HF Random Wire Antennas

Resonant antennas have a lot of advantages: they are efficient, impedance matched to your transmitter and require minimal tuning. The main disadvantage of resonant antennas is that they are nearly always only usable over a single frequency band. Non-resonant antennas do not present a match on any band by default, however, they can be easily matched to a wide range of frequencies. One of the most common ways to match a transmitter to a non-resonant antenna is to use a 9:1 UnUn combined with an antenna tuner.

100W Random Wire

I built this version for field use and wanted to make the design as flexible as possible. To this end I built the antenna such that I can easily lengthen it when extra room is available. The default length is 53 feet and the antenna can be extended to 124.5 feet. These lengths were chosen because they are not resonant on any ham band. The 9:1 UnUn for this antenna uses a FT240-K ferrite toroid wound with 18AWG enamel wire. The UnUn is mounted to a DX Engineering Balun Bracket to provide a mounting point and antenna wire strain relief. The antenna extension was made by using two DX Engineering Wire End Insulators that are be bolted together for strain relief and Anderson Powerpoles for the electrical connection of the 14AWG antenna wire. For a counterpoise I made two 50 foot lengths using 24AWG speaker wire. I can also use the shield of the feedline coax and then isolate the antenna from the transmitter using a 1:1 Balun/Choke. I have used this antenna using only the 53 foot section of wire and was able to tune all of HF and made a few contacts using my HF Go Kit, although some bands required adjustment of the counterpoise length in order to be in range of the Yaesu FT-450’s antenna tuner.

QRP Random Wire

After experiencing some success with my high power version I decided to build a QRP version. The QRP 9:1 UnUn uses a FT140-43 ferrite toroid and is wound using 24AWG enamel wire. This combination should easily handle 10 watts. The physical construction of the UnUn itself uses the same strain relief technique as my End Fed Half Wave Matchbox, where 1/8″ acrylic is epoxied to the enclosure used to house the toroid. For this antenna I used 26AWG stranded copperweld and cut it to 29.5 feet with an additional extension to 53 feet. This should allow for quick and easy field deployment using my 31 foot lightweight fiberglass mast. I did some experiments with my QRP transceiver and my QRP Autotuner and was able to tune all of HF using this configuration and two 50 foot counterpoises.

Overall I think these random wire antennas are a good addition to my antenna arsenal. They are not necessarily the best option, however, they are very versatile and can prove useful when a simple multi-band antenna is required.

End Fed Half Wave Antennas

Half wave dipole antennas are generally considered the reference point for all antennas in ham radio, especially on HF. When fed from the center, a dipole makes for an easy impedance match to 50 ohm coax. When fed off-center at an appropriate location (typically the 1/3 point) and fed with a 4:1 balun, the dipole becomes a solid multi-band antenna. Feeding a half wave antenna from the end, however, presents additional challenges because the impedance is in the thousands of ohms. In spite of this, end feeding antennas can be an incredibly convenient configuration because you only need one support (like a tree) and you can easily place your operating position at or very near to the feedpoint of the antenna. This has led to this antenna design to being very popular with portable operators and others who want an antenna that is easy to erect quickly.

QRP Matchbox

While researching this type of antenna I found a couple of blogs (here and here) that have a lot of good information regarding end fed half wave antenna designs. These designs rely on the principles used by the PAR Endfedz which consist of an impedance transformer between the antenna and transmitter as well as a capacitor across the feedpoint. Based on this design I made an impedance transformer using a FT140-43 ferrite toroid (this size toroid is overkill for a QRP application) with 27 turns on the secondary and 3 turns on the primary (24AWG enamel wire). This is then wired such that the start of both the secondary and primary are connected to the coax connection shield. The other side of the primary is connected to the coax center pin. The remaining secondary connection is the attachment point for the antenna. A 150pF is then wired across the coaxial connection. I used a 1000V mica capacitor since very high voltages are present at the feedpoint.

The matchbox was constructed using a 3.25″ x 2.125″ x 1.5″ ABS plastic box and 8-32 stainless steel hardware. To provide strain relief I epoxied a piece of 1/8″ acrylic to the back of the matchbox enclosure. I also made a strain loop at the end of the antenna wire for attachment to the acrylic sheet using an S hook. This allows the acrylic to carry the load of the antenna, not the antenna connection point. I also used pieces of acrylic for the end insulators since it is the perfect material to weave small wire through and lock it in place.

I wanted to experiment with the effectiveness of this matchbox with different antenna designs. I also wanted to test the antennas in a typical field installation configuration; in this case they were erected as a sloper with one end in a tree about 25 feet in the air and the feedpoint about 5 feet off the ground.

40/20 Meter Half-Wave

This antenna is a full size 40 meter half-wave with a tuning stub in the center to adjust the resonance of the antenna as a 20 meter full-wave. The tuning of this antenna was very straightforward; I simply tuned the main element for the center of the 40 meter band and then adjusted the 20 meter stub for the center of the 20 meter band. With the 26AWG stranded copperweld wire that I used the antenna ended up being about 62 feet long with a 2 foot long stub in the center. This antenna exhibits great bandwidth and easily covered both bands with under 2:1 SWR.

