Wednesday, 25 January 2023

The Winter Es and TEP from Scotland mystery.

Does Winter Es exist? 

Or is there just Sporadic E and sometimes it happens in the Winter?

Could it be that a lot of radio amateurs are around their radios over Christmas and the New Year so this phenomenon is reported?

And, on a similar vein, are there so few amateurs listening to low VHF during February that nobody notices any then?

To these questions, like many about Sporadic E, I have no answers.

I guess that Toyah Wilcox meant Winter Es when she sang way back in 1981, "It's a mystery".

Toyah Wilcox in 2021 (Photo Andrew D. Hurley, Wikimedia Commons)

It seems to me that lots of people think they have the answer to these mysteries. They speak with great authority about what causes Es, but they cannot make any reasonably accurate prediction about when or where it might happen. I know for a fact that I don't know the answers to this. I have no idea what bears do in the woods either.

Anyway, Winter Es struck here from 3 to 9 January. 11 countries and 27 squares were worked on 50MHz, plus a couple on 70MHz.

QSOs on 50MHz at GM4FVM 3 to 9 January 2023

A local amateur mentioned to me that there had been no "Christmas Es" in 2022. I said that I had 32 QSOs, but it happened from 3 to 9 January. He had missed it because he believed in the name "Christmas Es". I fact Winter Es is a much better name. In my experience it can happen at any time over a 6 or 7 week period between early December and mid January, and all of it single hop around Europe.

Most of the openings coincided exactly with high K numbers. On one day the K number was low but there was a sudden increase in X-Ray radiation from the Sun. I must keep a watch on the X-Ray and proton figures from the Sun as these were the original numbers I used to monitor. I think I am concentrating too much on K-numbers these days.

Meanwhile, I accidentally generated an image of all the 50MHz contacts in my logbook since I moved here over 12 years ago. This is not everything as it may not include some paper logbook era contacts which did not get entered unless somebody asked for a QSL card. However it looks interesting, to my eye anyway.

QSOs on 50MHz at GM4FVM 23 February 2010 to 9 January 2023

2941 QSOs, of which 3 were CW, 150 phone and 2788 data - quite a lot PSK31 and JT65. That is one QSO every 1.6868723099 days. I worked 458 squares in 85 countries, and the best DX was JG1TSG at 9285km. I can see now how the Brazilian stations was a shorter distance than the Mexican one. Nothing in South America beyond that grazing blow in Brazil. Nothing in East Asia apart from Japan.

My 6m operations are maybe a bit odd. I only really look at 50MHz outside the main Summer Es season. Over the years have only I tried to run a reasonable antenna and anything above 100W for a few months. Right now I am using the Diamond 2 element HB9CV and 100W.

One contact amongst the thousands which attracted my attention today was the one into Chad on 20 October 2022. This was during the Trans Equatorial Propagation peak. Quite a few UK stations worked TT8SN then too, and they also worked various West and Southern African stations. 

GM4PMK magnetometer as seen at GM4FVM on 20 October 2022.

It was a rise in the K number that got me interested on 20 October 2020, but I was not expecting to work Chad. 

As usual I could see stations on PSK Reporter in Italy and up to Southern England working TEP, but as a rule it never reaches the English Midlands never mind Scotland. Not sure if this was Es linking into TEP, but there was a high K number at the time. DX outside Europe in October represents something I have not seen before.

Contact between GM4FVM and TT8SW on 20 October 2022.

I see that I was also hearing ZS6WAB at the same time. That would have been 9358km and a new DX record for me as well as a new country and square. ZS6NK was also audible but I could not work either of the South Africans, though other GMs did achieve this.

It seems pretty clear to me that this could not simply be TEP. For a start, TT8SN is geographically in the Northern Hemisphere. TEP does not work by the geographical equator but by the geomagnetic equator which swings to the north of Chad. The idea is that each station will be arranged at roughly equal distances north and south of the geomagnetic equator. But I am far further north than this. Maybe ZS6WAB is closer to being equally placed, but I am still further north than the right distance. Anyway, I DID NOT WORK ZS6WAB, though I did hear him. Grrr.

One of the reasons why stations as far north as me do not work TEP is because there simply is no landmass in the "right" place. Even with the tilt of the geomagnetic equator to the north, an equidistant point south of the geomagnetic equator for me would probably be in the ocean somewhere south of Cape Town. Thus I see South African stations on PSK Reporter working into France. It is possible to work TEP at an angle to the equator in which case the south of South America comes into range, but by then the distance involved means that the already weak signals would be lost in the noise.

