Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Autumn arrives, and the 1296 project.

The appearance of a big yellow combine harvester in the field behind GM4FVM heralds the arrival of Autumn and a sign that it is time to change gear ratio on the radio front.
Garden at GM4FVM with New Holland combine in the field behind.

No sooner had the crop of oil seeds been got in, but the entire remains of woody twigs and stalks was hoovered up and removed. No doubt these are for the biomass industry, to be burned and turned into electrical power which ends up being fired up the lum a second time, this time the imaginary chimney on GM4FVM's linear. (I have gone solid state, no chimneys here ... at the moment).

Maybe I could install my own biomass generator and save the transport cost. Now, will the government give me a big grant for that?

The seasons are changing. In Scotland this means a wet and cold Summer has ended and given way to the best weather of the year (why do school kids holidays end just before the sun comes out?). The sporadic E season is drawing to a close, on 4m anyway, though I have been busy working stations on 10m. New DXCC entity on 10M - Kaliningrad! Wow!

With the end of Es came a bit of tropo enhancement thanks to the warmer weather we suddenly had for the school kids to peer out the window at. Although pressure was not especially high, I did have a good time on 2m and 70cms. As usual, click to enlarge the images if you need to.
144MHz contacts at GM4FVM 23 to 26 August 2019
 On 2m that was 21 QSOs into 6 countries and 15 squares. Best DX was, as so often. Charly DF5VAE on Ruegen (JO46RK, 1001km). Charly remarked on his cluster posting that before we had a contact there were many meteor scatter pings in my weak tropo signal. Later the tropo built up and we made a contact. I have noticed this myself, perhaps where meteor pings are noticeable adding to the tropo. Often any strong meteor bursts will prevent decoding on FT8, JT65 etc.

Notable too was a contact with Tim G4VXE in IO91. It is only 465km, but in a direction not favoured by the hills at this end. Tim uses lower power than me, and a vertical antenna. After several years of trying, and one "almost-contact", we finally made it. This just goes to show that it is the challenge rather than the total number of contacts you make that matters.

A bit like making one run in a 76 run partnership for the last wicket in an Ashes cricket match. "The best one not out I will ever make", as we might say. That was probably the trickiest 465km 2m contact I will ever make.
Edit, after I wrote that I had three more QSOs on 2m suggesting that the tropo opening was not yet over..

EC7ZR was, I fancied, in Northern Spain. Only later did I work out that he is in Cordoba, IM77 and 2034km away. That knocked the 1001km best DX of the past few days out of the ring. But then I worked EA7HLB in IM76, not far from Malaga, at 2146km.

Not realising all this DX had already come my way, I kept trying to work a station in Madrid. Not only was I befuddled, but so clearly was Jesús, EA7HLB, who called me 2 minutes later and started another QSO. I saw what was happening but left it going in case there was some problem before at his end (missing 73 or something). Anyway, my report went up by 15dB, and his went down 2dB, but despite this the second QSO was as complete as the first one at my end.

You just never know what is next in this radio lark.

I even managed to slip in a 4m QSO with Pedro, EA7AFM in IM66 2143km. He is right on the coast in the Sherry region, facing the Atlantic in South West Spain. You guessed it, a new square (so were the 2m ones, of course). But that was not so ground-breaking because that was Es, not tropo.

Or was it ... 

Isn't this a great hobby?
432MHz contacts at GM4FVM 23 to 26 August 2019

My 70cm maps will probably never look as interesting as my 2m one, but they still involve quite a bit of effort. As we shall see, I have downgraded my 70cms antenna a bit, but it is also higher than it was, so that may even out with tropo. Best DX was to PE1IWT in JO32, at 712km. I did hear a Swedish station but could not get back to them. That would have been a new country (but you did not work it, did you Jim, so it is not a new country).

On 4m, tropo is not so much in evidence, so this map covers the period since the last update. Having said that, I did work quite a few G stations on tropo over the past few days to give them IO85 square on 70MHz.

No chance of showing the callsigns on this map, as they would all overlap. Just as well actually, as I seem to have registered GW3ATZ as being in JO91 instead of IO83. How did that happen?
70MHz contacts at GM4FVM 18 to 26 August 2019
From the map projection looks as if Yussi, OT7TE in KP36 (1759km) will win the best DX category, but in fact it is SV8PEX who steals this one. Thomas, in Corfu, JM99, is at 2408km, just showing how much the map projection distorts the apparent distance. Thomas gave me another new square, and it all adds to the total.

For 4m the total was 30 QSOs in 11 DXCC and 23 squares in 9 days. That is probably it for the current Es season on 4m, but of course we never quite know. As I write this EA6VQ is pounding in on 70.154.

After a long season we 70MHz fans have, for the most part, worked everyone there is to work. It is time to accept the changing of the seasons and wind down. I know some amateur simply try calling CQ more often, but that rarely improves the propagation (which doesn't stop them doing it though). Cyprus still missing.
My 1296 project has been moving on apace. Not that anybody had heard about my 1296 project until now.
2m/70cms 7/14el dual band beam on top, 23cm 28el beam below
In the past I have looked at reports of activity on 23cms and I have noticed that most of it seems to be people posting reports of beacons. Oh, I do enjoy an hour or two of listening to beacons, but in the long term it does not quite meet my needs.

