RaDAR Ops – 16th July 2016

My second RaDAR challenge of the year could be seen as a success or seen as a failure. I’d like to concentrate on the successes. A new ham, Carel ZS6CFP asked if he could join me in the RaDAR challenge as he finds it very interesting. Carel is very willing to learn and so I agreed that he join me, an activity I normally do alone.

Carel’s younger brother Stephan, was also interested in joining the group and is also very interested in ham radio. My grandson Eduan, has sometimes accompanied me on my excursions and he became part of the team too. His prime purpose, a responsible job, was to be the “Ops photographer” and in a way he did that job reasonably well.

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My XYL Elrika, took this photo in front of our weekend home “down by the dry river” before we set off on our journey, walking to the first deployment point.

Carel carried a heavy load in his backpack. An ex SADF military Fuchs B25, two 7A / Hr SLABs wired in parallel and a “faulty” 40m fixed tuned end fed, equipment that I have loaned to him to get started with his ham career. Stephan carried their food and water and the painters poles…

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At our first (and last) deployment point, I demonstrated how to use the painters poles as a mast for the end fed antenna emphasising that the mast be neat looking, military style. What looks good, works good!

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I had a feeling that there was something not quite right with the 40m end fed but left it at that as it would demonstrate that one could do some fault finding in the field. Indeed, the end fed didn’t even bring signals into the B25’s receiver – the band was stone dead!

We opened up the box and the hardware still looked intact. As I tried to turn the capacitor I found it a little sticky. The antenna was left out in the winter rain only a few weeks back and rust may have set in. I used my 817’s built in SWR meter to see what was happening and within a few minutes we had a working antenna again!

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Stephan quickly got down to listening for activity on the 40m band and I went off to set up my own 40m end fed and miniature tuner I’d built the night before.

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My new 40m end fed consisted of a 20.3m long wire and a 1m “pigtail” as a counterpoise. The tuner was built form a red T50-2 toroid with a 27 turn secondary and a 3 turn primary with a common ground. The capacitor was a small 150 PF poly-varicon. I used a short length of RG58cu 50 ohm coax to the FT-817ND. The antenna was launched over a very high tree branch as a sloper sloping to the east which I managed to do using a thin nylon rope and a rock. I used my home brew rechargeable penlight battery pack as a power source with internal penlights (inside the FT817) as a backup.

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I managed to work two QRP contest (running alongside the RaDAR challenge) participants on CW, Pierre ZS6A and Daryl ZS6DLL both using HB1A’s. Daryl gave me a 599 PLUS! He was the one who sent me a few toroids through speed post during the week so I could build my new RaDAR end fed tuner in time for the challenge! End feds are by far the RaDAR operators best friend!

There were a few slow CW stations rag chewing on the AWA net on 7.020 but I had to get ready for the FO-29 satellite contact. I unfortunately had no response from Kieth ZS6TW for a sked but luckily Andre ZS2BK had heard about our request for SatComms during the RaDAR challenge. We set up sked via email the day before.

I was not as focused as I normally am working alone and had to send young Eduan back home to fetch the Arrow yagi I accidentally left behind. Luckily he’s a fit young lad.

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I had also left my BNC to BNC adapter at home so I had to improvise using two separate coax cables to each yagi of the Arrow and remove the diplexer stored in the handle. Actually I’ve been meaning to do this anyway so I can use the FT-847 again for base station SatComms so it was a step in the right direction. The diplexer can only handle 5 Watts. I just had to make sure the FT-817ND was programmed properly for the right antenna port, for the right band and the correct FO-29 up and downlink frequencies dialled into the two 817 VFO’s and SPLit mode set.

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We were very lucky to make a contact with Andre as the young guys took turns tracking the satellite which is a rather specialised activity especially with no signal feedback working in “Half duplex” mode. Carel later tried to make contact also which was a reasonable success but our tracking was way off the mark.

A recording of our contact can be heard here : https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B6itjIwvuEFOd0d3c2c3d2p3cDg

It was then time to get my clothes line dipole up in the air for a sked with Greg N4KGL and Tom G0SBW. I pulled down the 40m end fed and used the nylon pull rope to raise the dipole as high as possible orientated to the northwest. I heard signals from ZS1TTZ in Cape Town at 599 but he was rag chewing with another station and so I went up to 14.346 MHz. It was quiet but I called a few times in desperate hope for a DX QSO – nothing. Conditions were not favourable. I tried listening to the other bands but signals, if any, were way down.

The young guys were looking for excitement as I’d said we could try catching a fox as a radio direction finding exercise. I’d packed my lensatic compass and the Android app SigTrax was now bug free and ready to be used as a RDF tool. So we packed up and moved off to the RaDAR Playground a kilometer away stopping by the house for some cool drink first.

But, that’s another story ……

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RaDAR – Travelling light

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Going out into the field to practice RaDAR, generally for a short period of time, requires a lightweight, proven kit that is always ready. I’ve tried many packs sometimes increasing the size and weight but I always return to the smaller and lighter packs. It’s just too easy to pack more and more stuff into a larger pack sometimes defeating the object of RaDAR.

