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

A Lightweight Portable Vertical

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), I actually measure 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.

Schematic diagram of the matching network for the 19-ft vertical
Schematic diagram of the matching network for the 19-ft vertical

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.

Interior of the matching unit
Interior of the matching unit

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 matching network is attached to the pole with a small bungee cord. In this picture, the red jumpers are configured for the 30M band.
The matching network is attached to the pole with a small bungee cord. In this picture, the red jumpers are configured for the 30M band.

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.

Vertical mounted on a tripod. My backpack is attached to the bottom of the tripod to help stabilize it in the wind.
Vertical mounted on a tripod. My backpack is attached to the bottom of the tripod to help stabilize it in the wind.

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.

The vertical ground-mounted. The pole is light enough to be supported by a screwdriver shoved into the ground.
The vertical ground-mounted. The pole is light enough to be supported by a screwdriver shoved into the ground.

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.

Time will tell if it’s a keeper.

72, Craig WB3GCK

 

Notes:

  1. Loading coil calculator:  http://www.k7mem.com/Ant_Short_Dipole.html   (Note:  The calculator I originally used for this project is no longer online.  This calculator should work.  Just use one leg of the dipole.)
  2. Toroid calculator:  http://www.66pacific.com/calculators/toroid-coil-winding-calculator.aspx

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The “Up and Outer” Antenna

[This is an updated version of a post that appears on my old website. – WB3GCK]

Something about the “Up and Outer” antenna has fascinated me since I first came across it in the 1974 edition of the ARRL Antenna Book. This antenna, which was once popular many years ago, is about as simple as it gets. Simply put, the Up and Outer is a dipole or doublet where one leg is vertical while the other leg is horizontal. Although it seems to be overlooked by Amateurs these days, this antenna offers some significant benefits:

  • It’s a good limited space antenna since one leg of the doublet is vertical. It only requires half of the space that a horizontal doublet would take up.
  • When fed with balanced line and used with a suitable transmatch, it’s a good multi-band antenna.
  • It combines characteristics of both verticals and horizontal wire antennas. That is, it is good for both local and DX work.
  • It’s very easy to build and erect.
The "Up & Outer" is essentially a doublet with one vertical leg and one horizontal leg.
The “Up & Outer” is essentially a doublet with one vertical leg and one horizontal leg.

First, a little background on this antenna. According to some handwritten notes from QRP Hall of Famer, C. F. Rockey W9SCH (SK), this antenna goes back to the 20s and 30s. Lew McCoy W1ICP (SK) wrote about it in the October 1960 edition of QST [1]. He didn’t use the name, “Up and Outer;” he merely referred to it as a “limited space antenna.” McCoy recommended horizontal and vertical elements of 30-feet each for operation on 80-10 meters. He also recommended using an open-wire feedline to minimize losses. Information from McCoy’s article has appeared for years in the ARRL Antenna Book. (I first saw it in my 1974 edition [2] and it was still shown in the 1997 edition [3].)

W9SCH wrote a couple of articles about this antenna for SPRAT  and appears to have coined the term, “Up and Outer.” In the first SPRAT article [4], Rock suggested using 1/4 wave elements for the lowest band and feeding it with either coax (for single band operation) or balanced line (for multi-band operation). In a follow-up article [5], Rock suggests pruning the horizontal element to equalize the current in the balanced feeder. He noted the imbalance when operating with the horizontal element close to ground. He started with 16-foot elements to cover 30-10 meters.

Another Hall of Famer, L. B. Cebik W4RNL (SK), wrote about a coax-fed version of this antenna for 10 meters [6]. Cebik built his antenna using aluminum tubing and referred to it as the “L Antenna.”

I also exchanged some correspondence years ago with Fred Bonavita K5QLF (SK), another QRP Hall of Famer and fan of the Up and Outer. He told me that W9SCH once mentioned using the copper ball from an old toilet float to top-load the vertical element of the antenna. I have never tried it but it does sound intriguing!

The "Up and Outer" antenna mounted on a 3rd-story deck in Corolla, North Carolina.
The “Up and Outer” antenna mounted on a 3rd-story deck in Corolla, North Carolina.

