Portable Antenna Ground Mount

Here’s yet another quick little hack. I raided my junk box to cobble together a ground mount for my portable vertical. While this solved a couple of specific issues I had, it might only be of interest to a few of you folks out there.

I often support my 19-foot vertical with one of those inexpensive fishing poles from eBay. (I paid around $10 USD for my 7.2M pole.) I had been using a simple method for ground mounting. I shove a screwdriver in the ground, take the bottom cap off of the pole, and place the pole over the screwdriver. Voila!

While the screwdriver technique is a useful way to support my vertical, there are two issues with it. First, the screwdriver method places the bottom of the pole in direct contact with the dirt. This can gunk up the threads on the bottom of the pole. (Ask me how I know.) Next, since my homebrew 19-foot vertical takes up the entire length of the pole, the matchbox ends up too close to the ground for my liking. I made a simple little gizmo that addresses both of these issues.

Antenna ground mount in use with my 19-foot vertical
Antenna ground mount in use with my 19-foot vertical

From some scraps and junk I had on hand, I used the following:

  • 5 inches of 1/2-inch PVC pipe
  • Approx 6 inches of 3/4-inch PVC pipe
  • 3/4″ x 1/2″ PVC reducer
  • (2) 3/4″ PVC end caps (with flat ends)
  • Stainless steel toilet float rod (1/4″ diameter x 10″ long. 1/4-20 threads on each end of the rod)
  • (2) 1/4-20 nuts
  • 1/4″ lock washer
  • Duct tape (optional, for a better fit between the 1/2-inch PVC and the bottom of the pole)
  • A dab of Lock-Tite thread locker

[Note: The PVC pipe I used works with the particular pole I use. If the bottom of your pole has a different inside diameter, you might need to use a different size pipe.]

I joined the two pieces of PVC pipe together with the PVC reducer. Then I glued the two end caps together, back-to-back. Next, I drilled a 1/4-inch hole through the center of the two end caps. I fastened the stainless steel rod with two nuts and a lock washer. I also used a dab of thread locker for good measure. I had to do some sanding on the 3/4-inch pipe to allow the end caps to slide on and off easier. At this point, you might want to put a layer or two of duct tape on the 1/2-inch pipe for a snug fit inside the pole.

The two main assemblies of the antenna ground mount
The two main assemblies of the antenna ground mount
Stainless steel rod bolted through the two back-to-back PVC end caps
Stainless steel rod bolted through the two back-to-back PVC end caps

In the field, I place the end cap assembly on the 3/4-inch pipe and shove the rod into the ground. The pole goes over the 1/2-inch PVC pipe, of course. This places the bottom of the pole about 8 inches above the ground. With lightweight poles, guying is unnecessary. For travel, I flip the end cap assembly around so that the bolt stores inside the pipe. This prevents poking holes in my backpack or bicycle pannier bags.

Antenna ground mount assembled for use
Antenna ground mount assembled for use
Antenna ground mount configured for travel. The stainless steel rod is stored safely inside the PVC pipe assembly.
Antenna ground mount configured for travel. The stainless steel rod is stored safely inside the PVC pipe assembly.

The threads on the end of the stainless steel rod pick up some dirt in use. It’s not a major problem but I might cut the rod off just above the threads. I haven’t decided yet.

That’s all there is to it. I’m hoping the accompanying pictures clarify how I built it.

72, Craig WB3GCK

(Almost) Gone with the Wind

I was long overdue for some outside QRP-portable operating. Although we had some heavy rain overnight, it looked like it would be gone by mid-day. So, yesterday I headed out to nearby Towpath Park to take advantage of some milder temperatures.

I had a couple of objectives for today. First, I was hoping to make some QRP to the Field (QTTF) contest QSOs. I also wanted to test a new ground mount I put together for my cheap eBay telescopic pole.

When I got to the park, the rain had stopped. Unfortunately, last night’s heavy rains left the park a bit on the swampy side. That, coupled with some gusting winds, would make for an interesting test of my new ground mount. I was a bit leary but went ahead and set up the antenna anyway.

As I was setting up, a Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission officer got out of his car and walked up the path towards me. While it’s true that I was using a fishing rod (for my antenna), I was about 50 yards away from the river! As he approached, I told him that I was a ham radio operator. He said, “I know.” As it turns out, he was also a ham and had spotted my callsign on my license plate. He was just stopping by to say hello. As we talked a bit, we also found out that we also had some former employers and co-workers in common. Small world!

