Friday, January 13, 2017

2017: The Adventure Begins

What a year 2016 turned out to be at VE3VN. What was a strong possibility at the beginning of the year became a reality. I am now committed and facing 2017 with a mix of hope, trepidation and a sense of accomplishment. As seems to have become a tradition for me in this blog, every January I write a retrospective of the past year and look forward to the new year. In particular what plans I have and why.

Onward with the 2017 edition. You can read the 2016 edition to form your own impression of how well I did. I scored close to 100% by my estimate. That's a pretty good prediction. I doubt I'll score so high in 2017 but then what's the point of objectives that are not ambitious? So let's get into it.

Where I stand

The first tower is up and decorated with aluminum. My hope to at least get started on the 150' guyed tower got squashed by the weather. The concrete work ran into problems and I was only able to plant two guy anchors. The remaining anchor and the base were ready for concrete, and was in fact ordered, when things went south (as we say).

It could have turned into a financial disaster. Although that was averted the consequence was that work had to stop for the winter. I'll have more to say on the topic later. As of now the work is planned to resume in early spring when the weather warms up and the ground is still frozen. If nothing else the delay gives me time to better approach the work involved in a project of this size.

To get by for winter operating I put up an inverted vee for 80 meters -- more on this in a future article. Its apex is only 19 meters to keep it out of the way of the yagi rotation loops and reduce the potential for interaction (yagi pattern disturbance). Although not an ideal performer it does pretty well. What it does very well is to get me on the band. Without it my operating would be too limited due to the short days for high band operating and the early closing of 40 meters. Yes, the MUF easily falls below 7 MHz on many paths with the solar flux hovering in the 70s during the long winter nights.

I may yet do something for 30 and 17 meters, but I don't want to clutter the tower too much. The XM240 loads well enough on 17, but none of the antennas loads well on 30 meters.

For the present I have no shack. The coax and rotator cable route to the upstairs balcony door and into the master bedroom. There is no operating desk. It's uncomfortable. This arrangement is necessary until renovation on the house reaches the point that I can make better arrangements without risking contractor damage to the installation.

Riding out the winter

I had hoped to have the LR20 planted so that I could slowly raise the 150' tower over the winter as the weather allowed. Since that won't happen I have extra time on my hands. What it means is adjusting my priorities rather than doing nothing.

My objectives for the winter are modest:
  • Do something to get on 160 meters. This is needed in contests to add multipliers and whatever QSOs I can garner. Shunt feeding the tower is a possibility, however it was not designed to allow for radials: there just isn't the room. But then a few meandering radials is better than nothing. Other alternatives are more difficult or problematic for a short-term solution. For example, inverted L or planting a vertical in a field somewhere.
  • Try a directive receive antenna for the low bands. I have what I need to put up a Beverage antenna. All I need to get out there and run some wire towards Europe and run some small coax back to the shack. It can be removed in the spring before it becomes a navigation problem.
  • Build the first shack. I intend to build two shacks: one for everyday operation in my main floor office and another in the basement for multi-op contesting. The main floor shack is the priority. The downstairs shack needs to be located, framed and wired. That work will begin this winter. Finishing it may be put off to the autumn.
  • Plan out the important tasks of automating antenna switching and filtering necessary to SO2R and multi-op contests. I don't need to build much right now. The critical part is having a detailed plan to which I can gradually work towards. One decision I need to make is how much to buy and how much to build. The former can be expensive but is expedient.
  • Contest! There are contests to enter and I plan to get in there with what I have. Despite just having the one tower what I have is pretty good. It only seems poor in comparison to what I am working towards.
There is lots of ongoing house renovation work. Some I am doing myself. By the spring I expect the house to be far more livable. I also need things I didn't need in the city. For example just this week I acquired a garden tractor. In addition to its ordinary uses it will play a role in tower work.

With snow on the ground I am also able to explore my 50 acres better than before. With snowshoes I was able to get out into the swamp and cross overgrown and bush areas. I do this to become acquainted with what I own and to inspect potential sites for low band receive antennas.

Categorization of tasks for the year ahead

Before I delve into specifics I'll list the categories of tasks I've set for myself in 2017. I don't really expect that all my plans will come to fruition because, well, life happens. From the categories you will gain some insight into my approach to building out the station. In any large project it is advantageous to break it down into pieces, otherwise it may be too complex to attack.
  • Structures: this includes towers and other antenna supports
  • Mounts: mechanical design and construction to affix antennas and rotators to structures
  • Antenna design: software model evaluation for target usage, before committing to building
  • Antenna selection and construction
  • Interaction: necessary for contests and important for achieving modelled performance.
  • Switching systems for direction control: start with mechanical switching and gradually automate
  • Switching systems for antennas and operating positions/shacks
  • User interfaces (software and hardware) for selection of antennas, direction and operating position
  • Low band receive antennas: choose sites, designs and get them built
  • Transmission lines and control lines: selection, burial, connectors, etc.
  • Rigs: The FT-950 with be supplemented with a better transceiver suited to my new objectives
  • Amplifier: It's time to return to QRO operating, at least some of the time
Spring plans

I can't mention spring without talking about the Dayton Hamvention. While plans are not final it appears I will be attending this year for the first time since around 1991. For me it is an opportunity to become reacquainted with the broader contesting community and to do some shopping. Well, actually it'll be a lot of shopping. There is a great deal of small parts and equipment I need that are inconvenient to gather piecemeal by mail order.

