Ham Radio EMCOMM Go Kit – Power Box

In the months since completing my revised go kit earlier this year, I have been considering building an improved version of my battery box. I wanted to use the same style of rack case that I used for my go kit and at the same time add a lot of versatility and functionality compared to what my basic battery box offered.

Goals

  • Reduced Weight
  • 12V Power Output
  • 12V Charging, Switching and Distribution in the Box
  • 120V Power Output
  • Battery Voltage & Current Monitoring
  • Solar Compatible

Battery

Reducing weight meant moving away from the lead acid battery that I used previously. These work fine and are not overly expensive, but they have a lot of limitations. My battery box used a deep cycle battery that weighs about 55 pounds. This new build uses a Bioenno 40Ah lithium-iron-phosphate battery that weighs about 10 pounds. It is also significantly smaller and can supply power for a longer period than my old battery. These batteries are not inexpensive ($360), however, they should last through significantly more charge-discharge cycles than a lead acid battery and when combined with the weight and space savings these benefits justify the price.

PWRgate

To handle the battery charging, power switching, and solar power requirements I used the West Mountain Radio Epic PWRgate. This device is a major step in evolution compared to other power gate products in the past. Older units could automatically switch power between a battery and power supply in addition to trickle charging the battery when the power supply was on, but they were only compatible with lead acid batteries. The Epic PWRgate supports multiple battery chemistries and charge rates, making it much more versatile (you select the battery chemistry and charge rate by removing the cover and setting two jumpers to the appropriate values). It is also much more efficient with a reduced voltage drop and no large heatsink. It can take inputs from a power supply, battery, and solar panels while it simultaneously outputs power. Depending on the state of each it can charge the battery from the solar panel or power supply, or direct battery power to the output if the power supply is unavailable. To complete the DC output power distribution system I used the 5 port West Mountain Radio Rigrunner from my old battery box.

Inverter

While not always required, I wanted to have the option to power or charge devices that use 120V. To accomplish this I added a Samlex 300W Pure Sine Wave Inverter to the system. While this is a fairly low wattage for an inverter, the intent of this is to power devices such as laptops, monitors, HT battery chargers, etc. that don’t require a lot of current. I went with a pure sine wave model since they produce much cleaner power, which should help reduce RF noise as well as work better with whatever electronics I am using.

Power Monitoring

For battery voltage and current monitoring I used a standard 1.125″ digital DC Voltage Meter and a Blue Sea Systems Shunt Current Meter. This current meter can measure current in both directions which allows me to monitor both the current draw under load as well as the charge current depending on how I am using the system at that moment. I wired the power inputs for both meters through a switch so that when I don’t need to monitor the state of things I can turn off the meters. This is very handy at night when you may not want bright LEDs shining in your face.

Wiring

The DC power wiring consists of an inline Maxi Fuse Holder connected to the battery’s positive terminal. I used a 50A fuse for the main feed and 8AWG wire. This is routed through the current meter shunt and into a 4 circuit Blue Sea Systems ATC Fuse Block. I used 2 of the circuits:  a 30A, 10AWG feed goes to the PWRgate and a 2A, 16AWG feed is used for the meters. The battery’s negative terminal was connected directly to a Blue Sea Systems Busbar. The inverter was wired directly to the current meter shunt and the common busbar. I also ran a ground wire from the inverter ground terminal and through the hole in the back panel. This wire was terminated with a green powerpole for easy connection to a ground rod and serves as a safety ground for the AC circuit.

Construction

The case itself is very similar to that used in my go kit, except this box is a 3 unit shallow case instead of a 4 unit. The shelf is the same model used in my go kit. All of the components were mounted to the shelf using 8-32 & 10-32 machine screws. I had to get a little creative to figure out how to secure the battery to the shelf. In the end I used 3 heavy duty jumbo wire ties to cinch the battery to the shelf and 2 nylon spacers secured with 10-32 machine screws to prevent the battery from sliding laterally under the wire ties. So far this arrangement seems very secure.

The front and back panels were made using 11/64″ thick sheets of ABS plastic. The front panel required notching in the bottom corners to allow for the shelf mounting screws as well as ventilation holes for the inverter fan. The back panel features a large cutout for the inverter outlet & switch and serves as the mount for the PWRgate & Rigrunner. I also added section of 1″ aluminum angle to the back panel which adds a lot of rigidity and prevents flexing when power cables are plugged and unplugged. One unforeseen modification involved the rear case lid. Since the PWRgate is mounted in the center of the case, it’s powerpole connections protrude just enough to make contact with the center brace of the lid. I debated moving things around, but in the end I notched the lid brace using my Dremel and a small cutting wheel. Due to the tight packaging, the jumper wire from the PWRgate to the Rigrunner has to be removed when putting on the lid.

