Tag Archives: Portable operation

KX2 Digital modes configuration examples

I spent a lot of time working on digital mode configurations with my KX2 this weekend. I got involved in a thread on the Elecraft mailing list regarding FT8 configuration using a SignaLink USB. Even though I had a functioning configuration using a USB soundcard I pulled out my SignaLink USB, the jumper board, and cables in order to put that configuration together for use with my KX2 as well. I got it going for both WSJT-X and Fldigi. One thing led to another and as I was putting together a little document with notes for myself I decided to polish it up a bit and post it.

Here it is:

KX2 Digital Mode Configuration Examples.pdf

It’s hosted in my lutherie domain so don’t worry about the download source.

Understand that there are more than a couple of variables involved in setting this up. Your situation and\or needs may well differ from mine. It’s not an exhaustive document, there are other bits for you to sort out, but it may be useful to get you started. As I said, I was preparing a simple document for myself to keep track of my configurations and it sort of took on a life of its own. I’m early into my experience with these modes and the KX2. Also, I only have a KX2 with which to test but I’m pretty sure that all of this works the same for a KX3. If you find this useful, great. If not, so be it. As they say, YMMV.

73,

Tim, KA9EAK

Ps – If you find any errors please let me know and I will correct them and re-post.

Fasten your seat belts for FT8 @ camp

Early in the morning of the day that my XYL and I left for our most recent camping trip I was making a quick pass through some of my favorite Amateur Radio blogs and came upon a post by Bas, PE4BAS and another post by John, AE5X regarding the new WSJT protocol\mode, FT8. In John’s post he graciously referenced my recent post on PSK31 with my KX2 as an example of QRP portable digital operation. I had already packed my equipment in order to operate PSK31 from camp but I thought that I may as well try FT8. I pulled out my PC and installed the beta version of WSJT-X. I didn’t have enough time to setup the KX2 to check configuration and test so I figured that I’d just wing it at camp.

The second day at camp dawned bright and beautiful, perfect weather for digital operations. After a nice breakfast I pulled out my equipment to have a go at FT8. I quickly placed one end of my LNR EF-Quad well up in a tall fir tree and setup the KX2 and laptop. When I originally setup for PSK31 with my KX2 I used an older Toshiba laptop however the battery in that laptop would not hold a sufficient charge so I switched over to another old laptop that I purchased a few years ago at a local Hamfest with the intent of setting up a dedicated WSPR station with my IC-718. This never happened and in the face of my new WSPRlite transmitter it’s not likely that it will so I decided to use it as my portable digital PC. It is a bit more compact than the other laptop and as a result the keyboard is a wee bit smaller, but it’s still reasonably serviceable.

In order to confirm that everything was setup correctly as far as the general PC\radio interface I made a quick test with Fldigi and PSK31 using the same USB soundcard I described in an earlier post. This resulted in a couple of very nice QSO’s with N1ZQ who was operating portable in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and KA3OCS in Virginia. Both stations were very considerate of me being new at PSK31.

Fldigi PSK31 @ camp

With general functionality confirmed I shut down Fldigi and started up WSJT-X. Within a minute I had the interface to the radio and audio setup, selected FT8 on the Mode menu, and with a click of the Monitor button WSJT-X was receiving and decoding FT8 on 20m.

WSJT-X FT8 @ camp

WSJT-X configuration was as follows with the KX2:

WSJT-X radio config with KX2

WSJT-X audio config

This was my first experience with WSJT-X having never operated with either JT9 or JT65 in addition to the new FT8 mode. If you’ve not seen FT8 in action before, let me tell you that it moves very very quickly. The Band Activity pane filled quite rapidly and scrolled along at a rather brisk pace. I observed the activity for a wee bit to get a feel for the flow of activity and then attempted to respond to some CQ calls. After a few attempts I was rewarded with my first FT8 QSO, N4ULE. It was over before I knew it!