40/30 Meter Loaded Half-Wave

This antenna is a full size 30 meter half-wave with a loading coil/choke and tuning stub at the end of the antenna to provide resonance on 40 meters as well. The loading coil/choke consists of 55 turns of 24AWG enamel wire on a piece of 3/4″ PVC pipe. This coil is approximately 47uH of inductance, which should have an impedance of almost 3000 Ohms at 10MHz. The purpose of the coil is to choke off the current flow and electrically shorten the antenna on the 30 meter band while providing the necessary inductance to resonate the full antenna on the 40 meter band since it is shorter than a full half-wave on that band.

Tuning this antenna required a fair amount of trial and error because the 30 meter element and tuning stub length interact and affect the resonance on both bands. I initially trimmed the main element without the loading coil and had a good match with 42.5 feet of wire. After attaching the loading coil and several feet of tuning stub I found that the antenna appeared to be too short for 30 meter resonance and too long for 40 meter resonance. Eventually after several trimmings I found that a stub length of about 3 feet resulted in the 30 and 40 meter resonances tracking each other when I adjusted the length of the main element. I then added wire to the main element until I achieved a good match on both bands, in this case a main element of 48 feet works well. 30 meters is a narrow band and this antenna easily covers the entire band with under 2:1 SWR. Because of the loading coil, this antenna does not exhibit particularly high bandwidth on 40 meters, however, the purpose of this antenna is for QRP digital operation which does not involve a lot of tuning around, so it was trimmed to provide the best match at the low end of 40 meters and should have plenty of bandwidth for PSK and JT65 operation.

100W Matchbox

After my successful experiments with the QRP matchbox I wanted to build a more robust version for higher power applications. This requires the use of thicker gauge wire and a larger toroid to handle the higher currents and and more powerful magnetic fields. In this case I used 18AWG enamel wire wound on a FT240-43 ferrite toroid, which should easily handle 100 watts of power. A 27:3 turns ratio was used again as well as the same 150pF 1000V mica capacitor. I mounted the completed toroid in a 4″ x 4″ x 2″ NEMA 4X box and mounted it to a DX Engineering Balun Bracket. For the antenna connection I used 10-32 stainless steel hardware.

80/40 Meter Loaded Half-Wave

This antenna is constructed similarly to the 40/30 meter version described above. This time, however, the loading coil consists of 67 turns of 20AWG enamel wire on a piece of 1″ PVC pipe. This coil has an inductance of about 66uH which is required to achieve an appropriate amount of current choking at 7MHz. For strain relief I used 1/4″ Lexan sheet to make the connection points for the antenna and coil wires. I then epoxied the Lexan to the PVC coil form and bolted the connections using 10-32 stainless steel hardware.

I found this antenna to be easier to tune than the 40/30 meter version. This is most likely due to the larger difference in frequency ratio between the 80 and 40 meter bands vs the 40 and 30 meter bands. After trimming I found that a main element length of about 67 feet gave a good match across the 40 meter band. As anticipated this antenna has a limited amount of bandwidth on the 80 meter band (about 90KHz). I decided to construct a way around this by adding a tuning stub to the end of the 80 meter section to allow for adjustment of which portion of 80 meters I wanted to operate in. Since the primary usage of this antenna would be for field deployment and emergency communications I would most likely need to be able to use it in the digital portion of the band (3.583MHz or so) as well as the higher end of the band (3.983-3.99MHz) where the ACS nets in my area take place. After some experimentation I found that the antenna was resonant in the voice section I wanted with an 80 meter stub 9 feet in length. I then made an additional 3 foot length of wire that I can add to the end using Anderson Powerpoles that shifts the resonance of the antenna to the digital portion of the band. This allows me to easily change the section of the 80 meter band I want to use by simply adding or removing this small section of wire. This additional wire has a very minimal effect on the 40 meter resonance of the antenna (around 10KHz) and does not prevent the antenna from achieving an SWR of under 2:1 across the entire band whether it is installed or not.

I did a few side by side comparisons between this antenna and my 80 meter loop skywire. My first comparison involved observing the signal strength when listening to the local ACS net on 80 meters. I found that I could copy everyone easily with the end fed half-wave, however, they were generally an S-unit or two weaker than with my loop. This was as expected since the end fed is both lower and smaller than the loop. I also made a QSO on 40 meter SSB using 100W and got a good signal report from the station I contacted in Michigan (about 300 miles away). Overall I think this antenna is a very solid semi-compromise antenna for field use and will definitely be part of my HF Go Kit going forward.

Elecraft T1 QRP Autotuner Kit

img_0841In the months since I completed my mcHF SDR transceiver kit, I have thought about building a QRP antenna tuner to go along with it. After some investigating I came across the Elecraft T1 which is available assembled or as a kit and can handle 10W of continuous power. While I have never owned any Elecraft gear, they have a very good reputation and several people in my ham radio club swear by their equipment. The kit looked like a fun project and a perfect match for my QRP gear so I decided to order one.

img_0842The kit took about a 4.5 hours to complete. The included instructions are very detailed and do a good job of emphasizing critical parts of the build. The biggest issues arise in regard to several components that need to be mounted in a very specific way in order for the case to fit properly. The circuit boards are fairly tightly packed, but anyone with good soldering experience should have no problem assembling this kit.

img_0844img_0843The finished product is very compact and incredibly simple to operate. I really appreciate that the instructions are printed on the front label in case you forget. So far I have used it to tune a couple different antennas of various designs and it performs very well. It finds matches quickly and the relays aren’t annoyingly loud like some autotuners. I look forward to getting a lot of use out of this and my mcHF.

