RaDAR – The April 2021 challenge

Quite a bit of organising took place before this challenge. The idea was to have a support system in the way of monitor stations distributed throughout ZS on CW and SSB. The monitor stations were designated unique calling frequencies on 40m.

The final list of monitor stations

The idea of monitor stations stemmed from a suggestion I made during the recent QSO Today virtual expo so the concept for RaDAR Sport was successfully tested within this RaDAR Challenge.

For quite a few days I used WSPR to estimate a suitable time of day for the challenge and we decided on 14:00 to 18:00 local time (CAT). Not all stations took part in this particular time frame which of course is still quite acceptable within RaDAR. 40m can change within minutes I have found but it was there for us that afternoon. Propagation conditions were quite suitable.

Using Libre Office to draw propagation graphs from WSPR Data.

A log sent in by Christi ZS4CGR who was a SSB monitot station. Moving stations could easily make contact with these station to make up their required five QSO’s so they could move to their next location. Ludwig ZS5CN and Rudi ZS2M were also there on every call. Great to he Frank ZS6FN too. CW certainly shined here in South Africa this day.

ZS4CGR’s RaDAR Log

This was my log, my ADIF Data uploaded to qrz dot com. It was undoubtedly the best RaDAR Challeng to date!

ZS6BNE’s log uploaded to QRZ dot Com

I carried my Icom IC-7200 just so I was able to do SSB and push a little more power than five Watts – Just in case. I had a newly built dipole which wasn’t field tested yet and I paid dearly for that and had to do field repairs on two occasions. I also carried two 7 A/Hr SLABS in parallel as a D.C. power source.

On foot RaDAR – ZS6BNE
ZS6BNE’s last deployment – Just before the sun set in the west.

Sid ZS5AYC and Adele ZS5APT, our regular SOTA activators and RaDAR Challenge participants too part in the challenge again too.

Sid ZS5AYC
Anthony ZS6ARW’s log

RaDAR – Testing for NVIS

I had built a QRP Labs U3S and run it on 40m and 20m. My main interest is in NVIS communications (Near Vertical Incindence Skywave). Many years back I visited a facility in Hermanus, South Africa where they test for various HF propagation conditions. The term Ionosonde comes to mind.

Well I made my own system that seems to work very well using WSPR as the source on the U3S and WSJT-X together with a SDR-IQ as the receiver. Allow me to present some further detail.

In KG34ac (Lichtenburg) I run the U3S using a 40m / 20m trap inverted vee. I built the simple traps myself on tiny pieces of PCB using a 30 turn winding on a red toroid with a parallel 47 pF capacitor. On 40m the U3S puts out 200 mW and on 20m, 50 mW approximately. The WSPR sequence is repeated every six minutes.

In KG34ac (Molopo), 29 km away as the crow flies I run WSJT-X in WSPR mode talking indirectly via virtual audio (Software) and Spectravue (RF Space’s SDR software) to the SDR-IQ SDR HF receiver usually used as a CW monitor for the RBN (Reverse Beacon Network) when appropriate..

These two options allow some pretty interesting observations. I use WSPRD at http://wsprd.vk7jj.com/ to accumulate the data and create an appropriate graph from that data using LIBRE Calc (Freeware office software).

The results coincide with real world propagation opportunities for NVIS communications. I drew this graph from recent data.

Now that’s using WSPR for a purpose! The SNR values are usually well into negative values for example -27 or nothing at all. Anything above the zero line is a very good indicator that suitable conditions exist.

73 de Eddie ZS6BNE

RaDAR – The QSO Today virtual expo 2021

In South Africa we are experiencing a lot of load shedding, two and a half hours at a time sometimes twice a day! It so happened too when I was supposed to join in via Airmeet on my pre submitted RaDAR presentation hosted by QSO Today’s virtual expo.

In between these power failures I really battled to navigate the website and once I got reasonably familiar with the layout I was unable to get my video and microphone to work so it wouldn’t have helped to even implement emergency power and get online.

Ed DD5LP was the host for the session and he sent me a mail later that he was able to successfully broadcast the presentation. In effect, Ed saved the day. Thank you Ed! Ed sent me some Q&A’s which I will try to reply to here on my blog and can be distributed easily.

Ralph KR6AI from what I’ve seen it depends on the environment and the target area. I’ve seen hams’s using Alex loops, verticals near salt water and end feds. I prefer end feds as it is easy to deploy and here in South Africa we are many hops away from DX so I usually concentrate on NVIS communications.

Theodore KD2TGO the official RaDAR website is one I maintain and can be accessed at http://www.radarops.co.za however RaDAR is an experience and many use social media platforms to share experiences and many videos are available on You Tube. The more we become RaDAR active internationally the more we can see the experience of others and also share our own experiences in the same way.

Usually low power equipment like a KX2 / KX3 / FT-817 and even the new QRP Labs QCX Mini. Antennas are usually made of wire. For satellite communications I use a TH-D7A(g) which has a duplex facility. Antennas for satellite communications can be home brewed very easily or you can use the popular makes like those from Arrow antennas.

Jim N7RCS I would love to write an article. I would need some contact information and guidelines.

Dennis KD9KMK I did one challenge in a canoe. It was quite challenging but one can row to a point, climb out and deploy your station after moving a kilometer. Unfortunately our river dried up for reasons beyond our control so my canoe is no longer used. It was a fun exercise though!

Bruce W1EJC the band of choice would be the one giving the best propagation at the time. I usually spend my four hours on 40m and occasionally do satellite deployments too.

If I had my way I’d do all my contacts on CW. Here in South Africa we have only a few CW operators and around ten regulars. Much of the action is on SSB which limits the usability of the radios like the QCX mini which is CW only. Our CW group is growing much through the driving force from Mike ZS6MSW so hopefully in the future we may see a CW only four hour challenge. That would be awesome!

Much work went into the QSO Today virtual expo, the many presenters and the organisers must have had a heavy weight on their shoulders this past weekend. The technology I think was really awesome but complicated. I think there were many teething problems but let’s continue to support Eric 4Z1UG in ironing out the problems that the next expo be more familiar. I felt lost at times and I come from an IT background!

Have fun and spread the word of RaDAR.

Kind regards and 73 de

Eddie ZS6BNE

RaDAR – WSPR our propagation tool

I had built the QRP Labs U3S WSPR transmitter and expanded it for two bands namely 40m and 20m. My interest is 40m as most of my RaDAR operaions take place locally although during the challenges it’s always good to cross the oceans and access other continents and make contact with other RaDAR operators around the world.

For quite some time (A few weeks) I have been WSPR’ing from my RaDAR playground in KG34ac but I started to get irritated by the slight QRM I was experiencing on my CCTV cameras which I use as “The poor man’s trail camera”. Seeing my grandson was returning to school after almost a year attending on line schooling due to Covid-19 my wife and Eduan had to go back to town in Lichtenburg and only join me on weekends again. I had to do a few chores there yesterday and took the U3S into town and set it up there. I had built a trap dipole for the purpose and got it up at about five meters above ground in an inverted vee format. The antenna was fed with a length of RG215, better than it was here at home.

I had to update my 6 character TX grid to KG33bu on the WSPR database after I found it was only registering 4 characters on the WSPR database. I had conflicts with duplicate call signs in different locations so the RX side I renamed to ZS6BNE/p which is what it is actually. I use a RF Space SDR-IQ SDR running on its software typically Spectravue. I use a virtual audio cable (Software) to channel the audio to WSJT-X running in WSPR mode. Here too I have an inverted vee on 40m for reception. My main concern obviously is 40m.

This opened up some interesting facilities. ZS6BNE TX in KG33bu and around 30 km away as the crow flies the ZS6BNE/p RX in KG34ac. This is my own NVIS alert / testing facility and has already shown some interesting results!

As suggested by a friend on our local WSPR WhatsApp group I use http://wsprd.vk7jj.com/ to do queries on the WSPR data. From this data I intend pulling it into Libre-Calc and drawing graphs from the results. Here you can clearly see a NVIS opening and to prove it I made contact with Andy ZS6ADY who is usually skip to me!

I’m looking forward to those graphs and seeing the interesting results!

73 de Eddie ZS6BNE

RaDAR News – The end of 2020

Andre ZS6CO was the first to submit a log for the November 2020 RaDAR Challenge. Andre worked from home as a fixed station and filled an important role. He worked three moving RaDAR stations, ZS5AYC, ZS6BNE and ZS6MSW. This support is what RaDAR operator like to see.

Tjaart ZS3DR ran a mobile station from his Landcruiser. Tjaart enjoyed the RaDAR movements. He managed to activate seven individual grid locations.

Christi ZS4CGR a supporter of many ham radio activities also joined in on the RaDAR Challenge. His plan was to travel using his bicycle but I believe the wind was excessive so he travelled using his bakkie. Christi activated eight different grid locations.

Andy DL2DVE joined in the RaDAR Challenge again. Andy wrote, “For the 7th Nov 2020 challenge I decided to walk, and selected a few places beforehand close to my QTH. Main target was to contact other RaDAR operators and to try R2R DX, so I took with me not only the IC-706 (100W) and the 2m long (high) Vertical, but also the 10m long vertical EFHW for 20m with a 12m mast. Spent quite some time to figure out how to contact M0NOM after I left house without e-mail…   Finally we got a very nice R2R QSO on 20m SSB.  Could hear N4KGL on 14.062 with 229…339 with the short antenna – this motivated me to assemble the large one. It was my priority so I gave up to walk to the 3rd site.  But could not copy Greg at his 2nd stop on 20m SSB as there was European QRM.  Have two sites activated (less than my plan), but the main target R2R was achieved, with Mark M0NOM/P.  Temp was 5 deg C, no rain. Two deployments, one EU-R2R and one DX-Contact to US, resulting in 60 Points. 3x (2 x 5 +5 +5). 73 Andy DL2DVE”

Hoping 2021 will see the dark clouds of 2020 disappearing. 73 and hope to hear you all on the bands soon.

RaDAR – Ham radio sport

From a South African perspective.

Imagine each division in ZS will have a dedicated RTS (RaDAR Traffic station) for the four hour duration of a RaDAR Challenge. Let’s say HF only, 40m. A moving RaDAR station will call on a dedicated RTS frequency,
say for ZS1 7.085 MHz, “ZS1RTS ZS6BNE RaDAR Traffic”. No answer,
switch to 7.090 for ZS5. “ZS5RTS ZS6BNE RaDAR Traffic”.
ZS5 RTS station will reply, “ZS6BNE ZS5RTS Send”.
“ZS5RTS ZS6BNE Name Echo Delta Delta India Echo Grid Kilo Golf Three Four Alpha Charlie One Niner Foxtrot India”.
“ZS6BNE ZS5RTS Confirm grid Kilo Golf Three Four Alpha Charlie One Niner Foxtrot India”
If all OK, “ZS6BNE” (To sign out). In this case there is no two way exchange as the fixed RTS station operators and Grids are known. Once the moving RaDAR operator has five successful QSO’s he / she can move for redeployment elsewhere. There can however be a dedicated watering hole frequency for R2R (RaDAR to RaDAR) QSO’s if there is such a chance of a successful TWO way exchange between RaDAR operators. The first QSO having five bonus points. A QSO with a fixed RTS station counts as one point. …….. and so on.

Imagine country wide about forty hams taking part in the RADIO SPORT of RaDAR. Each chooses his own method vs distance of transport but he / she is free to change the method of transport at any time during the challenge – walk, bicycle, canoe, quad, SUV. They each have their individual routes planned, their tactic. Propagation will have minimal effect with the RTS stations distributed amongst each province / division. At the end of the four hour challenge period the logs are submitted to a website where the results are computed online giving the results. Prizes could be a year’s free SARL membership for the top contender etc. Naturally each contender has his / her own individual plan. Like Sid last weekend could have walked 1km faster than he could drive 6 km in his vehicle after the SOTA activation. Walking in that case could have been a better choice.

I was thinking it would be a little tough but really if out of the five QSO’s , one was incorrect then that whole deployment section of 5 contacts become NULL because only four out of the five could be counted ….. It actually makes sense to be that strict because in RaDAR, accuracy is worth more than a high QSO count. In my example way above where the RTS station confirms the grid it is quite important that he does that both stations do a final check for accuracy before continuing …..

Something to think about and any country in the world could take part in a similar way, anytime!

73 de Eddie ZS6BNE

Sid’s RaDAR Challenge – November 2020

Sid ZS5AYC and his wife Adele ZS5APT are regular SOTA activators and take part in all the RaDAR Challenges too. This is Sid’s report ……

Saturday morning for Adele and I started at 04:45, the summit we had decide to activate was between Kokstad and Underberg, we had deciding to first activate the summit ZS/KN-145 Belfast and then start the RaDAR challenge to coincide with the other RaDAR operators, this was the first time in South Africa that there would be so many RaDAR ops and we were excited to be part of the challenge.

We misjudged the time it would take to reach the summit and after hiking up we were 19 minutes behind schedule. After the first few minutes we realized that this would have to be our first RaDAR station, because the temperature was already 26°, we needed to keep operating because the chasers were piling up, within an hour we had made 17 contacts, with Eddie ZS6BNE being our first RaDAR to RaDAR contact.

I set off for my kilometre walk, but once we had descended our friends asked if we were still up on the summit, we then went back into the activation zone and set up to make contact with them, unfortunately they couldn’t hear us, so we broke station, and I continued with my walk, with Adele making her way down in the Toyota.

We quickly set up station and started calling, making 4 contacts, one with Denise (ZS1DS) who was participating in the Day of the YL.

As we had spent so much time activating the summt, we decided to drive 6km, big mistake ……. the trip down on the farm rode took us nearly an hour to reach the 6km distance, I would have walked the 1km faster.

After the 5 contacts we drove the next 6 kilometres but by the time we had set up we only had 5 minutes to make 5 contacts. We managed 3 contacts before our time was up.

All in all we had so much fun, making contact with three of the other RaDAR stations.

Looking forward to the RaDAR Challenge in April 2021.

My RaDAR Challenge – November 2020

I heard my friends Sid ZS5AYC and Adele ZS5APT were going to activate a SOTA summit and at the same time start their RaDAR Challenge as it was going to be a hot day. I was glad really as I wanted to support their SOTA effort but also wanted save my batteries and energy for the RaDAR Challenge we would have started later. I grabbed my kit and walked a circular route on my “E-Trail” deploying at grid KG34ac19fo.

I took the Icom IC-7200 for it’s first walk in the outdoors and I am its third owner! I was a little concerned but the weight was not really that bad in my back pack. I carried a Waeco battery pack in my hand. The pack contained two 7 A/Hr Gel Cells wired in parallel. I set up on the top of a rock.

I’m very happy with this radio. I usually get an answer to practically every call I make with it! I made five contacts from this location, two SSB and three CW. CW activity is on the rise in ZS and that is such good news!

I had an antenna breakage on one of my link insulators. Why it had to happen now was just another test. It’s my link antenna I use all the time and it has seen some rough storms in its lifetime and by the way all the bullet connectors are crimped and not soldered. Nothing wrong with a crimped connection by the looks of things. I had to walk back home to make a new insulator out of a piece of plastic sheeting.

I packed up and walked the circular route back to the starting point at my QTH and set up the antenna again making another five QSO’s. That was another three CW and two SSB QSO’s. That was all in all five R2R QSO’s!

Because there is a lot more CW activity in the RSA I opted to only do HF this time round and no satellite communications. I have found doing both can become quite distracting.

My friend Mike ZS6MSW, the driving force behind CW in ZS, made a video of his first RaDAR Challenge. Our R2R QSO and quick information exchange serves as a good example how RaDAR Challenge QSO’s should take place.

Thank you Mike ZS6MSW!

73 de Eddie ZS6BNE

RaDAR and the Icom IC-7200

I’ve had the radio for a few weeks now and although it’s an “old” radio and discontinued, it’s a new radio to me. This one still looks brand new.

I was asked to try 60m and a standard 7200 will not be able to do that but then I discovered, mine is wide open and apparently was opened by the first owner. I’m the third. Working 60m was a simple case of dialling in the frequency and with the right antenna I was ready to go!

While tuning my linked inverted vee for 60m I found the SWR protection to be quick and very effective. The heat sinks just show what a workhorse this radio is. My kind of radio …..

It’s a real radio too, to be honest, I’m old school, I haven’t really taken the SDR thing to heart.

The 7200 can be CAT controlled through the USB port and together with that there is a digimodes sound card interface built in! No need for a CT17 CIV interface and no need for a very expensive Signalink interface either. The Signalink alone cost a fifth of what I paid for the rig. I do have a Signalink though, I gave it to my grandson together with the FT-817ND (Hope he’ll become a ham some day).

I’ve been QRP for many of my recent years practicing ham radio. I welcome the option of 100W again! The 7200 can do QRP, even lower than 2W if need be.

Sure, the radio is biggish and heavyish but even a 817 is heavyish!

I would have liked back lit buttons for the dark but I’ve more or less learnt to feel my way around in the dark and only occasionally I press the wrong button.

I’m tired of tuners. I just make sure the antenna is working correctly.

Digimodes is so part of the 7200. WSJT-X talks nicely to the radio. I hate FT8 but just for fun I made a FT8 QSO recently, actually my PC did, I just clicked on the station’s call sign and the computer did the rest. I mean, compare that to working CW?

Nothing wrong with SSB either. The mic works better than many other rigs I have owned.

The receiver audio quality is absolutely superb. Turning the volume right down the audio is absolutely quiet. Not even an audio amp “hiss”!

It’s still pretty cold here in South Africa, nothing compared to other parts of the world in winter / spring though. Some time soon, this radio is going RaDAR!!!

 

73 de Eddie ZS6BNE

RaDAR – Not quite in the field

Icom IC-7200

Yesterday I took part in the SARL CW Contest, a three hour contest on 80m, 40m and 20m.

I had to quickly build and tune a section for my link dipole for 80m. I’d already added a 60m section so it was simply a case of adding seven meters of wire on each end and tuning for low SWR. Within a half hour I had a working 80m antenna, quite RaDAR’ish I might add.

I sat in the back room which is only two meters from my RaDAR Playground in the bush. Just recently I installed AC power but no lighting yet.

What a comfortable way of working a contest other than sitting on the ground in the cold winter fields running QRP! This was an absolute pleasure. I was heard on every call running between 60 and 90 W from the icom IC-7200. What an awesome radio!!!

I had bought some cheap headphones which sounded Hi Fidelity and I could not help myself but to compare it to the Xeigu X5105 I once had. It was absolutely AWFUL using headphones even when I turned the audio right down it still sounded like a ships engine room. The Icom was quiet!!!

I made more contacts in one session than I have done in quite a while.
40m – ZS2DL, ZR2A, ZS2AL, ZS5PG, ZS1C, ZS2NF, ZS5XT, ZS5EL, ZS5DUV, ZS2U, ZS6KR, ZS3CM, V51YJ, ZS1SA
80m – ZS2DL, ZS5EL, ZS6AZP, ZS6OMT, ZS6S, ZS6KR, ZS4JAN, ZS2NF, ZS5XT, ZS5DUV

As darkness and cold set in I packed up early not trying 20m. I still want to get my 20m end fed vertical up again. Maybe a goal for this week. I need to have something to do being an early pensioner (Hate that word!!! 🙂 )