First FT8 QSO, N4ULE

When it comes to FT8, as Briscoe Darling once said, “Just jump in where you can and hang on…

In fact if there was a theme song for FT8, it may well be Doug Dillard playing “Banjo in the Hollow” as in the video. FT8 moves right along, just like Doug’s pickin’.

The KX performed as expected, flawlessly. The CAT interface with WSJT-X functioned without an issue. The KX2 mode was DATA A. I’ve read a number of threads on the heat sink temperature rise with digital operation with the KX2\KX3. In the KX2 manual Elecraft states to reduce power to 5W so that is where I set the power. Depending upon the ambient temperature and operation my KX2 sits around 21-25 C. It was about 78 F\25 C at camp and I saw the heatsink temp peak at around 34 C after several rounds of transmission. It would quickly rise and as quickly descend at the end of each transmission. I don’t know what the foldback temperature is for the KX2. I will monitor the power output with my OHR WM-2 the next time I operate FT8 and digital modes in general to see if I hit the foldback in normal operation.

Given our position in Cycle 24, recently purchasing a shiny new QRP rig might not have been the best timing but digital modes seem to be on the rise. They mostly certainly provide new opportunities to make contacts and expand the frontiers of Amateur Radio. Like all of the other modes, some old, some new, they are another tool in the toolbox. My initial impression of FT8 is positive and while it will take a little practice to get used to the pace, my guess is that there will be some more operation with FT8 and my KX2 in the future.

UPDATE: Bas, PE4BAS asked a good question in the comments, that being time synchronization for the PC. I forgot to add this into the original post. WSJT-X requires a means for synchronizing the computer clock to UTC within ±1 second. Thankfully my XYL’s cellphone has service when we are at camp so I used that to access the US Naval Observatory time service at http://tycho.usno.navy.mil/simpletime.html. Using this reference I updated the PC clock manually. Lacking a data service I would have used WWV. This Genesis Radio site has a very nice list of time signals around the world. If the PC was connected to the Internet I’d use NISTIME 32 (scroll to the bottom of the page for the download), which is what I use on my home QTH PC.

 

An Elk in the wilderness

Edward Abbey’s friend Doug Peacock once said “It ain’t wilderness unless there’s a critter out there that can kill you and eat you.” By that measure we don’t really have any wilderness in Wisconsin. There are black bears a wee bit north of my QTH, there is a growing wolf population a bit beyond that, and on occasion a cougar is sited. While we may not have wilderness we do have some beautiful outdoors here in Wisconsin and my XYL and I endeavor to spend as much time in it as we are able. To that end we just returned from another camping trip, our third this year with two more planned before winter closes in.

The purchase of the camper a few years ago has really fueled my interest in portable operations. This is our third season with it and I have a reasonably good portable station worked out for HF but VHF\UHF has largely consisted of my old Kenwood TH-G71 HT which is primarily used as a NOAA weather radio receiver as 5w and a rubber duck isn’t enough to get me into any local repeaters from camp. Thus the need for an Elk. While we do have some elk in Wisconsin, their affect on VHF\UHF communications is unknown, perhaps because we only have about 60 of them. Once we have more, who knows. In the meantime there is an Elk that has a great affect on VHF\UHF communications, that being the Elk Antennas 2M/440L5 log periodic antenna.

I purchased and deployed a 2M/440L5 something on the order of 10 years ago. It’s been faithfully serving through the hot and humid (and occasionally stormy) summers and the cold and blustery winters with no ill effect to it. The black anodizing on the elements has faded a bit but it is still working great. I’m not much of a VHF\UHF operator but I’ve used it in the past for some 2m SSB work with an old Kenwood TR-9000 and later a TR-9130 as well as occasional 2m FM repeater access all with good results. It is a very well made, well performing antenna that gets great reviews.