Manual Antenna Tuner

Manual Tuner (10)Manual Tuner (9) Automatic antenna tuners are incredibly convenient devices. They also require power, interface cables, and many have a limited impedance matching range. Manual tuners, on the other hand, feature a simple design and can have a very wide matching range.

Manual Tuner (6)Manual Tuner (4)After deciding that I wanted to build a T-match type of tuner, I needed to find some high voltage air variable capacitors. I looked around at what was available and found this great pre-made assembly that features two 22-360pF variable capacitors (rated for 1kV) and a 12 position rotary switch (rated for 5A). This should be able to handle 100W when properly matched. After deciding on this component I selected an 8″ x 6″ x 3.5″ aluminum enclosure for the tuner.

Manual Tuner (2)The next part of the tuner is the inductor. In order to make use of the 12 position rotary switch I needed to make a coil with taps. I also had to keep the coil relatively small so that it would fit in the enclosure I was using. After doing some research I found that an inductance of 30-40uH is typical for a T match antenna tuner and should be able to match a good range of impedances from 160M – 10M. K7MEM has a great single layer air core inductor calculator that uses common PVC pipe as a coil form. For the coil I decided to use 18AWG teflon insulated wire since it should be large enough to handle 100W and the teflon insulation is both easy to work with and very heat resistant. Using the calculator I found that 46 turns of wire on a 1.25 inch PVC pipe resulted in a 35uH inductor that would fit nicely in the enclosure.

Manual Tuner (5)To wind the coil I used a ring terminal to secure the starting end and started winding. At every tap point I separated the insulation and soldered a jumper to the exposed wire. Then I continued winding until the next tap point and so on until I finished the coil with another ring terminal. I tapped the coil at turns 2, 4, 6, 8, 12, 16, 20, 24, 30, 36, and 42. The finished coil was then bolted on top of nylon spacers to the enclosure.

Manual Tuner (3)Manual Tuner (1)To finish the tuner I wired the taps in the order they were wound to the rotary switch. The start of the coil should be wired to the point where the variable capacitor rotors are connected together. The end of the coil should be grounded to the enclosure along with the common point on the rotary switch. Each variable capacitor stator is wired directly to the center of a SO-239 connector, one to the input and one to the output of the tuner. Finally, I added a ground stud to the enclosure.

Manual Tuner (8)Manual Tuner (7)When using a tuner of this design it is good to keep in mind that the most efficient match occurs when the capacitance is at a maximum and the inductance is at a minimum. Therefore when adjusting the tuner I always start with the capacitors at close to their maximum setting (fully meshed) and the inductor on the first tap. I then click through the inductor taps until I see a dip on the SWR meter and adjust the capacitors to achieve the lowest SWR I can.

I have used this tuner with a couple different antenna designs and it performs fairly well. When used with various dipoles and other wire antennas I have been able to achieve matches the majority of the time. However, I may need to adjust the design of the coil since it seems that I never make use of the later taps and may not require such a large coil.

Ham Radio EMCOMM Go Kit – Antennas

This is the fourth part of my emergency communications system. The system I am building is intended to be modular. When complete I will have a VHF/UHF station, an HF station, a battery box, an antenna system, and a computer system. Having a bunch of hardware and the power to run it is all fine and good, but if your antennas aren’t capable of getting the signal out all of those radios are useless.

Mast System

Like with my go kits, my first priority was to have a good VHF/UHF antenna system. A magmount on the roof of your car is OK, but for local line-of-sight communications the gain and height of your antenna are very important. I also wanted something that I could easily transport and erect by myself.

Antenna Mast (2)After some investigations I decided to aim for a simple lightweight mast system that I could mount to the trailer hitch on my car. The base for this setup is a hitch mount flagpole mount. For the mast I chose the MFJ 1904H. This mast solves a lot of potential problems for a portable mast system:  it is 5 feet long when collapsed making it easily transportable in my car, it is non conductive and will not interfere with any antennas mounted on it, and despite being made of fiberglass it is fairly sturdy (each tube wall is 1/8″ thick). I don’t intend to heavily load this mast so this should serve my needs well. In order to achieve a tight fit between the flagpole mount and the mast I used a section of 2″ PVC pipe as a spacer. When fully extended the top of the mast is about 21 feet high.

I also purchased a 33 foot version of this mast design from Max-Gain Systems. While this version requires some guying, it allows for considerable more antenna height and consequently performance.

VHF/UHF

Antenna Mast (3)Antenna Mast (1)For the VHF/UHF antenna I chose the Two Way Electronix Dual Band Slim Jim. As someone who uses a J-Pole antenna as my base VHF antenna, I am very familiar with how well these antennas perform. The Slim Jim is a J-Pole made from 450 Ohm ladder line so that it can be rolled up for easy storage and transport. I mount the antenna to the mast using a nylon bolt and wingnut the passes through the insulation at the top of the antenna and a hole drilled in the top fiberglass section. This setup is very light weight and has virtually no wind loading which makes guying the mast unnecessary (under average wind conditions).