I’m forever changing what goes into the pack and what does not. Rigs like the FT817ND offer many facilities sometimes all of them can be useful. Just recently I chose to put in all the wires I can to access all these facilites at the back of the rig without the need to remove it from the pack and route all the wires to various areas in the pack sometimes having to make holes between the pack compartments. I’m still not happy with the results but getting there, slowly.

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Digital communications are coming more and more into the limelight especially on smart devices which are inherently powerful and lightweight. It is no longer needed to carry a small (and relatively heavy) power hungry laptop anymore.

My only concern is the heat dissipation withing the pack as I like to protect the rig against any damage whatsoever. It is the nucleus of the RaDAR pack!

Antennas need to be light, efficient and be able to withstand abuse through bad weather or windy conditions. I’m still working on solutions for this, it’s an ongoing trial.

RaDAR – Digital radio Android and the Signalink USB

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I only recently discovered Androids USB OTG through Julian OH8STN although the technology is a decade and a half old!

Last night I tried a USB wireless mouse adapter and in no time at all I could navigate my Sony Xperia C4 Android smartphone using the wireless mouse!

This morning I sat looking at my earphone / mic that was part of my old Samsung Galaxy Note smartphone and pondered on where to cut the lead to make a digital modes interface between my FT-817ND and a smartphone using the four pole earphone jack – luckily I put it back where I normally store it. I had a cable once, I put it in a very safe place, so safe I can’t remember where?

I’ve tested before but wanted to try again, the clock was ticking but I went outside and connected my 847’s Signalink USB to the smartphone. Using AndFLmsg and pressing “Tune” the Signalink’s PTT reacted!!!! Nothing on the receive waterfall though ….

Then I routed the cables through a powered USB hub (Otherwise the smartphone needs to power the Signalink!) and used DroidPSK to test. I switched on the 847 and DroidPSK’s waterfall came alive, on TX it transmitted too!!!!

No need to build a digimodes interface for Android, my Signalink USB infrastructure can now be used with Windows, Linux or Android!!!

I was late for work but it was worth it!

RaDAR – Discovering AndFLMsg

I edited one of the predefined message forms using it as an example and called it radar.html Then I copied the HTML file to the “NBEMS files” folder’s subfolders – “DisplayForms” and “EntryForms”.

The form was available for data entry on starting AndFLMsg on my Sony C4 Android smartphone. After “sending” I could display the “sent” message. The message is sent 10 times over using the selected digital mode (Data ONLY) on the specified audio offset frequency (1500 Hz).

This is what the example message looked like. I will make another tomorrow where one can enter all required RaDAR QSO info like grid locator etc. It would be great if a few of us could test the viability of this system for use in RaDAR on one of the chosen DX bands.

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RaDAR – Installing FL-Digi on an Android device

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I was browsing the Net to find out how I can use my Android smartphone with my Signalink USB sound interface to the FT-817ND. I believe Android version 5 has better support for sound devices than previous versions.

Then my thoughts turned to the very successful FL-Digi. I thought, what if FL-Digi could run on Android? I found a website where the APK can be downloaded and it can be acccessed on http://www.w1hkj.com/vk2eta/

You will have to tell your phone that it can install a program from the local SD card but switch it back again once you’re finished for safety’s sake! The APK is safe.

Somewhere in the back of my mind things look familiar and I recall John VK2ETA being involved with porting PSKMail to Android also using FL-Digi as the modem …..

Now to get my Signalink USB talking via my OTG USB adapter!

RaDAR Challenge – Summary for SARL News

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It’s not the first time I’ve heard such a statement, “I don’t remember the last time I had this much fun!!!”, the words from Julian OH8STN.

Looking at his profile on qrz.com Julian writes, “My belief is all too often we rely on the comfort of fixed locations, the stability of a home or other grid tied shelter as operating locations for our radio communications. In contrast, learning to operate off-grid, out of a backpack, temporarily setup next to your car, from a hotel room, getting there with skis, bicycle, or hiking up the side of the mountain to setup your tent or shelter, that’s a challenge, and also that’s what it’s all about for me. Operating QRP portable from unusual places provides an opportunity to learn about yourself, and your gear”. Julian could not have said it better!

Not everyone submits a log after a contest or in this case, a challenge. That is quite the norm. Logs that were received for the April 2nd RaDAR challenge are :

Eddie ZS6BNE, Tienie ZS6MHH, Johan ZS4DZ, Sid ZS5AYC and Greg N4KGL. Julian OH8STN described his RaDAR ops on the Google+ RaDAR group.

ZS6BNE and N4KGL took on the RaDAR Challenge as on foot operators which is by far the most challenging as everything needs to be carried. The operator needs to dismantle his station and antennas, pack up, move and redeploy at least a kilometer away each time.

ZS4DZ operated from a fixed location and these stations are necessary. They keep the band alive with RaDAR activity.