Go Kit Integration

Since the PWRgate is now separate from my go kit I had to modify my go kit’s power wiring to accommodate this new arrangement. This involved adding a powerpole distribution block and permanently mounting the power supply output to the case. For full charging and battery backup capability jumper wires have to be run between the power supply in my go kit to the PWRgate and from the Rigrunner to the new distribution block in my go kit. I tried to organize my jumper cables the best I could to keep things as neat as possible and I used very flexible 10AWG wire with silicone insulation to minimize any cable stress and tangling. When stacked, the two units integrate together very well.

Weight

All together the power box weighs just under 31.5 lbs which is pretty good in my opinion. I’ve added both capacity and a huge amount of capability compared to my old battery box and it still only weighs about half as much.

BITX40 QRP Transceiver

The BITX40 is an interesting project. It is an inexpensive ($59) QRP 40 meter band SSB (LSB only) transceiver that comes as a semi-preassembled kit. The main boards are built and tested by the manufacturer in India and the end user only has to mount the boards in a case and wire the power, controls, and antenna connections. The radio itself is controlled by an Arduino microcontroller using a version of the Raduino firmware and a digital synthesizer chip provides frequency stability. Due to its simple design it is easily modified and there are dozens of mods on the internet that can be performed to add features. My ham radio club did a group build project of this radio and we had over 20 members put together their own BITX40.

One of the most convenient features of this kit is that the main boards make use of connectors to simplify construction. This also makes the radio very easy to disassemble since nearly all of the wiring can be unplugged. The kit comes with all the parts you need (other than a case, speaker, and knobs), however, I made a few changes. I had a couple of 6mm shaft knobs that I wanted to use that did not fit the potentiometers that were supplied. I also wanted to implement a couple of the simplest and most useful mods. I ordered the following parts from Mouser:

The pushbuttons are useful due to the features added in the modified Raduino firmware. With the new firmware installed, the white pushbutton serves as a Menu button that provides access to the additional features included in the firmware (Multiple VFOs, RIT, Split, USB, CW, frequency calibration, scanning features, and many others). One of the interesting things about the firmware is that if you have it installed and do not add any buttons or other mods, it still behaves like the default firmware. Only when you perform the appropriate mods does the additional functionality become accessible.

Another mod I performed allows the red pushbutton to serve as a Tune button. When pressed the radio automatically switches to CW mode, keys the transmitter, and generates a tone to allow tuneup of an antenna tuner. This functionality actually requires 3 separate mods (PTT Sense, CW Carrier, and TX-RX) which are detailed in the updated firmware’s documentation. They involve soldering a couple of resistors to specific locations on the board as well as a transistor across the PTT line and wiring from these components to the Arduino’s IO points. In order to maintain my ability to easily disassemble the radio by removing the case’s front and rear panels, I used a 2 pin header to create my own connectors for plugging and unplugging some of the additional wires that were added for these mods. The final modification involved soldering a 100pF capacitor in parallel with the inductor L7. This helps suppress the 2nd harmonic to levels that are acceptable to the FCC.

For the speaker I drilled some holes in the top of the case to let the sound out and mounted the speaker.  I left the wires long so that it is easy to remove the top of the case and lay it to the side without having to unplug the speaker cable from the main board. Using a speaker is highly recommended for this radio instead of using headphones. This is due to the fact that the BITX40 has no AGC (although there are mods to add one) and consequently the audio from strong stations is drastically louder than weaker ones. This difference in volume could easily hurt your ears if you were wearing headphones.

An electret microphone element is provided with the kit and I wired it up with a pushbutton in a small enclosure to work as a hand mic. I secured the mic element and the shielded cable using hot glue. This arrangement required me to wire the mic and PTT lines to the same 1/8″ stereo jack on the front panel, even though they have separate connections to the main board. As basic as this setup is it functions well and I have had good audio reports on the contacts I have made using it.

The best word to describe using the BITX40 is funky. After years of using modern complex transceivers, the BITX is almost shocking for how simple it is. You tune around and adjust the volume, that’s about it. Nevertheless it works, as long as you abide by QRP operating procedure:  find the strongest station on the band and weight for them to call CQ or QRZ. It’s pretty impressive how simple this radio is and how little you really need to make contacts.

I put a fair amount of effort to construct this radio carefully, however, some of my ham club’s members who built their own ended up with a spaghetti of wires and their radios still functioned fine. Because all of the complex circuitry is pre-assembled and tested, the hardest part of this project is already done. That is a key part to this being a great project because it allows people of all skill levels to build something and be virtually guaranteed that at the end they will have a working radio. In my club we had people who had never soldered before build this radio (with plenty of guidance) and they were all smiles when we powered up their creation the first time. The combination of affordability and functionality make the BITX40 an amazing piece of technology and a fantastic addition to ham radio.