For me, the Up and Outer has turned out to be an ideal portable antenna to use while on vacation in a rented house on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. For several years I’ve used a 56-foot doublet with one wire supported by a 28-foot fiberglass telescopic mast and one 28-foot leg run horizontally. The vertical radiator is typically situated on a 3rd or 4th story wooden deck with the horizontal wire secured to a nearby tree or other support. For feedline, I use 25-feet of TV twinlead (the cheap brown stuff). Using either a homebrew Z-match tuner or an autotuner with a short run of coax to an external 4:1 balun, I’ve been able to use this antenna on 40-10 meters. Your mileage may vary. Depending on the transmatch you use, you might need to adjust the length of the feedline to get a good match on 40 meters.

"Up and Outer" feedpoint
“Up and Outer” feedpoint

I did some quick modeling of a typical Outer Banks installation using MMANA-GL and you can clearly see the results of the combined horizontal and vertical elements. The horizontal polarity (shown in blue) shows lobes perpendicular to the axis of the horizontal wire, similar to a dipole. The vertical polarity (shown in red) shows a fairly low take-off angle and exhibits some slight directivity on 40 meters in the direction of the horizontal wire. This effect is due to the proximity to ground of the horizontal element and diminishes as you go higher in frequency. So, try to mount the Up and Outer as high above ground as you can.

"Up and Outer" 40M pattern
“Up and Outer” 40M pattern
"Up and Outer" 30M pattern
“Up and Outer” 30M pattern
"Up and Outer" 20M pattern
“Up and Outer” 20M pattern

The modeling bears out my empirical results with the antenna. My version of the Up and Outer has worked very well for both stateside contacts and DX. In particular, it has been very effective for DX contacts on 30 meters. As an added bonus, the 56-foot doublet can also be pressed into service as a normal horizontal antenna in locations where the Up and Outer configuration isn’t possible. So, it’s like getting two antennas in one. Can’t beat that.

If you are looking for a limited-space antenna, give this obscure classic a try!

73, Craig WB3GCK

 

References:
1. McCoy, Lewis G. “A Limited-Space Antenna.” QST October 1960: pp 23-25. (Available in the ARRL online archives)
2. “The ARRL Antenna Book.” 13th Edition, 1974. Newington, CT. pp 187-188.
3. “The ARRL Antenna Book.” 18th Edition, 1997. Newington, CT. pp 7-15, 7-16.
4. Rockey, C. F. “Up and Outer.” SPRAT Issue #67 (Summer 1991): p 18.
5. Rockey, C. F. “A Four Band Up and Outer Antenna.” SPRAT Issue #69 (Winter 1991/1992): p 16.
6. Cebik, L. B. “Whips, Tubes and Wires: Building a 10-Meter L Antenna.” QST December 1999: pp 52-54. (Available in the ARRL online archives)

© 2009-2017 Craig A. LaBarge

Outer Banks 2017

For our annual vacation this year, our extended family rented a house in the town of Corolla on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Of course, ham radio was a part of my week’s activities.

I’ve operated my QRP equipment from numerous beach houses over the past 20 years but this year highlighted the need to be flexible and adapt. Before I left for vacation, I looked at some pictures of the house online and did some aerial reconnaissance (Google Earth) to see where I might set up my radio and antenna.

I initially set up a 30-foot vertical on a 3rd-floor balcony on the front of the house. I ran my coax down to an unused bedroom on the 1st floor. That was a great place to operate but the noise levels were horrendous. My vertical was a bit too close to some electronics (TVs, WiFi equipment, etc.). I made one contact before taking down the antenna and moving on to Plan B.

After studying the back of the house (furthest away from all of the electronic gadgets), I decided to go with a 53-foot wire in an inverted L configuration. I ran the wire vertically along a wooden deck up to the 3rd floor. From there, I ran the wire out horizontally to a Jackite pole strapped to a volley ball net. The last 6 feet or so of wire ran back down the Jackite pole. So, I guess it was technically an “inverted J.” Whatever you want to call it, it served me well. I still had some intermittent noise issues but it was more manageable than before.