HF

For HF I did considerable research regarding what type of antenna is appropriate for emergency communications. A lot of ham radio is focused on making contacts at great distances (DX). This necessitates a low angle of radiation from the antennas being used. For a dipole this means that the antenna should be at least a half wavelength above ground. The most common HF EMCOMM bands are 40 & 80 meters (one half wavelength on 40 meters is about 66 feet, double that for 80 meters). For EMCOMM purposes, however, we only want to communicate within a couple hundred mile radius of our location. This requires a Near Vertical Incident Skywave (NVIS) propagation path. It turns out that this makes our lives a lot easier since a dipole can be used for NVIS when it is mounted much lower than it would typically be. Instead of trying to get a dipole very high, mounting it at 15 feet is ideal for this application. Another benefit of this approach is that at this height the dipole loses almost all of its directionality and is essentially omnidirectional.

Hamsticks

Antenna Mast (4)In an effort to maximize portability and reduce both setup time the footprint of the EMCOMM station I decided to try MFJ’s hamstick dipoles (MFJ-2240, MFJ-2275). These are loaded antennas that use a base section coil wound on a fiberglass rod with a stainless steel whip on the top. While a small loaded antenna will not have the efficiency, or the bandwidth of a full size antenna, it is considerably smaller (15 feet vs 66 & 133 feet). The hamstick dipoles actually perform fairly well. I was able to tune them for the digital portion of the bands and using the antenna tuner in my Icom 703 I can tune either dipole across their entire respective band. The dipoles are also fairly light weight and my fiberglass mast seemed plenty strong enough to support their weight. I would still like to try stacking the dipoles on the mast simultaneously in a cross configuration and seeing if that effects anything.

Folded Skeleton Sleeve Dipole

Field Setup (1)Field Setup (2)After exploring a few different designs I think that my 75/40 meter Folded Skeleton Sleeve Dipole will make an excellent EMCOMM antenna. It is resonant on both bands, making it easy to tune up and operate on the two most common HF bands used during emergencies. It is also over 20 feet shorter than a typical 80 meter dipole, making it somewhat more space efficient.

End Fed Half Wave

Similar to the Folded Skeleton Sleeve Dipole, my 80/40 End Fed Half Wave antenna is resonant on the two most common EMCOMM bands. It is also only 76 feet long (58% of a typical 80 meter dipole) and is quick and easy to deploy as a sloper.

Performance

While I haven’t done much operating with the Hamsticks, I have done a fair amount of testing with the Folded Skeleton Sleeve Dipole and it is a very competent antenna. My Ham Radio club used it during Field Day and made over 350 contacts with this antenna. The End Fed Half Wave is also a solid performer and works quite well for regional communications.

Ham Radio EMCOMM Go Kit – HF – Update

After using my HF Go Kit for a few months I decided that I wanted to treat this as more of a HF Field Kit than a true Go Kit. Part of this evolution was my desire to have a dedicated 100W HF field radio and consequently I decided to disassemble my Go Kit.

HF Kit (1)The Icom 703 is a great little radio, it is also somewhat long in the tooth at this point and can only output 10W maximum. I had heard good things about the Yaesu FT-450D and after seeing sale prices and mail-in rebates drop the price to $600 I decided to buy one. The Yaesu (9”W x 3.3”H x 8.5”D, 8.8 lbs) is larger and heavier than the Icom (6.6″W × 2.3″H × 7.9″D, 4.4 lbs) but is nowhere near as unwieldy as my Kenwood TS-590SG  (10.6″W × 3.8″H × 11.5″D, 16.3 lbs) which serves as my main HF transceiver in my station. For such a compact radio it contains many comparable features to my larger and considerably more expensive Kenwood.

Features

The Yaesu 450D is an entry level transceiver, however, it includes a lot of features that give you considerable bang for your buck.

  • HF/6M Coverage
  • 100W Transmitter
  • IF DSP Filtering (Width, Shift, Contour, Notch, Noise Reduction, etc.)
  • Backlit Buttons (perfect for field use at night)
  • Voice Keyer (perfect for contesting and Field Day)
  • Built-in Antenna Tuner

Field Case

HF Kit (2)To house the Yaesu I used the same Monoprice Weatherproof case I used in the previous HF Go Kit, however, this time I made use of the foam padding. This was mainly done in the name of simplicity and to keep the radio and other equipment secure. Less damage prone items like the power cable can be transported in my backpack. For power I will rely on my Go Kit Battery Box or depending on the event I will also bring a 22A switching power supply separately from the radio. I think that this setup will prove to be much more versatile than my previous one due mainly to the increased capability of the Yaesu 450D which provides many modern conveniences as well as 100W output.

Ham Radio EMCOMM Go Kit – Laptop & Software – Update

Asus (1)After using my Acer Cloudbook for a few months I came to the conclusion that it didn’t quite match with my requirements for a Go Kit laptop. The main reason for this was it’s inability to act as my main station computer due to it’s low performance running Windows 10. The low resolution screen was also a limitation. After some investigating I came across the Asus VivoBook E403A-US21 which looked like a good upgrade in performance, while maintaining the low price and power usage that were the Cloudbook’s main advantages.

Asus (2)Specs

  • CPU – Intel Pentium N3700 (Quad-Core, 1.6 GHz)
  • RAM – 4GB
  • SSD – 128GB
  • Display – 14″ (1920 x 1080)
  • Wireless – Wifi (AC), Bluetooth (v4.0)
  • Ports – USB 3.1 Type C, USB 3.0, USB 2.0, HDMI, Audio
  • SD Card Reader, Webcam, Microphone
  • Battery – 57 Wh
  • Weight – 3.3 lbs
  • Price – $400

Asus (4)Performance

With the extra CPU power and double the RAM of the Cloudbook, the Asus VivoBook easily runs Windows 10 and all of the ham radio applications that I need (N3FJP log, FLDIGI, FLWRAP, FLMSG, FLAMP, WJST-X, etc), which allows me to use it as my main station computer. Consequently, if I need to grab my equipment and hit the road I can just disconnect a couple of cables and take my laptop with me, armed with the knowledge that it is up to date, functional, and that the battery is fully charged. By using one laptop for everything it allows me to not worry about maintaining a secondary machine just for my Go Kit.

