New Year's Greetings...2015

Hi.  Just taking a moment to wish those that happen visit my little corner on the web all the best for 2015.  I'm not much for making New Year's resolutions, so none will be made.

I always have a few ham radio related projects on the back burner and future projects on the drawing board.  As I continue to work on various ham radio projects. I will post about them here as they progress.  Last time I checked, there had been over 20,000 page loads of this site over the past few years.  I post not only for myself as a written journal, but also to share the information as well. I thank those of you that may find my writings useful.

73, and have a great 2015.

ARRL Centennial Points Challenge

All year I have been participating in the ARRL Centennial Operation by working the W1AW/* portable stations, and other stations that are worth centennial points.  I also was a portable station myself as a W1AW/4 Virginia in October. I had set forth at least two goals at the beginning of the year. First was to achieve a Worked All States award including only W1AW portable stations, and to work all territories for extra endorsements to augment the WAS award. During the Centennial celebration year, the ARRL also had a point challenge with a four tier level of achievement. The levels of participation achievement are 1,000, 3000, 7,500 and 15,000 points, calculated on the combined point value of all stations contacted and confirmed through the Logbook of the World. ARRL members are worth 1 point each, and the ARRL President is worth 300 points, the highest point value available.

I had not really anticipated participating in the point challenge, as I was more focused on achieving worked all states before the Centennial celebration completed on December 31, 2014. I completed my WAS effort a few weeks ago with final operation in Delaware being the final state I had to work.  However, a few days ago I was looking at my paltry score of just 5,100 points. I asked myself, if it was possible to take it to the next level in such a short period of time?

 I began monitoring the DX cluster looking for additional W1AW portable stations to work for points, and for high point ARRL officials to log as well.  I worked many stations in the first few day and easily surpassed 7,500 points.  My new goal is to achieve the top level of 15,000 points. I checked my standings today, and currently have over 14,000 points.  It's been a fun year, I hope ham radio activity remains just as fun for 2015...73.





A nice Christmas surprise...

I recently received several unexpected ham radio items as part of a contest I entered.  During most Wednesday evenings, I can usually be found in the shack watching one of my favorite programs over the internet. The Ham Nation program on the Twit network. The Ham Nation program is a weekly web cast hosted by Dr. Bob Heil, Gordon West, and several other notable co-hosts.  Each week, the show focuses on ham radio news and activities, such as DXing, product reviews, contests, and technical topics with George Thomas W5JDX.  It's a great show and really is a joy to watch.  As part of the show, some of the sponsors provide free items for use in contests as prizes for the audience.

One of the major sponsors of the Ham Nation program is Icom America.  Each month, Icom sponsors a contest that allows Ham Nation viewers to enter and win Icom promotional packages.  The winners of those packages are also entered to win a monthly grand prize drawing of a new Icom transceiver.  During the show on the second week of November, I entered the Icom America contest and was surprisingly selected to receive one of the promotional packages. At the end of the month, I was notified by Icom that I had also been selected as the winner of a new Icom IC-7200.  It was really great to win the prizes and thanks to Ham Nation and especially to Icom America for their sponsorship.





Danny Boy...the tubes are calling...

We'll not exactly - Hi Hi.  However, I have decided to expand my small collection of vintage ham radio equipment.  Recently, a friend offered a few pieces of non-working Drake 4 line gear to me at a reasonable price.  I already own a vintage Drake L-4B amplifier that I recently refurbished.  Therefore, the additional Drake 4 line items easily fit into my collection. For those that are not familiar with the Drake 4 line. These are popular transceivers and equipment from the 70's, and are Vacuum Tube based designs.

The pieces I acquired are two TR4C SSB transceivers, a MS4/AC4 speaker/power supply, and a RV4/AC4 remote VFO/Power supply.  At some point in the future, I plan to restore this gear and hopefully have two functioning Drake 4 line stations. Replacement part availability is surprisingly good because of continued high interest in this quality USA produced amateur gear.

73


   

Updates for the station...

