The anniversary snuck up on me. It was almost exactly 10 years ago that I returned to amateur radio after being away from it for 20 years. I gave a few hints about how that happened in the very first article in this blog, which was published in February of 2013. There was more to it than what I wrote. No matter the circumstances, I am happy that I did come back.
The Elecraft KX3 that I assembled exactly 10 years ago, between Christmas and New Year's Day, was sold a few years ago. I had moved on and it no longer fit my operating style. Were you to peruse those early articles you'd notice how focussed I was on small stations and antennas, and how to get the most out of both. That's just who I am. Soon the DXCC countries piled up and then the reentry to contests.
With the resurgence of my radio ambitions, QRP no longer satisfied my appetite. I increased power and the antennas got bigger. A few years later I quit city life and moved to a rural QTH to give full rein to my ambitions. Although I certainly have gone far beyond what most hams would ever want to do, it filled a need in my soul.
I am learning new things and achieving objectives I only dreamed about when I first ventured onto the air in 1972. I try to share that knowledge and enthusiasm in this blog. More importantly, I'm having tremendous fun. This is despite the many challenges of building and maintaining a station of this size. I continue to enjoy blogging so expect the pace of articles to be maintained.
The 530 blog articles (rate of one per week) since then follow my path and
progression. That was my intent. Many hams make their sites a technical
reference, updating and adding pages as they go. Mine is about the narrative: this is the story of my return and journey through the hobby. I let readers rely on the search function to find specific projects and other items of interest. The narrative doesn't end until I do.
I thought I'd end 2022 with an overview of what's in my station work pipeline. All of us have projects we're working on, and for me, at this time of year, most are indoors activities. Not all, but most. Many of these projects will get their own articles in the new year. This preview may be of interest to regular readers, or not. Whatever the case, here we go.
Station automation: first light
After several weeks delay I returned to software development for my home brew station automation system just before Christmas. This time I could put it to the test since I had the first phase of the switching system hardware assembled. For this first time the system would select antennas on band changes and alternative antennas for each band. I called this achievement "first light" in the same way a new telescope is put into service.
It's ugly but perfectly functional. Keep in mind that the switching system will be placed under the operating desk, out of sight. You'll hear relays clacking but that's all. In this picture the 20 meter stack is selected on radio 1. The second radio was not connected for the first test, and testing for that, and contention between radios was successfully tested shortly thereafter.
The first layer of relays controls the remote 2×8 antenna switch. I went with the same cabling as the manual switch for easy fallback in case of disasters. Since the picture was taken another layer of relays was added and is working. Despite the software being incomplete, the system is functional. The manual controller (seen in the background) handles functions not yet transferred to the new system.
Cabling and connectors are a challenge but not nearly so bad as for the aborted design. The openness of the hardware eases maintenance and configuration changes. I hope to have the full system operational by mid-January. After it's complete and with at least one contest's worth of experience, expect an article on the project.
My current operating desk is very nice but not suited to effective multi-op contesting. Since that's my objective I built a new desk. This project was put on ice for quite some time when the pandemic ruled out multi-op contests. I am hoping to get to do one of those, with the new desk, later this winter.
The frame with the top removed (for painting) is shown at right. There's lots of legroom and shelving for peripheral equipment. The main support is at the rear where the heavy equipment, like the amplifiers, will be placed.
Installation was planned for the holidays but has been delayed until January. With so much progress on the automation system I didn't want to interrupt that project with several days of cabling and wiring work during the transition.
Related to this project is the purchase of PC for the second multi-op station. Only one PC is used for SO2R. It's a small desktop PC with an SSD and just 3 USB ports. It's lightweight, physically small and ideal for running N1MM. It has been set aside until the new desk is ready.
The weather has been severe of late, with winds of 100 kph, heavy snowfall and ice. Add deer to the mix and the Beverage antennas are severely stressed. The northeast-southwest Beverage was bent out of shape by snow and ice laden trees and deer had chewed through a support rope. It was a mess. I spent a few hours repairing what I could. It works again but another round of maintenance is required.
The east-west Beverage is still unidirectional to the west since I ran out of parts to rebuild the lightning damaged head end. I hope to have that done in January. Other than that the Beverage system is working. With so much ongoing maintenance I have become more serious about considering a commercial vertical array. Perhaps not in 2023 but we'll see. I have other measures on my plan to reduce the system's susceptibility to lightning.