So what is the explanation for this? Well I can only hazard a couple of guesses. First, I can probably rule out normal Es, as this was October. In October any Es which there is usually single hop. So I do not hear, say, the Canary Islands which I can work during the Summer on multi-hop Es, but not in October. Secondly I can probably rule out TEP in TT8SN's case as I am far too far north to be equidistant for him. In the cases of ZS6NK and ZS6WAB that would be more possible but I have never seen anything like that before. So I am left with assuming that this was Es, encouraged by the high K number, linking into TEP, possibly somewhere over France or Spain. OR, and this seems a bit bonkers, F-layer propagation.

Could there have been some F-layer propagation? Probably not, but then the sun spot number has been surprisingly high. If so, will there be more?

So my current assumption is that it is Es linking into TEP. On what grounds? I cannot think of any other plausible explanation, which does not mean that there are no other plausible explanations. 

TT8SN stands out as being an odd contact. Of course 50MHz activity, and any activity, is low across Africa. But 2941 contacts and only one on Central or Southern Africa shows how unusual this was. The hundreds of contacts of similar distances were ALL made during the Summer. This one was in October. 

In fact, this is unique for me to work anywhere in the world outside Europe on 50MHz in October.

Unusual. Is a simple antenna and 100W the right way to try to do this again?

73 Jim GM4FVM

Monday, 12 December 2022

My absence

 Ooops. Sorry I have not posted anything since August.

I have been back down the A1 for another operation at the Spire Hospital in Washington.

GM4FVM with many added painkillers at the Spire Hospital Washington (again)

As I have mentioned before here, this was a gearbox change and it involved a full knee replacement.

I had fondly thought that this type of operation would not really affect my radio activities much. Sure, it was painful but what would stop me sitting at my desk using the radio?

ANSWER:- Hamstring and quadriceps muscles take along time to get better.

To begin with I could not sit in the shack at all. Even now, more than three months later, I cannot sit in the shack for too long.

All is not lost though. Lately I have been able to participate in a few contests, for a few hours at least.

Also thanks to various people who have accompanied me to events, I have been able to attend some gatherings.

I can operate the radio now and things are gradually getting better. 

At first I could get about thanks to a stick. Now I can do without the stick for most of the time. However the stick helps to get a seat on the bus.

GM4FVM on a bus in Edinburgh (possibly an image on wall beside GM4FVM himself). Photo MrsFVM.

Hopefully soon I will be back in full operation.



Tuesday, 30 August 2022

Another high quality piece of engineering from GM4FVM

As Homer and Marge Simpson once sang in a duet ...

"Do a half assed-job -- it's the American way"

Most US products I have are quite well made, so I doubt if that is true.

However, I am following one of Homer Simpson's examples when it comes to warning lights.

Homer used to be bothered by the warning lamp on his car dashboard. So he cut off a piece of insulating tape and stuck it over the warning. After that he could drive about untroubled.

When I made control boxes for my sequencers I ran out of green LED panel lights. These simply show that power is heading for the masthead preamp, but they are very useful for fault finding. Really, they should be green, but when I ran out of green ones I used red ones, and then I ran out of red ones too.

Solution - repurpose an LED lamp intended for a non-radio project. Sadly this was white and very bright, even from the back of the shelving where these things live. 

I made a note to put a higher value resistor in circuit to get the illumination level down a bit.

Fast forward to now and I have other things to do. So I have adopted the Homer Simpson solution. I have stuck a piece of red insulating tape over the white LED. Wonderful. I now have a pleasant low intensity red glow. 

Homer used opaque black tape, I used slightly transparent red wonder tape so that some light might escape. I have finessed his great idea.

1296MHz sequencer at GM4FVM now with red insulating tape "lens"
I have of course done a full risk-assessment of this user-initiated modification of a user designed and built module. There seems to be no apparent heat present which might shorten the life of the adhesive on the new "colourised self-attached lens substitute" as I now call it. I do not have a full data sheet on the red tape, but as I have had that tape for about 15 years I think it can be used under "grandfather rights". The critical fail state would occur if the tape falls off and the corrective action would be to stick in back on again. The critical consequences of failure would appear to be quite small.

If it does fail I can always take it back to the Maplin shop in Dalry Road in Edinburgh and get my money back [it closed years ago Jim].

