Monthly Archives: December 2016

Arborists Throw Bag

One of the challenges of wire antennas is getting them where we want them. Unless you are operating in the middle of the Mojave Desert natural antenna supports, otherwise known as trees are the traditional support mechanism. The age old challenge has been how to get the wire into the tree where you want it. Over the years all manner of devices have been used to accomplish this task. Lead fishing weights, tennis balls, and various other balls either thrown manually or launched pneumatically. Other means include sling shots, wrist rockets, and the trusty bow and arrow. All of these have their pros and cons. At my home QTH I’ve typically used a bow and arrow. I attach fishing line to the arrow and have one of my sons fire it into the tree where I’d like the line positioned. This method is very accurate and has typically worked well however the arrow usually travels a bit further than needed (I have plenty of room for overshoot) and even heavier fishing line is still kind of fine, making it difficult to see as you attempt to work the line through the tree.

With an increase in portable operations as of late I’ve been interested in a better way to get my wire antennas into trees. Carrying a bow and arrow and one of my sons along with me isn’t an option. I’d considered some of the sling shot\wrist rocket devices as well as some of the pneumatic ones but they are more than I want to haul along. As I was doing some research on the subject I came across throw bags. Arborists use them to place ropes into trees. Rock climbers use them as well. I watched a handful of videos and found the techniques that arborists use for throwing into and working the line through the tree very applicable to the problem of placing wire antennas. Here are few examples. There are a bunch of interesting videos on YouTube on the subject.

 

 

So where do you find such things? Amazon of course. A few clicks later the Weaver Leather Throw Weight and Line Kit was on its way. As a side note I’m not sure why it’s called “Leather” throw weight. There’s nary a trace of leather to be found. The bag is well made of heavy woven nylon and is filled with something reasonably dense (lead shot?) to give it a weight of 12 ounces. The throw bags I found vary in weight from 10 to 16 ounces. I chose the 12 ounce version figuring that 10 ounces was too light and 16 ounces was too heavy. When is the last time that you threw 12 ounces (three quarters of a pound)? 12 ounces is heavier than you may think. While it is quite hefty when it gets going physics does its job. I can neither confirm nor deny that I may or may not have bounced my throw bag off the side of one of my son’s trucks. The throw was a little over zealous. Didn’t even leave a mark. Not the result I would have obtained had I been using a lead fishing weight. Good thing that I didn’t get the 16 ounce version.

Throw bag and line

Throw bag and line

Along with the throw bag came the throw line. I’ve typically used heavier fishing line to start and used that to pull up some paracord or similar rope. As I’ve said before, fishing line, even the high viz stuff is very hard to see when it is way up in a tree making it very challenging to work it through the tree. The problem with paracord and similar ropes is that the sheathing is not very slick. It has just enough friction to create problems as you work a rope in a tree, hanging up right where you don’t want it. The rope that came with my throw bag is 150 feet of very light and very bright  1/8 inch polyethylene. It is light enough to travel along while attached to the throw bag and is very slick which allows it to slide down the tree easily and allows you to work it through a tree with no hang ups.

I’ve been experimenting with the various techniques for throwing the bag and working the line. They have been working very well. I’m very pleased with the results that I’ve been able to obtain. Two observations thus far, the line does indeed coil into a spaghetti mess if not handled as the videos suggest and don’t be to aggressive pulling the bag back once it’s up in a tree. Pull it slowly otherwise it will loop itself around a branch and you’ll be hard pressed to get it down as unlike fishing line you aren’t going to break the throw line.

If you are looking for an option for placing lines in trees for use with wire antennas I’d recommend considering the arborists throw bag, line, and associated techniques. They do this for a living and their equipment and methods work well.

UPDATE: 5/27/17

To solve the problem of 150 feet of throw line turning into 150 feet of tangled spaghetti I purchased a throw line storage bag from Amazon. It fits all of the line, a pair of thin leather gloves (which make handling\throwing much easier on the hands), and the throw weight. I’ve found that sort of laying the line in hand over hand allows the line to smoothly flow out without a rat’s nest. It’s a nice, compact manner in which to transport the throw line.

Throw line storage bag

 

Flint Hills Radio Rig Walker

Flint Hills Radio is a small manufacturer of some relatively unique and very useful products for Amateur Radio mostly having to do with DC power. The company is run by Jim, KI0BK from its location in Kansas.

A few years ago I was doing some research on portable solar and found Jim’s Solar Battery Charge Controller device. It was exactly what I wanted for a future portable solar project but at the time I didn’t have a portable station so I just saved the link. Since that time I now have a portable station and adding portable solar to it was now high on the list. I returned to the Flint Hills Radio site to check on the Solar Battery Charge Controller and while reading the information on Jim’s site I noticed an intro blurb for a new product, the Rig Walker. The Rig Walker is a six port power distribution product using Anderson Powerpoles. Perfect! I’ve been looking for a device like this for my QRP station as I have some other devices that need 12V and I like to use them when I have a larger battery available.