ZS6MHH operated “portable” from his vehicle parked at the top of Klapperkop in Pretoria.

ZS5AYC and OH8STN both operated from vehicles moving to the next destination six or more kilometers away after every five QSO’s. If more than five QSO’s were made from a particular deployment position the excess did not count for points. Sometimes propagation is not favourable so some stations move to the next destination with less than five QSO’s.

Sid ZS5AYC, his wife Adele ZS5AYL, and a few friends made it a team effort and all had much fun. Sid’s overall score was the highest which makes him the overall champion. Well done Sid and team!

Ideas exchanged and a forever changing RaDAR landscape will see the following changes for future challenges.

A suggestion has been made that the 24 hour period remain but it’s up to each individual to plan his / her maximum, single period, four hour ops. He / she would take propagation into account with the ultimate goal of inter continental RaDAR to RaDAR communications in mind. (10 bonus points!)

Pre planning and making specific skeds beforehand is an acceptable practice. The only requirement is that the QSO take place via radio with the necessary information exchange.

See www.radarops.co.za for future challenge dates.

RaDAR Challenges – Logs received

Not everyone likes to submit a log and that’s OK. I have however received a few and will show a few highlights here.

I was quite surprised to hear from my good friend Tienie ZS6MHH. He ran a mobile / field station from fort Klapperkop in Pretoria. He was using his home brew 40m mobile vertical.

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Tienie made 13 QSO’s one of which was a DX station in C91 (Mozambique). That gave him 18 points (13 QSO’s + 5 bonus points for the first DX QSO) His category multiplier was x2 which gave him a total of 36 points. You can see Tienie had some really good fun!

I received a log from my good friend Johan van Zijl in Ficksburg. Johan made 49 QSO’s. Two on 80m and the rest on 40m. Johan kept the band alive with RaDAR activity. He operated a fixed station from grid KG31WC59TT. His category multiplier was x1 which gives him a total of 49 points. RaDAR fixed stations are always good to have active on the bands.

I received a log from Greg N4KGL. According to Greg’s log, he operated a field station from grid EL79IT25SI and made 5 QSO’s with a multiplier of x2 = 10 points. He then went to the next location EL79IT34LP on foot and from there made 5 QSO’s with a multiplier of x3 = 15 points.

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Greg again walked back to EL79IT25SI and made a further 5 QSO’s giving him an additional 15 points. In total Greg earned 40 points. Suzy, Greg’s dog, is a true friend and accompanies Greg on all of his RaDAR escapades.

Speaking as the third person, Eddie ZS6BNE submitted a log of his RaDAR Challenge activities. He walked to the first deployment point at grid KG34ac18px. Eddie made 6 QSO’s of which only 5 could count for points which gave him 15 points. Eddie needed to move back to the fixed location for a sked with Kieth ZS6TW via satellite.

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Although Eddie walked a kilometer back to the fixed location, he did not physically carry the satellite gear so further communications could only warrant a category multiplier of x1. Eddie however had two successful satellite QSO’s (Via SO-50 (FM) and FO-29 (SSB)) the first earning him a bonus of 5 points and a total of (2 + 5) x 1 = 7 points.

After lunch, the plan was to this time actually carry all the satellite gear to the next location at grid KG34c19pa which he did. A successful contact via AO-7 was not possible and DX QSO’s neither. He did however have a local QSO with Sid ZS5AYC which earned him at least 1 point multiplied by the category multiplier of x 3 = total of 3 points. The grand total for the day’s RaDAR ops was 25 points.

I received Sid ZS5AYC’s log too. Sid was doing moving RaDAR as a mobile station down the south coast with his wife Adele and some friends. Sid’s first deployment point was at KF59EE81JI from which he made 9 QSO’s only 5 of which could count for points. (RaDAR rule. Note: Moving RaDAR stations can move at any time but are required to move to the next destination after five contacts have been made from the present location. The move needs to cover the required distance before further contacts can be made). Sid’s points for the first location was 15.

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Sid moved to grid KF59ED41FE where he worked another 5 stations one of which was a RaDAR station Johan ZS4DZ giving him a bonus of 5 points. Total for this grid (5 + 5) x 3 = 30 points.

Sid’s third deployment grid was from KF59EC02DG. From here he made 6 QSO’s giving him another 15 points. Then a new grid KF59ED10BE and another 5 QSO’s and another 15 points. He moved to grid KF59DC71NE from which he worked 8 stations including Eddie ZS6BNE but no bonus points for working another RaDAR station. Total points for this grid 15.

They moved to grid KF58CW08HW from which Sid worked another 5 stations and earned another 15 points! Very, very well done. Sid and his wife Adele (Also a radio ham) are well known as SOTA activators and enjoy ham radio to the full.

Sid’s total points for his RaDAR excursions were 15 + 30 + 15 + 15 + 15 + 15 = 105 points!

Sid was running 10 Watts into a dipole. He was recorded by Eddie ZS6BNE. The recording can be heard here .