Portable Doublet-Building Party & my 2022 Activation Challenge!

This past weekend, my good friend Vlado (N3CZ) and his wife came over to the QTH for the afternoon. It’s been a while since our families got together, so it was fantastic to hang with them.

I’ve been trying to tempt Vlado to do more field activations–we’ve done a number together in the past and it has always been loads of fun. Thing is, both of us have pretty active family/work lives, so it’s challenging to make schedules work out.

Nonetheless, our 2022 goal is to do at least one activation per month as a team!

MK-911

If you recall, a couple months ago, I posted an activation report and video using my buddy Eric’s 40-10 meter doublet. I called it a “stolen” antenna because it had been on loan to me for so long, I think Eric forgot it even existed.

Exhibit A: The stolen antenna.

Eric’s doublet was build around a Hughes Aircraft MK-911 Dipole Fixture that was designed and manufactured for the US Military and appears to have been part of the PRC-74 manpack radio-set.

I had assumed Eric found this as a one-off at a military surplus sale. Turns out Eric (and a few readers) made me aware that it was available at Fair Radio Sales in Ohio for $10.

Image of the MK-911 from Fair Radio’s product catalog.

In fact, here’s a link to the MK-911.

I decided to buy two of them: one for me, and one for Vlado. The temptation was strong to purchase a few more just for the 30 feet of 72-ohm military-surplus twinlead, however I understand that there’s a limited inventory and wanted others to be able to purchase this gem.

I was also thinking this antenna fixture would pair beautifully with Vlado’s Yugoslavian RUP-15/PD-8 manpack or even his IC-703 Plus.

Doublet time!

While our wives were catching up, Vlado and I made our way to the storage shed and opened my antenna parts boxes.

I did a little digging and found what I was looking for: some wire I purchased at a thrift store many years ago.

This wire has a black jacket that’s quite slick. Guessing it might be 20 gauge and might even be teflon coated. It was ideal for antennas and eyeing it, I thought there might be enough for two doublets.

For a Norcal-inspired doublet–which covers 40-10–we would need two 22′ legs. I decided (prior to cutting) that I wanted our doublets to go as low as 60 meters (5,332 kHz) and cover everything above. 60 meters is such a useful band. Thing is, I hadn’t done research into suggested leg lengths in advance.

We decided to pick a longer non-resonant length and just give it a go. If it worked, great–if not, we’d cut them down to 22 feet and be happy with 40M and up.

We cut the legs to 31 feet, so there’d be a total of 62 feet of wire in each doublet. Many thanks to my daughter Geneva (K4TLI) for helping stretch, measure, and cut the antenna wire with us!

Assembling the antennas was incredibly simple as there are built-in binding posts attached to the twin lead on the winding fixture.

Vlado and I both decided to use the winder as the center-insulator of the antenna. This is actually how this military fixture was designed to be used. The negative, of course, is that the center insulator is relatively heavy. This isn’t a problem for me at all since I use super strong arborists throw lines to deploy my antennas.

From WD8RIF’s website.

Eric (WD8RIF), by the way,  actually detached the twin lead from the fixture and posts on his unit and built a new center-insulator from a discarded 35mm film canister (see photo above). He wanted to keep the weight down so he could support the center of the doublet on his fiberglass masts.

Testing QRV!

I had planned to hook up the doublets to my RigExpert antenna analyzer, then I realized it was essentially an unnecessary step.

The big question for me was, “Will my Elecraft KX2 find impedance matches on 60M and above?”

Vlado and I connected the doublet to the KX2 and tuned to 5,332 kHz. After confirming the frequency was clear, I pressed the ATU button. The KX2’s internal ATU churned for a couple of seconds and confirmed a 1.4:1 match.

Score!

We checked all of the bands above 60M and the matches were even better.

Standing in the middle of my driveway, I asked Vlado to load the POTA.app website and look for CW spots.

I couldn’t put the antenna away without chasing some parks!

