Beam fixed!

A week and a half ago, my friend, Bob, WD8BNA, came  up to me at our Rotary Club meeting and said, “Have you taken a look at your beam lately?” referring to the three-element Yagi at WA2HOM, our club station down at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum.

“No,” I replied, “what’s up?”

“Part of the antenna’s missing,” he said. “It must have come off during the high winds we had last week.” I drove by the next day, and sure enough, we were missing half the reflector.

Jack, WT8N, who was majorly responsible for us getting the beam up in the air in the first place, jumped right on this. He got up onto the roof, found the missing element, and organized a work party to re-attach it.

The work party was this afternoon. Jack; Ovide, K8EV; yours truly; and Jerry, head of maintenance for the museum and the son of a ham headed up to the roof to lower the antenna and fix the antenna.

Lowering the antenna proved easier than I expected. We unbolted the tilt-over tower from the mounting bracket and it came down relatively easily. Re-attaching the errant element was also pretty straightforward. All the bolts were there. It looks like we just didn’t tighten it down well enough the first time.

Tilting the tower back up proved to be a little more difficult. We first tried it with two men pushing and two men pulling on one of the guy wires.  When that didn’t work, we tried three guys pushing it, and one pulling. That didn’t work either.

Ovide then went in search of another helper. He returned shortly thereafter with one young museum employee, and with four guys pushing, we finally got the tower into an upright position. We inserted and tightened the bolts, and now we’re back in business with all of the elements in the right position. Overall, this took just an hour to do.

Despite missing half of the reflector, the beam seemed to work just fine. It tuned up just fine, and was still quite directional. I’m sure with the complete reflector, it works even better, though. If I knew more about antenna modeling, I’d run a simulation and figure out how much directionality we were actually using.

Has anyone done this? If you have, or have some idea what the effect of losing half of a reflector has on a three-element Yagi, I’d like to hear from you.

WA2HOM: Championship Contest Station?

In the mail today, I received something totally unexpected—a certificate proclaiming WA2HOM to be the first place finisher in the multi-operator, single-transmitter category of the 2011 CQ World Wide WPX contest.

CQ WPX Certificate

With such a low score, I don’t supposed that we had many competitors in that category, but it’s still pretty cool.

A special (event) day at WA2HOM

I had a special day at WA2HOM today…a special event day, that is.

First of all, it was SKYWARN Recognition Day today. There were more than 100 National Weather Service amateur radio stations on the air today (see map below).

SKYWARN Stations

More than 100 NWS amateur radio stations were on the air today for SKYWARN Recognition Day.

I managed to work eight of them including stations in FL, IL, KS, KY, MA, TN, TX, and VA.

I also contacted several stations participating in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Amateur Radio Clubs Special Event. This operating event was held in conjunction with the SEC championship football game. I was able to work three of the stations: AA4UT (Univ. of Tennessee), W4DFU‘ (Univ. of Florida), and W5YM (University of Arkansas). It was great to hear so many college club stations on the air.

One thing that I found a little curious is that the event lasted only from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm.  Then, it hit me. The game must have started at 1:00 pm. D’oh!

I worked two stations commemorating the attack on Pearl Harbor. The first, N4WIS, was aboard the battleship U.S.S. Wisconsin in Norfolk, VA. The second, W2W, was located at the National Electronics Museum in Baltimore, MD.

When I wasn’t busy working the special event stations, I managed to sneak in a couple of DX contacts. The first, VP2MOR, was on the island of Monserrat. The second, NH7U, is on the island of Molokai in Hawaii. It was kind of neat to work NH7U as I’ve actually been to Molokai.

In addition to all these great contacts, I was able to give a couple of demos to interested museum patrons. That rounded off a really special day down at WA2HOM.

JOTA gets scouts on the air

At the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum Saturday, we participated in the 54th Jamboree on the Air (JOTA). As the website says, “The Jamboree-on-the-Air, or JOTA, is an annual Scouting event that uses amateur radio to link Scouts around the world, around the nation, and in your own community.”

We didn’t have a big turnout, but we had a lot of fun. The hams that turned out included Pat, W8LNO; Quentin, KD8IPF; and Mark, W8MP. Pat and Quentin are both involved in the Scout leadersip; Mark’s 14-year-old son, Brian, KD8EEH, is an Eagle Scout. In addition to Brian, we had four Cub Scouts, whose names I didn’t write down (sorry!), and via 2m FM, Stuart, KD8LWR.

They all were able to talk to other Scouts, all on 20m phone.

