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.
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.
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.
I wanted to get out and do a little QRP-portable before all the holiday festivities get started. I hadn’t operated from Black Rock Sanctuary in a while, so I headed over there. It was dreary and drizzly today, so it was a good day to operate from the truck and give my homebrew 19-foot vertical another workout.
Since the last time I used the 19-foot vertical in the truck, I found a way to ground the antenna to the body of the truck. It was a simple matter of backing out one of the screws that hold the bed liner in place and using it to attach a small L bracket. This now provides a convenient spot to attach my ground lead.
I was using my little MS2 straight key with the KX3 today. The bands were in pretty decent shape and the antenna seemed to be working great. I made a half-dozen SKCC contacts on 40 and 20 meters with some respectable signal reports. One SKCC’er in California called me on 20 meters but the frequency was taken over by other stations. I wasn’t able to complete the QSO but at least I was being heard on the West Coast.
I also had some nice two-way QRP QSOs. W4UV in North Carolina had a great signal on 40M with his Ten Tec QRP rig. Jim N0UR was really pounding in from Minnesota on 20 meters. My favorite QSO of the day was with Dirk W8IQX. Dirk was running 2 watts from his FT-817 to an AlexLoop on 20 meters. If I copied correctly, he was in Florida. QRP never ceases to amaze me!
[This is an updated version of a post that appears on my old website. – WB3GCK]
I do quite a bit of my QRP operating from portable locations. I like to use simple wire antennas but, truth be told, I really dislike spending my limited operating time trying to get antenna wires up into trees. Also, when activating parks for Parks on the Air (POTA), I often operate from the cab of my truck and need an antenna that is self-contained and quick to deploy. This set up fits the bill.
What I did was modify my homebrew roll-on mast support so I could use my hitch-mounted bicycle rack to support it. This only required the drilling of two holes in the roll-on mount. Figure 1 shows the roll-on mount clamped into the bike rack. In this case, I was supporting a 31-foot Jackite pole. After extending the pole and removing the bottom cap, I just lower the pole onto the 1-1/4 inch pipe. That’s all there is to it.
By selecting the right size of pipe, I can use this technique to support a variety of masts. For example, I’ve used this type of mount to support two 5-foot sections of TV antenna mast. I used this configuration to support a 1.2 GHz yagi for DStar digital communications during an ARES-RACES drill years back.
When operating QRP-portable, I often use a vertical antenna made from a 30-foot piece of hook-up wire and fed through a homebrew 9:1 unun with an 18-foot length of RG-8x coax. The unun is just attached to the 31-foot Jackite pole using some small bungee cords. No radials are used, which gives this set-up virtually a zero footprint. You can find more information on this configuration on the EARCHI website. I’ve successfully used this antenna in the field over the past few years. It’s a bit of a compromise, as antennas go, but it has always served me well. The extra height using the bike rack mount seems to help performance a bit. (Although I can’t quantify that, I’m sure the extra height doesn’t hurt.) With the internal antenna tuner in my KX3, I can work all bands from 40 through 10 meters. Heck, I’ve even used it on 80 meters a bunch of times.
I used this particular antenna configuration countless times in recent years. It was my “go to” antenna for NPOTA activations. Within 5 minutes of arrival, I can be on the air. When it’s time to leave, tear down is just as fast. Now, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!
Earlier this year, I built a lightweight, 19-foot vertical. Intended for tripod or ground mounting, I did the initial tuning and pruning of the vertical in that configuration. Today, I thought I’d see if it would work mounted on my pickup truck.
I have this plastic crate that I keep in the bed of the pickup truck. I use it to hold parts for my drive-on antenna mount, along with some tools and miscellaneous “stuff.” I hold the crate in place using bungee cords attached to a cargo bar that spans the width of the bed. I decided to make use of the crate as a quick and dirty antenna mount.
I took some 1-inch PVC pipe with a female threaded coupler from a previous antenna project and attached it to an inside corner of the crate with heavy-duty zip ties. I kept this part short enough to fit underneath the tonneau cover when traveling. To mount my 20-foot Black Widow pole, I used a 1-inch PVC male coupler and a reducer to go down to a 3/4-inch PVC pipe. The 3/4-inch PVC pipe fits nicely up inside the Black Widow pole. I went with the Black Widow pole rather than the lighter weight pole I normally use with this antenna since I already had all the PVC parts I needed to mount it.