We then proceeded to work about three stations on the air in CW with 5 watts. All of them gave us 599 reports!

Vlado chasing a POTA activator.

It was serious fun.

As I mentioned to Vlado, it might have been the first time I’ve ever used an HF “Handy Talky” with a doublet antenna!

In the end, we both walked away with two effective military-grade field doublets. A perfect antenna for our monthly “Team Baklava” activations.

2022 Activation Challenge

Last year, my personal challenge was to validate all of my park and summit activations with 5 watts or less.

Since I’m very much a QRPer and primarily a CW op these days, this turned out to be low-hanging fruit; lower than I would have guessed in this part of the solar cycle.

For 2022, I plan to continue the 2021 five watt challenge and add another layer…

This year, my challenge will be to build a new antenna each month and deploy it at least once during that month during a field activation. 

The MK-911 doublet will count as January’s antenna.

I’m going to allow myself to build these antennas from anything and everything. I might even cannibalize a few of my broken/worn-out antennas.

I do want to keep these projects quite simple and easy for anyone to build in one sitting. I’ve gotten so much positive feedback from the super-simple speaker wire antenna I built in the field last year no doubt because it was so easy to build and super cheap.

I already have enough ideas to take me through the summer months, but I plan on dusting off some of my antenna books for more ideas!

With that in mind, I welcome your input! If you have a suggestion, feel free to comment!

Field Report: Pairing the Discovery TX-500, Elecraft T1, and CHA MPAS Lite

You might recall that I’ve been testing a new backpack that I plan to use primarily for SOTA activations. It’s the Spec-Ops Brand T.H.E. Pack EDC.

I’ve now taken it on a few activations, but the very first outing was on Monday, December 7, 2021.

That afternoon, my daughters attended an afternoon art class that was only four miles from our QTH as the crow flies, but took 45+ minutes to drive. Gotta love the mountains!

I had no complaints whatsoever about the drive, though, because it was within five minutes of the Zebulon Vance Historic Birthplace; one of my favorite local POTA spots!

Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace (K-6856)

After dropping off the girls, I drove to Vance and was happy to see that no one was occupying their one picnic shelter. Even though the Vance site is relatively spacious and they’ve numerous trees along the periphery of the property, it’s a historic/archaeological site and as a rule of thumb I only set up at picnic areas in parks like these.

It was a breezy day and temps were hovering around 44F/7C. These are ideal conditions in my world.

I grabbed the Discovery TX-500 for this activation. I had been using it quite a bit in the shack, but realized I hadn’t taken it to the field in a few weeks. I decided to pair it with the Chameleon MPAS Lite vertical antenna since I had already loaded the Lite in my pack, using the pack’s built-in antenna port. Continue reading Field Report: Pairing the Discovery TX-500, Elecraft T1, and CHA MPAS Lite

Jon’s field report from Point Mugu State Park

Many thanks to Jon (KA6TVX) who shares the following field report from K-1186.

Jon writes:


Activation of park K-1186 Pt. Mugu State Park the hard way

 

I thought you might be interested in my activating K-1186.

Within the park is Mugu peak that’s 1200 ft above sea level. This is not the highest or most prominent in the park but to get to it you follow an old Chumash Indian trail that goes up the mountain making it a much rougher hike than usual.

The round trip is about 3 miles but took 2 hours to reach the peak. After we got there I set up the Ic-705 and the Wolf River Coil Silver Bullet and tuned it for 40 meters CW.

I noticed that the battery on iPhone was almost dead so was logging on paper. No contacts on 40 after 30 minutes of calling so switched to 20 and retuning my antenna. Got 13 contacts (after I got home and entered them in HAMRS I noticed that each contact was from a different state which I have not had before).

My son came with me; that was really nice.


Thank you for the mini field report and photos, Jon! What a beautiful location. Sorry that 40 meters wasn’t more productive for you, but it looks like 20 meters certainly made up for it. Well done! 