I sent Jim an email asking when he expected to have the Rig Walker available for sale. He quickly responded that he was working on them and had some prototypes available. I was able to obtain one from Jim and have been very pleased with it.

Flint Hills Radio Rig Walker

Flint Hills Radio Rig Walker

If you are familiar with other Flint Hills Radio products they are very well-made and packaged in very nice Hammond enclosures. The Rig Walker follows this pattern. It has a pair of Anderson Powerpoles for the input and then six sets of Powerpole pairs for the output. The set of outputs is protected by a single fuse and includes a blown fuse indicator. The device is rated for 25 amps which is more than enough for my needs. In my use thus far it has served its purpose quite well. I really appreciate the opportunity to get a prototype. This is a very nice piece of equipment to add to your station and I’m certain that Jim will sell a bunch of them.

And yes, I do own Jim’s Solar Battery Charge Controller as well.  It’s another great product from Flint Hills Radio about which I’ll write more in a future post.

 

KA9EAK QRO – Update

Back in October I purchased a Heathkit SB-200 amplifier. The pictures in the original post show that it was a bit dusty from sitting for quite some time but otherwise it was in good shape and best of all it was not modified through the years. I purchased the Harbach updates but they largely have sat waiting for time to build, install, and test them. With time off for the holidays I was finally able to complete the work and I got the amplifier on the air yesterday afternoon. All appears to be well. Voltages and currents are where they should be in addition to no smoke or loud noises.

SB-200 HV

SB-200 HV

With 55 W of drive from my TS-590SG I am seeing a peak of 500 W on 40m SSB which is just where I wanted to be. I’m not interested in pushing the amp to its limit. The first contact with the amplifier was Frank, WA3RSL on 40m SSB late in the afternoon. I started the contact with the amp off and finished with it on with a nice and noticeable signal improvement as reported by WA3RSL. Frank has the same radio and also an amplifier so it was nice to walk through bringing it up with someone with the same radio and experience with using an amplifier with it. Second contact was Scott, K3IVN with a good signal report as well on 40m SSB. Later in the evening I was able to contact ZS6CCY on 40m SSB with a 59 report after only a few calls in a messy pile-up with a fair amount of noise and QSB followed by YV5AL, HI7MC, and J6/NY3B all with relative ease and great signal reports. I was happy with the investment.

I had purchased the power supply board, soft start, keying interface, and cooling fan updates from Harbach Electronics. Once they were all built and installed I brought the amp up on my Variac and there were no surprises and the high voltage looked good at 2250 V. The last step was to build the interface cable for the TS-590SG. Thankfully Kenwood provides the DIN connector with the radio and JG1VGX provided a very nice explanation of all of the possible ways to connect the TS-590 and TS-990 radios to amplifiers.

Here are some before and after pictures of the amplifier:

SB-200 top view

SB-200 top view

SB-200 Bottom view

SB-200 bottom view

In addition to the JG1VGX site referenced above I also found the following three sites helpful for this project:

http://www.crompton.com/hamradio/heath/sb200/sb200.html

http://blog.kotarak.net/2008/03/sb-200-part-1.html

http://www.wlwaters.com/id37.html

While there is some more testing to be done across a few more bands I’m very happy with the results thus far for the amount of money invested. In 1964 an SB-200 went for $200 which inflating the dollars to today is about what I have in this amplifier. I essentially purchased approximately one S-unit which is all that I set out to do and I learned a lot along the way which is much more valuable than the S-unit.

1964 SB-200 ad

1964 SB-200 ad

 

NPOTA #1millionqsos

I’m not much of a hashtagger, probably too old, but I’ve seen this one around regarding the rapid approach of 1,000,000 QSOs for the NPOTA event and it seemed appropriate to use it for the title of this post. As of this morning the total count stands at 970,510. With 21 days left in the year it would seem that we should be able to make and even break 1,000,000 QSOs. That seems like an amazing feat to me given that interest was maintained and arguably has grown over the course of this year long event, most every activation was a portable\mobile station, there are only 484 locations to activate, not all of them convenient to access, and finally the variability of band conditions and the weather over the course of a year of changing seasons.

I started to jot down the QSO total in the past several weeks in order to watch the trend.

Date QSO
11/22/2016 879762
11/25/2016 891449
12/4/2016 942605
12/5/2016 948784
12/6/2016 953198
12/8/2016 961819
12/10/2016 970510

Given this run rate I would estimate that we’ll hit 1,000.000 around 12/15 or 12/16 if the current QSO rate is sustained.

