John Moyle Field Day 2014 At Mt Torbreck

Hi all,

Most of my activations are lightweight, and even more so these days, using a KX1 with a random wire antenna. Once a year, I go in an entirely different direction, and that is for the John Moyle Field day contest. This is a contest with both HF and VHF and up sections. It also rewards making seperate contacts on phone, CW and digital. It has a 6 hour section that can be timed for three rounds of contacts for each station, and they can be contacted per band.

It’s the VHF and up section that interests me. Currently that interest is on three bands 6m, 2m and 70cm.

A few years ago, I identified Mt Torbreck VK3/VN-001 as a suitable site to operate for the contest, and I went there in 2012, and again in 2013. This year, I sought to improve on previous year scored. I had dispensed with the Quadruple Quads that I had used on previous expeditions and built a 6 element yagi for 2m.

Access to the summit was the usual Barnewell Plains Rd up from Eildon Jamieson Rd. It’s a little rough, but there is no real trouble getting the Prius up here. As per last year, I would need two trips up to carry the gear.

Gear included:

  • FT-897
  • FT-817
  • Laptop and power adaptor that could take 12V in
  • Signalink USB for digital modes
  • A HT for 2/70 FM
  • 8 3S 5000mAh LIPOs
  • 3 3S 2200mAh LIPOs
  • A 12 V regulator
  • Various coax pieces both LMR195 and LMR400
  • Two 7m squid poles plus the lightweight 4.7m squid pole
  • Two 1.5m al pole sections
  • Turnstyle antenna for 6m
  • Coax based colinears for 2 and 70
  • A PVC based and squid pole mounted 6 element yagi for 2m

With the removal of the Quadruple Quads, it was less gear than last year. I had also taken up less battery capacity because I used little more than 50% of it last year.

As everything was carried in by hand and was battery powered, all my contacts here were SOTA contacts.

Conditions were nice during the setup. I finished the second trip up at about 11am and proceeded to setup all the gear.

Here’s the 2m colinear:

2m colinear squid pole mounted at Mt Torbreck

2m colinear squid pole mounted at Mt Torbreck

The 70cm colinear was built the previous day before the contest, and was then tested with the MiniVNAPro and Extender. It is a little hard to get the element spacing just right – I built it a little longer than a version from last year, but it still ended up a little out of band. SWRs of mid 3s to 4 are really too high, so I’ll need to make a match for it.

Zplots view of 70cm colinear

Zplots view of 70cm colinear

The gain is still very nice, and I get away with these high SWRs because the FT-897 does not develop as much power on 70. It also cuts back the power in presence of higher SWRs. Still, I need to get the SWR below 2 to give my radio an easier time and so a match will be needed – otherwise I would have to build the thing again, even longer per segment – I’m a little over building these things now!

Physically, the lightweight 4.7m squid pole was able to take the weight of the colinear, however, given that I was also attaching some LMR400 coax, I needed to support the weight of that against a tree, otherwise the pole would start to bend so that the bottom of the colinear was not far from the ground.

Next up, the 2m yagi:

2m yagi squid pole mounted at Mt Torbreck

2m yagi squid pole mounted at Mt Torbreck

In light winds, the setup for this was fine. I am going to need to guy it for stronger winds. I can guy it just below where the yagi is mounted. The mounting is a PVC pipe t piece on the pole, with the stem of the T allowing me to put on another T piece for the beam. I am going to modify the physical construction a little more along the lines of what Peter VK3PF has done, putting the elements through the beam, rather than using a wingnut to tie them onto the top of it. This will make setup and tear down simpler.

I was pretty happy with the measured results of this antenna:

2m yagi VNAPro measurements shown in Zplots

2m yagi VNAPro measurements shown in Zplots

This gives an SWR below 1.1 at 144.18MHz. The front to back was predicted by NEC2 to be over 30dB, and it was clearly high as I moved the yagi around. Predicted free space gain was about 16dBi. I was able to use it to work VK1DA/P during the contest, although by then, winds were very high and I had trouble keeping the thing up. So improvements for next year is a guying mount and physical improvements to the element mounting. I will also put in a BNC socket just after the common mode choke. The common mode choke on this antenna is simply 6 turns of the coax around the PVC beam right next to the feed point.

Last antenna up, the 6m turnstyle from last year. It’s not the most high gain antenna out there, but it does enough to put me in the game on 6m. I’m still thinking about whether I might put in a 2 element yagi to replace it next year, however the advantage of this thing is that I don’t need to do anything to adjust it during the contest. This is handy when in the tent because it’s raining outside.

6m turnstyle at Mt Torbreck

6m turnstyle at Mt Torbreck

You may notice the dark cloud in the above photo. Unfortunately, it was a sign of things to come.

So what’s missing. I have nothing horizontal polorisation for 70cm, and my plan for that is to build a 70cm yagi for next year. I’ll take the lessons learnt from building the 2m yagi this year. I am not going to bother with any vertical polorisation antenna for 6m.

