RaDAR News – Lockdown

Our president in South Africa presented a plan of action to limit the effects of the Corona virus from spreading quickly. As from Thursday the 26th of March 2020, midnight, everyone is to stay at home for 21 days with the exception of medical, police, security and army personnel. This is serious stuff!

The whole world is affected but our symptoms are only starting to show. Registered infections seem to be doubling each day. Not everyone is taking this seriously, yet!

My family and I are voluntarily locked down out of town with only a small amount of permanent residents in the vicinity. On hearing the news we started calculating whether we’d be able to survive for three weeks. We will need to ration what we have. Hopefully things will look more positive in three weeks time and that the outbreak will be under control. It may not be! We’ll have to reevaluate the situation then.

I’m already thinking about doing some fault finding on my 817’s finals again for it’s really now I need to have a working radio. I’m OK for the FM satellites if I really need to have communications with someone at least in South Africa. I’m RaDAR ready in that regard.

Tomorrow it’s my 62nd birthday so no chores for me to do, not even washing the dishes! I’ll spend my precious birthday time delving into the insides of the 817 I think. It did blow my battery’s fuse while doing an ATU tuneup on 15m. Then there was a short to ground on the supply path to the finals which disappeared by itself! I never really took it further after the initial repair, totally disgusted with the situation but now this is part of RaDAR survival getting something operational because it’s needed! Maybe a good exercise under real conditions.

Many things will change socially and psychologically. The whole world will feel the financial pressures too but nothing can be worse than the loss of your loved ones.

Hoping that we all stay safe and healthy and that we emerge from this disaster relatively unscathed but it will take time we don’t know how long …..

The end of the line

Elrika, my XYL, and I were talking last night and the subject of ham radio came up. This year in October we will be married for forty years and in not one of those years did she ever have a love for ham radio, my “hobby”. I see her point.

Ham radio requires attention and does not fit in well with interruption. I too get very “mission driven” when practicing ham radio that it would almost come across as being irritable. I enjoy ham radio and the challenge but it’s always a battle really.

A little over a year ago I made a really bad decision to trade in all my equipment to go the Xeigu route, typically the X5105. If it was a KX3 or even close things may have been different but it wasn’t. Replacing the equipment I once had is really not worth the cost and the second hand market is very limited, hams holding onto what they have (I don’t blame them) or asking brand new prices for them!

I retired officially a year ago and invested in a 1.6 hectare piece of land next to a home I built a few years ago on which I am creating a nature trail and within that space the trail is a kilometer long. I also saw this area as my “RaDAR training ground” and also used for trail running (Even at age 62). I spend hours there practically every day working like a gardener but it gives me a lot of pleasure and a sense of achievement. Elrika refers it to be my new “hobby”.

Ham radio had served me well throughout my entire career. I celebrated my 45th year as a ham just last month on the 17th of February. Even during my service as technology manager with a large company in my home town I once suggested that the technicians reporting to me do the RAE (Radio Amateur’s Examination) and at least get a recognized qualification. I was told by my immediate superior to leave my “hobby” at home. It still saddens me but maybe many see ham radio as a hobby. I like to see it as a professional ability.

To be honest, the most fun I ever had was with a single frequency (7.023 MHz) 49er CW transceiver running 300 mW. To me ham radio must serve a purpose. That is why I developed RaDAR that through RaDAR ham radio could serve a purpose. I’d like to think I have made a difference throughout my ham radio career and will continue to do that where I can.

I’m still active on the FM satellites with my very old Kenwood TH-D7A(g) but I find the “Five nine” thing to be most boring. I’d love to see the RaDAR concept actively present within the satellite community. It would fit in extremely well there. On the 4th of April 2020 the first RaDAR Challenge for the year takes place. I’ll be RaDAR active using SatComms and moving on foot.