Hi,

It's been a while since I've updated my ham radio page. The last year has been a significant time of change for me. I retired in July 2013 from employment and that has given me more time to participate in amateur radio and other activities. Similar to other retirees, I sometimes wonder how I had time to work...Hi-Hi. It seems I have no shortage of projects and things I need to do!  Since my last post, I completed the Yagi antenna installation on the crank up tower. The HF antennas are working well and I recently confirmed enough HF DX contacts to qualify for DXCC.  I now have 116+ countries confirmed on the ARRL's logbook of the world. My long term goal is to achieve DXCC honor roll using only LOTW confirmations. This year, I have been focused on working the ARRL Centennial portable operations as a year long goal of achieving worked all states (WAS) using only ARRL portable contacts.   Once I complete the contacts I need for WAS/W1AW, I plan to apply for both the WAS and DXCC awards. 

During the past several months, I've completed a few ham radio projects that were pending on my “to do” list. First, I renovated my workshop that is located in another area of my home to make it more suitable to perform tasks on ham radio/electronic projects. It's in that area that I build and repair my ham radio equipment. During the period, I also built additional shelving for my operating desk, and refined the switching matrix for my station to handle the multiple transceivers and amplifiers I use. The station is now much more user friendly, as there are no cables to physically move to bring a radio or amplifier on line. The switching matrix is handled by 5 switching devices (3 antenna switches, a data/microphone switch box, and a switch box I built).  In the future, I would like to consolidate all switching tasks into a custom assignable modular design.  That may be another project I might tackle in the future. 

In the station, I have a Kenwood TS-830S that I use occasionally and use a Kenwood DFC-230 solid state frequency controller to stabilize the VFO on the 830.  However, recently the DFC-230 began to act erratically. Due to the age of the DFC-230, I thought it would be advisable to begin with replacing all of the capacitors. Apparently, some of the capacitors were defective, because the DFC-230 began to function normally once it was recapped. Total cost was around $12.00 for the update.
 
Another project I completed was to replace the capacitors in a 1947 Philco Audio/RF Signal Generator. Recently,  I had been looking for a signal generator, and this one was offered to me at a very good price by my friend Reid W2HU.  Some of the test gear from the 40's and 50's are a work of art.  The metal work quality on the 1947 Philco is outstanding, and certainly surpasses anything produced today.

Recently, I also added several new transceivers and a vintage amplifier to the station. The amplifier is a Drake L-4B to use as a companion to the Kenwood TS-830S. The L-4B is in very good physical condition. When purchased, the inspection tag was still attached to the amplifier, and showed a build date of June 6, 1977. As a statement to the durability of the Eimac 3-500Z tubes, the amplifier still has the original 1977 date coded Eimac tubes still installed and making full power!
 
IMO the Drake L-4B has one of the better RF decks built during that era. However, the amplifier does have a few design deficiencies that IMO should be corrected, and had age related issues as well. Therefore, I decided to modify the amplifier to resolve those issues and to also update the power supply.  To update the power supply, I installed a new power supply board that included all new diodes, resistors, and capacitors. The new board eliminated the two separate capacitor boards and added additional capacitance as well.
 
The design problems with the L-4B are twofold. First, in it's stock form a surge from the high voltage power supply flows through the HV switch on the front panel whenever the amplifier is switched on. After years of use, the HV switch on the L-4B has a tendency to burn and fail, and a replacement switch is not readily available. The second issue is more common. Similar to most vintage tube amplifiers of that era, they have a considerable amount of voltage and current involved with the T/R switching relay. Many modern transceivers are unable to handle the high switching voltage without using an external padding device, or will sustain damage that is usually expensive to repair.

To correct those issues. I first modified the on/off switching circuit by installing a vacuum relay to handle the HV switching.  The high voltage is now handled by the vacuum relay and the front panel switch now only handles a mere12 volts and 30 mils of current. The second modification I installed is a small optical keying buffer. That circuit now handles the internal higher voltage T/R switching and thus the transceiver only has to sink to ground, a low power/current signal to place the amplifier into transmit.

I am always interested in new equipment that will place the most SSB contacts into my log.  I recently acquired a Yaesu FTDX-9000mp that includes the 400 watt PA and decided to put it to a real world test against a IC-7700 I also had in the station.  Testing in my station indicated that there was no significant difference in performance between the two for performing weak signal SSB reception. Therefore, I decided to sell the IC-7700 with the intention to purchase another rig at a later date that was more recent in design and may have a better receiver.

