Archive for the ‘Ham Radio’ Category

…almost there…

Inspired by the success I had on field day using some (most) of n0oqa’s gear, I’ve made some purchases to get my mobile-deploy-able setup going.

First, I decided to go with a hitch mount push-up mast. Using Larry’s setup really sold me on the Max-Gain Systems fiberglass mast. I ordered the MK-4 Standard from here: http://www.mgs4u.com/fiberglass-push-up-mast.htm

Also, after seeing what it really means to have a tuner “talking to” the radio, I purchased a Yaesu FC-40.

My plans are to setup the FC-40 with the ladder line and deploy-able antenna as well as the coax and CAT lines to the radio, then stage all that in the bed of the truck. I have a covered bed and will have everything staged in a waterproof bag.

This will leave the CAT port of the radio for my BlueCat device. Since I’m primarily on VHF when on the road, this will let me work repeaters easily wherever I’m at.

When I’m somewhere I can park to do some HF work, I’ll get the antenna base mounted in the receiver, put the antenna in, roll out the FC-40/antenna/coax unit, hook up the CAT line and the tuner coax, get the pulley staged on top the mast, push-up the mast, guy-rope the mast, pull up the feedpoint, straighten and anchor the ends of the antenna wires – and I’m on the air.

This will be an inverted V antenna.

If I get a couple fiberglass painter poles, I can guy-rope them at the ends and raise the wire ends a bit. Getting them off the ground even 5 feet will help tremendously since my antenna center will only be about 23 feet off the ground.

Thoughts?

Advice?

…Field Day…

A couple months ago I *finally* installed my Yaesu FT-857D mobile radio in my 2009 Dodge Ram 1500. You can see some info on how I did that here: /wh7da-mobile/

Today, I setup the FT-857D in my Dodge Ram with a friend’s Yaesu FC-40 tuner and a random wire dipole. I made two contacts. One in Oregon and one in Illinois.

This has helped me rethink my strategy for getting a more permanent and easily deploy-able HF setup in the truck. I liked the ease of using the FC-40. I liked using a ladder-line fed dipole. I liked the hitch-mount telescoping mast.

We had a fun time. We didn’t do any formal contesting. We got together, setup our rigs, made some changes, and had some fun.

Here are some links to a few short videos I took:

Connecting the antenna: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B7RMDG297cFoNlhUV0RoRVJBRXc/view?usp=sharing

The antenna setup: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B7RMDG297cFoU0hhaEtaX3dkY0U/view?usp=sharing

Trying to break into a pileup to San Diego: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B7RMDG297cFoZ09QcXhwSUtVYjg/view?usp=sharing

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…wh7da mobile…

So, I’ve had this Yaesu 857D sitting around for almost five years and decided to finally install it in the truck. I wanted a clean install that can easily goes back to the factory look without much fuss. I wanted to minimize the permanent alterations.

I also wanted to use my stock antenna or fit a stock looking 2m antenna where my radio antenna was. The antenna part of the project turned out to be an unsuccessful adventure and I’m now running with a magmount until I tackle that project again.

The radio: Yaesu FT-857D

The truck: 2009 Dodge Ram 1500

Accessories: BlueCat bluetooth CAT port dongle and a West Mountain Radio Rigrunner

As with any radio installation project, first you have to get behind the dash:

Getting behind the dash

Getting behind the dash

We initially pulled the stock radio to get to the antenna so we could see what it tuned up at and determine if there was any way to mess around with using the stock antenna. As you’ll see from the pictures below, it was not a viable option. It tuned up on 103Mhz and was routed with 75 ohm coax. Some options in the future are to pull out the 75 ohm coax and run 50 ohm up to the antenna. I’m also looking at fitting a Larson 2m antenna in the stock antenna base. We’ll see. For now, I’ve put that part of the project on hold in order to get the radio mounted and working.

Does that look like a normal american vehicle antenna connection? Turns out it’s not.