This is a view of the rear of the house showing how I supported my inverted L. The wire ran up the side of the deck and out to the Jackite pole strapped to the volley ball net. The last 6 feet or so ran down the Jackite pole. So, technically, it was more of an inverted "J" than an "L."
This is a view of the rear of the house showing how I supported my inverted L. The wire ran up the side of the deck and out to the Jackite pole strapped to the volley ball net. The last 6 feet or so ran down the Jackite pole. So, technically, it was more of an inverted “J” than an “L.”

I fed the antenna through a 9:1 unun with an 18-foot run of coax going in through a nearby window. My KX3 was wedged into the corner of a ground floor bedroom.

This is a homebrew 9:1 unun at the feedpoint of my antenna. The wire went up vertically about 23-feet before extending out horizontally to the Jackite pole.
This is a homebrew 9:1 unun at the feedpoint of my antenna. The wire went up vertically about 23-feet before extending out horizontally to the Jackite pole.

On the air, this impromptu antenna worked surprisingly well. It was especially effective on 40 and 30 meters. If I ever get bored enough someday, I might model it to see what it looks like on paper.

My “cozy” operating position next to a foosball table. If you look carefully, you can see the 9:1 unun through the window.
My “cozy” operating position next to a foosball table. If you look carefully, you can see the 9:1 unun through the window.

The bands were pretty flakey this week but I managed to make contacts every day. I fell into the pattern of getting on 40 meter CW early in the morning then doing some PSK-31 on 40 meters in the evening. I had some nice CW rag chews and worked some Carribean and South American DX on 40M PSK-31.

One notable highlight was working Joe N2CX who was doing Parks on the Air (POTA) activations in Canada. Despite the lousy band conditions, I worked him at three different parks. I worked two of the parks on two bands and one of them on three bands.

We had some thunderstorms and heavy rain on our last day there, so I took the antenna down and packed up the radio stuff a little earlier than I wanted to.

It was a fun week in North Carolina and we’re already looking at houses for next year. You can bet that I’ll be ready with several antenna options. You just never know what to expect.

72, Craig WB3GCK

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Weekend Antenna Testing

Carrying on from the initial testing I did last week, I went out for a bike ride yesterday and took my experimental vertical along.  (I gave a general description of this antenna project in my previous post.)  I rode a few miles up the Schuylkill River Trail and on to a park along the Perkiomen Trail.

I set up in a remote section of the picnic area and quickly took some readings on 40 and 30 meters with my antenna analyzer.  I had done some tweaking to the loading coil but, unfortunately, both bands were still resonating too low.

My set up at Lower Perkiomen Valley Park. If you look closely at the S-meter in the upper right of the display, you can see the horrendous noise level on 40 meters.
My set up at Lower Perkiomen Valley Park. If you look closely at the S-meter in the upper right of the display, you can see the horrendous noise level on 40 meters.

I set up my KX3, intending to make some contacts.  This, however, was not to be.  There was a background noise level that was higher than I had encountered on a previous visit to this park.  As I was tuning around, I looked over and saw that the wind had blown my antenna over.  I neglected to bring anything along that I could use to stabilize the antenna and tripod.  I set it back up but it wasn’t long before the antenna was on the ground again.  After it blew over a 3rd time, I gave up.  I packed up the bike and rode back down the trail to my truck.

My bike loaded up for the trip home. No contacts today but at least I had a nice bike ride!
My bike loaded up for the trip home. No contacts today but at least I had a nice bike ride!

This morning I made another adjustment to the antenna’s loading coil and headed over to Valley Forge Park to test it.  Like yesterday, it was somewhat breezy.  This time, I hung my backpack from a hook on the bottom of the tripod to make sure the antenna stayed upright.

My set up at Valley Forge National Historical Park. I hooked my backpack to the bottom of the tripod to help stabilize it in the wind.
My set up at Valley Forge National Historical Park. I hooked my backpack to the bottom of the tripod to help stabilize it in the wind.

I took some antenna analyzer readings and found that the 40-meter band was now resonating right where I wanted it.  I saw some improvement on 30 meters but it was still resonating below the band.  Obviously, the tap for the 30-meter band is in the wrong place.