The next rig purchase was a Yaesu FTDX-3000.  I discovered that its performance was very close to that of the FTDX-9000.  However, operationally the FTDX-9000 is far superior for my style of ham radio, because the FTDX-9000 series is less menu driven for basic operation settings.  Although the FTDX-3000 is a great radio, it still did not add anything significant to my station's capabilities.

The most recent purchase is a Kenwood TS-990S.  I've only owned the TS-990S for a relatively short period of time. Nevertheless, in relation to weak signal SSB work, the TS-990S has proven to have better performance than the FTDX-9000.  It took Kenwood nearly 11 years to produce another flagship radio, after production ceased for the TS-950SDX.  I am please with the TS-990S and can say the wait was well worth it.  I have written E-Ham reviews about both transceivers and they can be read here.


FTDX-9000 http://www.eham.net/reviews/detail/7862

Vintage Hybrid Station; Astatic D104 Microphone; Kenwood TS-830S, DFC-230, SM-220; Drake L-4B, L-4 PS; Ten Tec 1225 Peak Reading Power Meter...


 
Current main HF operating position...



Final Review and Installation of the M2 40M4LLDD



Hi.  This is my experience and an expansion of a review I posted on eham.com regarding the M2 40M4LLDD 4 Element 40 meter Linear Loaded Yagi.

Purchase: The purchase and shipping experience with M2 was FB. The cost of the antenna was roughly just under $2400 US, delivered. The antenna arrived in good shape within the time stated. The parts arrived in a rather large, heavy box, with the three boom sections all wrapped together in plastic wrap.

Manual, Parts, Assembly and Installation: The manual for the antenna could be significantly improved. A few detailed photos of a completed antenna assembly, could answer a lot of questions someone may have during the assembly process. The manual only gives drawings, that are not always clear, and only shows one half of the antenna. I had a question about the linear loading lines on both sides of the antenna, whether they mirror each other or does it matter? Nevertheless, I contacted M2 for assistance and found them to be very helpful.

The antenna contains a large amount of small parts and hardware, some that was missing from my order. The parts count given in the manual for a few of the smaller #8 screws, indicated that I should have received more than was actually delivered, and I was given extra longer screws that I did not need.  I was able to replace the missing hardware at the local big box store. I am sure M2 Inc. would have provided the missing screws, but I was on a time schedule and did not want to delay the assembly waiting for generic parts. Other than noted below, most of the antenna components seem to be very good quality and up to the task.

During assembly and installation, I was concerned about several key components that were provided with the antenna. My first concern, the locking nuts on the turnbuckles. The way the turnbuckles are supposed to be installed on the antenna for the elements, the standard thread locking nut is not on the side of the turnbuckle that attaches to the metal center support. Rather, the locking nut is on the side of the turnbuckle that holds the support rope or Phillystran.  I did not like that arrangement at all. I thought it would be better to have a locking nut on the side of the antenna that could not rotate due to vibration or wind. Therefore, I added left hand threaded nuts to the other end of each turnbuckle as well, thus locking both sides.

The antenna comes with just enough cable clamps to use two per end on the Phillystran support guys. Another amateur I know that has previous experience with a M2 full size 40 meter beam, indicated that with two cable clamps, the Phillystran support for those elements had slipped. To prevent that from happening, I added a third clamp to each end of the Phillystran support guys.

Another concern of mine was the boom support.  M2 provides a section of Dacron rope to support the boom. IMO, with a 42 foot boom, rope may not last very long.  At first, I contemplated using aircraft grade cable for the boom support, but I wanted to avoid any interaction from using a metal support.  Therefore, I changed from rope to 2100 pound rated Phillystran.  

Moreover, the last two components that really concerned me was the rather small boom to mast plate, and the 4 muffler style clamps provided to secure the antenna to the mast. They appeared inadequate to me, and my suspicions were realized during the installation, because the clamps failed.

I own a tilt-over, crank up tower. To install the antenna from the ground, I planned to install the center section of the antenna. Add the front boom section, director, and support. Rotate the antenna 180 degrees. Then install the rear boom section, reflector and support. During assembly, things went as planned, until I attempted to crank the tower back over to install the rear boom section after I had rotated the antenna.

