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

Pre-Holiday QRP Portable

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.

The vertical antenna in use at Black Rock Sanctuary
The vertical antenna in use at Black Rock Sanctuary

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.

Ground connection for the vertical antenna.
Ground connection for the vertical antenna.

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.

Operating position in the truck
Operating position in the truck

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!

Happy Holidays to you and yours.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Bike Rack Vertical

[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.

Bike Rack Antenna Mount. A 9:1 unun is attached to the Jackite pole with a bungee cord.
Bike Rack Antenna Mount. A 9:1 unun is attached to the Jackite pole with a bungee cord.

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.

My new truck's first QRP-portable outing.
The Bike Rack Vertical in use

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!

73, Craig WB3GCK

“Stationary-Mobile” with My 19-foot Vertical

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.

My makeshift mount. The PVC mount is attached to the plastic crate, while the crate is attached to a cargo bar using bungee cords. The random junk I store in the crate keeps things stable.
My makeshift mount. The PVC mount is attached to the plastic crate, while the crate is attached to a cargo bar using bungee cords. The random junk I store in the crate keeps things stable.

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.

The Black Widow pole installed on my makeshift mount.
The Black Widow pole installed on my makeshift mount.

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.

The 19-ft vertical in operation.
The 19-ft vertical in operation.

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.

73, Craig WB3GCK

The Quickie Whip

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.

The Quickie Whip attached to my old Icom 207-H dual band radio
The Quickie Whip attached to my old Icom 207-H dual band radio

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).

Quickie Whip Antenna components: telescopic whip antenna, PL-259 to BNC-F right-angle adapter, and the modified 9V battery clip for the counterpoise wires.
Quickie Whip Antenna components: telescopic whip antenna, PL-259 to BNC-F right-angle adapter, and the modified 9V battery clip for the counterpoise wires.

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.

73, Craig WB3GCK

 

Trailer Operations – Lessons Learned

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.

Antenna

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.)

Some state parks provide lantern hanging posts that make great antenna supports. These are pretty common in Maryland state parks.
Some state parks provide lantern hanging posts that make great antenna supports. These are pretty common in Maryland state parks.

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.

My trusty 29.5-foot wire vertical. It's supported by a 31-foot Jackite pole and fed with a homebrew 9:1 unun.
Jackite ground mount. I bought this years ago. This particular mount is no longer sold by Jackite.

Radio Location

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.

WB3GCK making some straight key contacts from the trailer.
Radio set up inside the trailer. The coax is routed through the window.

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.”

Pipe insulation used to help close the gap in the window. The black pipe insulation is barely noticeable making it XYL-approved.
Pipe insulation used to help close the gap in the window. The black pipe insulation is barely noticeable making it 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.

73, Craig WB3GCK