Prop pitch motor controllers
I have one old Hy-Gain controller that I will convert to a prop pitch motor controller. The transformers in the controller are not particularly suitable to making an op amp power supply so I will likely use the old controller's power supply. That and relays to remotely switch motor current from the Hy-Gain controller's levers will make a nice commercial looking solution.
The project will wait until after the operating desk is replaced so that I don't have to do the wiring twice. For now I will, unfortunately, stick with the interim breadboard direction indicators.
40 meter antennas
The severe weather has taken another bite out of the big 3-element yagi. There are now two capacitance hat arms that have broken off, the latest one from the reflector element. The antenna continues to perform well but the problem must be dealt with. I have a couple of candidate designs to replace my poor choice for clamping the capacitance hats to the elements.
I would also like to replace or complement the XM240 with a 2-element reversible and rotatable Moxon. I am at a preliminary stage of the design process to characterize the critical design elements. One objective is to eliminate all loads and their losses.
The elements must be symmetric for it to be conveniently reversible. That puts constraints on the mechanical design and switching electronics. I am unsatisfied by reversing methods that my brief research located, and I am working on alternatives. My initial model is similar in appearance to the Optibeam 40 meter Moxon.
The reason for making it reversible is to get 240° of coverage (2 × 120° of rotation) with a simple side mount rotator. I would like to avoid a swing gate for 300° coverage because the wind torque of a large antenna with an offset centre requires a more robust rotator. In particular, braking strength. I will most likely put this antenna where the TH6 currently resides and use the same Hy-Gain rotator.
No trap tri-band yagi
Following from above, the TH6 may go on the Trylon tower so that I have a rapidly rotating tri-bander for chasing multipliers. My longer term objective is to replace the TH6 with a trap-less yagi. I am looking at candidate designs. As time goes on I am increasingly unhappy with the unavoidable loss of traps. The Hy-Gain traps are pretty good but the design trade-offs are clearly noticable in comparison to my mono-band yagis.
Auxiliary antenna switches
The automation software has provision for up to 8 auxiliary antenna switches, and even for a 40 meter stack should I ever decide to do that. The immediate application is for 40 and 80 meters. I have two 40 meter antennas and I want to use a single port on the 2×8 switch plus an auxiliary switch to select between the XM240 and the 3-element yagi. I will do the same for 80 meters, using my old inverted vee for the second antenna. It's intended for short path contacts that are better served by a horizontally polarized antenna.
Using a switching hierarchy like this is common for contest stations. It makes the use of high power BPF (band pass filters) convenient and avoids over-subscription to the N×M antenna switch. The relays work fine on the low bands and may need compensation on 15 and 10 meters to keep the through impedance at 50 Ω.I hope to have these in place before spring, and when I do the 80 meter inverted vee will be installed on partway up the 150' tower. The feed line is already there. I need to buy enclosures for the switches, mount UHF jacks and install one SPDT relay in each. One of the existing Cat5 cables will be recruited to bring the control lines to the automated switch.
Yes, I occasionally get on the air! Although I sometimes wonder how I find the time. With one very rare entity currently active -- Crozet Island -- and another on the way -- Bouvet Island -- and improving propagation, this is a good time for DXCC chasers looking to reach the top of the Honor Roll. Rare DX is in my pipeline of things to do in early 2023.
It's karma that the Crozet call sign prefix is the same as the mode with the vast majority of the contacts to date. I hope that changes. The WSJT-X screenshot above was for my QSO with him on 30 meters. I have since done the same on 20. With these two contacts I now have a lifetime total of 3 digital contacts on HF. Until now I've restricted my use of digital modes to VHF and 160 meters.
I made the effort as insurance. If he has equipment failure or weather takes out the station I want to be sure I have Crozet in the log. With these insurance contacts in hand I was less anxious about working him on CW and SSB. He'll be active for some time and I expect to get what I want, eventually. (Note: Shortly after writing the above, I worked him on 20 meters CW. I'm happy.)
Soon we'll be bidding bon voyage to the Bouvet DXpeditioners and I wish them good fortune, for their sake and for ours. This one feels different because one of the team members, VE3LYC, is a friend. Although I worked Bouvet over 30 years ago, I restarted my DXCC count when I returned to the air 10 years ago. I don't believe in lifetime achievement awards.
Formal 2023 plan
2022 was a year when I took a break from building and installing large antennas. Expect a return to antenna work in 2023. I'll be setting project priorities for the year in the waning months of winter and be ready to go in the spring. As in previous years I'll have an article on my 2023 plan along with how well I kept to my 2022 plan.
Have a happy new year and I'll see you on the other side.