QRP Link Dipole Antenna

Dipole antennas are some of the simplest antennas to build in addition to being very efficient and solid performers. I wanted to make a simple dipole antenna for QRP portable operation that could be used on multiple bands. I also wanted it to be light enough to be supported by my light-duty 31 ft Jackite mast in an inverted V configuration.

Link dipoles are a great way to make a lightweight multi-band antenna because you only have one run of wire (vs a fan dipole), there are no traps or coils, and you don’t need a complicated and heavy balun (vs an off-center-fed dipole). Band selection is achieved by connecting or disconnecting the appropriate links to make the antenna as long or short as needed to work on the band you want. To keep the antenna as light as possible I used 26 AWG insulated stranded copper-weld wire from The Wireman (#534). This wire is small, but because it has a steel core it is stronger than pure copper wire would be. It also has very tough insulation that protects the wire very well and is exceedingly lightweight (1000 ft weighs under 1 lb, and I am only using about 66 ft).

For the physical links in the dipole I used Nite Ize MicroLock S-Biners. These are small polycarbonate double-carabiners that are more than strong enough and very light. I made a loop at each end of every antenna section and secured it using adhesive lined heatshrink tubing. While not the strongest connection this should be adequate for this application since the antenna is so light that there isn’t much strain on any one point. The electrical links in the dipole were made using Anderson Powerpoles. The antenna itself was cut for the 20, 30, and 40 meter bands. I am considering adding an 80 meter section in the future, but that may add too much weight.

The center feed-point was made using a small piece of 1/8″ acrylic. This was drilled for antenna wire strain relief as well as #8 bolts for the connection between the antenna and the coaxial feedline. I decided to forego using a 1:1 balun at the feed-point to save weight. The feed assembly is secured to the mast using wire ties. Since every mast section is tapered the assembly can only slide so far down from the top before it fits tightly to the mast. I adjusted the wire ties to place the peak a couple of feet down from the top where the mast is somewhat more substantial and can more easily support the weight of the antenna. For coax I have been using RG-58, again to keep the weight down. I may end up moving to RG-8X in the future if the mast can support it since it is much lower loss.

A handy feature of this antenna is how easy it is to put up. The mast is a good match for my car’s flag pole hitch mount (using a 2″ PVC spacer) and is strong enough to be freestanding. To erect the antenna I just have to secure the upper three sections of mast (the sections friction lock together), place the mast in the mount on my car, unroll the antenna, slide the feed-point onto the mast, connect the coax, push the rest of the mast up, and spread out & secure the antenna ends. I can be on the air in about 5 minutes.

All of my efforts to keep the antenna as light as possible definitely paid off. Together the antenna and winder weigh only 15 oz (not including feedline). This makes it a perfect match for the lightweight mast and a small QRP radio. I look forward to getting a lot of use out of this setup.

Ham Radio EMCOMM Go Kit – Solar Charging System

Field operations using batteries are very common and my battery box is a very convenient source of power. For longer term operations, however, keeping the battery charged is just as important. In order to supplement my battery system I put together a small solar charging system.

Parts

  • 50 Watt, 12V Solar Panel – Renogy
  • 10 Amp PWM Solar Charge Controller – Renogy
  • 1″ Aluminum Angle

The goal here was to have a simple solar system that would be large enough to charge my battery box at a decent rate, while still being small enough to transport easily. I also wanted to keep the costs fairly low.

I went with a 50 watt solar panel since it is fairly compact (around 2 ft square), inexpensive (about $80), and puts out almost 3 amps at peak sun. The charge controller (under $30) prevents the panel from overcharging the battery when the sun is out and blocks the panel from discharging the battery when the sun goes down. The aluminum angle frame holds the parts permanently together (which simplifies field wiring) in addition to holding the panel at a 30 degree angle. A 30 degree panel angle is a good compromise for my latitude and helps maximize the panel’s sun exposure throughout a full day. All together the panel, controller, and frame weigh about 12 lbs.

Operation

I used this setup with my battery box and go kit for Field Day this year and it performed very well. I generally do digital only on Field Day and made over 160 contacts using PSK31 and RTTY with the radio set for 50 watts output. With the sun out, the panel kept up with my power usage and by sunset the battery was essentially fully charged despite me operating for several hours. I continued to operate after sunset and quit around 1AM. I resumed operating mid-morning and the few preceding hours of morning sun had recharged the battery back to near full charge.

As with any battery testing, the current draw is the deciding factor for how long your charge will last. Since Field Day is in many ways a contest I was transmitting quite a bit which increased my current draw compared to more casual operations. Overall I operated around 16 hours and never drained the battery below 12V. If I turned the power down, I could probably operate the entire 24 hours and dropping from 50 to 25 watts would have minimal impact on my ability to make contacts.

mcHF Update – Calibration

After performing several hardware upgrades to my mcHF I upgraded to the most recent firmware release which included a lot more calibration options than were previously available. The firmware developers have also massively improved the quality of the documentation over the last six months and I decided to re-calibrate my radio from top to bottom.

