W7SSB) who writes:

Thought you’d get a kick out of these products I used for ham radio in the field.


Out in the field you can protect not only your computer but your rig from the sun.

There are many models and they fold flat for easy handling.

Also you can get from a camping store a POTA party shelter for about $50 .

Great for a cheap portable ham shack . Keeps out of the sun and weather .

Room for a table, chair and cooler. What more do you need?

Have fun !

Don W7SSB

Thanks so much for the tip, Don!

It’s ironic you send this now as I’ve been looking at an inexpensive pop-up shade tent to protect my radios from the snow, sun and sand when doing portable operations. This $12 model (Amazon affiliate link) has been in my Amazon cart for about a week:

It’s made to protect a sun-bather’s head from the sun or protect a small pet. I think my gear could easily fit inside on a tabletop or ground and there’s even a small ceiling window (designed so people can look at their phones while sun bathing?!?) that I think would work brilliantly as a spot to place an LED light to illuminate the inside of the tent.

While I don’t think I’d use this a lot, it would be awfully handy when there’s no shelter from direct sunlight. It should keep a radio from over heating.

Also, recently I was operating outdoors with blowing snow–temps were well below freezing, but when snow landed on the transceiver, the chassis was warm enough to melt it. It started to get downright wet on top. A small pop-up like this would have come in handy.

Readers: Do you use pop-up shade products? Feel free to comment with your experience and share models you’ve used.

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

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

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

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

The Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378)

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

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

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

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

And that’s exactly what I didn’t do.

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

This made absolutely no sense.

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

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

Gear:

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

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

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

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

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

On The Air

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

No go.

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

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

It did.

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

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

Here’s a QSOmap of my 10 contacts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choosing the best Icom IC-705 portable external antenna (ATU)

I’ve received no less than three inquiries this weekend from readers who are seeking advice about purchasing a portable external ATU to pair with their Icom IC-705 transceiver.

Fortunately, there are few options on the market and I believe there is no “right” one because choices are really based on operator preferences.

I’ll do my best to sum up my thoughts below based on the three ATUs I regularly employ and what we know so far about the AH-705 ATU from Icom.

Keep in mind this list will not include some excellent options from LDG, MFJ, and other companies simply because I haven’t used them in the field. Please feel free to add your comments if you have experience with other good options.

Mat-Tuner mAT-705 Plus

The Mat-Tuner mAT-705 Plus is the first external ATU on the market that directly pairs with the Icom IC-705 via a control cable.

Note that I had issues with the first iteration of the mAT-705 and could not recommend it.

The latest iteration–the mAT-705 Plus–is the ATU I can recommend.

Be careful if purchasing an mAT-705 used as you’ll want to make sure you’re getting the Plus version. The Plus version has a USB-C charging port on the front panel (seen in the photo above)–the original mAT-705 does not (it uses replaceable 9V cells).

Pros:

  • Perfectly pairs with the IC-705 for full CAT control
  • Wide tuning range
  • Tuning is fast and relatively quiet
  • Numerous memories making repeat matching rapid
  • Internal rechargeable battery
  • Rugged chassis

Cons:

  • Cannot be paired with other radios without modification (not recommended by the manufacturer)
  • At $220 US, it’s not the cheapest option
  • Because the IC-705 relies on CAT control for operation, if you leave the control cable at home or on a park bench, you will not be able to operate the ATU. (Pro)Fortunately, the CAT cable is a simple 3 conductor 1/8″ stereo patch cable.
  • Not weather-proof

Click here to see the AH-705 Plus in action and read a deeper review.

Summary: If you’re looking for an ATU to take full advantage of IC-705 CAT control, the mAT-705 Plus is a great option. The only significant disadvantage of this ATU is the fact that it only pairs with the IC-705 (or possibly other Icom transceivers with similar CAT control). In other words, you can’t pair it with other QRP transceivers you might own.

Click here to check out the mAT-705 Plus at Vibroplex, DX Engineering, Wimo, and Mat-Tuner.

Elecraft T1

The Elecraft T1 has been on the market for at least 16 years and is one of the most popular portable antenna tuners on the market.

Elecraft offers the T1 in kit form ($159.95) and factory assembled/tested ($189.95).

The Elecraft T1 has a CAT control port that has been used with the FT-817 in the past. Elecraft recently announced that they will also produce an IC-705 CAT cable that will allow full pairing with the IC-705 transceiver (much like the mAT-705 Plus above). 

To be clear, though, the T1 doesn’t need a control cable to function: simply press the TUNEe button for one second, then key your transceiver.