RaDAR News – February 2020

We are now well into a new decade coming closer to the end of January 2020. I think back to those who spread the ideas of RaDAR internationally through the sharing of You Tube video content showing the excitement of practicing the game of RaDAR. Lucy M6ECG, Tom G0SBW, Bob KK4DIV, Greg N4KGL and amongst many others, Julian OH8STN.

RaDAR itself is little more than a decade old now and has been recognised officially by the SARL and through very special awards. It is here to stay and it is time now to take it another step forward. Look out for SARAH the brainchild of Dave ZS2DH. There are some exciting times ahead!

The official RaDAR website administered and funded by Eddie ZS6BNE can be found at www.radarops.co.za It will be updated within a week together with all the relative links. New initiatives like SARAH will also be accessible here soon.

Many challenges face South Africans now. We rely very heavily on a constant supply of electricity. Are our backup systems in place and will you be able to communicate with anyone during the darker periods? Quite frightening too is our reliance on Internet facilities like Internet banking and being able to do transactions anywhere, any time. All too often lately I’ve seen these facilities becoming non operational which can only create chaos.

Are you taking your regular walks around the block or the local dam just to keep a basic level of fitness? Are you able to defend yourself and your family. What has this to do with RaDAR you may ask? Well you and your family may find yourselves providing a much needed service in times of emergency. Of course we hope the need never arises but we must be ready and we must have practised. That’s RaDAR, all about practising being communicators in difficult conditions. It’s not easy, it’s not supposed to be.

My friend Julian OH8STN made a very interesting statement in one of his numerous and very interesting You Tube videos, “We practice as we fight”. It may sound militaristic, maybe it is but it certainly knocks the point home. As we will handle situations that may arise, so must we practice being in those situations. While we practice these things we do it in a fun way. When it’s fun we see a lot more positivity in doing these things. The fun part may one day not be the major driving force but you will be ready!

While out playing RaDAR, be vigilant as it is too easy to land up in a dangerous life threatening situation. Always play safe and don’t take chances. Do regular kit checks that you know exactly where everything is and of course be forever ready. Keep those batteries charged! See you on the RaDAR!

RaDAR News – How an OCF Dipole changed my life

I’d used an OCF dipole in the past but wasn’t very happy with the results. It needed considerable height and there is definitely a lot of radiation coming off the coax feedline. This antenna however fits in well with RaDAR for quick deployments and has multiband capability. So I took the dimensions of a resonant 40m dipole, devided the total length of the half wave dipole into three and fed it a third of the way via a LDG 4:1 balun. Good SWR on 40m even without a tuner. Good SWR on one or two other bands too. The antenna however needs a tuner for most of the amateur radio HF bands.

I used my newly aquired second hand FT-817ND and LDG z817 ATU to do the antenna tests using WSPR as a signal source and then I went onto the Internet on the WSPR website to see how the listener stations worldwide could hear my 5W WSPR signal. It’s a pretty nice way to test the effectiveness of any antenna. All the results are stored in a database and you get a graphical representation of where you’re being heard.

All went well but I noticed during WSPR transmissions that my SWR would go sky high at times. WSPR is quite strenuous on a QRP rig running full power (5W) for continuous two minute sessions. I have witnessed the heat generated on finals while doing WSPR when I built the Hans Summers QCX 40m CW transceiver kit that can do WSPR too. The heat generated on high SWR is intense as I once witnessed on a 49er QRPp 300 mW transceiver kit I once built for CW (7.023 MHz only).

The 817 was pushing 5W with an intermittent SWR. I felt the heat sink, it was HOT! The cause of the SWR was a nut on the antenna socket of the z817 auto ATU that had come loose due to regular connecting and disconnecting of the antenna coax. This is a common problem. I tightened it also using a “locktight” liquid so it wouldn’t come loose again as suggested by my friend Jonathan ZS1ARB. It was too late though, the damage had been done and the 817’s output power gradually went to zero. My last QSO was with Jannie ZS3CM on 40m CW. I was in the bush using my link dipole strung up permanently in the blue gum trees. From the report Jannie gave me I wasn’t getting out very well. So after almost 45 years of hamming I experienced my first finals failure!