Asus (5)Power Usage

The extra power of the VivoBook comes at the expense of power usage when compared to the Cloudbook. Even so this machine is still fairly miserly when it comes to power usage compared to higher powered laptops and is well suited to field use.

  • Idle Maximum Brightness – 8W
  • Idle Minimum Brightness – 6W
  • FLDIGI, FLMSG, FLAMP, File Browser Open, Maximum Brightness – 11W
  • FLDIGI, FLMSG, FLAMP, File Browser Open, Minimum Brightness – 9W
  • Charging Battery – 33W

Overview

Asus (3)The VivoBook is thin and light and the keyboard and touchpad are excellent. It has a good selection of ports and the build quality is very solid for such an inexpensive machine. The increased display resolution is also a huge upgrade over the Cloudbook. The display quality, while better than the Cloudbook is still not very good as was expected for this price range. I was, however, able to improve the color reproduction using my Datacolor Spyder screen calibration tool. Overall this is a fantastic laptop for the money and I am very pleased with how it allows me to simplify my Go Kit setup.

Folded Skeleton Sleeve Antennas

Skeleton Sleeve Dipoles (4)I am always interested in trying different antenna designs, especially if they are simple to construct and provide increased functionality. While perusing some old issues of QST magazine online I found a series of articles that discuss a design called the Folded Skeleton Sleeve. The design is a unique way to build a dual-band resonant dipole or groundplane vertical. The articles appear in the May 2011, October 2011, October 2012, December 2013, and March 2015 issues of QST magazine.

I was particularly interested in this antenna design because a simple resonant dual-band antenna could be very useful for deployment at Field Day or for EMCOMM purposes. Other multi-band antenna designs exist and can perform quite well (windoms, off-center-fed dipoles, G5RVs, non resonant end feds, dipoles fed with window line, etc.), however, these require an antenna tuner to achieve a decent SWR. Other designs, such as trap dipoles, can be heavy and cumbersome with multiple points of failure. The folded skeleton sleeve design exhibits non of these limitations.

Design

Folded Skeleton Sleeve AntennaThe folded skeleton sleeve at first looks like a standard folded dipole, however, the top radiator is not continuous. Two notches are cut along the top of the window line to create the parasitic element that allows for operation on the higher frequency band.

A 75M / 40M antenna should be perfect for both EMCOMM (these are the most common HF bands used for emergency communications) and Field Day. A 40M / 20M antenna is equally perfect for Field Day and the combination of the two provides a lot of operating versatility from two simple antennas that cover the three busiest Field Day bands. I also decided to construct a 40M / 30M antenna for use as a portable antenna for digital communications.

Construction

Skeleton Sleeve Dipoles (2)Skeleton Sleeve Dipoles (3)I built the antennas using 18AWG stranded copper-weld 450 Ohm window line (Wireman #553) and folded dipole insulator kits (Wireman #804) which make fantastic strain reliefs for securing the window line. I also made my own 1:1 baluns in a similar design to what I have done before, except this time I used FT-150A-K toroids and 18AWG wire which allowed me to make the baluns smaller in size while still being adequate to handle 100W. To house the baluns I used Bud Industries PN-1322-DGMB NEMA 4X enclosures. These are well made boxes and they feature convenient mounting tabs that are easily bolted to the center insulator.

75/40 Bandwidth

75 Meter Band

  • 2:1 SWR:  3.68-3.785
  • 3:1 SWR:  3.63-3.86

40 Meter Band

  • 2:1 SWR:  7.18-7.238
  • 3:1 SWR:  7.1-7.3

While the bandwidth of this antenna is not particularly wide, it is easily matched to the radio’s 50 ohm output with practically any antenna tuner.

My ham radio club used the 75/40 at our Field Day site for the duration of the event. While obviously intended for use on 75 & 40 meters, the antenna was used on the higher bands as well with the help of a wide range antenna tuner. Over the course of field day this setup resulted in over 350 CW contacts.

40/30 Bandwidth

40 Meter Band

  • 2:1 SWR:  7.158-7.33
  • 3:1 SWR:  7.073-7.448

30 Meter Band

  • 2:1 SWR:  9.93-10.24

This antenna exhibits better bandwidth than the 75/40 and even reaches an SWR of 1.1:1 on 30 meters.

40/20 Bandwidth

This antenna is by far the best design of the bunch. This configuration results in an SWR of under 2:1 across the entirety of both the 40 and 20 meter bands.

Antenna Winders

Skeleton Sleeve Dipoles (5)Since ladder line can be annoying to work with since it doesn’t coil easily, I decided to build some winders from 1/2 inch PVC pipe to keep the finished antennas organized. I built a larger one for the 75/40 antenna and smaller ones for the 40/20 and 40/30 antennas. I am really pleased with how these turned out and plan to build more for use with other antennas; they are a fantastic way to avoid a tangled mess.