WB3GCK at Towpath Park
WB3GCK at Towpath Park

As we were chatting, the gusting wind blew my antenna over to a 45-degree angle. The ground was too soggy to hold my antenna mount. It never fell over, so I gave my antenna mount a passing grade for this extreme test. Unfortunately, in my rush to straighten out the antenna, I never took a picture. Pity. It put that tower in Pisa to shame. I moved the antenna a few feet to a somewhat drier spot and that did the trick. I’ll show a closer look at my ground mount in a future post.

My vertical ground-mounted in the soggy ground. This picture was taken while Mother Nature was on a brief break from trying to blow my antenna over.
My vertical ground-mounted in the soggy ground. This picture was taken while Mother Nature was on a brief break from trying to blow my antenna over.

When I finally got on the air, I found the bands dominated by Michigan and Ontario QSO Party stations. I didn’t hear any QTTF stations at all. So, I spent some time handing out points to some of the QSO Party stations.

After a while, I had had enough of the wind and packed up my gear. As I was packing up, the sun came out and the wind subsided. Go figure!

72, Craig WB3GCK

A Slippery Sloper

I spent the weekend with my grandkids out near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. My XYL and I watched the kids while my daughter and son-in-law took a little anniversary get-away. Of course, there was some time for ham radio, too.

By the time I got around to setting up an antenna on Friday, it was dark and the temperature was well below freezing. Oh yeah, there was about 4 inches of snow in the backyard to boot. So, I was in need of a real quick and dirty antenna.

I decided to toss a 29.5-foot wire out of a 2nd-floor window. I then went out to the backyard to secure the other end of the wire. I used some shock cord to tie it off to the top of a 6-foot wooden fence. My total time outside in the cold and dark was about a minute.

Back inside, I fed the wire through a homebrew 9:1 UNUN with 18 feet of RG-8X coax. This particular wire and UNUN served me well as a vertical during many National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) activations. I commandeered one end of the dining room table for my KX3 and powered up for a test. The KX3 was able to get a match on 80M through 10M.  Then, I went back to hanging out with the kids.

My impromptu sloper's feedpoint. The wire from the 9:1 UNUN is just pinched in the window.
My impromptu sloper’s feedpoint. The wire from the 9:1 UNUN is just pinched in the window.

By now I’m sure you’re wondering where the “slippery” part of the this post’s title comes in. Well, the next morning I looked out the window and saw that some ice had accumulated on the wire. The wire was dragged through the snow during installation and it froze overnight. The KX3 didn’t mind at all; the internal tuner loaded up the frozen wire without problems.

I got on the air for a bit on Saturday afternoon.  On the air, my impromptu antenna far exceeded my low expectations. I started off working N2CX on 40M. Joe was activating a park on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I followed that up with a nice two-way QRP chat with WK2J in North Carolina.

My dining room table set up.
My dining room table set up.

I worked a couple of QRPers in the FYBO contest sponsored by the Arizona ScQRPions. I also worked some Minnesota and Vermont QSO Party contesters. An assortment of SKCC, POTA, and SOTA stations also made it into my log over the weekend. The best “DX” of the weekend was VE7ST in the British Columbia QSO Party on 20M.

I didn’t expect much from this quickie antenna configuration but I was happy with the way it got out. Plus, set up/tear-down was easy and only took a few minutes. This sloper will likely be my go-to antenna for future visits to see the Harrisburg grandkids.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Revisiting the Rybakov 806 Vertical

Some recent Internet discussion got me thinking about the Rybakov 806 Vertical antenna. This easy-to-build antenna has served me well over the years. So, I went back and revisited some of the ways I’ve used it.

What the heck is a Rybakov anyway?

The Rybakov 806 Vertical appears to be the brainchild of Enrico IV3SBE from Italy (now 5Z4ES in Kenya). The term, Rybakov, is Russian for “fisherman.” That’s right… It’s an antenna with a Russian name designed by an Italian who lives in Africa — truly an international creation. From what I could glean from exhaustive Internet searches, this design dates back to the mid to late 2000s. I found numerous references to it from 2009.

The classic Rybakov configuration is a 7.6m or 8m (~25 or 26 feet) wire fed through a 4:1 UNUN. The length isn’t critical, as long as you avoid resonance on the bands of interest. It’s often supported by a telescopic fishing pole (hence, the name, “Rybakov”). Being a non-resonant antenna, you need to use an antenna tuner to make it work. You also need to use radials or some other type of ground.