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The late model Dodge antenna adapter doesn’t fit my late model Dodge. After digging around in the back room with the radio install guys at Best Buy, we found that the correct adapter for my late model Dodge truck was a VW/BMW/European adapter cable. Figures.

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When we checked the antenna, it tuned up on 103, which is not what I need – but exactly what I was expecting. In the 145/146 range it had over a 3:1 SWR. Not even close enough to mess with. And, we found the stock antenna coax was 75 ohm.

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This is the adapter dongle we made using the adapter cable. Simply cut off the stock antenna connector and put on a 239.

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Enough about what didn’t work. Let’s look at the radio head install.

For this, I like the gooseneck head mount my dad had in his Dodge. It kept the radio head low and out of sight (and out of the sun) while still easily accessible and easy to use. With the BlueCat dongle, I won’t need to fuss with the radio while I’m driving anyway – but more about that later.

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The gooseneck is a simple to mount item I got from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00FW5LTUI/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o06_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

You simply loosen one of your seat bolts and slip the mount in, then re-tighten the seat bolt. My seat bolt was mounted horizontal, so the gooseneck comes out forward then goes up, but it’s not in the way. Most seats should have a bolt that goes down into the floor which makes a slightly cleaner looking install.

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I took the mount adapter off the top of the gooseneck thing, and modified the plastic corrugated tube to run the head cable in and out cleanly without chafing on the edge of the tube. I used little grommets to protect the cable.

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I like the way this looks with the short run of head cable coming out near the top of the gooseneck, while most of the cable is hidden inside the corrugated tube.

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For the radio, I knew I wanted to mount it under the passenger seat. The stock jack used to be there until it collapsed under the weight of the truck last year. I now have a bottle jack I keep in the back. Much safer and easier to use. The stock scissors jack was braced by a little spool looking button thinger that screwed into the floor.

Here is the hole left when you take the little spool looking button thinger out.

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And here is what the little spool looking button thinger looks like in the radio bracket – and then screwed back into the floor. This makes for a successful, convenient, and no alteration radio mount. Worked out perfect.

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Now with the radio:

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Then with the Rigrunner:

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All this gets hidden behind the stock kickplate. Sorry, I don’t have a picture of that. The Rigrunner is attached securely with a couple cable ties through the carpet. Small holes that you’ll never see once it’s removed.

The power to the Rigrunner is run from the battery with a 20 amp fuse on each lead.

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We routed the wires through a large boot already in the firewall. Poked a small hole with a screwdriver and fed the wires through. It is an unrecoverable alteration, but a minor one. For the Dodge Ram, there is a boot on the inside and a boot on the outside, so you’ll be going through two boots and have to be EXTREMELY careful to not nick or cut any other wires.

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Finally, I wanted a power switch to turn the Rigrunner on and off. I mounted an LED lit switch in the dash. This is also an unrecoverable alteration, but a useful one. Who doesn’t need an extra switch for something? Right?!

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And that’s my install. Pretty clean.

Future projects include a permanent option for a 2m antenna, as well as a removable bed-stake mounted 20m for HF operation. Looking forward to that. I’ve had my General ticket for … well, a long time – and I’ve not yet used my HF privileges.

Many thanks to Larry Narikawa – N0OQA – for his expertise, advice, and assistance!


As for the BlueCat – that thing is amazing. It used the CAT port and gives you bluetooth accessibility to your radio. The guys who maintain the RepeaterBook have an app that works with the BlueCat. It uses your location and the repeater information in their database to present you a list of repeater options, starting with the closest. With the app running on your phone, you simply touch which repeater you want to use and it automatically sets the radio with offset, PL tone, etc. Everything you need. Amazing. I went down the list, setting each repeater into memory, and can now just scan the local repeaters.

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When I’m traveling, it updates based on my location. No matter where I’m at, I can see a list of the local repeaters and only have to touch the one I want to use on my phone. It instantly programs the radio.