The first order of business in station building is to finish concrete work on the guyed tower and get it raised. By the fall I intend to have several yagis on that tower including two 40 meter yagis. What I can't say for the moment is whether the high yagi at 43 meters will be 2 or 3 elements, at least this year. Joining it up top will be a tri-band yagi or a 20 meter monoband yagi. They will be turned with a prop pitch rotator. These high antennas are for the difficult long distance DX paths for general DXing and acquiring precious DX multipliers and contacts necessary to contest scores.

The antennas on the Trylon tower will all come down. The likely candidates to replace them will be a TH7 I have in storage and the redesigned A50-6. The old multi-band inverted vee may join them to get me on 40, 30, and 17 meters until I can do something better for the latter two bands and to allow 40 meter operation while the tower work is ongoing.

Transmission lines and control cables will be buried. The Heliax will finally be put to use. I will run LDF7 up the Trylon for 6 meters and perhaps other VHF bands with remote switching. The workhorse for the guyed tower(s) will be LDF5. I mayy need more to get through 2017 than what I current have on hand. LDF4 will be used for HF on the Trylon and for some low band antennas with long runs. This work will stretch well into the summer.


Once the basics are completed in spring I have some difficult decisions to make. My objective is a modestly competitive station for SO2R and small multi-op (multi-single or multi-two). The antennas must support that. The waning solar cycle is a helpful constraint since it allows me to defer major antenna effort for 10 and 15 meters.

I have 3 tri-banders in my stock: Explorer 14, TH6 and TH7. One of these may go on top of the big tower, as I mentioned. As already mentioned the Trylon probably gets the TH7. The remaining one will be side mounted on the guyed tower. Whether it is fixed, rotatable over 120° or 300° will depend on my progress on other projects.

A one acre plot will be selected for an 80 meter array. I am seriously considering the 3-element switchable vertical yagi I described previously. Of course a 4-square is a more typical choice but there are advantages of physical simplicity, cost and the opportunity to experiment. After all, my objectives are not limited to operating or having a big signal but to learn and try new things.

For 160 meters I will most likely choose a vertical integrated with the 80 meter array. Anything better will almost certainly be deferred to future years.

Once I decide on my tower configuration for the year I will build yagis to suit. I'd rather build than buy and yagis are really not difficult to construct. The two 32' booms I have in stock will either become 5-element yagis for 15 meters or 4-element yagis for 20 meters. Or perhaps one of each is more sensible. If I build one for 20 meters it may go on top of the 40 meter yagi, with tri-banders fixed or rotatable at a lower height or on a separate tower. When used for 20 meters the boom may require strengthening.


A stretch objective for the autumn is a second guyed tower of similar height to be placed on the south side of the house. That tower will allow excellent separation and diversity for contests and also remove clutter on a single tall tower. Stacks for 20 and 15 meters are possible.

With that second tower I am giving serious thought to a 3-element wire yagi for the first guyed tower, switchable between Europe and USA, at an apex of around 30 meters. Any higher and there would be interactions with the 40 meter on top of the tower, be too close for future stacking and too high for those productive paths. This antenna becomes possible by reducing clutter and interactions by putting 15 and 20 meter antennas on the second guyed tower.

Next winter

I will probably back off the outdoors work since I've had enough of miserable winter tower and antenna work this year. Perhaps I will play with low band receive antennas, but little else. The shack is where I plan to spend most of my time, improving the operating positions for comfort and with increased automation. I may get far enough along that I can organize the first multi-op for my station.


My plan for 2017 is ambitious. This retrospective and looking forward article is like none of its predecessors in January of the past few years.

No matter how far I progress I intend to have a decent station for the fall contest season. With large and competitive antennas for 80, 40 and 20 meters there is every chance of doing well at this point in the solar cycle. For the remaining bands -- 160, 15 and 10 meters -- I can get by with merely adequate antennas. For general operating and DXing I will come up with something simple for 30 and 17 meters.

How much I can accomplish depends on many factors, including those outside of the hobby. My life is more than amateur radio, notwithstanding the intensity of activity these past several months.

One year hence I am looking forward to sitting in a new comfortable shack with the world at my fingertips with a better class of antennas and supporting hardware and software. You will hear me on the bands. Is this a great hobby or what?

Comments and contact address

Comments on articles are moderated. My intent isn't to prevent criticism or for other nefarious reasons. It's a matter of practicality. Spam is a problem. Google is pretty good at filtering out the majority yet a lot gets through. When those show up in the moderation queue they are summarily deleted. Everything else gets published.

The other problem is dealing with Google's identification system which makes commenting a hassle, often depending on your choice of browser. I get around this by allowing anonymous commenters; you'll even see comments signed by me that are identified as anonymous. By invoking moderation I make it easy for you to comment while also making it easy for me to kill spam. The downside is a delay until comments are published. Usually the delay is no more than a few hours.

To contact me by email you should address messages to my call sign in front of the domain name. That will forward to my gmail account reserved for amateur radio use. If we've communicated by email last year or earlier you should not use any other email address since it may silently vanish into the aether. I will never see it. My previous ISP does not reliably issue bounce messages to senders.

If you want a direct reply about any article or to get more information, such as antenna models, use email. I treat blog comments as addressed to the public, not me, and often publish them without commenting in return.

I look forward to seeing everyone on the bands in 2017.

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