I suppose I could trim the tape up to precisely fit the LED surround. Hey, that is a further task to be scheduled for some time in the future.

What a pity that I had already used up all the green tape in that Maplin package. Maybe I should nip down to Edinburgh (2 hours each way in the bus) and buy some more.

Now, off for my next challenging job.



Monday, 22 August 2022

Sporadic E and geomagnetic storming.

This is what Solarham (see sidebar for a link) stated:-

"Geomagnetic Field and Aurora - Past 24 hours : Storm."

This suggests to me that an aurora is possible though there was no enhanced propagation of that type noted at GM4FVM. There were however some auroral contacts by stations to the east of me.

This is what I have termed in the past a "geomagnetic disturbance short of an aurora". And frankly these are the ones I am really interested in.

What there was turned out to be a lot of Sporadic E propagation.

Once again this posting is about the close correlation between disturbed solar conditions and enhanced Sporadic E events. I say "once again" as that was the theme behind eleven postings on this site dating back to 2015. You cannot say I have not been banging the drum about the fact that I use sites like Solarham, NOAA and NASA to predict likely Es openings, and then I switch to the magnetometers of the Norwegian stack, GM4PMK and STEREO to monitor the events as they unfold (links in sidebar). 

One of these postings, in 2017, was titled "Using aurora warnings to predict Es". I think it is clear what I am doing. Meanwhile my national society the RSGB continues to bleat on about Jet Streams and make predictions based on terrestrial weather which simply miss entire events.

Therefore you may already have noted that for years and years I have been pointing out that Es is often to found when there is geomagnetic disturbance. You may already be bored by this. Still, here I go again with an even bigger and more conspicuous set of events.

During the peak Es season, say in June, it is not easy for me to see the link because there is just too much Es around which may hide the opening. On the other hand during the least Es activity, say during February, increased activity on the Sun may not open a band which is firmly closed. 

As radio amateurs what we are hoping for at other times is for enough energy to be imparted to "push the ionosphere into producing a Sporadic E opening". My words.

I often see these openings most clearly during the shoulders of the season. April and early May plus late August and September. That is when I believe that geomagnetic storms show that they can produce unexpected Es. At other times it is no so clear but I have posted occasions when I noted that it happened.

There was no Es worked here between 11 August and 17 August. No Sporadic E here at all for a week. The Es season seemed well and truly over.

Then on 18 August a geomagnetic storm reached us, which in my book indicates that Es may be just around the corner. Solarham had issued a warning well in advance.

It is difficult to work out which day the results of the coronal mass ejection might arrive and a second event warning was issued the following day - actually a multi-event warning.

So there were in fact several events on the sun which sent mass ejections earthwards. They generally pass first with a shockwave and then later with a geomagnetic storm which I believe set off the Sporadic E events.

The following image from the GM4PMK magnetometer show the first storm followed by the second shockwave.

GM4PMK magnetometer readings for 18 August 2022

What I would have expected during a period when the planetary index reached K5 as seen here would be an Es event. And here it is as seen at GM4FVM:-

50MHz contacts at GM4FVM on 18 August 2022

My first contact was at 13:09 but it really started to hot up at 19:05 and continued to 20:23. 9H1TX was a new DXCC on 50MHz and a new square for me. After the shockwave I decided to pack it in as that seemed to have ended the event, but I expected things to carry on the next day, which turned out to be the case.

I started on the 19th at 06:00 and the contacts continued until 09:47.

Here is the map of contacts on 6m for both days:-

50MHz contacts at GM4FVM on 18 and 19 August 2022

So in a period less than 24 hours I worked 43 stations on 6m, in 36 squares and 14DXCC. ODX was SV3AUW in KM17 at 2770km.

The PMK magnetometer did not show much effect on 19th but the ionisation from the previous day seemed to continue. Perhaps one of the clearest signals of what what happening was given by Solarham which showed the planetary index at K5 coinciding with the times of the opening.

Solarham storm warning and K index on 17 to 19 August.

It seems to me that Sporadic E openings like this are more likely to be related to geomagnetic storm conditions than purely to the K number. Of course those two are closely related but from what I have observed disturbed conditions seem more likely to produce Es than even strong but steady streams heading from the Sun. The proton and X-ray recordings also seem very reliable indicators of useful events on the horizon, as shown in previous postings.

So what causes Sporadic E?

Nobody really knows.