Like you, I believe it’s fun to pack in a radio at a park and go on a long hike. It gives me a bit of that “SOTA” feeling, but there’s no particular summit I have to hit and the activation zone is basically anything within the park boundary!

Thank you again for sharing your experience on Mugu peak.

My last activation of 2021: It was a blast!

I’ve been so busy these past few weeks, it only hit me yesterday afternoon (Dec 30, 2021) that if I wanted to activate another park or summit in 2021, I needed to do it that same afternoon. I knew that we had plans for today and would visit with friends.

Looking back at 2021

As I’ve mentioned before, I really don’t follow my park and summit statistics with any regularity. For me, each activation and opportunity to play radio is a reward in and of itself.

I’m not a competitive fellow but I’ll admit that I’m in awe of those activators who are! Some have truly mind-blowing activation numbers. I’d encourage you to check out the POTA and SOTA leaderboards!

For SOTA, I set a vague goal of activating 12 summits in 2021–roughly one summit per month.

Yesterday, it hit me that I hadn’t checked my SOTA numbers and thought, “What if I’ve got 11 and need one more? Could I get one more summit before Saturday?!?Continue reading My last activation of 2021: It was a blast!

Xiegu X6100: Scott’s thoughts and impressions

Yes, Scott will freely admit that his sticker is tongue-in-cheek!

Many thanks to Scott (KN3A) who recently commented with his thoughts and impressions of the Xiegu X6100. Scott writes:

When you published your X6100 [field] report, I could not wait to see the video! You tipped me off when we had our QSO that you were using it! As you said in your YouTube comment, a X6100 to X6100 was accomplished at your activation!

I am an avid POTA/SOTA QRP operator and mostly use my Icom IC-705 on activations. It is a superb radio and no intention of ever selling it. The reason I was attracted to my X6100 was the fact it’s an SDR, has a very nice display screen and has a built in ATU. I use many different antennas on activations, and some require a ATU, like my Sotabeams Bandhopper 3. I like using it when I go backpacking and activating due to how easy it is to deploy and lightweight.

To those who attempt to compare the X6100 to the IC 705 is like comparing a Ford F-150 to a Toyota Tacoma. I had an X5105 for a few months and went on a few activations with it. I would mostly compare the X6100 to the X5105 and call it a big upgrade to the X5105.

I got familiar with the X6100 in my hamshack the past 3 weeks, and although I know of it’s shortcomings, which I did share with Thomas prior to it’s arrival at his QTH, I am very pleased with the radio even with the features that are not enabled yet.

On Christmas eve, I went hiking and afterwards did a quick POTA activation inside my car using my IC 7100 and 50 watts. The temperature was getting warmer and warmer out, so I made a hasty decision to go home and get the x6100 and take it to another local park and sit outside on a picnic table. I decided to use my spark plug antenna and use my 17 ft. Shakespeare fishing pole. I had almost 1:1 SWR on 40 and 20 meters and had to use the ATU as I was having about a 3:1 on 30. The ATU kicked in and had a perfect match in seconds, which is also the same response as the G90 and x5105. Continue reading Xiegu X6100: Scott’s thoughts and impressions

New Xiegu X6100 firmware adds WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity

The X6100 WLAN configuration screen.

Many thanks to Radioddity who sent me the following note this morning:

We released new [Xiegu X6100]  firmware, which adds BT & WiFi function.

    1. Added WIFI function
    2. Added Bluetooth function
    3. Fixed the bug that can not save the user-selected filter group(1,2,3)
    4. Optimized the ALC algorithm and corrected the problem of power rise slow.
    5. Optimized the system settings.