Here is a link to more information about the software: http://www.zbm2.com/bluecat.html

Here is a link to the UK site where I bought the BlueCat: http://www.hamradio.co.uk/accessories-general-bluecat-radio-interface/adonis/bluecat-repeater-controller-for-yaesu-pd-4899.php


Overall, it was a successful install so far. Unfortunately, the repeaters here are mostly quiet. Not a lot of activity. Not like the Hawaii repeaters. You could always find someone on the Diamondhead repeater. I do miss that, but am finally trying to get involved in some radio activity here in Minnesota.

-wh7da

…been awhile…

So, its been a while since I posted…

It’s also been a while since I’ve done anything with ham radio. But, that’s changing soon.

I now live in Central Minnesota, in a little town called Big Lake. I miss Hawaii, I miss the EARC group, and I miss the Navy. But, I’m settling in here and finally got my FT7800 out and on the air last week. Turns out, the Sherburne County ARES does a Monday night net on the nearby Elk River repeater. I checked in as a guest the other night and was warmly welcomed.

After a little poking around on their website, www.shercoares.org I have decided to join the group. So, we’ll see where that takes me. At least its good to be using the radio again!

…busy times and changes…

Well, things have been busy for me. Lots of changes lately. Not a lot of time for computers or ham radio. I am retiring from the Navy. I’ve served 20 years, and am ready to move on.

I took a position as an Operations Training Instructor at a Nuclear Power Plant in Monticello, MN. This is exactly the type of job I think I’ll be good at. It’ll also give me more free time for my many hobbies since it will be Mon-Fri, for the most part.

Even though I am excited to move back to the mainland and start my new life, I am extremely sad about leaving Hawaii and the many friends I made with the Emergency Amateur Radio Club.

Working with them and learning from them has been a memorable experience. If I find another club that is even half as friendly and encouraging and motivating… well, its not likely. They have been great and I hope to stay in touch with them over the years.

Once I get to Minnesota and get a house (with a garage), I’ll get my workshop set up and get a real station built. I’m looking for a rural place with a little acreage, so I can do some cool things with it. Maybe a small tower, a battery station that recharges with wind power, and lots of workspace for projects and experiments.

Anyway, it’s been awhile since I’ve blogged, and there will be another couple months until I get all settled in and make some updates. But for now, that’s what has been going on.

See you on the air! 73’s.

…finally done…(mostly)

Well, I’ve finally (mostly) finished the EARC website remake. I started with a rough idea of modifying an Andreas Viklund template. I think I have served his ideas well.

Of course, there is more to do… more to update… more to tweak… but the main site is up, and I think it looks great.

So, if you are interested in the Honolulu, Hawaii Emergency Amateur Radio Club, visit www.earchi.org.

…aviation frequencies…

If, like me, you enjoy listening in to the various aviation communications, then here is a list of the various Honolulu Airport frequencies:

  • 127.900 – ATIS (Automatic Terminal Information System. You have to listen to this and remember the information letter so that Clearance doesn’t have to repeat any information already on the recording).
  • 124.100 – Clearance (To get your planes callsign into the system, verify you have the information from ATIS, and give you permission to depart Class B airspace via any one of the departure routes).
  • 121.900 – Ground (Permission to taxi to the runway).
  • 118.100 – Tower (Controls the planes through the takeoff and the landing).
  • 119.100 – Approach/Departure (For planes turning West after takeoff and for all planes coming in).
  • 124.800 – Departure (For planes turning East after takeoff).

By the way, those are in order for a plane leaving Honolulu, from the first to the last. You could listen to an airplane’s communications all the way through. You could also listen for a friend/family plane to come in. For a plane coming in, it’s a little easier: 119.100 (for clearance into Class B airspace), 118.100 (for runway, permission to land, and taxiway), 121.900 (for permission to leave the taxiway and taxi to the terminal).