The ARRL handbook refers to possible metallic particles in the E layer and to wind shear. It seems likely to me that the particles become ionised under the influence of solar streams and form a layer located by the Earth's magnetic field. Once suspended it seems inevitable that movements in the atmosphere below the fixed layer (wind shear) will organise and enhance the layer. That is what I make of the ARRL handbook's explanation and it seems to make sense to me.

Reference to metallic particles is sometimes linked in the literature to these molecules having their origin in meteors. This theory does not relate to the ionisation created when we amateurs use scatter propagation during meteor showers. There appears to be no link between meteor showers and Sporadic E. The particles possibly implicated in Es are likely to be from the random accretion of material by the Earth which becomes ionised and formed into the E layer by the processes set in train by the geomagnetic disturbance. That is if meteoric material is involved at all - this seems to be speculation (like so much about Es).

During the peak Summer season there is enough ionisation in the ordinary course of events produced by UV and other radiation for openings to occur regularly. I see a pattern that during the Autumn and Spring geomagnetic disturbances can produce enough additional ionisation to cause periodic openings when otherwise things are quiet.

And as predicted on Solarham  on 17 August, the arrival of several solar steams over a number of days was likely to produce several openings as this table shows:-

Solarham forecast for 3 days plus results for previous days.

The pattern of raised K number shows a close correlation with my log book. Es occurred when the K level rose to 4 or 5.

I cannot continue to report on the events of these repeated disturbances so I will summarise the four days up to the end of play on 21 August. During those four days I completed 100 QSOs into 25 DXCC and 72 squares, compared to the previous four days when the total was zero. That was just on 6m, I worked some on 4m too. Before that there was a week with no Es here. Once the event is over, be it today or another day, no doubt there will be a week with no Es, and geomagnetic activity will eventually subside. In my mind that means 6m Es is closely related to geomagnetic activity.

I have been posting about these openings being related to geomagnetic disturbances on this blog for years. It has stopped surprising me and now I use the signs as predictors. I do not use the other much touted "predictions" produced by the great and good of our hobby, largely because I find that they do not work.

I believe that Sporadic E is caused by a combination of many factors so a simple explanation may never be found. This mechanism seems to have some effect, but I am pretty sure that it is only part of the story. However, I cannot ignore the coincidence of these events and this result:-

50MHz contacts at GM4FVM 18 to 21 August 2022

It is not certain exactly how this works, so I just accept that it does. However, one thing I am pretty sure of. Earth wind systems such as the Jet Stream seem to have no relation to Es openings as seen from GM4FVM. I have looked into the Jet Stream theory for a long time and whilst there may be some connection it looks to me that Jet Streams have no "cause and effect" relationship with Es and have no part to play in their predictability. On the other hand, I got the first warning of these openings on 14 August. That satisfies me that, at least in Spring and Autumn, keeping a watch on disturbed solar conditions is a good guide to finding Sporadic E openings.



GM4FVM and Aurora

Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Now That's What I Call A Tropo Opening (Number 115)!!

Hot on the heels of the Es opening, along came a Tropo one.

With the UK experiencing a long hot dry spell, another high pressure system arrived from the Atlantic to cause more scorched grass at GM4FVM.

As predicted in the last posting, where I reported DX in the shape of hearing Belfast Coastguard again, even more DX came along with the first reporting here of Holyhead Coastguard in Wales. Ah, a new ... well ... whatever you call VHF marine band DX. And for a time the entire VHF marine band was filled with Danish and Norwegian coast stations which are a bit harder for me to identify.

Amateur radio was also the beneficiary of all this enhanced propagation. Things had hardly begun when the RSGB UKAC 432MHz contest took place on 9 August. Conditions were a bit better than normal but my time at the microphone was limited and I worked only six stations. Maybe only six, but they were stronger than usual.

Dick, GM4PPT in IO75 asked "where have you been?", the answer to which should have been "hiding behind the Southern Uplands range of hills". The path between here and PPT is very tricky even though it is only 153km. My log, which is not very accurate when it comes to contests, suggests that it is eight years since I worked Dick, and it takes a lift to make it possible on 70cms. 

Contest ODX was as GI6ATZ in IO74 at 296km. Notable was a strong signal from GM4TOE in IO87 at 200km. Although I regularly work Barry on 1296MHz, this appears to be the first time I have ever worked him on 70cm. So things were a bit better on the evening of 9 August and everything in the pressure charts pointed to the next few days being open to possibilities.