The antenna can cover 80M through 6M (the “806” part of its name, I suppose). The band coverage depends on the wire length used and the capabilities of your tuner. With a 7.6M wire, you can cover 40M and up without problems. For 80M coverage, plan on using a longer radiator.

The only thing you need to build is the 4:1 UNUN. The IW7EHC website provides detailed instructions for building one. Beyond that, you just need to cut some wire to length for the radiator and radials. Easy peasy!

My experience with the Rybakov

I had been using this type of antenna before I even knew it had a name. Rick KC8AON had a version of this type of antenna he called, “The Untenna.” That’s where I found it.

My first experiment with it was in a “stationary mobile” setup. I rigged up a 26-foot vertical wire and grounded the UNUN to the body of my truck. My Z-817 tuner was able to load it up with no difficulty. I had no problem making contacts and I liked the multi-band coverage.

I next used the Rybakov at a Boschveldt QRP Club Field Day. I set up a 26-foot ground-mounted vertical and used about six 16-foot radials with it. Again, the performance seemed decent and I remember doing well on 10M that year. The only shortcoming was that it wouldn’t load up on 80M.

The next year, I solved the 80M problem by using a 50-foot wire in an inverted L configuration. For the ground, I used six 16-foot radials and two 33-foot radials. This configuration gave me full coverage from 80M to 10M and it worked great. This antenna configuration became my “go to” Field Day for several years. In later years, I used a 53-foot radiator.

My typical implementation of the Rybakov 806 antenna. A length of 25 to 27 feet does well from 40M and up. I go with a 53-foot radiator for 80M coverage.
My typical implementation of the Rybakov 806 antenna. A length of 25 to 27 feet does well from 40M and up. I go with a 53-foot radiator for 80M coverage.

I used another version of the Rybakov with the pop-up camper that I used to own. I strapped a 31-foot Jackite pole to the camper and used it to support a 27-foot wire. I grounded the UNUN to the body of the camper. This antenna worked great on 40M to 6M and, best of all, I didn’t need to go outside at night to change bands. I used this antenna with good results for several years until I sold the camper.

I also built a Rybakov that I use as a backup antenna in the field. I built a small 4:1 UNUN that I use with a 26.5-foot radiator and a 26.5-foot radial. The antenna, along with a short length of coax, is easy to carry in my pack.

The bottom line (for me, at least)

I’ve had good luck with the Rybakov Vertical over the years. Is it the best antenna? Nope. Purists will argue about UNUN, ground, and coax mismatch losses. Yep, there are those. Yet, its simplicity and “no gap” band coverage are hard to beat. It’s easy to deploy in the field and it really does work.

If you’re in the market for a simple portable antenna project, the Rybakov 806 is an easy one.

[Update 4/3/2019: I’ve always wondered about the rationale behind the 25-foot radiator often used with the Rybakov antenna. An article in QST [1] by Joe Reisert W1JR shed some light on that for me. Joe’s article discusses the 3/8-wave vertical antenna. According to the article, the 3/8-wave antenna has a low take-off angle and its 200-ohm feedpoint is easily matched with a 4:1 transformer. Its higher radiation impedance provides good performance with just four 1/4-wave radials. For 20M, a 3/8-wave radiator is about 25-ft. Similarly, for 40M, it would be 50-feet. So, my guess is that’s the concept behind the Rybakov design.]

73, Craig WB3GCK

Reference Links:

Reference Articles:

  1. Reisert, Joe W1JR, “The 3/8-Wavelength Vertical — A Hidden Gem,” QST, April 2019, pp. 44-47.

MFJ-1820T Whip

I made an impulse buy this week. After reading an old Elecraft mailing list post from Wayne Burdick N6KR where he made a strong recommendation, I ordered an MFJ-1820T whip antenna. I need another portable antenna like I need a hole in the head but I figured it might be fun to give this little whip antenna a try.

If you aren’t familiar with it, the MFJ-1820T is a 4-foot, telescopic, loaded whip for the 20M band. It collapses down to a tiny 10-inches. It will handle 25 watts but my whip will never see that much power. It sells for around $30 (U.S.).  Wayne recommended using at least one 13-foot radial with it. I went with two 13-foot radials made from some cheap speaker wire I had on hand.