For more details, please check this blog below,
https://radioddity.com/blogs/all/xiegu-x6100-firmware-upgrade-20211207

New Firmware Update Guide:
https://radioddity.s3.amazonaws.com/Xiegu_X6100_Wifi_%26_Bluetooth_Function_Instructions_20211230.pdf

QRPer Notes: sBITX Prototype, Updated Icom Control Software, and Jim Stafford (W4QO) SK

Because I receive so many tips from readers here on QRPer, I wanted way to share them in a concise newsletter format.  To that end, welcome to QRPer Notes, a collection of links to interesting stories and tips making waves in the world of radio!


sBitx Prototype

Many thanks to Pete (WB9FLW) who sends a link to this article on It’s Ham Radio:

Ashhar Farhan VU2ESE demonstrated Hfsignals upcoming SDR transceiver – sBitx today at Lamakaan Amateur Radio Meet.

VU2ESE was working on this SDR Prototype for some time now. sBitx is the latest iteration of the popular homebrewer transceiver Bitx series started a couple of years by Farhan.

Keynotes

    1. Raspberry Pi instead of Arduino – No more Arduino Code, sBitx code is written from the scratch for Raspberry Pi.
    2. Power Output: 40 Watt ~ 20 Meters, 15 Meters ~ 25 Watts, 10 Meters ~ 10 Watts
    3. Ditched IRF 510 for IRF Z24N for Finals
    4. $250 for global buyers. Indian buyers would have to wait for now.
    5. Display: 7″ Raspberry Pi Stock Display
    6. Easy Digital Modes – FT8, RTTY, Free DV etc. No extra wiring is required.
    7. Simple Integration with existing Linux Desktop or Remote Login via SSH or VNC

Here’s the Github for sBitx: https://github.com/afarhan/sbitx

Click here to continue reading full article.

 

New control software for IC-705 and IC-R8600

Many thanks to Markku (VA3MK) who writes:

Icom has released new Control software for IC-705 and IC-R8600 and it is available on their Icom Japan website now.

Jim Stafford, W4QO SK

Photo of Jim (W4QO) from his QRZ page.

This week, we learned that Jim (W4QO)–a noted fellow in our QRP world–passed away.

Jeff Davis (KE9V) wrote a wonderful tribute on his blog. Jeff writes:

Jim Stafford, W4QO became a Silent Key yesterday. That news wasn’t unexpected, I had been closely following the North Georgia QRP mailing list these last few weeks dreading the announcement that arrived yesterday morning.

I had known Jim for more than 20 years. We first met in the late 90’s during a Four Days in May event back when the conference took place at the old hotel south of Dayton. I think we hit it off because we both were native Hoosiers, but his infectious enthusiasm for the hobby made everyone want to be around him.

He became my guide into the world of low-power radio and over the following years we regularly renewed our friendship on the air, via email, and in person almost every year during FDIM at Dayton. [Continue reading on Jeff’s blog…]

The new Xiegu X6100: Let’s see how well it performs CW in the field!

Last week, I received the new Xiegu X6100 QRP HF transceiver on loan from Xiegu distributor/retailer Radioddity. This is the exact same unit Josh (KI6NAZ) reviewed for Ham Radio Crash Course (click here to see his updated X6100 video).

Many thanks to Josh for sending me this X6100 so promptly and performing the first firmware update!

I took delivery of the X6100 last week after returning from vacation in the Outer Banks. It was bittersweet as I was so eager to check out this new radio but simply had too many projects on the table to complete before Christmas day.

That and in the morning light after our return, my daughter pointed out that one side of my horizontal delta loop antenna had fallen to the ground. Fortunately, I was able to fix the antenna in short order. It’s certainly time to push the schedule up for completely replacing this 10 year old wire antenna!

X6100: Known issues

I had gotten a few messages from X6100 early adopters like Scott (KN3A) and Rich (KQ9L) noting that the current firmware version (the December 7, 2021 release) had taken care of a few initial bugs, but there were still a few outstanding points that specifically affect CW operators. Most notably:

  • Noise reduction (or DNR) in CW mode severely distorts audio
  • CW message memories can be stored and saved but cannot yet be played back on the air (SSB message memories are fully functional, however)
  • Fine tuning is limited to 10 Hz steps at the moment

Someone had also noted possible CW keyer timing issues.