Recently a friend and fellow Amateur Radio operator, Josh KD9DZP, got a great deal on a pair of Kenwood TM-D700 transceivers. Given that my only 70cm rig was my  HT and aside from an old Kenwood TR-7950 with some minor issues and the old TR-9000 and TR-9130 my newest 2m rig was an ICOM IC-V8000. So given the fact that I didn’t have a proper dual-band mobile rig Josh made me a great deal on one of his pair. This started my gears whirring regarding a better portable VHF\UHF station for camping. I had various portable power sources sorted out and now that I had a better rig the last piece was an antenna.

I considered a number of options and the end result was the purchase of a Comet GP-3 for my home QTH and the removal of the Elk log periodic from its mount to allow it to be used as my portable VHF\UHF antenna. With the Elk freed up for portable operation it will also allow me to try out satellite operations at some point, something that I’ve never done.

This camping trip was the first outing for the old Elk and my new TM-D700. Prior to leaving home I programmed the radio with all of the 2m and 70cm repeaters that I was liable to access from camp. Upon arrival at camp there is a bit to do to setup the camper and camp itself. The division of labor is such that once we have the camper sited and the jacks deployed, I take care of the outside camp setup and my XYL prepares the inside of the camper. Once I completed the camp setup my first order of business was to deploy the Elk for some testing. Like all of the sites at our favorite campground, this one had plenty of tall trees with some clear overhangs that would be perfect in which to hang the Elk. I fashioned a yoke from paracord for it that would keep it vertically oriented as well as allow me to rotate it using the Armstrong method. With my arborists throw bag I had the Elk up in a good position in slightly more than one jiffy.

Elk in red @approx 25 feet

The antenna is more clear of the trees than depicted. It could easily be rotated from the ground without the need to lower it.

Elk @ camp

Deploying the TM-D700 (yes, using a Samlex power supply instead of a battery) I began to make some calls on various local repeaters. I was able to access the WeComm repeater in Plymouth (146.850 MHz – approx. 38 miles from camp), the 2m repeater in Manitowoc (approx 11 miles from camp), and the FM38 system (70 cm) via its repeater in Green Bay, 442.800 MHz (approx. 30 miles from camp.) Bob, K9BOB responded to my call on the FM38 machine in Green Bay and we had a nice QSO. I was also able to speak with Josh, KD9DZP via the Fm38 system from his home QTH over 70 miles away from camp. He was accessing the Milwaukee repeater at 443.800 Mhz.

TM-D700 @ camp

The power settings for the TM-D700 are 5W (Low), 10W (Medium), and 50W (High.) I was able to access the FM38 system at all power settings with the Elk pointed at Green Bay. I needed at least 10W to access the Plymouth machine and low was all that was needed to access the Manitowoc machine with the antenna pointed in their respective directions.

In addition to the 2m and 70cm usage, I checked all of the NOAA weather radio transmitter frequencies and of the seven, I was able to clearly receive five, of which KIG65 in Green Bay, WXN69 in Sister Bay, WWG87 in Fond Du Lac, and WWG91 in Sheboygan were the strongest. That’s plenty of weather coverage for camp.

I think that the Elk Antenna log periodic makes a very nice portable VHF\UHF antenna for camping. It’s easily transported and deployed, and it packs a lot of performance in a relatively small footprint. I look forward to more trips to the woods with my Elk and at some point I may even point it at some satellites.

 

First trip with the KX2

We just returned from another fine camping trip, this time with the KX2, its first trip to the great outdoors. First observation, they ought to out put warning labels on these things. They are very nice radios and you will want to operate them very often. Second, they sip power. I brought along my a Bioenno Power BLF 1209A battery (9 Ah), and used it without recharging, operating for a bit each day for the entire four day trip. No more hauling a trolling motor battery with the obligatory follow-on chiropractor trips for me.