 

6 Meter Quad Turnstile Antenna

6M Quad Turnstile (2)After my less than successful attempts on 6 meters with my collinear array, I decided to try another design that I had been looking at for some time. A quad turnstile consists of two cubical quad loops oriented in a diamond configuration and angled 90 degrees apart from one another with both diamonds sharing the same top and bottom points. The advantage of this design over a single quad loop is that when phased 1/4 wavelength (90 degrees) apart the combination of the two antennas creates an omnidirectional radiation pattern. This type of antenna can also be made from two crossed dipoles, however, using full wave loops instead of half wave dipoles provides about 1 dB additional gain at low elevation angles (there is a great article about building a 6 meter quad turnstile written by L. B. Cebik, W4RNL in the May 2002 QST magazine that goes into further detail about the performance and advantages of this antenna design).

Another advantage, from a construction perspective, is that the spreaders required for a dipole turnstile would have to be 10 feet across. The spreaders for quads only need to be 7 feet across meaning that the use of lightweight pvc is that much more practical. The quad configuration is also perfect for being suspended by a push up fiberglass mast since the antenna is very light weight and virtually all of the loads are directed vertically down the center of the antenna which is also the center of the mast. This results in very little flexing and stress on the light duty fiberglass section at the top of the mast. I built my antenna using the Max Gain Systems MK-6-Standard fiberglass mast which stands 32 feet tall when fully extended.

From previous experiments with 6 meter loops I have found that 20 feet of insulated 14 AWG wire is resonant at the bottom of the 6 meter band (just above 50 MHz) where the SSB activity is concentrated.

6M Quad Turnstile (5)6M Quad Turnstile (6)The feed point is the most complex component in the entire antenna. It consists of a piece of 1/4″ thick Lexan with three SO-239 connectors (one for the feedline and one for each end of the phasing line) and four #10-32 stainless bolts (one for each loop end) mounted to it. The SO-239s and bolts are then wired together such that the feedline is wired directly to one loop and one end of the phasing line and the other end of the phasing line feeds the second loop. I used red and yellow electrical tape to mark which bolts attach to which loop. I also notched the Lexan sheet to fit around the mast so that I could wire tie it in place.

6M Quad Turnstile (7)6M Quad Turnstile (8)The phasing line is made using RG-63 coax which has an impedance of 125 Ohms. This is required because the feedpoint impedance of each of the loops is also about 125 Ohms. When fed together via the phasing line the final antenna impedance is approximately 62 Ohms which matches well with the standard 50 Ohm feedline (for this antenna I used a run of 100 feet of LMR400 coax). I purchased my RG-63 coax from The Wireman. The phasing line needs to be 1/4 wavelength long at the bottom of the 6 meter band. To calculate this you can use the formula (246/frequency) = quarter wavelength in feet. Therefore 246/50.5 = 4.871 feet = 58.46 inches. Next we take into account the velocity factor of the RG-63 coax, in this case 84%. Therefore 58.46*0.84 = 49.1 inches which is the length that the phasing light should be including the connectors on each end.

6M Quad Turnstile (11)6M Quad Turnstile (10)The PVC spreaders are made using 3/4″ PVC conduit glued into a 4-way junction box. By drilling a 3/4″ hole in the center of the junction box it allows the spreader assembly to slide down the top mast section and rest on top of the 1″ section of the mast. This is left to float in place and is not attached to the mast in any other way.

6M Quad Turnstile (9)The key to the construction of my version of a quad turnstile is that the entire antenna hangs from the top of the mast. To accomplish this I used a 1/2″ PVC cross with a nylon bolt running through the center. The bolt slides in the end of the 3/4″ fiberglass mast section and prevents the PVC cross from sliding off the top of the mast. I then fed the antenna wires through the cross such that the wires intersect at 90 degree angles. This method serves to secure the wires to the peak of the mast as 6M Quad Turnstile (12)well as providing some strain relief for the antenna wires. I then splayed out the wires and ran them through notches cut at the end of the PVC spreaders. I then centered the wires relative to the top of the mast and taped the wires to the end of the spreaders to keep them in place until they are attached to the feed point. The wires were then attached to the feedpoint using ring terminals that were soldered to the ends of the wires. The ring terminals make it easy to connect the wires to the bolts mounted on the feedpoint.

6M Quad Turnstile (3)6M Quad Turnstile (1)To erect the antenna I first raised the top 3/4″ section of the mast until the top wires became taught. This only requires about 3 feet of the top section to be extended such that the spreader assembly is not lifted off of the lower mast section. I then locked the top mast section in place. Next I raised the 1″ section of mast until the lower wires were taught and secured the feedpoint in place with a wire tie and taped the feed line and phasing line to the mast for strain relief. Then I continued raising each mast section until the mast was completely raised, resulting in a peak height of nearly 30 feet. I then finished guying the mast. For this antenna I only guyed the mast at 3 intervals, the bottom, the middle, and the top since the antenna is not heavy and is very evenly loaded on the mast. Three guy lines per 6M Quad Turnstile (4)interval were used made from UV resistant rope anchored using 10″ spiral ground anchors. This resulted in a very stable mast and the antenna that has held up well, even on breezy days. A tautline hitch is a great knot to know for tensioning guy ropes for masts as well as tents when camping.

After erecting the antenna I checked the SWR and found it to be 1:1 at the bottom of the 6 meter band. I also found that the 2:1 SWR bandwidth was quite large and easily covered the SSB portion of the band. I also noticed that a nearby 6 meter beacon station that was typically an S3 on my collinear array was now an S7 on my quad turnstile, which is a huge improvement.