The unbalanced weight of the antenna literally warped the boom plate and two of the four mast clamps, causing the antenna to rotate freely out of control on the mast. Luckily, no permanent damage occurred, because the elements flexed, rather than bent, when they made contact with the ground.  To remedy that issue, I purchased a much larger boom plate and solid cast aluminum clamps with stainless bolts from DX Engineering.  In my opinion, a must for this large antenna. The new plate and clamps are working excellent to support this large antenna.

Tuning and On the Air: The advantage to the M2 dual driven linear loaded design, is the increased usable bandwidth and near full size antenna performance in a smaller size footprint. Using the "Full Band" settings provided in the manual, the antenna covers the entire 40 meter band with an SWR below the advertised max SWR of 2:1. This has been confirmed on my installation. The measured SWR is 1.7 on the lower band edge at 7.000, 1.2 at the upper band edge of 7.300, and exhibits a nice smooth curve bottoming out around 1.1 on 7.180.  No additional adjustments were necessary, but it was necessary to retune a six meter beam that is mounted four feet above this one (now resonance is 49.850), so there is some minor interaction to that antenna.  Based on other's experience, the center antenna always suffers the most on a single mast multi-antenna installation.

At this time, I don’t have my rotator control lines installed, so the antenna is fixed at 45 degrees East of North towards Europe. So far, the gain seem so be on par as advertised. I’ve worked a few stations and have received “Big Signal” reports from stations on the other end, when I am just running 200 watts, at 1.5 KW, I've been told, I am the loudest station heard!

I notice the bulk of U.S. stations usually given "5/9", while I am consistently given 5-20+ over S-9 signal reports. I am copying stations easily as well.  As expected, the antenna works just as well on receive too. In comparison to a ladder line fed 120 foot inverted V at 70 feet, the beam has much better receive on DX in the direction it is pointed.  I’ve seen as much as 7 S units in difference.

Based on performance, I am very pleased with the antenna.  I hope to be more active on 40 meters, a band that I haven't used much in the past.  73 and Good DXing.


Failed Mast Clamps








Warped Boom Plate



TH-11DX, 40M4LLDD,  + 5 Elements on 6 Meters

Improved Boom to Mast Plate 40M4LLDD


The M2 40M4LLDD

The final Yagi antenna that I plan to soon install on my tower is a M2 40M4LLDD.  The antenna is quite large, but not near as heavy as I expected.  When assisted by another person, we can easily move this antenna around as I prepare for installation.  I hope the performance of the antenna is as impressive as its physical appearance. Overall, I would say the quality of the antenna is good, but there is room for improvement in regard to the instructions contained within the assembly manual, and with some of the hardware items.

First, there is a problem with the turnbuckles supplied to adjust the Phillystran lines that support each of the elements and linear loading lines.  The installation instructions show the element turnbuckles installed with the jam nut facing the center support bracket.  However, the end of the turnbuckle that has the jam nut is a closed loop, so it cannot be installed on the center support as shown.  Installing the turnbuckle in reverse, would allow the turnbuckle to loosen because the Phillystran line is not stiff enough to prevent the turnbuckle from turning.  To fix that issue, I had to also install a second jam nut on the opposite end of the turnbuckle. The nuts are left hand threaded and after checking multiple big box stores without success.  I was lucky enough to find them at one of the local True Value hardware stores.   

Another item that really concerns me is the boom support. M2 supplies a piece of UF rated rope, a mast bracket, and two turnbuckles to support the 42 foot boom.  I can see the rope not lasting very long and failing under stress if there is a significant freezing rain event.  If the center support fails under extreme load, it would not take much to destroy the antenna. To strengthen the support system, rather than using the supplied rope, I am installing aircraft grade cable in its place.

Another source of contention with me, the antenna is not supplied with any type of caps to close off the boom and elements. Left open, wasps and other insects will make my new antenna their home.  To resolve that issue, I obtained a set of vinyl caps from DX Engineering to close up the open elements and boom.  

Additionally, the manual could use clarification and revision.  Some of the written instructions contradict the illustrations, are unclear, or don't seem to match the parts count.  I kept referring to the same set of instructions multiple times to get a clear understanding of the correct assembly.  Another issue is the lay out of the illustrations, logically they should be next to the written instruction for the part of the antenna you are assembling.  However, it is necessary to flip back and forth between multiple pages to find the illustration that is applicable to the written text.

The assembled 40M4LLDD without the final element ends....