KX2 at Camp

Yes, 10 W isn’t 100 W and given the current conditions 10 w SSB won’t always get the job done but many times it does. I made some good contacts over the period of the trip including some time at Rawley Point Lighthouse, with some especially nice QSO’s with WA0HHX and WR2D with good signal reports. I heard plenty of European DX stations, usually late in the afternoon on 20m but wasn’t able to make any contacts. (I take my TS-480SAT along and run it off the camper house battery or my Samlex 1223-BBM when I need 100 W.) At some point conditions will be such that I’ll get some DX from camp with the KX2.

For this trip the only antenna I used was my  LNR EFT-10/20/40 Trail-Friendly end fed. It’s very easy to toss my throw line up into a tree and pull up the antenna. I can be up and running in maybe 5-10 minutes.

My XYL and I saw a lot of White Pelicans on this trip. We’ve seen a few on occasion in years past but on this trip there were quite a large number of them flying about, swimming, and fishing in Lake Michigan. They are fun to watch and were quite entertaining while waiting for responses to my CQ calls at the lighthouse.

White Pelican

Butterfly’s were out in abundance on the beach as well including a bunch of Pearl Crescents and quite a few Red spotted Purples.

Pearl Crescent and Red spotted Purple

Next up for the KX2 portable station is a linked dipole for camp, the internal battery pack, and sorting out portable digital modes. We have several more camping trips scheduled for the year and there will be some other outdoor operation as well. The KX2 packs a lot of features into a small package and is a joy to operate. I’m as happy as a canary with a new beak!

Happy Camper with a KX2

KX2: I guess it turned out to be sooner than later…

After reading a lot about the radio, and especially the escapades of people like AE5X, K0JQZ and KC0YQF, M0JCQ, and W2LJ among others with their KX2\KX3’s I figured that one would likely end up in my shack at some point in time…

Well, Brown Santa dropped off a box late yesterday afternoon:

My new favorite shipping box

I ordered the radio on 28 May. When I placed the order the Elecraft site indicated that the KX2 was backordered and that it would ship 10-15 days after the order. I don’t mind waiting a year or two to get a QSL card, but 10-15 days for a radio? OK, I’ll wait. : ) After a year in the market it appears that they still have a queue of people waiting to buy one. This is a great problem to have if your Elecraft.

I figured that worst case it would make it just in time for Field Day. Elecraft shipped it on 2 June. That’s five days after the order with one of those days being a holiday, Memorial Day in the US.  (For some odd reason it took UPS six days to get it to Wisconsin.) Turns out Elecraft not only produces great radios, they can compress time as well. Can your Amateur Radio manufacturer do that?

KX2: What’s in the box

In the box is the radio, the nicely printed, well written and spiral bound (how nice is that?) manual, the KXUSB cable, and the power cable. I also ordered the mic, paddles, and antenna tuner. I didn’t buy the battery pack or charger. More on that later.

After un-boxing I quickly put some Anderson Powerpoles on the power cable and plugged it into a Bioenno Power BLF 1209A battery, plugged in the mic, connected my 4BTV to it and powered it up. I tuned around on 40m for a few minutes and heard KC2DIS, Tony in Norwood, NY calling CQ. I responded to his call. He said that he could hear someone in the noise but couldn’t quite make out the call. I remembered that the KX2 has a speech processor and so I quickly dove into the menu to check its current (default) setting: “0”. I dialed it up to 20, called again and we made the contact. Conditions weren’t great and he said that he had a lot of local noise. He was 59 here and gave me a 44 report. Not bad for 10 w in poor conditions. We had a short QSO and I went QRT to install the antenna tuner and paddles.

When you open up the KX2 you will see an amazing amount of goodness contained within a very small package. The antenna tuner install reminded me that my eyes aren’t 20 years old anymore. Nor 30. Nor 40. This thing is small. Where’d I put my glasses? After a few tries I got the connector between the antenna tuner board and the RF board lined up and in place. The right panel has to be removed for the antenna tuner install and it doubles as the heat sink so the next challenge was to get the two screws back in place through side\heat sink and the power transistors. Did I mention that this thing is tiny? There isn’t a lot of room to work in that space. After a bit of fiddling I was able to get the captive washers and nuts back in place and secured properly.