The radios were setup in the vestibule of the tent:

Radios in tent vestibule

Radios in tent vestibule

A look at the batteries – these were 3 parallel by 2 in series (effectively the cells are 6S3P) which then feeds a 12V regulator.

Mind the computer

Mind the computer

It does take a little bit of work to get the workspace clean enough in the small tent. The computer was here to provide VKCL logging during the contest and to run the PSK software (Fldigi). An alternative is to run something like DroidPSK on my phone or tablet through one of my radio interfaces.
20140315_130538s

I operated for about 4 hours in the contest. There were fewer portable stations out compared to last year, and a notable absence of picking up people participating in and around Melbourne using 2/70 FM HTs. I picked up a lot of contacts last year that way.

A number of strong showers passed through, but I heard from other contest stations further southwest that conditions were getting wild. There was sounds of distant thunder, and the radar looked bad out 100km to the west, so I pulled the plug. It felt a shame to end 2 hours early – I missed a whole available contest window. Conditions were looking not so good and there was lightning around, so I did not want to risk it.

I quickly pulled down the antennas and took the high priority gear (radios, computer, etc) down to the car first. On the way back up, a decent electrical storm came through with lightning every 3 or 4 seconds. Some strikes were within 500m. That storm passed when I got back up to the top, but now it was time to take down some of the metal gear. I actually thought about abandoning it, but banked on getting off the ridge before the next storm arrived. As it turned out, I was not quite off the ridge when the next squall came through. It was lightning every 2 or 3 seconds, the rain was driving hard and the track was a river under 30cm of flowing water. There was water absolutely everywhere. I was glad that I had taken down the electronic gear on the first trip and it was in the dry car! I still was not too happy about carrying 1.5m metal poles in the middle of an electrical storm. I felt much safer once off the ridge and about 20 minutes later the storm had passed. The rain then backed off to a more usual level. I was pretty wet for the drive home!

This was quite an experience, and hopefully the summit will be more forgiving next time and allow me to get a 6 hour activation in. I got 846 points, which I felt was not bad given the 4 hours operation, plus the lower number of portable stations. I look forward to next year with 2 yagis and a matched 70cm colinear to help extend the scores above my 2013 high.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

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Portable preamps for 6m, 2m and 70cm – Part 1

Hi all,

One project that I have been working for a little while is the design and eventual build of preamps for the 6m / 2m / 70cm bands.

My requirements are:

  • Relay switching for TX, by the presence of DC supply
  • Preamp activated by DC power, otherwise off and bypassed
  • 100 watt TX capability, but only at 50% duty cycle
  • DC supply for the preamps to be on the coax, so bias tees will be needed
  • Said bias tees must also work in the presence of 100w TX power

Why preamps?

The question needs to be asked. These bands are often quite low noise, certainly on many SOTA (Summits on the Air) mountain tops. Most of my SOTA activations have been HF, however there have been a few that have been on 2m. During the John Moyle Field Day contest this year, I operated from Mt Torbreck, VK3/VN-001. While I got a good score, there were a few QSO’s going missing who could hear me, but I could not hear them. Some of them were using more power than me. Some have reported that they hear much better with preamps. So, there seems to be enough of a reason to do it.

DC power supply from the coax

It takes some design work, but clearly it is going to be convenient to have DC power come down the same cable as the coax from the radio. Near the radio, I will need a bias tee to put the DC on the cable, and it will only do this when not TXing. When it gets to the preamp, there are three possible states:

  1. The radio is TXing and there could be lots of RF energy on the coax, no DC
  2. The radio is RXing and there is DC on the coax
  3. The radio is RXing and there is no DC on the coax

State 1 needs to ensure that there is not large amounts of energy that gets on the Vcc rail in the preamp. An inductor blocks (in part) AC, including RF. It does it through reactance, and because its Q is not infinite, some resistance as well. Unless the Q is very low, it is by far through reactance.

State 2 needs to get the DC to the Vcc rail of the preamp. This will flow happily through the inductor, but the inductor does have some DC resistance – so there is going to be a voltage drop. The DC should not continue further down the coax towards the antenna, so a DC blocking cap is needed – this needs to have very low effective series resistance and very low capacitive reactance at the RF frequency. It also needs to be able to handle the RF current during State 1.

State 3 has no special circuit requirements for state 3 as no DC power is on the coax, and the inductor is going to block the RX RF energy from going up into the preamp, instead it needs to go to the radio where hopefully it results in received intelligence 🙂

The impedance of the inductor needs to be high, much higher than 50 ohms at the RF frequency. It needs to have low DC resistance. It also needs to take into account the fact that inductors are imperfect beasts at RF frequencies – they have resonances and act like capacitors above the resonant frequency. I was able to use some design formulae from RF Circuit Design by Chris Bowick. These give a whole range of impedance matching values derived from S parameters. It can also be used to find actual inductance and capacitance values for a given component at a given frequency. The nominal inductance of an inductor is not a fixed value, but changes with frequency. Different inductors change in different ways, based on their construction.