The highlight of our operation was our QSO with XE1L in Mexico City. XE1L is the station of Luis, a friend of W8MP. This was not a scheduled contact at all. We just happened to run across them.

Brian, KD8EEH, made the contact, and spoke in Spanish with the two Mexican Scouts, Stephanie and Alex, for more than 45 minutes. I was certainly impressed with Brian’s Spanish skills. I don’t think that I could have kept up the conversation so long.

In addition to the HF station, I set up our 2m radio and connected to several EchoLink nodes at which hams were participating in the JOTA. One of them was in California, the other in Ontario. Stuart talked to several of the Scouts in Canada.

Next year, we might think about being a bit more organized. That might make the experience a little more educational for the Scouts, but just getting them on the air was a lot of fun.

JOTA 2011

T32C in the log at WA2HOM

I didn’t make many contacts today down at WA2HOM, but I had a great time.

First off, I had planned to put PL-259s on the feedlines for the dipole and the VHF antenna, but when I went to do so, I found that it had already been done! That was very cool.

Next, I hooked up the Icom IC-V8000 to see what repeaters we could hit. First, I tried keying up the ARROW repeater. Nothing. Hmmmmm, I thought, maybe it’s just down. Next, I tried the U-M repeater, which is less than a mile away as the crow flies. I was able to key it, but the S-meter showed only a couple of S units. Something was wrong.

I swapped feedlines, and voila! Everything worked as I’d hoped. Somehow, we’d mis-labelled the feedlines. Not only that, there’s still nothing connected to the end of the dipole feedline, so I was actually able to key up the U-M repeater without an antenna!

Anyway, after connecting the right feedline to the radio, I chatted a bit with both Ralph, AA8RK, and Pat, W8LNO. Talking to Pat was fortuitous because he’s involved with Scouting, and when I mentioned that we planned to operate the Jamboree on the Air next weekend, he volunteered to come down and help out. That means we will be able to operate two radios, the HF station on 20m and the VHF station through the U-M repeater to EchoLink.

T32C DXpeditionAfter that conversation, I turned the HF rig back on, and thought I’d see what was on 15 m. Tuning around, I found a small pileup on 21.017. I called up DXWatch and determined that the pileup was for T32C, the DXpedition to Chrismas Island. I accessed their record on QRZ.Com, found the bearing, swung the beam around to 260 degrees, and heard them quite well. After setting the transmit incremental tuning to about 2 kHz, I worked them on the second call! I just love that beam!

A Downsized Field Day

It seems like everyone (except for maybe Google) is downsizing these days. With that in mind, I thought that I’d downsize my Field Day. Instead of participating in the large 5A ARROW Field Day operation, the guys that hang around WA2HOM, our club station at the Hands-On Museum, decided to set up a much smaller operation.

Our first idea was to set up outside the museum. That seemed like it was going to work out until Quentin, KD8IPF, informed me that he couldn’t attend, as his wife was going to be out of town, and he needed to take care of his kids. I was concerned that without Quentin that we wouldn’t have enough operators to have two people there at all times.

Then, Quentin volunteered his backyard. This turned out to be a great venue. He has a fairly large, with a couple of big trees. Not only that, he lives next door to his mother-in-law, and she’s volunteered her trees as antenna supports. You gotta love a mother-in-law like that!

One of the advantages of downsizing is that you don’t have to spend so much time setting up. Instead of setting up antennas for five HF stations, a GOTA station, and a VHF/UHF station, all we had to do was set up antennas for our two HF stations. And, since we planned on using Quentin’s already-installed, multi-band dipole, we only really had one antenna to worry about.

That being the case, we decided that we really didn’t need to start setting up until noon on Saturday. Jim, K8ELR, and I actually arrived about 11:30 am, and that proved to be more than enough time. Jim brought with him a 40m dipole and a 30m, end-fed half-wave antenna, while I brought my BuddiStick. We quickly decided to put up the 40m dipole, and by 1pm, we were already on the air.

A Tale of Two Antennas
Of course, it wasn’t really as simple as all that. When we started operating, the two stations interfered with one another something terrible. So much so that my KX-1 was even causing Quentin’s LDG autotuner to retune itself when I transmitted.

The problem was that the 40m dipole and the multi-band dipole were running nearly parallel to one another. I should have known that this would occur, having been involved with more than a few Field Days by now, but it never even crossed my mind.