As I tuned around, it the bands seemed better this morning.  I worked N5P in Texas on 20 meters.  N5P was participating in the Museum Ships Weekend event from the National Museum of the Pacific War.  I moved down to 30 meters and heard a couple of strong stations.  I didn’t make any contacts there, though.

I called CQ on 40 meters and quickly got a call from N1PVP in Massachusetts.  I remembered working Marino a couple of weeks ago.  He always has a very strong signal into Pennsylvania.  I wrapped up with a two-way QRP QSO with Alan AC8AP in Ohio.

Antenna-wise, I have to do some thinking about how to proceed with my experimental vertical.  As I see it, I have a few options:

  • I could continue to tweak the existing coil.  If I remove turns from the bottom of the coil while adding the same number of turns to the top of the coil, this would effectively move the tap point for the 30-meter band.
  • It might be easier to just re-wind the coil and add a few more tap points.  I could do some testing to see which tap works the best.
  • I could always invoke the “do nothing” option.  The SWR on 30 meters is only about 4.3:1, which is a trivial match for the KX3’s internal tuner.

In any event, the antenna is useful as it stands.  I’ll take some time this week to consider my next move.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Memorial Day Antenna Testing

Some time ago, I bought a small, lightweight telescopic fishing pole from a Chinese vendor on eBay.  It’s about 19.5 feet tall and collapses down to about 26 inches.  It’s a great size for backpacking or transporting on my bike.  It weighs practically nothing.  In fact, it’s too light for supporting anything but a lightweight vertical wire.  Although I have used it a few times to support various antenna configurations, I never really found one that was a “keeper.”

Since I had some time over the long holiday weekend, I scratched out a quick design for yet another vertical antenna and cobbled it together with parts I had on hand in my junk box.  I designed it to operate as a base-loaded resonant vertical on both 40 and 30 meters.  On 20 meters and higher, it operates as a non-resonant wire; thus, an antenna tuner is required on those bands.  Along with the loading coil, the matching unit contains a 1:1 choke balun to isolate the feedline.    Both the choke balun and tapped loading coil are wound on toroids and mounted in a small, plastic enclosure.  The radiator is a 19-foot piece of #28 wire.  I could have shortened the radiator to make it resonant on 20 meters also, however, I went with the longer radiator for better performance on 40 meters.  I used four 12.5-foot radials that I made from a 25-foot roll of cheap speaker wire.

The antenna I was testing. The white piece between the telescopic pole and the tripod is an adapter I made from PVC pipe.
The antenna I was testing. The white piece between the telescopic pole and the tripod is an adapter I made from PVC pipe.

Normally, I like to use the “build a little, test a little” approach.  Since I don’t have the luxury of space at home for antenna testing, I just took my chances and built the whole thing.  I headed out to a local park yesterday to give it the “smoke test” and see how close I came with my loading coil design.

My operating location on a cloudy and rainy morning
My operating location on a cloudy and rainy morning

It took less than 5 minutes to set it up.  I used an antenna analyzer to take some initial measurements.  On both 20 and 30 meters, the resonant frequencies were low and fell outside the band.  I still have some work to do there.  On 20 meters and up, the KX3’s tuner loaded it up easily.

The antenna matching unit. The red jumper is used to change bands.
The antenna matching unit. The red jumper is used to change bands.

Next, I wanted to put it on the air.  I started on 40 meters and used the KX3’s tuner to tweak the SWR.  I called CQ a few times and eventually got a call from K4ALE in Virginia.  Bevin said I was 559 with QSB.  Despite the poor band conditions, we had a nice chat.

After I signed with Bevin, I set the antenna for 30 meters and kicked in the KX3’s tuner.  I called CQ and was quickly answered by NN4NC in North Carolina.  Jim gave me a 569.  At times, the band would fade to just about nothing.  As I was chatting with Jim, some drizzle started blowing in under the pavilion where I was sitting.  So I signed with Jim and quickly packed up.

I’ll be doing some adjustments to the antenna over the coming weeks.  It looks, though, that this could be a useful portable antenna, once I get the loading coil straightened out.

Since this is a work in progress, I left out the details for now.  After I get the antenna working as intended, I’ll provide a detailed description, schematic and parts list in a future post.

72, Craig WB3GCK