Pros:

  • Very wide tuning range
  • Soon it will have an IC-705 CAT connection cable option
  • Uses common 9V battery that is easy to replace in the field. (Con) Not internally-rechargeable like the mAT-705 Plus.
  • One of the most compact automatic ATUs on the market
  • Pairs with any 0.5-W to 20-W transceiver covering the 160-6 meter bands
  • FT-817 Remote-Control Option

Cons:

  • Front panel buttons need protection while in your pack to prevent accidental pressing that will deplete the battery. I 3D-printed this simple cover that works brilliantly.
  • Not weather-proof

Summary: The Elecraft T1 is my personal favorite. Since the T1 pairs with any QRP transceiver, I love the flexibility. The T1 has also been on the market for ages and is a solid, safe choice–we know longevity is benchmark. I’ve never been in a situation where the T1 couldn’t find a reasonable match.

I will certainly test the new IC-705 control cable option when it is released in the near future–stay tuned.

Click here to check out the T1 at Elecraft.

Icom AH-705

Photo by Icom Japan

Disclosure: I have not tested the AH-705 yet, but Icom plans to send me one on loan for review once available in North America.

We do know a bit about the AH-705  because Icom has published details/specifications and some users in Japan have already received units from the first production run.

The AH-705 is Icom’s custom ATU designed to perfectly pair with the Icom IC-705 via control cable. If you want an all-Icom setup, this is it.

Pricing in US dollars is TBD at time of posting, but the announced retail price is $350 .

Pros:

  • Perfectly pairs with the IC-705
  • Wide tuning range
  • 2-way power sources using alkaline batteries (2 x AA cells) or external 13.8 V DC
  • IP54 dust-protection and water resistance construction
  • Could (potentially–?) be permanently mounted outdoors at the antenna feed point as a dedicated remote tuner

Cons:

  • In terms of overall size, the AH-705 appears to be the largest of the portable ATUs mentioned here
  • It doesn’t appear AA batteries can be recharged internally
  • The AH-705 may (we don’t know yet) only work with the IC-705 and possibly similar Icom models
  • The maximum power handling of the AH-705 is 10 watts–if you use other transceivers (if that is even possible) you would have to be extremely careful with power settings.
  • The AH-705 is pricey if the actual retail price ends up being near the projected $350 mark. Hopefully, it’ll be much less than this.
  • Like the mAT-705 Plus, the AH-705 will require a control cable for operation. (Pro) Of course this means it pairs perfectly with the IC-705 and can follow frequency changes without RF sensing.

Summary: Keep in mind, I have not tested the AH-705 yet, so this is only based on announced specifications.

The strongest selling point for the AH-705? 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.

The biggest negative to me is the size. Just check out how large it is compared to the IC-705 in this video. It’s still very portable, but the other ATU options above are much smaller.

Still: if the AH-705 is great at matching antennas and the price ends up falling below the $300 point, I’m sure it’ll be a very popular ATU.

For more information about the AH-705, check out the product page on Icom Japan’s website. I will test a loaner AH-705 in the field this year.

Emtech ZM-2

Another option often overlooked are portable manual antenna tuners. I’m a big fan of the Emtech ZM-2 which is offered both in kit ($62.50) and factory assembled/tested form ($87.50).

It is a manual tuner, so requires manual input to find a match. While it’s not as easy as push-button tuning, it isn’t complicated either.

Here’s my routine:

  1. I set the top right switch to “GROUND” if using coax feed line and “LINK” if using a balanced line.
  2. Set the added capacitance switch “ADD” to “0”
  3. Set the TUNE/OPERATE switch to OPERATE
  4. I set both capacitors to middle positions (6 on the scale)
  5. Tune to AM or SSB and listen to the noise floor as I tune the variable capacitors to maximize the noise level. I typically start with the left capacitor, maximize it, then maximize the right capacitor
  6. If the antenna is particularly challenging, I might add 250 or 500PF via the ADD switch
  7. Set the TUNE/OPERATE switch to TUNE
  8. In CW mode, I key down and make fine tuning adjustments with the variable capacitors to make the red tuning LED turn off (high SWR makes the red LED illuminate)
  9. Set the TUNE/OPERATE switch to OPERATE and hop on the air! (Often, I’ll double-check the SWR on my transceiver).

This sounds complicated, but once you’ve done it even two or three times, it becomes routine. I’ve yet to find a wire antenna the ZM-2 can’t match–it’s a very capable tuner.

Pros:

  • The most affordable option listed here
  • Very wide matching range
  • Portable and very lightweight
  • Requires no batteries for operation
  • Mechanically simple
  • Reliable

Cons:

  • Although not complicated, there is a small learning curve involved
  • Each time you change bands, you will need to manually re-tune the ZM-2
  • Not as fast and hassle-free as an automatic ATU
  • Not weather-proof

Summary: I carry the ZM-2 with me even if I plan to use an automatic portable antenna tuner. If my auto ATU loses power for some reason, the ZM-2 will always rescue me. Plus, it’s just as capable of making tough matches as the ATUs above.