Fortunately, the solution was relatively simple. All we had to do was to take down the multi-band dipole and hang it from two different trees, one of them in the adjoining yard. After we did this, the two antennas were nearly perpendicular to one another, and the interference just went away. The phone station could not hear my little peanut whistle signal at all, and while I could hear the phone station transmit, it really didn’t affect my ability to make contacts.

I really didn’t think that this was going to work, but Ovide, K8EV, was quite confident that it would. I was the one that ate crow.

Did You Really Use a KX-1?
So, I can hear a lot of you asking, “Did you really use a KX-1 for Field Day?” Yes, I did. Our original idea was to run all QRP. The thinking behind this is that if you run all QRP, then you get 5 points for each QSO.

The other reason for doing this is so that we could run off batteries. Quentin had access to two, 66 Ahr batteries, and we’d planned to use these two batteries as our power source. I figured that with the 12V gel cell that I have for my KX-1, that would be plenty of power.

Unfortunately, that didn’t work out. Quentin and Ovide were just not having any luck making any contact at 5W—and consequently not having much fun—so they decided to increase power. That blew our QRP multiplier, but what the heck, it multiplied our fun factor.

Plenty of Power
As it turned out, just one battery provided plenty of power for the phone station, even at 100W. Granted the station was off the air from about midnight Saturday through 9 am Sunday morning, but there was apparently plenty of juice to power that station throughout the entire 24 hours.

Likewise, my little gel cell provided enough power for the KX-1 over the 12 hours that I had it on the air, and I’d guess that the charge would have been good for the entire 24 hours. I have yet to run down that battery so low that it failed to power the radio.

What Did We Learn?
We learned several things from this Field Day:

  1. A downsized Field Day can be as much or more fun than a full-blown operation. Without a big crowd vying for just a few positions, everyone got a chance to operate. Plus, setup and teardown times were a lot shorter.
  2. You still have to pay attention to your antennas. If we’d done a little more planning and thinking about our antennas, we would have avoided the interference we experienced and possibly even been able to run QRP on phone.
    How, you might ask? Well, if I’d thought about rigging up some kind of wire beam or a Moxon beam for the phone station, they may have been able to run QRP and still make contacts. This is certainly something to think about for next year.
  3. The batteries worked great. Not only did they provide enough power for a 100W rig for more than 12  hours, they were quiet. The noise of a gas-powered generator can really get on your nerves over the course of a Field Day.
  4. While I probably wouldn’t want to run the KX-1 in a big DX contest, it worked pretty well for Field Day. I made more than 160 QSOs with it in about 12 hours of contesting.

So, What About Next Year?
Since it’s never too early to plan for next year’s Field Day, we’re already kicking around a few ideas:

  1. Find a campground to have Field Day at next year. The upside is that the scenery might be nicer. The downside is that we might not have the nice antenna supports, errrr trees, that Quentin has in his backyard.
  2. Be more competitive. Joe, N8OY, came by late Saturday evening, and racked up a bunch of points for us on 20m CW. He suggested that we organize some of the local hot-shot CW operators around here and set up a real competitive operation. The upside is that scoring a lot of points is fun. The downside is that being competitive excludes the less-experienced operators.

One thing is for sure. Running a smaller Field Day event in no way diminishes it as the “quintessential” amateur radio event. We still enjoyed all the camaraderie as well as all the technical aspects of  Field Day. Now, I can’t wait until next year.

WA2HOM: Adding Countries to the Log

I’m usually not one to work the big contests, but there are some advantages to participating, even if you don’t have a lot of time or plan to submit a log. One of the advantages is that there are a lot of countries on, and you can add to total of countries that  you’ve worked.

This weekend was the CQ WPX  CW contest. I only operated for about three hours, the bands were kind of lousy on Saturday, and I only worked 15 meters, but even so, I managed to add eight countries to the WA2HOM log. They include:

  • HK1R – Colombia
  • SZ1A – Greece
  • 6W/RK4FF – Senegal
  • HQ9R – Honduras
  • EF8M – Canary Islands
  • J7A – Dominica
  • J39BS – Grenada
  • HC2SL – Ecuador

It’s nothing real exotic, but new ones nonetheless.

All l Can Say is WOW!!

To break in the new beam yesterday, down at the museum, we participated in a couple of contests: the CQ Manchester Mineira DX Contest (MM) and the Michigan QSO Party (MIQP).  All I can say is, “WOW!!”