I headed out to a local park today to give it a try. It only took a few minutes to get it set up. From the antenna, I ran some RG-8x coax through a window and into the cab of the truck. I connected the antenna ground to the body of the truck using a short piece of braid to a metal plate used to latch the tonneau cover closed.
I fired up my antenna analyzer and the SWR was off the charts. On closer inspection, I found the plate I was using for my ground wasn’t actually attached to the body of the truck. Instead, I connected two radials and ran them off the back of the truck. This time the SWR on 40 and 30 was much better. The resonant frequencies in this configuration were higher than when ground-mounted but my KX3’s internal tuner easily handled the minor mismatches.
I started out on 20 meters where this antenna operates as a random wire. I heard N5PHT doing a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation (KFF-3023) down in Texas. I gave him a call and exchanged reports. Moving down the band, I worked XE1XR in Mexico. So, the antenna seemed to be working fine. I checked 30 meters but it was devoid of activity.
Down on 40 meters, I had a nice ragchew with Bernard VE9BEL. Bernard was operating a club station (VE9CRM) in New Brunswick, Canada. He gave me a 599 and said I was “booming” into New Brunswick. Not bad for 5 watts into a 19-foot loaded vertical. I last worked Bernard a few years ago from Mt. Misery in Valley Forge National Park. We had strong signals both ways on that day, too.
So, it looks like this antenna is usable from the truck. I still need to find a way to connect the ground to the body of the truck. If possible, I’d like to avoid drilling holes in my new truck. This antenna is a little easier to deploy than my usual “Bike Rack Vertical.” The downside is I have to exit the truck to change bands. Life is a series of trade-offs, I guess.
This week, my ham radio activity was focused on an emergency communications exercise with my local ARES-RACES group. I thought I’d do a post about the simple whip antenna I used with a dual-band radio. I cobbled this set up together a few years back and it has come in handy on several occasions.
During the exercise, I was operating indoors with easy access to our local repeaters. I was copying digital traffic using the Narrowband Emergency Messaging System (NBEMS), so a handheld radio wasn’t a good option. In this situation, a dual-band mobile radio and this little whip antenna hack were able to get the job done.
For the whip, I use commercially available, collapsible BNC whip antennas for the 2 meter and 440 bands. To connect the whip to the radio, I use a UHF-Male to BNC-Female right angle adapter I picked up on eBay. To help improve the efficiency, I attach two 1/4-wave counterpoise wires, one for 2 meters (about 19 inches) and one for 440 (about 6.3 inches).
To attach the counterpoise wires, I re-purposed a 9-volt battery holder. I just drilled out one of the mounting holes and used a small bolt and nut to attach the wires. The clip is just about the perfect size to snap onto the right angle adapter.
The antennas I use came from Smiley Antenna. I have 5/8-wave whips for 2 meters and 440, along with a halfwave whip for 2 meters. Although some of the antennas are specified to handle 50 watts, I generally use them only for 10 watts or less (in the interest of RF safety). If I need to run more power, I’ll go with an antenna placed a safe distance away.
I’ve used this simple antenna arrangement in several situations in recent years. It’s become a permanent part of my emergency communications go-kit.
We recently wrapped up our first camping season with our little travel trailer. Over the past 6 months, I learned a few things about operating inside a metal box that has lots of electrical doo-dads inside.
Over the 18 years of camping in a pop-up tent trailer, I evolved to a simple but effective vertical antenna, which was supported by the trailer. We basically used the old camper as a tent on wheels. It had few electrical amenities, so noise wasn’t an issue. Being mostly canvas, the pop-up camper had little influence on the vertical antenna I attached to it.
On our first trip with the new camper, I tried something similar. I used the new camper to support my vertical antenna. Bad choice. I quickly learned that the new travel trailer was a different animal. I made contacts but there were two main issues: 1) The camper is a big metal object and 2) it’s noisy as heck when plugged into AC power at the campsite.
It became quickly apparent that I needed to keep the antenna as far away from the trailer as possible. For most trips, I used a 29.5-foot vertical wire supported by a 31-foot Jackite pole. I fed it with a 9:1 unun and ran a 25-foot piece of coax into the trailer. In some campgrounds, I was able to strap the Jackite pole to a lantern post or other object. Otherwise, I used my Jackite ground mount. (Unfortunately, Jackite no longer sells this ground mount.)
This set up worked well for me. There’s still some intermittent noise on 40 meters but it’s still usable. The other bands are pretty quiet. A pleasant surprise is that my KX3 loads up this antenna on 80 meters and the noise there is very low. I’ve had some nice late night/early morning contacts on 80 meters. On trips when we camped without an electrical hookup and used battery power only, I had no issues at all with noise.