I accepted the fate of the 817. I did some research on the 817’s finals module and it seems to be a relatively easy process if the whole module is replaced. The whole situation made me think a little differently as I will try to sketch in this article. The 817 can no longer be used for transmitting but it is an excellent rig for receiving signals on the HF, FM Broadcast band (RX Only), Airband (RX Only), VHF and UHF bands. It’s not entirely useless in its present state. Fully legal in the hands of an unlicensed operator and my thoughts went to my grandson Eduan (13) who shows a lot of interest in space having recently bought a telescope to look at the planets and galaxies. I thought maybe he could use the rig to do some short wave listening and to look out for satellite transmissions. I still have my Arrow dual band yagi I use for the sats.

I’ve always promoted the use of QRP but I’m really starting to have my doubts. The problem is QRM. Even where I mostly stay out of town, there is QRM, 59+ QRM! I walk further away from the residential area into the bush where the noise a much less. That helps me to hear better but the majority of hams work from home also in pretty noisy environments, They battle to hear weak signals. I’ve proved that during good conditions 5 Watts is sufficient for CW and even SSB. Conditions lately are mostly not good so QRP is becoming more of a challenge. For RaDAR there needs to be effective communications.

Recently we have been playing around with the digital modes JS8Call a derivative of FT8 but even there I have found QRP power too low to be effective. These are weak signal modes. Allow me just talk about FT8. There is no way I can even be heard on FT8 using QRP. It’s totally useless as the world fires away at higher power trying to make high counts of FT8 QSO’s within a tiny space of 2 kHz per band. It’s a fruitless battle using QRP. Whatever happened to PSK31? (Not to mention the numerous other digital modes available on the excellent software FL-Digi). FT8 is maybe keeping the bands alive but it’s killing everything else ….

Allow me talk about the RaDAR Challenges which are practised world wide. A few years ago we had around SEVENTY participants. Now we have four if we’re lucky. Usually it’s Sid ZS5AYC and his XYL Adele ZS5APT and Kobus ZS6BOS. I try to join in using QRP with a touch of satellite comms which in my mind is the future. It’s there for us to use and is clinically predictable unlike short wave plagued by bad propagation and QRM caused by noisy uncontrolled household appliances. The challenges will continue but we need more participation. Maybe many are in the same boat as myself. I have doubts whether I want to replace my rig with something like a FT-891 which can do 100W. Is it really worth the expense?

I had an eye opener. I set up the 817, WxtoIMG software on a laptop, Arrow yagi on a tripod and showed Eduan how to monitor the NOAA-19 weather satellite on 137.100 MHz. He thoroughly enjoyed it. He tracked the satellite by hand checking the S Meter for maximum signal strength. His school friend from Std 6 (Grade 8) was visiting, they both enjoyed the experience.

On another occasion, Eduan did everything by himself even doing slight doppler adjustments on the FT-817ND’s frequency settings – he was in control! He adjusted the antenna’s azimuth, elevation even twisting for best polarisation. All these fine adjustments made a difference to the overall quality of the weather satellite image transmitted by NOAA-19. He was in total control, not his granddad living in his own dream world and him watching. I realised, this is what young people want, the freedom to be in control. He loved it!!!

My friend Christi ZS4CGR was doing a SOTA activation via the AO-92 and AO-91 cubesats and I wanted to support him. I forgot though but was fortunately reminded by Sid ZS5AYC before the last pass. I set up my TH-D7A handheld, connected to the yagi, headphones on ….. in my own little world ….. and Eduan showed little interest. He couldn’t hear anything anyway, I was listening to the downlink running full duplex on AO-91. I had a successful QSO with Christi. He managed nine QSO’s within a ten minute pass. I was glad to be able to be part of his activation. AO-91 hears QRM as it flies north over central Africa but this is an exception to the norm..