By 10 August the 144MHz band as seen on PSK Reporter was beginning to look more like 80m:-

144MHz as seen on PSK Reporter at 20:38 on 10 August 2022

Over the four day period of the lift the bands opened in different directions on each day. For this purpose though I am looking at the whole period as one opening.

144MHz contacts at GM4FVM 10 to 14 August 2022

This is a pretty presentable set of results - 28 QSOs in 18 squares. 8 DXCC on 2m in four days is not shabby. The ODX of SM6BUN at 1028km in JO78 is good. Perhaps because I am getting used to fantastic results then just very good ones do not excite me as much. Let me just say that these days if I do not work SP or OM in an opening like this I feel a bit let down. That is crazy of course. This opening was characterised by lots of contacts over four days, other ones have fewer contacts and shorter durations, but they have better ODX. You cannot win them all, though I would like to.

Perhaps the results on 2m were influenced by the fact that I was concentrating on 70cms.

432MHz contacts at GM4FVM 10 to 14 August 2022

I spent more time on the 70cm band, and the result is that the map looks very like the 2m one. The openings covered the period of the "Euro FT8 contest" on 70cm as well as the RSGB UKAC 70cm FT8 contest too. That helped, but most QSOs were outside the contest. The contest certainly increased the QSO numbers to 59, as several stations worked me a second time during the Euro contest (and one three times to include the RSGB Contest too). Then there were several QSOs with G0BIX testing various things which brought up the totals again.

As is often the case during a tropo opening, ducts formed. Sometimes these can be long lasting, and sometimes very short lived indeed. The ducts create very strong signals in both directions but they are usually limited to small areas at each end of the path.

As an example of a powerful short lived duct here is a screenshot of my contact with PA3FWV on 11 August. I called CQ, and after the first call PA3FWV came back to me. We exchanged reports at +19 and +23dB.

Contact between GM4FVM and PA3FWV on 11 August 2022

I had heard nothing from PA3FWV before calling CQ. I have heard nothing from him since. I only heard him during three 15 second transmissions which were all during that one QSO at +19, +20 and +20. I have never heard him during any other lift. He had never heard me before. This was his first GM contact on 70cms. So this duct made possible a contact at very considerable strength between two stations who have no history of being able to work on 70cms, even during previous routine tropo lifts. 

I had not worked a station for 15 minutes before the contact with PA3FWV - that was SM6VTZ - and I did not work another one for 15 minutes afterwards - that was PA9R which gave me a -19dB report. The contact with PA3FWV stood out as a real indicator of the power of a tropo duct. It was completely out of character with the rest of the opening, as ducts so often are.

It would not be a tropo lift for me these days if it did not involve 23cm.

1296MHz contacts at GM4FVM 10 to 14 August 2022

Six QSOs, five squares, three DXCC, and an ODX to OZ2ND in JO46 or 690km. OZ1FF chipped in with a not inconsiderable 612km. You might think that is pedestrian but I loved it. I always say that raising operations to a higher band doubles the points for each QSO. And "points mean PRIZES" (whatever that means).

As so often on 23cm, OZ2ND and F5APQ are my targets. 690 and 605km on 23cm are quite respectable distances. Of course, when I started on 1296MHz I never expected to get anywhere near that far.

The path to Niels Erik is pretty straight forward - across the North Sea.

Path to OZ2ND from GM4FVM

On the other hand, reaching Jacques, F5APQ, is a lot more difficult
Path to F5APQ from GM4FVM

As usual you can click on any of the images to enlarge if you need to.

To get to F5APQ my signal has to pass over the headland near me, over the Northumberland Hills, across a stretch of sea past Sunderland, then over high peaks via the North York Moors, over the Humber Estuary, then over hills separated by The Wash, finally crossing the English Channel to France. This is a far more complex route than crossing the North Sea but not so far either. Or maybe the path to Jacques is just as long because it is indirect (see paragraphs below)

So working these two station make up two different challenges. The longer distance to Niels Erik is the easier to do, and I work him more often. Working Jacques is quite a task and although it happens less often it is just as pleasing when I can do it. While the hills to F5APQ are all under 400m, the route is bumpy and more obstructed than the flatness of the North Sea. Both tasks have their own issues and I enjoy hearing either station. To work both is a real pleasure.