When the weather is decent, I prefer to operate outside of the camper, either from my camp chair or picnic table. However, when the weather is cold or rainy, I seek the shelter of the camper.
Initially, my big dilemma was routing a coax cable into the trailer. I really didn’t want to drill holes in a brand new trailer so I took the easy way out. There’s a conveniently located window next to the dinette table, so I brought the coax through there. To keep the bugs and inclement weather out, I used a piece of pipe insulation to help close up the gap. This window is also under the awning, so I get some additional weather protection there. The dark-colored pipe insulation isn’t very noticeable, so my set up is “XYL-approved.”
Wrapping It Up
So, now it’s time to Winterize the trailer and put it into hibernation until Spring. Over the Winter, I’ll have lots of time to look into other antenna options I can try next year.
I bought a lightweight telescoping pole on eBay a while back. It collapses down to 26 inches and weighs less than 12 ounces. Best of all, I only paid around $10 for it. While it was advertised as a 7.2-meter pole (approximately 23.6-feet), it actually measures about 19.5-feet when extended. This pole was just begging for some sort of antenna to support.
After trying different types of non-resonant wires with it, I decided to build some sort of resonant antenna. For quick excursions to the field, I often take the AlexLoop. However, sometimes it’s nice to have something a bit more frequency-agile. I wanted something that is easy to deploy and could cover the 40, 30, and 20-meter bands.
I started off planning to build a vertical with a 16.5-ft radiator to make it resonant on 20 meters. I could then build some loading coils to make it resonant on 40 and 30 meters. In the end, I went a slightly different way with this antenna.
With the lousy band conditions lately, I spend most of my time on 40 meters. I decided to take advantage of the full length of the pole. So, my concept was to use a 19-foot radiator with loading coils for 40 and 30. On 20M and higher, I would use the radiator as a random wire and use a tuner.
As you can see in the schematic, I feed the antenna through a 1:1 choke, consisting of 10 bifilar turns of #22 hookup wire on an FT140-61 toroid. I calculated the values for the loading coil using some online calculators (see notes below). From there, I went through several iterations of testing and adjusting to arrive at the final values. For the 40M loading coil, I ended up with 29 turns of #22 enameled wire on a T130-2 toroid. I made a tap at 11 turns for the 30M band.
I mounted both coils in a small box and used some small bolts to make the tap points accessible for band changing. I also made a little jumper with alligator clips to short out various portions of the loading coil for the different bands.
The pole won’t support much weight, so I built the 19-foot radiator from #26 Stealth wire (Part #534) from the Wireman. Because the pole is made from carbon fiber, I try to let the top of the pole bend over slightly, to keep the wire away from the pole. I don’t know how much influence the carbon fiber pole would have on tuning but I figure I’d avoid introducing another variable.
For radials, I used a 25-foot roll of cheap speaker wire and used it to throw together four 12.5-foot radials. Again, I grabbed what I had on hand and went with it. While the four radials seem to be working out OK, I plan to add a couple more for good measure.
I should note that all the materials here were selected based on availability in my junk box. So, there’s certainly plenty of wiggle room here for experimenting.
I made up a little tripod adapter out of some PVC pipe. One end slides over the post on my tripod, while the other end slides up inside the bottom of the collapsible pole. I also found a screw driver with a handle that fits nicely inside the bottom of the pole. So, for ground-mounting, I can just shove the screwdriver in the ground and place the pole on top of it. This works surprisingly well and allows me to leave the tripod at home.
After considerable tweaking I ended up with SWRs of less than 2:1 across the entire 40M band and less than 1.5:1 across the 30M band. On 20M and higher, the tuner in my KX3 loads it up with no problems.
I’ve been very pleased with the results on 40M so far. It seems to radiate pretty well. I’ve also made contacts on 30M and 20M but, honestly, I need to use it more on those bands to get a better feel for the performance. It’s hard to evaluate antennas when the band conditions are as poor as they have been lately.
Although the antenna works, there are a few things I would do differently, if I were to build another one:
My physical packaging could be better. While the enclosure I used is nice and compact, it’s a little cramped for experimentation. During development, coil adjustments were tough.
Separate coils for 40M and 30M would make the tuning much easier. The tapped coil was a challenge to adjust.
I like the form factor and easy setup of this antenna. I can set it up in a few minutes and it is very easy to transport by backpack or bike. Now to give it some more air time in the field.