I also love using the ZM-2 to match antennas for shortwave broadcast listening outside the ham bands.

Even if you buy an automatic ATU, I would still encourage you to buy a ZM-2 as a backup.  It’s affordable, reliable, and very handy.

Click here to check out the Emtech ZM-2.

What are your favorite portable ATUs?

As I mentioned above, these choices are just a small selection of what’s actually available on the market. Please share your favorite portable ATUs and experience by leaving a comment!

Unofficial POTA & SOTA Etiquette

I recently saw a post in the POTA Facebook page that reminded me of a question I received from a reader last summer.

This reader asked:

Thomas, I’m new to POTA [Parks On The Air] and also plan to participate in SOTA [Summits On The Air] on vacation later this year. I’m a DXer and avid contester so portable operation is new to me. Can you give me tips about etiquette when chasing and, especially, activating a park or summit? In contesting and DXing there are codes of conduct which I try to always try to follow. 

I though I might post some of the tips I sent him. I also asked for input from some other activators/hunters and they independently confirmed these. I’d welcome any additions you might have in the comments section.

Unofficial POTA/WWFF/SOTA etiquette tips:

  • POTA and SOTA are not timed contests, so it’s okay to slow down and and be patient with hunters and activators.
  • When you hear a Park To Park (P2P) or Summit To Summit (S2S) call:
    • If you’re a hunter, step out of the way in a pile-up and let them through. If the activator asks for your call instead of the site-to-site station, work them but also let them know at the end of your exchange that there’s a P2P or S2S contact in the pileup. Those ops are usually operating in tougher conditions with less power than other hunters. Activators especially appreciate site-to-site contacts.
    • As an activator, give site-to-site stations priority for the same reason.
  • In general, follow the DX Code of Conduct. Most importantly:
    • Never tune up on or immediately next to a POTA activator
    • Wait for an activator to completely end a contact before calling them.
    • Send your full call sign and only send it once.
  • Chasers should note that activators need a certain amount of logged contacts in order to complete a valid activation. In SOTA and activator needs 4 contacts, in POTA, they need 10 for example. With this in mind:
    • Post spots to the SOTA or POTA network if you notice an activator hasn’t been spotted for some time. This will help more chasers find them.
    • If you notice that an activator changes modes or bands, try to work them again especially if you hear that they’re struggling for contacts. Each time you work an activator on a different mode or band, in POTA (not SOTA) it counts as a unique contact for a valid activation.
  • Check scheduled activation plans and frequencies. Not all operators have internet coverage to self-spot and phone operators, especially, rely on hunters looking out for and spotting them.
  • Some notes specifically for CW operators:
    • If chasing a CW activator and you hear a large pile-up, don’t zero-beat the activator’s signal. Rather, move slightly off frequency so the tone of your signal is higher or lower than that of the operator.  On the activator’s side, if every one has a perfect zero beat, it sounds like one continuous carrier as opposed to individual signals.
    • Don’t operate at contest CW speeds as you’ll have a more difficult time making contacts. It’s rare to hear even experienced CW operators in POTA and/or SOTA going faster than 20 WPM.
    • Don’t send a “K” after your callsign when chasing activators–just send your callsign. This is especially confusing to an activator if you have a 2×2 or 1×2 callsign. They may recognize you as W1AWK instead of “W1AW, for example.
  • Unfortunately, you will eventually hear someone intentionally tuning up on an active frequency or deliberately trying to cause harmful interference to an activation. As an activator and hunter, it is important not to “feed the trolls.” Simply ignore them and use it as an opportunity to hone your skills at mitigating QRM and harmful interference. If no one acknowledges a troll, they will abandon frequency much quicker.  Sadly, complaining or asking them to leave tends to egg them on.
  • While it’s actually encouraged to send kind comments and compliments as you chase or activate, keep in mind that activators often have a limited amount of time on site and on the air. As mentioned above, they also need a minimum number of contacts in order to achieve a valid activation. This is not the best time to start a long conversation or rag-chew with an activator. Quite often, there are others who are waiting for you to finish your contact so they can call the station and the activator doesn’t want to offend you by asking you to move on.
  • In general, be patient, courteous, and kind to all chasers and activators. POTA, SOTA, WWFF, and other similar field radio activities feel more like a family or community gathering than a contest.

I’m sure there are other points I’ve missed here. Please comment if you have something to add!

Update: Click here to read Mikel’s (EA2CW) Spanish translation of this article.