Another anomaly which affected both 70cm and 23cm is that several station reported was that beam headings were not what we would usually expect. This may explain how it is possible for me to work F5APQ despite the difficult terrain. G0BIX on 70cm, G4ODA on 23cm and F5APQ (both bands) reported getting the strongest signals when beaming further East than expected i.e. towards the North Sea. This was at times when fog and Haar were being seen over the North Sea at GM4FVM, and strong Continental marine stations being received on VHF. 

Clearly it is possible at times to avoid the hilly overland paths (such as the one to F5APQ?) and find a longer but stronger path (reflection or duct or some other scatter mechanism?) by beaming towards a high pressure system off the main path. I knew this might be a factor on 23cm but I never expected it to work on 70cm. I need to learn more about this and try it more often.

The trick, it seems, may be not to beam towards a station when I hear it. My natural tendency is to assume that the direct path will be the strongest. I have had to learn that this is not necessarily the case with meteor scatter, and maybe not during tropo lifts either. 

And then it was over. Atmospheric pressure at GM4FVM started to fall. Rain fell to the benefit of the fruit and vegetables in the garden and to the detriment of radio conditions. Everything returned to normal. If it was not for normal I would never appreciate a lift.

The balance of activity I get by running both low VHF (50 and 70MHz) for Sporadic E etc. and high VHF, UHF and low SHF (2m, 70cm and 23cm) for tropo etc., means that there is often something happening. If you throw in my occasional EME activity then I usually have something to do, or something is about to happen.

This year I have hardly been present during the Perseids meteor shower. I have had a few contacts on 70MHz, particularly to Mek LA/SP7VC, but more on Mek in a later post. I even briefly ventured onto 2m meteor scatter when I heard DH8BQA. In general though I have been busy elsewhere.

That is it for now. Tropo followed Es. Time for aurora to follow Tropo? Or maybe an F layer opening to Australia on 6m?

73 Jim GM4FVM

Tuesday, 9 August 2022

Now That's What I Call Sporadic E! (Number 113)

Or should that title be, "Now That's What I Call an Obscure Cultural Reference To A Music Album! (Number 114)" ???

There was a nice Es opening here on 6 and 7 August.

Contacts on 70MHz at GM4FVM on 6 and 7 August 2022

That looks like a pretty good haul to me, considering that it was completed in just over 26 hours. That was 30 QSOs in 26 hours, whereas it took me 37 days to make my first 30 70MHz QSOs in 1977. There were only 10 callsigns in those 37 days back then because we used to work each other a lot [that's because there was no other activity then Jim]. We did not have the Maidenhead square system then either, but I guess that all of those 1977 contacts would have been in one square or two at the most. But we were happy.

Anyway, returning to the real world of modern communications, 30 QSOs on 70MHz, 26 squares in 11 countries. ODX LZ1ZP in KN22 at 2455km. Nice enough, but what makes this opening special?

Well, seven of those QSOs were made between 20:50 and 21:30. Working DX on 4m during night time Es is pretty usual, and my beam was swinging around all over the place. OH3NE is 1605km to the North East, LZ1ZP is 2455km to the South East and they were worked with minutes of each other. Sure, I have heard 4m Es at night, but usually only one or two stations on or near the same beam heading.

I eventually went to bed in a huff on 6 August with the bands still open. I called an SV station on 4m but we did not get a completed QSO finished. Then the big guns started working him and I decided to call it a day. Hey, I had worked him before. I was really quite surprised to find things still underway early on 7 August and I worked some more to the East before some solar activity triggered an aurora and Es vanished.

During all this I was paying attention to 50MHz as always, but I did not have enough resources to try to do much. The QRO guys were working the US and Canada, and there were some contacts over to the West Coast of America. Not for me though, of course.

In fact I only worked one station on 50MHz during those two days [one station - this had better be good Jim].

The only 50MHz contact at GM4FVM on 6 and 7 August 2022

JX/LB4MI on Jan Mayen caused a bit of a stir on 6m. He was on CW on 6 August but I missed a chance to work somebody then at a keying speed I could probably just about match. Then on 7 August he re-appeared on FT8 on 50.305. I was pleased to work him though Jan Mayen is not really very far away. I believed that he was in IQ50 square, but his QSL confirms that he was in IQ51. A new square for me then.

Yes, I have worked Jan Mayen before. However, I had never worked IQ51. At the time when I thought he was in IQ50 I worked him as the previous QSO had been on SSB. It made for a new "data square" - now you probably never heard of data squares before and neither did I. But the info about the square on KST turned out to be wrong. Who would have thought that info on KST could be wrong.

