Tag Archives: Portable operation

Last camping trip of the season

The last camping trip of the year is done. It was a great week with NO RAIN for the first time this year. Every other trip this year featured rain on way too many days. The temperature was right on the edge of warm at the start of the week and cooled each day. As with most trips there was plenty of bike rides, walks, naps, and reading, with a bit of radio operations tossed into the mix.

Q: Why is this man smiling?  A:It’s night in Wisconsin and there are no mosquitoes!

As usual conditions were up, down, and sideways so you need to have options. Based upon how conditions seemed I operated SSB with 10W using my KX2, SSB with 100W using my TS-480SAT, or FT8 with 5W using my KX2 on either the 20m or 40m bands using my LNR Precision EF-Quad antenna strung across the campsite. With the KX2  I was able to make a fair number of contacts including nice QSOs with AE8O in New Mexico, N4AVV in Myrtle Beach, and AE2B in Macon, GA. All with good signal reports. FT8 operations were good but five watts wasn’t enough to get outside of North America.

The best contact of them all was with Rich, K2RLF in New Jersey. He is newly licensed and had literally just got his antenna up and his station going. I was his first HF contact. That’s a better contact than the rarest of DX.

There were a few openings to Europe in the afternoon on 20m and later into the evenings on 40m. I made contacts with stations in Scotland, Belgium, France, Slovenia, Italy, Madeira Island, Austria, and the DXpediton of 5T5OK in Mauritania. That one surprised me the most. They were working split on 20m. I heard their call and “5 up.” I quickly put the split into the 480SAT, made one call and instantly got a response.

Late night operation

Most every night was beautiful, clear, and insect free so if the bands were open I was outside at the picnic table operating for awhile.

Moon at camp

For some new reading material I loaded a bunch of old 73 issues on my tablet. It was fun to read articles and reviews from years ago.

The squirrels were busy with their pine cone gathering.

Red Squirrel

Squirrel lookout

And someone clearly has a caffeine issue:

When one is not enough

Other than the rain this was a good camping season. I’ve got my portable station pretty well sorted out. The only additions I’m going to make for next year are a 20Ah Bioenno Power battery and I need to sort out the interface for  my SignaLink USB so that I can use it with the 480SAT to have some more digital options.

Last campfire of the year

 

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POTA: KFF-4354 Point Beach State Forest

My XYL and I just returned from another camping trip. This trip almost didn’t happen as my XYL’s appendix decided that it needed to be removed a few days before our planned departure day. After a run to the emergency room at 4:30 AM and subsequent surgery I was sure that the trip was off. However the surgery went well and the surgeon said that she could go if she was feeling OK with some restrictions (such as no bike riding.) Within a couple of days she was feeling well enough so we departed one day later than planned. I guess the outdoors is good for what ails you.

XYL @ camp several days after an appendectomy

While at camp, in between taking care of my XYL, I was able to squeeze in some radio operation. When I started operations the band conditions were:

Band conditions – 9/6/17

Given conditions, it appeared to be a 100W day as opposed to a 10W day so I left the KX2 in its bag and pulled out my TS-480SAT. I used my LNR EF-Quad antenna strung across the campsite with one end at about 30 feet and the other at about 8 feet.

EF-Quad Matchbox view

The 40m band was pretty dead but I was able to make about 15 contacts calling CQ for POTA with some stations interested in the POTA numbers and others not. There wasn’t really any pile-up and it was more like a nice bunch of casual contacts.

480SAT @ camp

While calling CQ between contacts I was observing a red squirrel collecting green pine cones. It would grab a pine cone from a group of them about 20 feet in front of the picnic table I was sitting at in my campsite, run about 30 feet to a stump, stop, drop over the side of a slight depression, pop back up on a stump adjacent to the one that it just was on, look around, run to a portion of a hollow log, look around some more, proceed back to the pile pine cones, pick up another, and start the whole process over again. It must have made at least 15 trips following the same process.

Squirrel process flow

After about 2 hours of calling CQ, making an occasional contact, and watching the squirrel, local weather was closing in (passing bands of mild rain) so I ceased operation for the afternoon. I believe that the squirrel did as well.

Damselfly visitor

Later that evening the local weather had cleared and conditions were dramatically improved (I forgot to capture the chart.) It was a clear night and about 50 degrees F so I set the station back up on the picnic table and found the 40m band was very much alive. I found a clear spot to call CQ for POTA and while it started a little slow, after about 40 minutes and a spot by Mike, KK4KHS, I had a nice pile-up going.

Night operation

Over the next 1.5 hours I made 78 contacts. It was a lot of fun. I was actually quite amazed at the amount of interest. It reminded me of an NPOTA activation. It’s nice to see the interest in POTA. There were some calls that I recognized from NPOTA and when I added the contacts to my ACLog there were quite a few that I had worked during the NPOTA event.

Among a bunch of very nice contacts, there is one of note. I worked NU0C, Jim in Nebraska early in the pile-up. About 35 minutes later he called me back to tell me that he had been reading a recent blog post in which I mentioned that the last state that I needed for an FT8 WAS was Nebraska. He wanted to tell me that he’d be happy to setup a sked to put Nebraska in my log with FT8. I told him thanks but I had already logged a Nebraska station. It was very nice of him to call back with the offer. What a fine example of an Amateur Radio operator.

After shutting down for the night my XYL and I walked out to Lake Michigan and were treated to a nice moon over the lake.

Moon over Lake Michigan

While I had planned to be on the air more, as it turns out that was the extent of radio operation for the trip. Between the local weather (more rain) and band conditions I wasn’t able to get on the air again.

Band conditions 9/8/17

It was a nice trip that almost wasn’t. My XYL is doing very well and we’ve got one more trip planned before we put the camper away for the season.

 

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