My total stands at 233 worked and 9 activations. Given the time available to operate and band conditions I’ve not worked a new one in a few weeks. I have been working old ones in order to ensure activators get credit for the activation. Though I’ve visited a fair number of National Parks and other sites, sadly I’ve only visited 23 of the 233 units that I’ve worked. Clearly I’ve got some improvement to make in this regard in the coming years. Good thing I have a camper. : )

Just for comparison I looked at the results for 2106 Field Day. Over the course of Field Day 579,217 QSOs were logged. Given that number over a much shorter period of time maybe NPOTA should have broke 1 million a while ago and we should be looking at breaking 10 million. Who knows. Frankly it’s never been about the numbers. Though it is sort of fun to track, it’s been a lot more enjoyable making contacts with people, some many times, almost to the point of being on a first name basis, as all of these great locations across our country have been activated. It’s been fun to recall past visits to these parks and monuments and think about future visits to some of the new ones that I’ve learned about along the way.

Here’s to a Million QSOs!

Update 12/15/16 – 994,987

Update: 12/16/16 – 1,002,144

My totals were 243 units worked and 9 activations on my own.

 

RigExpert AA-55 Zoom

I’ve wanted a RigExpert analyzer for some time. I saw one in action at Field Day this past year and was very impressed. It was the AA-230 Zoom model. It scanned a 4BTV very quickly and having recently purchased a 4BTV I figured that I’d have to get one of these devices at some point. The problem is that they aren’t inexpensive and just how often will I really need to use all of its capabilities when I already have a 259B that works just fine. Yah, you already know where this is going.

After a long afternoon of tuning my 4BTV in its new location with 30 radials using my 259B the “need” for the RigExpert started to move up the priority list. The video of the AA-230 Zoom scanning the 4BTV in about 2 seconds was on continuous loop in my head as I turned the frequency selector switch on my 259B and rotated the 10 turn tune pot to and then through the interested range, changed the frequency band, rotated the ten turn tune pot, lather, rinse, repeat. All while recording measurements of key points to track my progress. Plus I added the DX Engineering 17m Add-On kit so I was attempting to tune five bands. A little voice in my head kept saying “Tim, there’s a better, faster way” and the video would start again.

I honestly ran out of daylight before I had the antenna where I wanted it. Plus I was out of time in terms of weather as that day turned out to be the last nice (40 deg F) day. Now that antenna season has officially started in Wisconsin (it’s 14 deg F as I write this and the forecast is calling for somewhere between 3-7 inches of snow over the next two days) if I wanted to tweak the 4BTV before spring I obviously would need to be able to work faster so as not to succumb to hypothermia right? At least that’s what I told my XYL. It’s for my health and well-being. I told her that she really didn’t want to chip me off the base of the base of the antenna with my fingers frozen midway through the seventh turn of a ten turn pot. No one would want to put their XYL through that would they?

So with Christmas drawing near and being in a general gift giving mood I thought I’d see if RigExpert had any stocking stuffer specials on offer. Little did I know that they had already set the trap. I popped up the RigExpert site and there it was, the AA–55 Zoom. What! A new model! Just released in November! If you’ve looked at their line of analyzers you will see that the RigExpert folks are masters at the technique of up-selling. They have a wide range of products nicely spaced in terms of features and price. You go in thinking I’ll just spend $200 but the next model up can measure magneto-reluctance and it’s only $75 more and the next one after that can calculate capacitive diractance to seven decimal points and goodness knows you need to be able to do that. The next thing you know you’ve talked yourself into the positive necessity of a $500 device in $75-$100 increments.

I can state that I barely succumb to such marketing tactics. Well that’s not completely true. I was going to be happy with the AA-54 but the AA-55 Zoom has a color display and it’s A\D converter is 12 bits instead of 10 bits and… you already know the rest of the story.

AA-55 Zoom in Pelican 1170

AA-55 Zoom in Pelican 1170

While the AA-55 Zoom comes with a half-decent soft case I wanted better protection so I have it in a Pelican 1170.

This thing is AMAZING!!! The combination of the device and its associated software can do so many things it will open a whole new chapter in my antenna experimenting. It’s a very nice device that is very intuitive to operate. I’m very happy with it. A quick scan of my 4BTV w\17m shows that I have a bit of work to do.

4BTV w\17m scan

4BTV w\17m scan

It’s completely usable where it is but now that I can quickly measure changes I can tweak it without suffering hypothermia. Let antenna season begin in earnest!!!

 

Ps- Alas, the AA-55 Zoom cannot measure magneto-reluctance or calculate capacitive diractance so I’ll not be able to use it with the Retro Encabulator: