RaDAR – Feedback on the November 3rd challenge

Satellite passes formed the basis for my time line. I left home, on foot, at 11:00 CAT.

From experience I have learned not to rely too heavily on the satellites for RaDAR contacts during the challenge. Today was no different. As I got to my first destination I put up my link dipole barely two meters above the ground at the apex hanging from a tree branch. I also setup the satellite gear for a pass of SO-50 for 11:29 CAT.

In the meantime I browsed the 40m band and heard Kobus, ZS6BOS on 7.090 MHz calling from SOTA summit ZS/GP-016 at 11:22 CAT. We were both 59, NVIS comms looked very promising for a change! His grid was KG33VV and mine KG34AC18LQ. After browsing again I heard ZS3VDK/P6 also on 7.090 MHz operated by Kobus. I confirmed that I could log both call signs for RaDAR and SOTA. I used the internal microphone of the Xiegu X5105 which worked pretty well! It is no longer nescessary to carry a microphone. One plus point for RaDAR.

SO-50 was about to come over the horizon. I waited, sitting on the ground, my ISS Detector app giving me precise direction and elevation information. It was coming in from the north. I sent the activate tone while it was barely at 5 degrees and amazingly SO-50 came to life. I called CQ for the duration of the pass with no replies. The satellite signal was excellent. I was using my YOTA 2018 satellite antenna and it worked perfectly for RaDAR. Pity there were no QSO’s ….. but I expected that so it was not too much of a dissapointment!!!

Then I went to 7.020 and called CQ using the morse code (CW). Daryl ZS6DLL came back to me at 11:52. I was 559 and he 599 from grid KG44BC. Sean ZS6SR called me at 11:58. He was 599 too. He gave me a 579 from grid KG33GV. At 12:04 CAT I was called by Tom ZS6OMT. He was also 599. He gave me a 589 from KG33NG in Potchefstroom. Forty meters was in excellent condition! This day I felt proud to be a radio ham. Interest in CW amongst quite a few ZS’s was picking up.

Having the required number of QSO’s it was time to move to my next location. I thought I’d pass by and say Hi to my XYL. I shouldn’t have done that, my neighbours were visiting and half way through a cup of coffee and rusks. Trying not to be rude I set up my SatComms equipment under a tree in the garden and excused myself for a few minutes.

AO-91 was coming in from the south at 12:44 and I listened for it’s carrier. Christi ZS4CGR called from grid KG20KF75FF and my new grid was KG34AC19FJ we were both 59 (FM). Tom ZR6TG called from KG33WG, both 59. I heard later that it was his goal to work my RaDAR station so I’m glad that was a success! Then Andre ZS2ZA called from KF26SB. By this time the satellite’s signal was very strong. Then the sat went past the equator and picked up the usual QRM from central Africa and no further QSO’s were possible. Actually I don’t think there was anyone else around anyway.

I joined my neighbours for coffee and rusks. I showed them a video a friend made of my “RaDAR Playground” before we were interrupted by another neighbour. So we sat talking for a while until they left and went back home. I bid them farewell.

So, having only three satellite QSO’s I needed another two. I set up the link dipole in the garden hanging from a tree branch. I called in on the AWA net (Antique Wireless Association) at 14:08 and got reports from Barrie ZS6AJY 559, Andy ZS6ADY 559 and Tom ZS6OMT again (I was in a new grid). The net is a weekly ragchew net not conducive to the rapid style of RaDAR but Barrie asked in CW if I would require individual info or run off. I didn’t want to bother them any further and I had no time to hang around listening to two minute-plus overs. I greeted all and bowed out.

I packed up the antenna having five, plus one QSO’s. In the meantime the XYL had started working in the garden and needed some plants to be planted. I felt guilty and opted to give her a hand. After all there was only another forty five minutes to go and I still needed to walk a kilometer and deploy with the hope of working someone. I’d already seen my friends Sid ZS5AYC and Adele ZS5APT were very weak. Usually forty meters was short skip and a channel into division five but not today.

All in all my RaDAR ops was a success I think. My kit worked and I have proved my decision to sell all my Yaesu equipment, the 897d and 817ND and all the rest for a Xiegu X5105 was the right thing to do. The X5105 performed very well in a RaDAR context.

CW was KING today – I liked that!!!!

73 de Eddie ZS6BNE

My Logbook  – Attached

 

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RaDAR – Ammended rules for 2019 and beyond

RaDAR Challenge – 2019 and beyond

1. Aim

The RaDAR “Challenge” is a unique event aimed at promoting the use of Rapidly Deployable Amateur Radio stations. Categories (Fixed / Field / Moving) may be changed at any time during the challenge. The points system is so structured as to encourage portable RaDAR operations especially moveable RaDAR stations.

RaDAR operators are encouraged to be self-sufficient during each challenge, with not only power supply and communications equipment but food, water, protective clothing and shelter.

2. Date and Time

RaDAR operators define their own operating time schedule. It’s up to each individual to plan his / her MAXIMUM, SINGLE PERIOD, FOUR HOUR ops. He / she should consider propagation with the ultimate goal of inter-continental RaDAR to RaDAR communications in mind. Share your plans with others to try and coordinate times.

00:00 UTC to 23:59 UTC on Saturday 6 April 2019, Saturday 13 July 2019 and on Saturday 2 November 2019. Twenty four hours will give equal opportunity to the international community of RaDAR operators.

3. Bands and Modes

All amateur bands are allowed including cross band contacts via amateur radio satellites. Modes – CW, SSB, FM or any legal amateur radio digital mode. As from 2019 the WARC bands will be INCLUDED. The RaDAR Challenge is not a “contest” as such, it’s an individual challenge.

QSOs via terrestrial FM repeaters should preferably not be used for the purpose of the challenge.

4. Suggested HF calling frequencies

See https://zs6bne.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/radar-calling-frequencies/ for the RaDAR Calling channels, the latest suggested international list of calling frequencies

5. Exchange

The RaDAR challenge requires more than a minimalistic information exchange. Accurate information exchange is considered more important than a large QSO count. Call sign, name, RS (T) report and grid locator. The grid locator of six characters is acceptable but should preferably be accurate to 8 or 10 characters for higher position accuracy (especially for moving RaDAR stations). Various smartphone apps are used for this or pre-planning using maps is an alternative.

6. Scoring (For determining your own success rate)

1 point per QSO. Individual QSOs could be per mode, per band, per satellite, per grid location. If the moving RaDAR station has moved the required distance contact can be made with a previously worked station, again. Suggestions have been made to call CQ including grid location, for example CQ RaDAR from grid KG34acXXyy, to help callers determine whether it is possible for a new contact with a previously worked moving RaDAR station.

7. Categories and multipliers

The following multipliers are applicable to determine the final score. If category / mode of transport changes were made during the challenge, than calculate accordingly.

X 1 – RaDAR Fixed station (in a building away from home)

X 2 – RaDAR Field station (camping)

X 3 – Moving RaDAR station – see modes of transport below.

Modes of transport and required movement distances (moving RaDAR stations only)

Vehicles, motorcycles and motorboats (motorised transport) – 6 km

Bicycles – 2 km

On foot and paddle canoes – 1 km

Wheelchairs – 500 m

Aeronautical mobile stations are considered moving stations and can communicate at any convenient time.

Note : Moving RaDAR stations need to make five QSO’s before moving to the next deployment point, thereafter they are required to move to their next destination. The move needs to cover the required distance before further contacts can be made. This requirement tests the ability to rapidly and successfully re-deploy your amateur radio station. In the case of satellite communications, plans need to be made carefully to ensure you are at your new position before the satellite comes over the horison. This adds to the fun of RaDAR.

If it be gentlemanly to make further QSOs before moving then please feel free to do so but the QSOs in excess of five per deployment point can not be counted for points. Your extra QSO’s may well help others to achieve their QSO count. Help your fellow ham to achieve his / her goals if the opportunity presents itself.

9. Bonus points (All categories)

Five (5) points for a minimum of one satellite OR digital modes QSO involving a computer, smart phone or digital modes device. (For clarity thereafter 1 point per Satellite / Digital modes QSO).

Five (5) points for the first successful same continent RaDAR to RaDAR QSO.

Five (5) points for the first intercontinental (DX) QSO

Ten (10) points for the first successful inter-continental (DX) RaDAR to RaDAR QSO.

10. Log Sheets

Log sheets must be submitted by 13 April 2019, 20 July 2019 and 16 November 2019 and sent by e-mail to edleighton@gmail.com Note: A photo of the station should accompany every log entry including each new location that moveable RaDAR stations visit. The results and photos are used to promote RaDAR and amateur radio.

RaDAR – The Xiegu X5105 internal battery

How low can you go?

I’ve been recycling the battery. Apparently it gets better every time. I found listening to AM broadcasts kind of achieves the goal of draining the battery pretty well. A reasonably strong AM station sounds good on the internal speaker. If I do a lot of shortwave listening I’d use an external D.C. power supply. The internal battery is for communications in the field.

Plugging in a 13.8 volt D.C. supply and setting >CHG in the menu, allows charging. It’s now ready for the weekend in case I want to get out and play radio!

This morning, I took note of the voltages after charging :

That’s it. Those are the figures.

RaDAR – A review on the Xiegu X5105

My game is RaDAR – Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio, it is my focus and my thoughts on amateur radio revolve around it all the time. The RaDAR concept as we know it is almost a decade old. I like practicing RaDAR while on foot, moving and redeploying after every five contacts. It’s a challenge and it’s good.

Batteries, weight and bulk issues

Backpack weight needs to be reduced wherever possible. I used a FT817ND and LDG z817 ATU for almost a decade using various battery systems including internal batteries but there was always a weight issue. I almost always came back to Sealed Lead Acid Batteries (SLAB’s). They are heavy.

The batteries were always an issue. Then there are the latest and greatest high power battery systems available with dedicated chargers and protection mechanisms and this comes at a very high cost. Certainly many times more than a SLAB! Bulky too. I needed to keep the size of the kit down not only the weight.

QRO vs QRP

There were occasions where higher power was needed and through negotiations  I managed to find a full house immaculate FT897d which suited RaDAR QRO ops ike a glove and I traded my satellite radio the FT847 and ATU for it, also in immaculate condition. The FT897d + ATU + internal AC power supply was heavy to carry and very bulky too! It needed even more SLABS which added to the weight.

The Xiegu X5105

Then I discovered the Xiegu X5105 and all it would require was another negotiation. The exchange rate in South Africa is pretty rediculous at the moment and the Xiegu X5105 way more expensive than what I paid for my FT817ND a few years back and it too was expensive at the time. The X5105 price at the time of writing :

It was through a local supplier, Rory ZS2BL. Not an official supplier in the eyes of the rest of the world but at least makes it easier for us local hams to aquire such a radio. Rory was prepared to swop my immaculate, full house FT897d + LDG 897 ATU + Optional internal PSU for a new, out of the box, Xiegu X5105.

The X5105 solved the battery problem

My main concern.

Batteries, bulk, weight, on foot, space to carry water, food and clothing too were all criteria for my decision. The X5105 offered a battery solution, no VHF and UHF though but I’d passed the will to use the FT897d for Satellite communication and digital modes. On foot, movement and HF communications is what I do. Ninety percent of all my QSO’s are QRP anyway.

I did the swop …..

Firmware issues

The Xiegu X5105 came with the original factory firmware. The ATU wasn’t working like I was used to with the LDG z817 auto ATU and FT817ND. It simply didn’t work. Some menu options like the adjustable filter did not work either. I joined the Facebook Xiegu group and started my discussions on this topic. I learnt much through this group, a tightly controlled group I might add. (Edited – I was banned from the Xiegu Facebook group since posting this review).

Power output issues

My X5105 intitally only put out a half a Watt on 40m. Then it came right by itself for some unknown reason but would hesitate sometimes on the first character while sending CW. I put on my home brew QRP Power meter and could see the power output hovering around a half a Watt and then it would suddenly go to full power.

Not a very good impression coming from a Yaesu world and a practically perfect FT817ND or FT897d not to mention a FT-847. I had a FT902dm line once too and before that a FT101EE a Yaesu man through and through. I ran an Icom 706mkiig once which springboarded me into modern amateur radio.

The X5105 was a dissapointment although it fit my criteria for a battery solution. I almost sent it back after a week or so.

Firmware updates

The ATU issue found it’s way to the Xiegu developers and within days a new firmware update was released. I discovered that my radio used the old way of updating the firmware. My first attempt failed and I thought I “bricked” the radio but I tried a second time and the update succeeded. I was quite surprised to see two VFO displays, a really impressive improvement on the previous firmware version. My ATU worked too!!! The power output and keyer issues showed improvement. Why the radios were initially released with “inferior firmware” is anyone’s guess but this version was impressive! A programming / CAT cable is supplied with the radio at no extra cost.

New firmware bugs

The new firmware didn’t come without its problems though. The RF gain on default settings was excessive. In high static conditions incoming signals were chopped and became unintelligable. Reducing RF Gain helped. The S Meter although needing calibration just didn’t “feel” right. The audio on the speaker output jack is the worst I’ve heard in my life! Apparently nothing can be done about it, it’s in the hardware …… I’m not sure how it sounded with the previous firmware. These issues seem to be taking a while to resolve.

I once built a 40m QCX transceiver designed by Hans Summers. The audio section on this rig is the benchmark. Absolutely perfect! Discussing this radio and using it to compare audio quality was a catalyst in having me removed from the Xiegu Facebook group.

Update 2018-10-26

A FRIENDLY reply via email from Xiegu.

By the way, many people complain that the X5105 is not sounding properly after connecting the headphones. This is because the headphone output can’t drive a load less than 32 ohms. If you want to connect an external speaker, use an active speaker. If we use headphones equal to or greater than 32 ohms, and its sound quality will be very good. If the load is less than 16 ohms, it will sound very bad.

Best regards,

Curry

Charging

The X5105 has a built in battery charger and I guess battery protection mechanisms. The operator needs to have access to a decent 13.8v D.C. power supply though in order to charge the battery. It takes a pretty long time to charge too. Many hours!

Documentation

The manual is reasonably well written but quickly outdated with each firmware revision which is acceptable of course. Downloading a new manual with each new firmware update appears to be slow. I haven’t seen one for the latest update yet?

There is ZERO technical detail in the form of a block diagram or circuit diagram. It appears the developers have no intention of sharing this information? Concerned that their designs are copied apparently? Detail circuit diagrams and service information is available for any other ham radio transceiver that I know of, why not for the Xiegu X5105?

Features of the X5105

The internal mic is a big plus, Less bulk to carry not having to pack the mic. It can stay at home but I’m able to do SSB if the need arises.

Backlit controls. Awesome when the sun sets.

Large display. This is of course a definite improvement over most rigs who have small screens!

Stands. It was always a irritation holding the FT817ND so I could see what was on the screen. My eyesight isn’t that good anymore since passing sixty!

The battery, actually to date I haven’t come close to a flat battery and now purposefully don’t charge the rig till I get there – a few times. (Edited – I did some SWLing until the battery fell to 9.2 volts where the rig abruptly shut down. It actually didn’t take that long. After a few recharge cycles I will test again)

ATU – For what it’s worth, it works if my link dipole is not hundred percent resonant on a particular frequency while set up in the field. I prefer end feds though with a manual tuner for matching the half wave wire to the rig.

The user adjustable filter (Menu 9 I think) – it works on the latest firmware.

There is a built in keyer (Improved with the latest firmware) for a paddle but I prefer a hand key in the field, the predefined messages help as an extra hand sometimes.

It has a PSK decoder – Pretty useless really. Having a CW decoder like the Hans Summers QCX would add a LOT more value to the X5105 in this regard.

Recessed controls, easy to pack and less chance of damage.

The X5105 has a simple antenna analyser that produces a SWR graph of your antenna – This is a very handy facility if you enjoy building HF / 6m antennas!

General overview

Overall the Xiegu X5105 suits my needs. It does NOT exceed my expectations, I expected more for the price. On the outside the rig is very well built.

I’ll have to live with the imperfections after all it’s a trail radio and used on the trail in typical RaDAR fashion. I can live with that ….

The X5105 will be put through its paces on the 3rd of November 2018 during the international RaDAR challenge. The details can be seen on www.radarops.co.za

Update 2018-11-07

Yesterday I set up the X5105 in the shack. Forty meters has become skippy again! The X5105 is not a shack radio, my ears are EXTREMELY sensitive to that noisy audio amp ….. it is almost like trying to listen with a very noisy fan inside the rig with the audio superimposed on the sound of the fan. Very annoying. You don’t hear it quite so easily when outside, the wind and the birds make up for it. This is on the built in speaker!!! Headphones are of course OUT OF THE QUESTION!!! That’s it, it’s a great trail radio but that’s it, it’s a trail radio…..

RaDAR – Post Xiegu X5105 firmware update

Last week I flashed the then latest firmware to my X5105.

I took part in the All Africa contest this past Saturday afternoon just for fun and to try out the new firmware. This may not be everyone’s idea of fun but I kind of like updating the rig’s software and trying out the new features. Almost like a “work in progress” and the guys at Xiegu certainly appear to want to give the best service on their product that is humanly possible!

I tested the ATU, my main concern. I tuned up a 40m inverted vee on 15m and the ATU tuned perfectly – as it should.

The built in keyer was quite irritating though as it would send a random dot or dash and sometimes none at all that made me think I had a sticky paddle. I watched those contacts closely as I sent …. it wasn’t the KEY!!!!

Johan, ZS6AF said it sounded like my SSB signal had RF feedback. I was sitting directly below the antenna. Maybe the mic does pick up a little RF. Johan is an experienced HF operator so I’d take what he says seriously.

Sid, ZS5AYC operating ZS5H said I had a very strong signal into Natal.

One thing that was MUCH better was that tone that would knock you off your chair if you had headphones on and just switched on the rig. You know, where you see your callsign. Much quieter now 🙂

Overall I was happy with the firmware update and now there is a new firmware update that looks very promising, just a few days later. I will reflash the Xiegu X5105 tonight!!!

I look forward to the next outing but first there is family time this weekend.

Last night I flashed the X5105 again with the latest September 2018 firmware release – even better now!!!!

 

73 de Eddie ZS6BNE

 

 

RaDAR – Xiegu X5105

I’ve had the Xiegu X5105 for three weeks now. I’ve done a few outings and made a few contacts with it. Some on CW and some on SSB. The last few were as a roving RaDAR field station doing two separate deployments. Conditions on 40m are mostly skip nowadays!

Admittedly there were some issues I was not happy with but that was all sorted out with the latest firmware update. Many things are working better than my first experiences. The update went reasonably well although my first attempt crashed and I was left with a radio that didn’t want to switch on – it didn’t know it was a radio – that’s software!

The reason I went for the X5105 as my main RaDAR radio was for the following reasons :

Compact

Built in battery

Built in ATU (Working better now)

Programmable CW messages (Three)

All mode although my main interests are CW and SSB, CW preferrably!

LIGHTWEIGHT

It has a simple antenna analyser – very handy!

Built in SWR indicator

Built in filters

Dual VFO’s

Firmware UPDATEABLE

Informative, large screen

Controls that can be seen in the dark

Fine tune capability

AM reception good – well, as good as AM

160m through to 6m including the 5MHz band

500 mW power setting steps up to 5W

Built in keyer

Built in PSK monitor – I’d prefer a CW decoder though

Adjustable digital filter (AFF – High and Low pass adjustments)

My next review will be in a few weeks time where I will have used the latest firmware update. Certainly updating to the latest version is ALWAYS a good idea.

 

73 de Eddie ZS6BNE

RaDAR – It all started with an ad

It started with an ad on the SARL swop shop posted by a local amateur radio dealer,Rory ZS2BL. He was offering a swop, a Yaesu FT-897d, + ATU + internal power supply in exchange for a brand new Xiegu X5105. It almost felt as if Rory was targeting me for I had what he wanted and he had what I was possibly looking for. It felt like a pretty unbalanced swop at first but I thought about it the whole night throughout my broken sleep pattern.

I did the deal the next morning. I didn’t use the FT897d much although it was comforting to know it was there! I’m almost always QRP.

I’ve used the Xiegu a few times and have made a few contacts with it from the field using both SSB and CW.

I still had my famous “Framed 817” which has served me well for close on a decade. What was I to do with it now that the Xiegu offered much the same besides the 817 having 2m and 70cm which I’ve really only used as a “half duplex” satellite station on the satellites like FO-29 and AO-7. The fully computer controlled guys don’t like the half duplex idea much but have accomodated me on a number of occasions in the past.

I have an old TH-D7A(g) which I can use for APRS and FM satellites (full duplex) with the Arrow dual band antenna. I heard today that the locally designed antenna as distributed amongst the YOTA 2018 participants will be in my post box by tommorrow which may become the ideal antenna for RaDAR SatComms!

I installed the framed 817 in the shack. I was playing with WSPR. WSPR is awesome, it’s just WSPR but it works. Then I tried QRP FT8 on 40m and was heard once, in Europe. I had gone for a cup of coffee and on my return I found a Namibian station had just worked me on FT8, a complete QSO. All that was needed was for me to click the button “Log the QSO”. I did, for the sake of the Namibian station but I was not physically part of the QSO. The computer did all the negotiations. I was put off FT8 forever!

It was time for the 817ND to go to a new home. It was sent to a ham in Natal. One thing I forgot to pack was the rubber duck antenna that originally came with it many, many years ago. I never used it but I know it’s lying in a corner somewhere!

So with the Yaesu’s all gone to a new home I sat with the Signalink USB and rarely used Yaesu CAT cable and they had to go too. Within minutes I had replies, these items are pretty scarce nowadays in South Africa.

They are too, on their way to new homes.

During the past few days I have basically planned my next few years as a radio amateur, being a QRP only operator supporting on foot RaDAR, SOTA and POTA operations.

I still have an old army radio, the B25 which was given to me by a good friend before he went back to the USA. The B25 stays as a shack bound radio – really only there to support other activators and occasional late afternoon QSO’s.

The Xiegu X5105 QRP HF radio covers 160m through to 6m including the 5 MHz band. It has a built in tuner although I still need to prove how effective it is? It has a built in battery AND charger. It has a simple antenna analyser – good enough for my purposes, It is all mode, even FM! It is LIGHTWEIGHT, way lighter than even the framed 817!

I wanted to sell the HB1A but luckily for me no one committed to the sale. I did repair it myself and there is a bond between me and it. I really enjoy this radio and oh, so pleasant to listen to on a pair of headphones – unlike the Xiegu which can be quite tiring but that story will be written once I have more hands on experience with the Xiegu.

Now even the RaDAR antenna I carry in my pack feels heavy and needs replacement with something lighter.

I have been the master of my destiny, it’s the journey I must travel. The past 43 years as a radio amateur have been awesome too!!!

 

73 de Eddie ZS6BNE

 

“The turn of the tide”