The clincher was that spending a lot of money on a band with very little activity was always going to rule it all out anyway.

Times change, things happen, and here we are. It now turned out that I had enough credit at the ham shop for some coax, in fact more than enough for 1296 and a lot left for necessary short jobs and patch leads. This was to be Hyperflex 10 too, not quite perfect for 23cms, but I calculated the total loss for a 20m run was something like 3dB, only around 1dB more than 70cms. Hyperflex is what I have been using on 6m, 4m, 2, and 70cms, so it has the advantage of standardisation should I want to use it for anything else. My plan to use specially dedicated high-grade coax for 23cms faded away; the price could not be justified for such a short run.

I even had enough left in my account for 1 Messi & Paoloni N-type compression plug too. One and a half plugs actually, and throwing in another £5 clinched the deal.

I never liked compression plugs, nor 10mm coax, until Messi and Paoloni came along. Hyperflex is FAR easier to use than Ecoflex, and it lasts longer as well. The M&P compression plugs took a bit of getting used to, but the proof is in the fact that all of them have lasted while inferior plugs are always giving me trouble. Compression N-types are not quite water proof but they are certainly condensation proof. I shudder when I recall the rain passing down a vertical antenna, right through a soldered PL-259, and down metres of the RG-213.

Perhaps the key factor in my love of M&P plugs (the N-types at least) is that I can actually solder in the centre conductor. Any other N-type plug certainly says you should solder the centre pin, but they then design the plug to make this impossible. I have spent hours trying to get the solder to wick down the tiny hole as the instructions say you should. But it never does. Instead I am left with a blob of solder on the top of the pin, refusing to move, preventing the assembly of the plug and, crucially, failing to secure the centre conductor properly. Usually this is happening outdoor in the Scottish summer, when the soldering iron instantly loses heat in the piercing wind off the North Sea, just as the clouds gather and promise rain, rain which will seep into the coax and ruin it. Turn the iron temperature up and I could melt the plug.

Not that I am bitter or anything, but grrrr. Why did it take so long to make a better N-type compression plug? Sure M&P plugs are painfully expensive. I love them. Relief at last.

So £5 to find for the coax and plugs. The antenna fell into my lap courtesy of Neil G4DBN. He kindly offered me a Wimo 28 element antenna for free, and I made a contribution towards the carriage. That was really helpful, and the 28 element Wimo was just what I had in mind. Being a "forward mounting" antenna (actually mounted at the back, but just on one side of the mast), it does not need to be at the top of the mast, and nor do I need a fibreglass pole. The aluminium mast, being behind the multiple reflectors, should not be a factor.

That leaves a masthead pre-amp. I had been watching with gloom as the pound had been sinking in value against the euro (and we all know why that is). So I was rather perked up to find an SHF 23cm pre-amp on sale in the UK for less than the price in Germany so I snapped it up. Not cheap for that one part, but all the other pieces were in place.

All I needed now was some good weather ... and boy was it hot. Nevertheless it all went together easily enough. To make room for the extra antenna I have (temporarily?) changed back from the separate 2m and 70cms antennas to the Antennas and Amplifiers 2m/70cms dual band yagi. It was in the garage, and its place has been taken by the two separates, pending any possible reversal of this decision (which knowing your record Jim, cannot be far off).

Pulling the coax through the attic in the heat was great fun.
The jumble as the antenna and rotator cables pass into the house, with the 23cms cable towards the camera
There was some plan to this at the start. I decided not to use a wide conduit between the attic and the shack. As the route is via the back of a cupboard it will never be seen, and anyway, a wide conduit would allow draughts (UK spelling conventions in this blog, when it suits me). After we had the attic super-insulated the narrower tubes stop the air flow getting down from the roofspace. But now there are 8 of them. That is four Hyperflex, one Ecoflex (relegated to 6m), one RG-213 (technically 2m FM, now mostly marine band) and one rotator control cable. One slightly narrower rotator control cable shares one conduit with two RG8 runs, one for the HF antenna currently spare, and other for the 10m dipole, and there is also a run of unknown narrow coax squeezed in elsewhere for the Trimble Thunderbolt GPS receiver. It all looks like a jumble now. Two tubes are slightly splayed to fit the joists above. It could be neater. This is one of those things I might do differently now, but then why change it?

When I am silent key and my executor sells the house, somebody is in for a surprise at the back of the cupboard.

So what are the early results? Well, I can hear the GB3NGI beacon! Hearing beacons, eh? Exciting stuff.

Tom, GM8MJV has kindly offered a sked when we are both ready, and that will be interesting.

In the meantime the GB3NGI beacon seems to dart around a bit (or else it is me)
GB3NGI 23cms beacon as decoded at GM4FVM
Still, never mind. I have now heard something on 23cms, and it is 253km away from me.

This I regard as a success.

New mode too:- JT4 Submode G - who would have thought it? I might become a mode collector.

I cannot hear the beacon a Kilsyth, or at least not yet. Many of the others seem to be off the air.

New band, lots to learn. I am not expecting much, but then I said that about 70cms.

I have not built an EME-ready station, just something to get me going. I said that about 70cms too.

This is probably a waste of my time. However, so is all the rest really.

I want to do it and I managed to keep the cost down. So why not?