KX2

With everything buttoned back up I powered the radio back on, enabled the tuner in the menu, cycled the power as instructed in the manual, and called CQ on 40m. After about a minute I got a response from KZ4D, Fred in Lynchburg, VA. He was 59+ here and gave me a 56 report.  He was running an IC-7600 at 75 watts into a vertical and I was using 10 watts into my vertical. We had a nice QSO.

I spent a bit more time tuning about on 40m. With a fair amount of noise on the band it gave me an opportunity to try out the filtering capabilities of the radio. One word: wonderful.

From the speech processor, to the filtering, to the CW\SSB message recording, RX\TX audio equalization, digital decode for RTTY\PSK (and CW), and the list goes on, this is an amazing amount of functionality in a very nice, very small package. This radio will see a lot of use on camping trips and other portable ops including some SOTA activations. I’ve been blessed with the ability to have some pretty nice radios and this one rises up into the top of the pack (pun intended.)

Put a little QRP in your pack

 

Portable Antenna Halyard

At my home QTH I’ve always used halyards to haul a pulley up that in turn holds the antenna support rope. It takes more rope to do it this way but it works much better than using a single rope. Recently I’ve been using my  LNR EFT-10/20/40 Trail-Friendly antenna a bit. There are two downsides to placing it well up in a tree, 1) it is made of very thin wire which is great for portability but I’m not really excited about using the antenna wire to haul it down because, 2) it has a built in winder\choke which again, is great for function and portability, but unfortunately the winder\choke doubles as a limb catcher. The solution to this problem is to use the throw line as a halyard, not the antenna wire. This actually allows you to have much better control while hoisting the antenna, and the throw line acts as the downhaul instead of the antenna wire. If the antenna does get snagged you can use the throw line instead of the antenna wire to work out the snag.

Throw line halyard

In the picture the blue box is the end of the antenna tied to the throw line with a bowline and the red box is the winder\choke. Using this method I can easily maneuver the antenna wire through tree limbs and overcome snags using the much stronger throw line as opposed to the antenna wire.

** Correct halyard terms courtesy of my very good friend, The Boat Doctor, of Sailing Magazine. The correct sailing terms are hoist and strike. “Strike the antenna” could have all sorts of bad connotations but it could be a fun phrase to use at Field Day. : )

 

Portable operation: Siege or Alpine?

In mountaineering there are generally two styles or approaches: siege or expedition and alpine. Siege or expedition style involves establishing a route with camps and fixed ropes while alpine style typically involves carrying all of your necessities with you as you climb. In most cases the siege style involves much more equipment, time, and effort, while in alpine style the food, shelter, and other equipment that you need to both climb and survive is that which is in the pack on your back.

Since I started my portable operation I’ve been using the siege style as illustrated here:

Could you fit more in this wagon?

I haul my TS-480SAT, multiple antennas, various lengths of coax, a group 24 lead acid battery, chair, table, etc. Gear that while nice to have, weighs an awful lot, is rather bulky, and frankly is a chore to lug along a trail. Calling all of this stuff “portable” is likely pushing the limits of the use of the phrase “portable station.” At the end of the day, it’s not really all that portable.

Late last year I decided to re-evaluate my “portable” station. I’m not getting any younger and I can’t afford to care for and feed a pack mule and even if I could my XYL would frown upon hauling it in the camper, so I decided to look for ways in which to lighten my load. The obvious place to start was the battery. Do I really need to lug around a group 24 battery? Yes it’s probably good for around 40 Ah, maybe a wee bit more, but short of an all day operation with an above average amount of transmitting at 100W am I ever really going to need this much power on hand? Not likely.