I want to take this opportunity to wish all a prosperous New Year. I think my five year license is renewable in 2020 which I hopefully will be able to do without difficulty. As for replacing a rig for HF, I still need to be convinced that it is a priority amongst other priorities? I can still do FM RaDAR SatComms which can provide effective communications other than 59 “My grid is” ….

In the meantime I no longer have to go away from the family to live in my own little world for an hour or three every now and then and I will now share my experiences with others in a shared world. It’s a happy place!!!

RaDAR News – December 2019

The year is coming close to its end. The three RaDAR Challenges have been completed locally and internationally, the hotspots South Africa and the USA. Many thanks to Greg N4KGL for his consistent promotion of RaDAR in the USA through action, you tube videos and his daily RaDAR newsletter which always makes interesting reading and viewing.

During the recent contest, conditions were not good as they have been for most of the year. Eddie ZS6BNE was thinking that maybe the level for the RaDAR challenge was too high and needed to be looked at for future years. It is the time for changes to the “Blue book”, the SARL’s contest manual.

On mentioning of the possibility of changes, Sid ZS5AYC and his XYL Adele ZS5APT said they were quite happy with the levels required for the RaDAR Challenge. They even mixed their RaDAR Challenge with SOTA activations this November and did very well indeed.

Kobus ZS6BOS did exceptionally well again during this challenge even walking longer distances between activation points. This proved to Eddie that the levels required for the RaDAR Challenge are achievable and no changes need to be made.

The April 2020 date clashes with the SARL AGM but considering that the Rugby final game between South Africa and England played in Japan did not deter the few die hard’s that usually take on the challenge, the SARL AGM will be no less. The times are not fixed and choosing your four hour period within the twenty four hours available, anything can be fit in.

Publicizing the RaDAR Challenge a week or two before any RaDAR Challenge has been proven to be a waste of time. Eddie, as always, tried the satellites again seeing HF conditions were extremely difficult but could only make one contact per satellite pass. It’s quite sad that the majority of hams don’t make the effort to support those trying to make a difference. It may be different in other parts of the world but sadly that is the case in ZS.

Kobus ZS6BOS made use of two meter simplex at times and left early in the morning. He used 80 meters too. One thing that really starts to show is that QRP is becoming more and more difficult as high power stations are the norm amongst new radio amateurs. The very few CW operators in South Africa is also a contributing factor.

Possibly this post that is included in the monthly Radio ZS will fall on deaf ears as are the numerous advertisements made before each challenge. Apologies for the negative views but it needs to be said. We, as radio amateurs need to support each other. I’ve said that so many times – it makes no difference.

But, the level of RaDAR will remain as it is. It is achievable. The dates and times will remain. We will fit in. We look forward to the new challenges we will face in 2020.

73 de Eddie ZS6BNE

RaDAR news – Horses for courses

Testing the RaDAR Satcomms gear

I always like to think amateur radio should serve a purpose. I often imagine a hiker out in the wilderness far away from anything modern society is used to using. This hiker has one thing that can save him from possible life threatening danger and that is amateur radio. Usually this hiker would carry with him, at minimum, a ham radio transciever that in the event of having to make contact with someone it will be possible. This hiker needs to practice the scenarios regularly that he knows what is possible and what is not.

Ideally this hiker should have a ham radio friends that he can rely on having regularly practiced through activities like contesting, SOTA, POTA and even regular contacts with guys using satellite communications. Knowing the Morse code and also knowing who could possibly be listening out for a weak signal could only make your chances of successful communications even better.

Sometimes you need to do things a little differently like using manual control while using a SSB satellite. It may be your only chance but you need friends to practice these things with and regularly too. Amateur radio is a team sport and if you don’t support each other, even if doing things a little out of the norm, then there is no hope of success when you need to communicate in an unusual way where there are no other options.

Amateur radio communications can be made using various modes via shortwave, sometimes digital communications may make it easier. They can also take place on VHF and UHF and usually a combination of the two using the satellites.