MFJ-1820T Collapsed
MFJ-1820T Collapsed

This morning, while operating from a local park, I connected the whip to my KX3 with a BNC right angle adapter. I connected my radials to one of the knurled nuts on the KX3 with an alligator clip. To keep the whip from swiveling, I used a small, plastic spring clamp.

The MFJ-1820T whip connected to my KX3. The plastic spring clamp was used to stabilize the whip. You can also see the alligator clip for the radials.
The MFJ-1820T whip connected to my KX3. The plastic spring clamp was used to stabilize the whip. You can also see the alligator clip for the radials.

The KX3’s internal tuner loaded up the whip with no problems. I heard W8SVC calling CQ from Michigan and gave him a call with 5 watts. He got my callsign on the first call but he wasn’t sure he had copied it correctly. I upped my power to 10 watts (gasp!) and called again. He gave me a 559 and we exchanged our basic information. Unfortunately, I lost him when the band faded.

Moving up to the 20M QRP calling frequency, I called CQ a couple of times. AA8WQ (QRP at 5W) responded from Ohio and gave me a 569 report. Again, we were able to exchange our basic info before I lost him completely.

Frankly, I wasn’t really expected much from a 4-foot whip but I was surprised that I was able to make two contacts this morning. It certainly isn’t the best antenna for 20M but, when the band is in good shape and you need something that sets up in an instant, the MFJ-1820T is certainly a usable antenna. I’ll probably be carrying the MFJ-1820T in the field as a backup antenna.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Quick End Insulator

Here’s another quick hack that took longer to write up than to actually build. I recently built a portable vertical antenna using some #26 Stealth Wire. I needed some sort of end insulator that would facilitate pruning the wire to resonance. Here’s my quick and dirty solution.

Using scissors, I cut a piece of plastic from a used up gift card I had in my wallet. The piece I cut is about 1 inch by 0.5 inches. Then, I drilled 3 holes in it. Two of the holes were just slightly larger than the #26 Stealth Wire (The Wireman Product #534). These holes hold the wire in place. I drilled a larger hole for attaching to a light line or, in my case, a small clip at the top of my telescopic pole. I also rounded off the corners a bit.

The end insulator and the gift card from which it was cut. (Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in the Wawa company, except that I have consumed untold quantities of their coffee over the years.)
The end insulator and the gift card from which it was cut. (Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in the Wawa company, except that I have consumed untold quantities of their coffee over the years.)

So far, this is working out well for my portable vertical antenna. If I was using heavier gauge wire, I would definitely use something more substantial than the gift card. I also wouldn’t use it for a permanent installation. But for an ultralight antenna that is only used for portable excursions, it’s perfect.

If I ever need to replace it, I have enough of the original gift card left to make a bunch more!

72, Craig WB3GCK

Antenna Testing in the Park

Today was fun. I had a little time this afternoon, so I headed out to a nearby park to test a new antenna and ended up making a couple of interesting contacts.

I spent a couple of hours in Towpath Park, a nice little park along the Schuylkill River. It’s usually not very crowded, so it’s been one of my favorite places to test new antennas. Today, I was doing some initial testing and tuning on a Tri-Band Vertical from QRPGuys.

My "outdoor shack" overlooking the Schuylkill River
My “outdoor shack” overlooking the Schuylkill River

I set up the antenna and spent some time taking SWR plots on the antenna. The 20 and 30 meter bands were great without any adjustments. The 40M band is resonating too low, so I need to do some tweaking on one of the loading coils. I’ll do a separate post on this antenna when it’s finished.

My antenna today. My $9 telescopic pole from eBay is mounted on a screwdriver shoved in the ground.
My antenna today. My $9 telescopic pole from eBay is mounted on a screwdriver shoved in the ground.

I put the antenna analyzer away and got out my KX3. I made a few “CQ SKCC” calls on 20M and was answered by CT7AFN in Portugal. There was some QSB but we managed to exchange SKCC numbers. A few minutes later, I got a call from another station in Portugal, CT1BQH. Wow! Back-to-back Portuguese SKCC stations. This new antenna definitely has some mojo.

I worked stations in Texas and Florida before wrapping up. I neglected to bring gloves today and the wind chill was taking a toll on my fingers. I packed up my equipment and headed out happy with the contacts I made in a short period of time.

I have a little work to do on this new antenna but so far it looks like a keeper.

72, Craig WB3GCK