I got there just before 11 am. Jim, K8ELR, was already there making out QSL cards. Since the MIQP didn’t start until noon, I thought I’d tune around and see what bands were open. I first tried 15m CW. That’s how I discovered the MM DX contest. The band was very open to Europe, especially with the new beam. In short order, I worked a dozen or more Europeans and Caribbean stations.

What a difference the beam makes! With the 20m inverted vee, nearly every QSO was a challenge, but with the beam, I worked every station I called, usually on the first try. This was so amazing that I was actually getting a little giddy.

About 11:45 am, I decided that I better get set up for the MIQP. I had brought my WinKeyer (since the Omni VII doesn’t have a memory keyer!), and wanted to hook it up to the N1MM program. I had done this quite easily at home, but I could not, unfortunately, get it to work on the computer down at the museum. The computer seemed to be talking to the keyer, but the function keys didn’t work. (If anyone has any ideas on what I’m doing wrong, I’d be happy to hear them.)

A little after noon, I decided to give up on this, and just program the keyer itself and operate stand-alone. About 12:10, we were working the MIQP on 20m using the callsign W8CWN, the callsign of H. Richard Crane, a distinguished professor of physics at the University of Michigan and one of the founders of the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum.

Again, the performance of the beam was just spectacular, at least compared to our 20m inverted vee. We pointed the beam west and easily worked stations on the West Coast. We pointed the beam east and got calls from Europeans and the East Coast.

Using the beam, our noise level seemed to be lower, too, although not as low as I would like it. We’re going to have to work on that some more.

We worked a lot of 40m, too, using our 40m inverted vee. That antenna has always worked pretty well for us, and the band was in good shape yesterday afternoon. There was a lot of short skip on 40m, allowing us work quite a few Michigan counties.

Overall, we made 195 contacts in nearly five hours. That’s certainly not championship form, but it’s a lot better than we’ve done in the past, and we really had a blast, both operating the contest and explaining what we were doing to the museum visitors. It’s just too bad that the museum closed at 5pm and we had to stop.

WA2HOM: The Tower is Up and We’re Beaming to the World

It’s been one heckuva project, but the tower and beam are now up and running at WA2HOM, our club station at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. See the pictures below.

I’d like to thank everyone involved in this project: Roger, W8OMB, for donating the beam; Jack, WT8N, who really spearheaded the project; Jim, K8ELR; Ovide, K8EV; Rob, KD8PUC; and of course, all the museum people: Mel, the museum director; Dave, the old facilities manager; and Doug, the new facilities director.

As you can see from the photos below, we still have some work left to do. We’re going to be taking down the 30-ft. mast (in the foreground) and moving the dipoles back so that they hand from the tower. And, since we no longer need a 20m inverted vee, we’ll be disconnecting the 20m elements and attaching some 30m elements.

After raising the tower yesterday, Ovide and Jim made a couple of contacts, one on 15m phone and one on 20m phone. They report that both guys gave us 59 signal reports. What a change from the puny signal we used to have on 20m.

Tomorrow, we’re really going to be putting this antenna system to the test as we operate the MI QSO Party. We’ll be using the callsign W8CWN, which used to belong to Dr. Richard Crane, the U-M physicist who was a great science educator and built many of the early displays down at the museum.  Listen for us, and give us a call if you hear us.

The tower is up!

The tower is up! This the view of our tower and beam from the north, facing the main entrance of the museum. In the foreground is our 30' mast, with the 40m and 20m inverted vees.

Doug and Ovide on the Roof

This is Doug (left), the museum's new facilities manager, and Ovide, K8EV (right), discussing how best to raise the tower.

Dan, Jim, and Jack

From left to right: Dan, KB6NU; Jim, K8ELR; and Jack, WT8N in the WA2HOM shack after the tower-raising. We can't believe that the tower is finally up and the beam is working like a charm.

Three Kids Wrangled on Saturday

Ovide, K8EV, our “kid wrangler,” did his thing yesterday and we were able to get three kids on the air. Seven-year-old Jack was our first kid communicator; he spoke to K9IRO. Peter was our second, and Brian our third.  A good time was had by all.

We were very fortunate in that band conditions on 40m were very good. All three stations we talked to were 57 – 59, and no one had to strain to hear one another.

Tower Update
We’re making progress slowly, but surely on the tower project. Over the course of last week, I mounted all the lightning arrestors to the mounting plate that goes in the NEMA box. On Friday, Jack, Dave, and I lowered the tower and mounted the rotor plate and rotor. We mounted the thrust bearing, too, but after inspection, John decided that it needed some kind of cap to prevent water from pooling in it.