Given the fact that you actually can make contacts, even SSB contacts, using less than 100 Watts (that may be a shocking statement to some), and given that decreasing transmit power means decreasing DC power requirements, and given that the engineers at Kenwood even included the means by which to do so on the TS-480SAT, coupled with the fact that there has been all manner of improvements in battery technology in recent years, indicated to me that I should  decrease my transmit power and start to look for a newer, lighter power source.

Decrease the power?

So after reading Andrew’s post (VK1AD) about his experience with a new LiFePO4 battery I decided to obtain one as well and try it out with my TS-480SAT. So at the end of the camping season last year I acquired this:

4200mAH LiFePO4 battery

Yes, it is only 4200 mAh but it barely weighs a pound. I did some testing with my TS-480SAT with the power dialed well back and was pleased with the results. I could fit the radio, the battery, a portable wire antenna, and a length of coax into a small daypack. No wagon or pack animals required. This was a great start. But there was probably room for more improvement.

You probably all know where this is going. What is the next heaviest thing in the siege wagon? Yes, you guessed it; the radio. Since ICOM exited the QRP multiband all-mode radio world when they dropped the IC-703 some years ago the remaining contenders are the Yaesu FT-817ND, the Elecraft offerings, the KX3 and KX2, and some nice radios from LNR. The TS-480SAT is a super nice radio and is a very portable rig however it weighs 8 pounds. If weight reduction is the goal, there are offerings that tip the scale at considerably less than 8 pounds.

After a lot of research I elected to purchase the Yaesu FT-817ND at the end of the camping season last year. I looked long and hard at the KX2 which is close in price to the 817 but I really like the shack-in-a-box capability of the 817 (especially VHF\UHF) for camping. It’s entirely possible that a KX2\KX3 finds its way into my shack at some point but I’m presently happy with the 817. I have an FT-857D in my car so I’m used to the menus, I wish the display was a bit larger but it’s a small radio, and I would have loved to be a fly on the wall at the meeting where it was decided that it would be a good idea to cap VHF receive at 154 MHz, thus precluding the reception of NOAA weather radio in the US at 162 MHz, an obvious feature to have in a portable radio like the 817.

FT-187ND and TS-480SAT

Its maiden camping voyage was on our recent first camping trip of the season. One morning I went for a walk with a Maxpedition Lunada containing my entire portable radio shack as pictured below:

KA9EAK Portable

The portable station consists of the 817, an LDG Z817 tuner and cable, the 4200mAh battery, a length of coax, a BNC to PLC-259 adapter cable, the UHF\VHF rubber duck antenna, and an LNR EFT-10/20/40 Trail-Friendly antenna. All of this comfortably fits into the small pack and weighs around five pounds. (I can actually shed the LDG tuner as I don’t need it with the LNR antenna. I purchased the tuner for use with other antennas and I just keep it in the bag with the rest of the 817 gear.)

The first setup was out near the beach at Point Beach State Forest on Lake Michigan. I brought along my arborists throw bag and line and quickly had the antenna up in a nearby tree. Minutes later I was on the air.

817 setup (light red line highlights antenna)

I heard a fair amount of DX on 20m but given conditions and 5W they couldn’t hear me. I tuned around a bit and was able to check into the SATERN net on 14.265 with Bob, WA5EEZ in Oklahoma with a good signal report. After the net I made a few more calls and came upon K0PFV mobile in Washington County, Oklahoma. I gave him a call and was able to make the contact with good signal reports, 59 sent and 53 received.

Fluttering on the bands?

Thus far I am very pleased with my new truly portable station. Yes, it doesn’t have the capabilities of the TS-480SAT station but it’s much lighter and easier to deploy. Plus I save money on back surgery and\or pack mule feed and vet bills. Both radios will make the trip camping, I just won’t be using the siege wagon much anymore. The TS-480SAT can stay in camp while the FT-817ND goes off on some alpine-style radio adventures.

Happy 817 operator self-portrait