The following day after getting the antenna on the air there was sporadic E band opening in North America and I was able to hear several stations. During this opening I worked my first 6 meter contacts, receiving good reports from stations in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, and Manitoba. Not too bad for 100W into an omnidirectional antenna in western Pennsylvania.

I also worked about four hours of the June 2016 ARRL VHF Contest and made 20 contacts with stations in 14 grid squares. Like a lot of antenna systems, this one allowed me to contact most of the stations that I was able to hear. I have, however, gained an appreciation for why most people use directional antennas for VHF work. While the extra gain directional antennas provide would definitely be a positive, I can see now how favoring one direction over another can be especially advantageous on 6 meters. More than once I could hear multiple strong stations on the same frequency and with a directional antenna I could have significantly nulled out one of those stations in order to make it easier to hear and work one station at a time. Another advantage would be the ability to focus your signal in the direction in which the band is open, instead of broadcasting in all directions.

With all of that said I am very pleased with how this antenna project worked out. This design is an inexpensive and effective way to get on 6 meters and make contacts which was my goal in the first place. It is also a good all around lesson in antenna design, construction, and phasing lines.

mcHF SDR Transceiver Kit

A huge part of the history of ham radio involves people building their own equipment. In fact that is how things started since at the beginnings of radio no commercial hardware was available. Over the years various companies and organizations have sold transceiver kits, but in recent years most of these have consisted of basic morse code only or single frequency single side band devices intended for digital communications. With the increased development of software defined radio (SDR), however, this is changing. Earlier this year I came across the mcHF SDR transceiver project and decided to purchase one of the kits. Unlike other basic transceiver kits the mcHF is a full featured radio with 80M-10M coverage, multi-mode support, variable bandwidth filtering, DSP (noise reduction, notch filtering, etc.), sound card interface, rig control, and band scope / waterfall capability. Not bad for a $388 kit.

mcHF (1)mcHF (2)The project was originated by Chris, M0NKA in the UK about 2 years ago and the design has gone through a number of revisions resulting in the current v0.5, which is what I purchased. One of the major reasons I was willing to undertake this project was that the kit offered by Chris includes the circuit boards already populated with about 95% of the surface-mount parts, including all of the tricky to solder chips and super tiny resistors and capacitors. The only remaining parts to install are larger, and therefore easier to solder, surface-mount parts and standard through-hole components. The builder also has to hand wind several toroid inductors and transformers. You also have to provide your own final power amplifier MOSFETs, shielding plate between the boards, and case for the radio. These requirements go along with the way this kit is sold, which is to say bare bones. The kit includes zero instructions. The builder is responsible for sorting through the mcHF downloads page, the mcHF Yahoo group, and the Github Wiki to find the details regarding how to wind the toroids and transformers as well as details on any recommended mods and instructions for how to use the radio.

Since this project is open source, both the hardware and firmware have undergone considerable development. In fact, from the time I started building the board to when when I completed the project a large firmware update was released which revised the main screen and menu layout as well as added a number of fixes and features, including the ability to control the transceiver via the USB port and detect the transceiver as a sound card device with a PC.

mcHF (3)The mcHF consists of two circuit boards called the UI board and the RF board. I built the UI board first, and then built the power supply section of the RF board so that I could power up and test the UI board. Chris has a very helpful document on the mcHF webpage that steps through the process of installing the bootloader and uploading firmware to the CPU on the UI board. So after only about 4 hours of work I had a functional UI board.

mcHF (7)Next I completed the remainder of the RF board, which was fairly time consuming since winding toroids and transformers is a tedious operation. Documentation exists for how to wind the transformers, however, the only information regarding the toroids is on the RF board schematic which details how many windings each core requires. Extra attention should be paid to stripping the enamel wire used for the toroids and transformers. Even though I diligently sanded off the outer coating and thought that I had solid solder connections to the board, I did not do a good enough job on two of the toroids which prevented the radio’s operation on the 80M band. After desoldering and re-sanding the wires I achieved a good electrical connection and consequently 80M functionality.

mcHF (10)mcHF (11)This portion of kit construction is somewhat confusing because there are a ton of possible mods for the various transformers that can improve performance of the final power amplifier. I decided to build mine in the default configuration which results in a solid 5W output on 80M-12M and about 4W on 10M. When modified, users report 10 or more watts of power output. The only modification I made was with regard to the SWR bridge where RG-178 coax is used in place of a single winding of enamel wire. Construction details for many of these mods are available in a document on the Yahoo group produced by Clint, KA7OEI who has done considerable work on both the hardware and software of the mcHF.

mcHF (18)Although not technically a mod, I did add a resistor that is regarded as “optional” on the UI board schematic. This resistor provides power for when an electret microphone is used. Since I would be modifying an Icom HM-36 I had lying around to work with the mcHF, I needed to install this resistor in order for the microphone to function. For this I used a standard 1/4W resistor since I had on of the correct value in my junk box and just soldered it to the surface mount pads. In order to avoid shorting with nearby components I carefully shaped the resistor’s leads and used electrical tape to insulate between the parts.