Tools used for satellite pass predictions usually reside on a computer or cell phone. A cell phone is a useful tool not necessarily used as a phone but as a small computing device. It should be reliable and up to date! It may be a good idea to make hard copies of times and frequencies as a backup as the phone can be lost or fail when you need it most!

On Saturday the 2nd of November 2019 the final RaDAR Challenge for 2019 takes place. My friend Greg N4KGL assured me that the RaDAR wave in the USA is still strong and that is good to hear. I have tried to promote the challenge via large QRP based groups on Facebook. Strange though, a group can have over six thousand members but you only really read input from a few regulars.

Try combining SOTA activities with RaDAR. Sid ZS5AYC and Adele ZS5APT are doing exactly that and my four hours will coincide with their plans. If there are satellite passes within that time frame I will certainly make an effort to do some RaDAR SatComms. Otherwise there is a ZS CW sprint that takes place from 10:00 UTC that I may be able to fit in depending on the SOTA time frame.

RaDAR is all about planning with regular practice and being ready to communicate at any time. My batteries are charged and the pack is packed with all I need for a successful challenge. We need to support each other whether you’re a rag chewer, a high power fixed station, a regular computer controlled satellite station operator or a FT8 operator. We need each other.

73 de Eddie ZS6BNE

RaDAR News – The basic requirements for RaDAR

In order to practice RaDAR or Rapid Deployment Amateur radio you need a radio. The radio needs to be reliable and be able to do all modes. Having a simple radio that can only do CW isn’t going to get you anywhere. The problem is that even when you may be in dire need of communications you are not necessarily going to be able to communicate with anyone for few have interest or know morse code at all. It is no longer a requirement for an amateur radio licence. So really you need a radio that can at least do SSB.

So talking about radios. Radios are not cheap to buy especially when buying new. Then most important is how are we able to see a new generation of hams coming into the hobby if the cost is so high? The second hand market is there but many hams are holding onto their radios because replacing them may even be impossible. There is the occasional opportunity to find a good second hand radio but they are rare!

For over a decade I used a FT-817ND for RaDAR. It was the most practical solution that I know of but sadly I sold mine and it was a mission to find another! I was very, very fortunate to find a good one including accessories for a reasonable price. But, many hoping to practice RaDAR are unable to do so because of the cost. This is a very real situation.

Then one looks at the cell phone market. Every second cell phone user has a contract of sorts and a reasonable level of smartphone for use in their daily lives. Money doesn’t seem to be an issue here? Many are quite happy to spend hundreds of rands per month so they can share pictures, videos and comments on social networks. Let’s face it how would us hams keep sked without WhatsApp or Facebook? Does amateur radio really have a place amongst the technology available to anyone on the street. They don’t require technical ability or even a licence? They don’t have to write exams?

Personally I think making it easy to enter the ranks of amateur radio just to keep up the numbers has been detrimental to the hobby for it appears ham radio has become a toy for those able to afford the latest technologies and equipment but simply used to chat on a radio. Amateur radio has become the new citizen band. In the past CB operators that really did many experiments radio and antenna wise became good radio hams. They usually started at QRP levels too. Hams nowadays that can afford the latest radios and linears and antennas will have powerful stations that they can use to work DX but what about the basic things that radio amateurs became famous for, being able to communicate when other options were no longer available.

WhatsApp is a very effective way of keeping in touch. Groups are created for various reasions. Even emergency groups. We often hear of cell phone tower batteries being stolen. If the cell networks go down the whole social media network goes down too. If the criminals in our midst realized this, maybe they do, they could cripple any communication medium reliant on cell networks and the Internet.

That’s where the RaDAR operator comes in. He / she has practiced this over and over whenever communications are done on amateur radio networks. RaDAR operators should be proficient in morse code too. At least they can understand each other using the mode. HF conditions are not always favorable but CW will get through at low power levels. SSB requires a little more but not much.

So how do we take the new generation forward that amateur radio is used for what it was originally there for. Experimentation, being there when nothing else is. Let that be food for thought.