When I looked up the squares it turned out the original info would have had him in the sea, whereas the QSL square shows him halfway up the rather mountainous central section of the island. I cannot be responsible for where he is, I can just believe the square quoted on the QSL card.

I like that type of Es opening. I love the cut and thrust of it all, stations popping up and then vanishing. Spinning the beam and in this case, enjoying an unusually late night long opening.

I normally think that the harvesting of the very large field beside GM4FVM marks the end of the Es season. Of course the farmer plants the crop to suit himself, and the weather can move it several days either way.

This year even more extraordinary weather meant that the field was harvested on 6 August and baled and cleared on 7 August. After that the bands closed and there has been very little Es.

The harvest is almost a month early this year, and several fields I can see were brought in a week earlier still. This has been a very dry and at times extremely hot Summer. Global heating is a fact (the thermometers do not lie). What is causing it is open to some debate. I like a debate but that one is not for here.

Bringing in the Sheaves? The crop was got in, baled and cleared in 24 hours.

No, this surely cannot be the end of the Es season. Can it? Some wag suggested that we now have two Es seasons, one in May and June, and then another one in August. Certainly July was pretty poor and overall I would say we have had a fairly quiet season so far.

Let us hope that there is life in this this year yet. And maybe there will be some tropo on the higher bands soon - I heard Belfast Coastguard today - real DX!



Wednesday, 3 August 2022

Sirio Tornado 50MHz 6 metre vertical plus my stolen identity.

First of all I have updated my official shack photo. I did this because someone was coming to visit and I thought I should tidy up a bit for that reason. So for once in half a decade I could take a photo of the tidy (or at least more tidy) shack.

Latest gory image of GM4FVM and his shack.

What is male pattern baldness is a sign of?

Now there are few things as good as someone whose views you respect and value coming to see your shack and saying things about it. More on that visit in some later posting.

Anyway, this updated photo shows my "new" £30 second hand display PC screen, a Nikon slide scanner plus my keyboard and screen used for work. Also there are Wallace and Gromit looking down on me, and a photo of Mrs FVM which I printed back to front (seen in the mirrors in the background it is now the right way round).

We still wonder why the previous owner of this house made a wall of her bedroom with mirrors, but I kept them as there are shelves behind now with radio gear in them now.

Also in the corner of the shelving is an Icom IC-705. The existence of an IC-705 at GM4FVM has never been admitted to before. That also will need to await a further posting before more details can be disclosed.

Three SWR/power meters have appeared in place of the Wavenode. For now the Wavenode has been put into isolation while I decide whether I like it or not. Maybe it will come back and the SWR meters will disappear instead. 

Just peeking over the top of the screens is the Tajfun 1000 2m/70cm linear. Do I need a linear as powerful as that? Probably not, but it is a wonderful thing.

The new photo proves what GM4FVM actually looks like. I need to point out that I am not the person with the same name who came 16th in the 2022 Commonwealth Games Triathlon. Nor these namesakes:

the 38th Governor of Illinois,

the guy who writes the books about cats and,

the international squash player. 

I am the person in the photo above and not these others.


Not GM4FVM (too much hair)



My destiny is not to put back up my heavy dual feed 6m/4m yagi (see last posting). However, I really do not like the lightweight single coax sleeve fed Vine which is up there. So what to do?

I have consulted widely amongst my elders and betters (plus some youngers and betters) and the they all agree that if 4m is one of my key bands then I need my best 4m yagi up. They reckon that the basic idea of the 6m half wave vertical was a good one. So I will do what I can by going back to the previous situation with something better replacing the 6m vertical. 

Enter the Sirio Tornado 50MHz 5/8th vertical!

There are other versions with more sections covering the spectrum from 36MHz up to this one which covers up to 60MHz. The images on some sites show drawings with very short radials - in real life the radials are 1170mm long.

Everything set out and checked complete

The basic construction will be familiar to those using other Sirio products. The elements are made of a base with loading coil, two aluminium alloy sections which are attached together and to the base with self tapping screws, and a top section which slides to adjust the antenna to resonance. This top section is held by a "hose clamp" (Jubilee Clip to UK readers), and the lower section is cut to allow it to grip once the clip is tightened. The tubular alloy radials are held in place with grub screws, for which a Hex Key (= Allen Key) is provided. So far so good.