…antenna questions…

So, I’m joining a black bear hunt for this fall on Kuiu Island in Alaska. For emergency communications off the island, I am the only General Class licensed ham (so far) and so I picked up an FT-897 off eBay. This should be a great rig in the event we run into any problems.

I have a ton of questions based on the following information:

  • I have not yet ever operated HF.
  • Though I understand many antenna basics, much of it still confuses me.
  • I do not have an antenna tuner.
  • The manual for the 897 states

    “When installing a “balanced” antenna such as a Yagi or dipole,
    remember that the FT-897 is designed for use with an
    (unbalanced) coaxial feedline. Always use a balun or other
    balancing device so as to ensure proper antenna system performance.”

  • My pack weight for the trip is already exceeded with this radio and batteries, I must go absolutely minimum portable with the antenna.
  • Near the end of the trip, if we haven’t used the radio for emergency contacts, I plan to drain the batteries making QSO’s, which I have not yet made on HF.

Question 1: What band/frequency do you recommend for making contacts from the island?

Question 2: What antenna design do you recommend? It needs to be simple and inexpensive (which I think means a wire dipole), but I’m confused about the statement from the manual about the radio designed for an unbalanced coax feedline.

Question 3: Will I need an antenna tuner? Would an antenna tuner be only for multi band operations? Can I get by without one if I only plan to operate on two frequencies (one for QSO’s and one for the Alaska HF emergency frequency)?

Question 4: What recommendations and suggestions do you have for a beginner making his first HF contacts? I’d like to go on the air and not make “newbie-blunders”.

Basically, I’d like to make a trip to the hardware store this weekend and get the materials to build me an antenna. I can experiment with it next week, while I’m still on leave. I’m just not comfortable enough with the information I have to start building one. I’ve read everything from “you will need an antenna tuner if you are using unbalanced feedline such as coax, even with a balun” to “just throw a wire over a tree and make your contacts”. There’s a lot of middle ground between those statements.

So, any ideas for the newbie? Thanks in advance!

…eBay winner…

…So, I’m the proud new winner of a used eBay FT-897! I know, I’m excited too. I already can’t wait to get it. Should be here within a week or so.

And, what next? Hmmm… antenna. I’m thinking a really simple really portable string-up wire dipole antenna. Not necessarilly all band, but at least 20m and maybe 40m. Something that can be thrown up over the trees and operated on low power (for battery life).

Then, portability. Transport container. Something hard-cased like aluminum, or soft cased? Something hand-carry, or shoulder/back carry?

Of course, I’ll need another programming cable (I think) and programming software (definitely).

What about solar charging? Portable panels are getting pretty cheap nowadays.

Hmmm… and the habit addiction hobby expands…

…programming cable…

…So, I was looking at building my own programming cable, but changed my mind (for now). Instead, I purchased one – but not the expensive Yaesu one. I bought one off eBay from Valley Enterprises. It was just under $20, and shipping was FREE (yep, even to Hawaii – you never see that anymore).

I tried it out this weekend, and I love it. Of course, to program your radio you need software, and with only one C++ class under my belt, I wasn’t up to writing my own. So, a purchase and download from G4HFQ set me up with a great program.

Right now, I can only say that the cable works great, and that the software is really easy to use. I tripled the stations programmed on my FT-7800R in a short period of time at the computer. Best part is that it is completely organized now. The memories are setup in a way that make sense, and not just the order I entered them. Wow!

So, why didn’t I build one? I will. So far, it looks like I can cut a keyboard cable with a PS2 connector off, and that will fit the radio. As for the other end, there are diagrams that show the purposes of the different pins and wires, so it should be easy enough to mate that with an appropriate computer connector. Ah, but that is the problem. It looks like using a serial connector would be easy, but a USB connector (which I would rather use) has other issues. Since a USB port is a powered port, there are voltage adjustments that must be made. But, I don’t know enough about all that just yet. However, when I get bored enough… hmmm…