Getting the right inductors has been a major challenge. Even if I have an insertion loss of only 0.2db, there is still about 3 watts getting into the preamp circuit if there is 100 watts of RF outside, and some of this will have to be dissipated by the inductor’s resistance. Also, some of these inductors are quite large, but if they are too big, their resonances will be at far too low a frequency to be useful for the targeted 6m, 2m and 70cm bands.

In the end, to deal with power dissipation requirements, I used a specific bias tee inductor and some chip inductors. If I used just one inductor, I would lose a little too much DC across the tee (x2 of course for the fact that I need to put this DC on the coax back near the radio!)

Ripple on the Vcc rail

So now, I have got my DC when I want it, and are not likely to release magic smoke when at 100 watts 50% duty cycle modes. I still have some ripple on the supply, and I need a bypass cap to sink it to earth. The inductors suck up most of the heat dissipation. If I use a single cap, this leaves a lower frequency pattern, so I have found that having two caps, one around 1nF to 5nF based on the band (higher band, lower cap), and a second 10uF cap seems to get the ripple down to less than a millivolt. In (a different) RF Circuit Design by Richard Chi Hsi Li, the point is made than rather than having a capacitor forest of low to high values, a single cap should be selected around self resonant frequency (SRF). This exact frequency is going to vary, and the cap cannot be ordered with some precise, eg 2.2235nF value, so I target a little below SRF for the small cap. Some simulation tests show that these caps are only dissipating a few milliwatts, so it is looking good.

Relays

The next thing to discuss is getting the amplifier that I am going to use out of the way during TX, or I will release the magic smoke. I have found a suitable RF surface mount relay that looks suitable for the power rating required from Axicom. It has a continuous 60 watt rating, so 100 watts SSB or even 100 watts CW should be a piece of cake. Lets not try 100 watts PSK though! I will need two of these relays, one each side of the amplifier. Normally closed is no DC voltage on the coax, state 2 and 3. This would bypass the amplifier with the signal going directly from one relay to the next. Normally open will connect the amplifier.

One issue is that using the same relay, the RF paths have to cross. If I use a two sided board with a ground plane with the RF signal going on microstrip, I cannot cross the signals on the board. I am going to have to have a short jumper on the board for one of the signals – I have chosen the normally open (preamped signal).

The amp

From the Antenna side relay normally open the RF comes into the amplifier. Now, I could just use a JFET or MOSFET, or even a MMIC, but Minicircuits have a device called PGA-103+ which should make this part real easy. It has three (well four, but ground shares two) pads. One for RF in, one (two) for ground, and one for RF out and DC bias. This device works on either 3V or 5V. The device needs a DC blocker cap on the input, and one on the output. The bias voltage needs to get in there somehow, and so this calls for another bias tee on the output pin, before the output DC blocker cap. Another bias tee (that’s three now), but at least this one does not need to dissipate large amounts of current – it’s I^2R that causes the heat – and current is squared – damn!!!

Having three tees with the DC voltage drop causes quite a lot of design issues, and it took some time to identify the right components to do the job. There are chip inductors, air coil surface mount inductors. Coilcraft even make some core based smt inductors. The challenge is to get something with a high enough inductive reactance that does not take up too much space, and has not effectively become a capacitor because it is above SRF. Some devices are designed to be used above SRF and that’s ok, but most inductors are not, so this does provide a limit. The air coil ones just don’t have the reactance, even though they have low DC resistance.

The amp provides 26dB gain on 50m and 25dB on 2 and 70. It has a noise figure of 0.5dB. That is really nice. This should be a good quality preamp.

The 5V supply requirement of the amp meant that I selected 5V relays. I did not want to add some BJT device with a zener regulator to bring down 12V (or 13.8V or so) to 5V. Extra complexity for the preamp, duplicated on each one. It will be far easier to get a 5V DC-DC step down converter off ebay, plug some Anderson Powerpoles on it and run that from a 12V-15V or even wider supply. So this is the plan.

The DC current requirements of the amp and the two non-latching relays are 160mA. I needed to ensure that across all the bias tees to the amp (thats three remember!) that I was getting at least 4.75V there. I did contemplate using the amp in 3V mode, but that needs a zener plus a BJT, so I tried to avoid that. In the end, I can get 4.87V to the amp, and that is well within spec.

Here’s a look at a Schematic for the preamp.

Schematic for preamplifier for 6, 2 and 70

It should be noted that component values will change for each band. It does not seem possible to retain simplicity and have a preamp for all three bands, but at least I should have a common PCB board design.

I will need a separate schematic for the radio side bias tee. I will talk about this more on a future post, but it is going to need to take the TX indication out of the radio, use a PIC chip to TX inhibit for 30ms or so, and switch the DC – through a BJT and then onto the bias tee onto the coax.through two)

Part 2 can be found here.