At the same time, I had read mostly positive comments about SSB operation from QRPer readers and subscribers.

Frankly, knowing Xiegu’s history of pushing the production and distribution timeline ahead of a radio being fully-functional and properly tested, I expected a few bugs and issues that would need to be sorted out in firmware updates.

To be very clear: I’m not a fan of the “early adopters are the Beta testers” philosophy. I wish Xiegu would thoroughly Beta test their products so that they were more polished and fully-functional right out the door much like we expect from the likes of Elecraft, Icom, Yaesu, and Kenwood. There are almost always minor post-production bugs to sort out even with these legacy manufacturers, but issues should be of the variety that somehow slips past a team of Beta testers who actually use the radio.

Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox! 🙂

X6100: In the shack

Over Christmas weekend, I did have some time to hook the X6100 up to my (repaired) sky loop and casually work a number of park and summit activators. Of course, I formed a few initial impressions about the X6100 and I speak to those in the video below. Continue reading The new Xiegu X6100: Let’s see how well it performs CW in the field!

Phillip calls the white CHA MPAS Lite color a “Canadian-Winter Edition”

Many thanks to Phillip Novak (VE3OMI) who writes:

[…]A random note on the Chameleon MPAS lite that I purchased a month ago through DX Engineering; I was surprised to find that the matching unit I received was white – it’s always pictured as black on the Chameleon shop page.

Note the black matching unit to the right of the counterpoise winder.

I was a bit disappointed at first; the “stealthiness” of the black colour was something I was hoping for. It also had me wondering if perhaps I’d somehow gotten a test-unit.

[…]I was curious about the colour change and shot Chameleon a note.

Here’s what they came back with:

“Phillip, due to the black Delrin being much more in demand and causing supply chain issues, we opted to switch to the less commonly used white material. The two colors have the same specifications, and should perform identically, besides the color. The issue being more noticeable for some was anticipated, but could not be helped if we were to continue production. Hit it with some flat spray paint?”

I will add that I do like this antenna a lot and the build quality is excellent. I’ve also come around on the colour; I like to think of the white version as a Canadian-Winter Edition.

[A]ll the best,
-p
ve3omi

It does look like an antenna ready for deployment with the Arctic Forces! 🙂

Thank you for sharing this, Phillip. I had seen a few photos of the white matching unit but assumed it was a different size or configuration than the one I have. This explains it. 

I’m not sure if I’d have a preference for one or the other, frankly. If it was being used in a semi-permanent stealthy installation and in an area without snow, I’m sure painting it flat black or wrapping it with a dark color fabric/tape would help. 

POTA Activation: In the Presence of a North Carolina Icon!

Dear QRPer readers:

As you likely know, my activation reports typically run a few weeks behind.  Although I’ve got several in the pipeline, I pushed the following report to the front of the line. 

You might brew a cuppa’ coffee or tea for this one. 

Here’s wishing you and yours very Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas!

73,

Thomas (K4SWL)


A Special Holiday Activation

As mentioned in my previous activation report, we’ve spent the past week on the Outer Banks of North Carolina; specifically, Hatteras Island.

It’s been amazing.

If you’re not familiar, the Outer Banks (OBX) is a 200-mile (320 km) long string of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina and southeastern Virginia that separates the Pamlico Sound,  Albemarle Sound, and Currituck Sound from the Atlantic Ocean.

No trip to the Outer Banks would be complete without visiting North Carolina’s most iconic structure: the Cape Hatteras Light Station in Buxton, NC.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

On Thursday (December 16, 2021–last week) the weather was stunning, so my family took a few long walks on the beach, explored Hatteras Island, and spent the afternoon at the Cape Hatteras Light Station which is located within the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

The Cape Hatteras lighthouse is a North Carolina icon and arguably one of the most recognizable lighthouses in North America due to its height, its age, and the black/white helical daymark paint scheme. Continue reading POTA Activation: In the Presence of a North Carolina Icon!