mcHF (5)mcHF (6)After completing construction of the boards, I turned my attention to completing the radio as a whole. The first step of this was to construct the shield plate between the boards. For this I used a thin mcHF (12)sheet of aluminum that I hand cut, drilled and nibbled according to a pattern available on the mcHF website. I then test fit and assembled the board and shield sandwich to check for proper clearance. When I was satisfied I completed the assembly using 5mm standoffs.

mcHF (19)mcHF (17)If you look around the web you will see a lot of people who have built the mcHF using the same case. This case is sold by Artur, SP3OSJ from Poland for about $63. If you email him at asnieg@epf.pl he will give you the details for how to order. The case comes with all of the knobs and buttons as well as a small piece of acrylic to protect the LCD display. The front panel is pre-machined, however, the endplates are left to the builder to complete. I also had to file some of the button holes to allow smooth operation and I had to sand the acrylic to fit the opening in the case.

mcHF (8)mcHF (9)Since the case serves as the heatsink for the power supply circuitry as well as the final amplifier transistors, a good mechanical connection between the components and the case is necessary. To mcHF (13)mcHF (14)accomplish this I soldered brass #4-40 nuts to the heatsink fin on power supply and amplifier components. I then drilled holes in the case to match where these nuts line up when the case is mcHF (15)assembled. When bolts are inserted and tightened, the electrical components are pulled tight to the wall of the case. In order to achieve a properly aligned connection, I had to grind away a small amount of material where the final amp transistors contact the case (note the hole I drilled in the wrong location due to my inability to follow the old rule of measure twice drill once). The last step in construction was labeling the buttons and ports, which I did using vinyl self-adhesive labels and my laser printer.

The final adjustment before testing the transmitter involves setting the proper bias for the final amplifier and then setting the transmitter gain for each band of operation. Documentation for these adjustments is on the Github Wiki. Basically you set the bias in one of the mcHF’s menu settings while keying the transmitter with no audio present as you watch the current draw of the radio. The transmitter gain is also a menu setting. These adjustments can be accomplished with an ammeter and a RF power meter.

mcHF (16)Finally, after about 20 hours of work I put my mcHF on the air. After adjusting my microphone gain I made a contact on 40M SSB. I then plugged the transceiver into my PC and fired up WJST-X. Following the guide on the Github Wiki I was able to get rig control working and made a half dozen contacts using JT65 on the 30M band using nothing but the mcHF and my laptop. The next day I checked into my local 10M SSB net and received good signal and audio reports from the other regulars who are familiar with my voice.

Overall I have to say that I am incredibly happy with the mcHF kit. It has been a great learning experience and the radio itself is an incredibly capable and configurable device that offers a lot of bang for your buck. I plan to use the mcHF quite a bit in the future and look forward to any future firmware updates. I also hope that this kit leads to other similar kits in the future that can help get more hams back to building equipment.

I highly recommend this kit for anyone with some electronics experience. While the documentation has not been collected into one easily digestible package, the kit itself is actually very straightforward to put together and I was able to get it on the air with only a cheap multi-meter and an RF power meter. It is also an incredible bargain for such full featured radio; I spent under $500 total for the kit, case and other ancillary parts (not including the microphone) which is not bad at all when you compare this to what is available commercially.

Update – New Knobs, Bootloader & Firmware (August, 2016)

After using the mcHF for a few months I decided to look for some new knobs since the smaller ones included with the case I purchased aren’t ideal. I found some on Mouser that come in various colors and are designed to work with the “D” shaped shafts of the mcHF’s encoders. They have a nice soft rubber feel and the colors help to differentiate which knob is which. Each knob cost under $1, so this was a very economical upgrade.

Recently Andreas DF8OE, who is the main developer for the mcHF, released version 2.0 of the mcHF bootloader. The updated bootloader allows the use of the larger USB Type A port for firmware upgrades using only a USB Flash Drive. This eliminates the need for the proprietary software that was required to update the firmware in the past and solidifies the open source development of the mcHF going forward.

Andreas also released version 1.2 of the firmware for the mcHF. The new firmware has a number of feature improvements and bug fixes including better spectrum display performance and system responsiveness overall. Other future upgrades are in the works and I look forward to what the new features will bring.

Update – Serial EEPROM (November, 2016)

While checking some of the posts on the mcHF Yahoo Group, I came across one from Andreas that emphasized the importance of installing the optional EEPROM. If the EEPROM is not installed the radio saves settings to the CPU’s FLASH memory whenever the radio is turned off. All of this memory writing adds up and can lead to failure of the FLASH memory. Since I don’t want to worry about replacing the CPU in the future I ordered the recommended EEPROM (24LC1026) chip and installed it on the UI board. I also installed the required 0.1uF capacitor using the smallest through-hole component I could find. Upon booting up the transceiver the EEPROM was detected by the firmware and the radio seems to be working perfectly. This was an easy and worthwhile upgrade, especially since the EEPROM only costs about $3.50 and should protect the FLASH memory from being worn out in the future.

Update – New Tuning Knob (November, 2016)

After some extensive searching I finally found the perfect tuning knob for the mcHF. OKW makes a very nice line of knobs, part of which is a series designed for communications gear. To match my mcHF’s black enclosure I bought the A3140069 which is 40mm in diameter and mounts to the encoder’s 6mm shaft using a compression collet. This knob can take two different styles of cover (with or without finger dimple) in an assortment of colors. I went with the A3240109 cover which features a finger dimple for faster tuning. This is a huge upgrade over the tuning knob provided with my case and really improves both the looks and functionality of the mcHF. Not bad for under $5.