I built the antenna low down where I could adjust it. Setting the length to 3800mm seemed ideal for me and no further adjustments were needed. I tested it with my antenna analyser and it showed an SWR of 1:1 at the bottom of the band, 1.2:1 at 50.300, and it stayed below 2:1 right up to 51.700MHz. Having thus tested it, I was ready to waterproof it and get it aloft.

Not bad on the YouKits analyser, even close to the ground.

Basic waterproofing is ensured by plastic push-on covers on the top section and one on each of the four radials. My 4m Sirio J-pole died when rain water got into it, passed through the PL259 plug, and ran along the inside of the coax. Losing the 4m antenna was bad enough, but losing the coax was expensive. The design of the 4m antenna has since been changed by Sirio but that experience made me fussy about waterproofing. Some time ago I decided to bind my 10m half wave and 5/8ths Sirio Gainmasters up at the joints using self amalgamating tape. This 6m antenna has received the same treatment.

The only problem I encountered was that the PL259 compression plug on this coax was too wide to fit into the weather shield which surrounds the socket. This plug is milled round the outer diameter. I ended up having to screw the plug in using a 19mm spanner. This strong-arm tactic distorted the cover but it was successful in tightening the plug. This is probably due to the type of plug I used. That area then got some self amalgamating tape too.

Milled edge on plug got stuck in the cover. It had to be forced in with a spanner

I am not a great fan of the mounting bracket which is supplied. It relies on four dimples on each side of a plate between the pole and the base of the antenna to locate them while a U-bolt clamps them together. There are two of these brackets. I would prefer a more solid fixing with each pole firmly fixed but I suppose this saves weight. I have better ones in my box of brackets but for now this will do. We shall see how it works in the Scottish winds. It is not likely to fall down, but maybe it could get blown off vertical.

Bracket does not inspire confidence.

Final step was to get it into the air. I had a two metre pole for this but given the weight of the antenna, the unknown strength of the fixings into the house and my rather reduced climbing ability just now, I used a 1 metre pole instead. There is a loop of coax there to get it higher but not just yet. 

It went up fairly easily. Not an easy thing to photograph against the sky. As usual click the image to enlarge if you are having problems seeing it.

Sirio Tornado ready to use at GM4FVM
When I put up the half wave I said that would put an end to my cross-Atlantic capabilities. I then went and worked cross-Atlantic with it. Theoretically the 5/8ths should give one more dB of gain (wow!). Of course the half wave did not need radials and was lighter. It has to be said though that the half wave seems to have corroded itself to pieces. I think that the Sirio should stand up to the weather better.

Just out of curiosity I decided to try to work some stations around Europe on 6m to see how I got on. When I tried that on the 6m half wave I forgot and worked EA8 on 4m on it instead. This time I managed to stick to the right band (the Sirio has a 8:1 SWR on 4m but that would not necessarily stop me ...). Anyway this was what I managed.

50MHz contacts at GM4FVM on 1 and 2 August 2022 using Sirio Tornado and 100W

This was a nice way to spend just over 24 hours (but only 3 hours 12 minutes actual contact time). 23 QSOs in 22 squares, in 9 DXCC. I did not try very hard as it was just a test, but LA, CT etc would have been easy to add. SE3X and TA7OM were new squares for me.

I also used the new Sirio to hear my first station on the 8 metre band. S5/M0MPM in JN75 heard at -11dB on 2 August 2022.

First station heard on 40MHz at GM4FVM.

No TX on 8m from the UK, or not yet. OFCOM apparently refuse to consider it and no doubt the "existing user" wants to hold on to anything they have. I do think however that a few kilohertz for data modes would be easy to allocate. In any case, who wants to use frequencies there these days when microwaves are the way to go. After all, 40MHz has lots of Sporadic E "interference" ...

The Tornado antenna should be ideal for me to work some EU Es on 6m and gather intelligence about band openings. I know that it is not a DX antenna in the sense that I am unlikely to work Brazil, Mexico or Japan as I have done on the beam.

The basic limitation here is that I only have room for four antennas on the rotators. If I use single band antennas then something has to be vertical. For as long as I find 4m, 2m, 70cm and 23cms more deserving of one of the four places each then 6m is going to end up with a second string aerial.

I am looking forward to using this antenna which I think is better than the half wave.

Actually, if the half wave had not failed I would never have changed it so maybe this is a step forward. A week ago I had never heard of it, and now it is in use at GM4FVM.

73 Jim GM4FVM