The Adjustment and Configuration Manual page of the mcHF Github Wiki lays out in a very straightforward way all the steps necessary. I performed the following calibrations:

  • PA Bias
  • 5 Watt Power Level
  • Full Power Level
  • RF Power Meter Adjustment
  • TX IQ Adjustment (Manual)
  • RX IQ Adjustment (Automatic)
  • Frequency Calibration (RX Method)

For the PA Bias calibration I found that my previous bias had been too low (400mA transmit current rise instead of 500mA), which limited my power output. With the bias properly set this time I was able to get much more power output on all bands.

To set an accurate 5 watt power level I wanted to use a power meter calibrated for this purpose since my regular meters are meant for higher power transmitters. The meter I used is a MFJ-813 which is intended for QRP use. With this meter I set the 5 watt power drive for each band and adjusted the RF power meter of the mcHF to match. Since the transmitter amplifier was now properly biased I was able to easily achieve 5 watts of output on 80-10 meters.

For the full power setting I only wanted to achieve a solid output value higher than 5 watts. To this end I only adjusted the power drive to 10 watts output for 80-15 meters, even though I could have driven it further. On 12 meters only about 8 watts was available without over driving the amplifier and on 10 meters only 6 watts. Even so this is still much better than my previous configuration which was improperly biased. This is also more power than I expected since my kit uses the standard configuration of output transformers and inductors. There are many different mods suggested by other mcHF builders to increase the power output, however, for me 10 watts on the most commonly used bands is more than enough.

The TX IQ adjustment was an interesting process involving listening to a tone generated by the mcHF on a second receiver tuned to the opposite side band. I was able to mostly null out the tone using the IQ phase and balance adjustments. While not perfect I am sure that it is better than the default settings. The RX IQ is automatic and only requires turning on the firmware setting in the menu.

Frequency calibration was also an interesting undertaking since I was using the RX method which requires a stable shortwave source to lock on to using synchronous AM. I adjusted the ppm of the receiver using three different strong stations and achieved similar results with all three so I am confident that my setting is much more accurate than the default value.

mcHF Update – New Case

I have had my mcHF for almost a year and after seeing some of the better cases available for it I decided to move on from what I had been using. Many members of the Yahoo group have used the so called “Chinese Case” which is made of formed aluminum and comes with all of the knobs, buttons, speaker, shield plate and mounting hardware necessary to put it all together. It also features nicely screen printed labels for the buttons and ports and a good overall fit and finish. I purchased one of these cases on eBay for about $150 and it took a week and a half to arrive from China.

Overall this case is fantastic! I wish I had purchased one of these when I was first building my mcHF. The vast majority of the assembly process went very smoothly, however, I did have to make a few modifications to both the case and my mcHF.

The assembly of the case is done from the back to the front. First I mounted the speaker to the case’s back plate. Then I slid the RF board into position along with the top and bottom auxiliary plates which serve as mounting points for the other case panels. The radio is then assembled as a sandwich of RF board, shield plate, and UI board using the 2.5mm screws and standoffs.

The case requires a very specific alignment for the positioning of the amplifier MOSFETs and the power regulators regarding how far they are mounted from the RF board’s surface. For my kit, the amplifier MOSFETs were perfectly positioned to align with the mounting holes, but my power regulators were a couple of millimeters too close to the board. After debating repositioning the regulators I decided instead to enlarge the screw holes and just make it work. This was accomplished with a 3/16″ drill and a small file. In the end I didn’t maul the case too badly and all of my work is hidden behind the small washers I used with the #4-40 screws that secure the devices to the case’s surface for proper heat transfer. I also had to modify the end panel with the USB and BNC ports. The alignment was slightly off and I had to enlarge the hole for the BNC a little bit using my nibbler tool and a file in order for the plate to fit over the ports properly.

Another problem that I ran into was the depth of the tactile switches supplied with the kit. The actuator for the switch is too long to allow the case to be close properly. Fortunately this type of switch comes in a variety of depths and one of the Yahoo group members had posted last year about a substitute part that works with the Chinese case. I ordered some from Mouser (CTS 222AMVBBR) and installed them on the UI board. The new switches are not only the correct depth, they are also smoother to operate. When combined with the rubbery buttons provided with the case, the operating feel of the radio is much improved from the plastic buttons and stiffer switches that I had been using.

This case is a huge upgrade over the previous one. It is better looking, better constructed and more securely holds the mcHF. I also love that the case features an internal speaker (which sounds surprisingly good) and a kickstand to prop the radio up at an angle for more convenient ergonomics. The finished case weighs 21.5 ounces, which is slightly more than the old case, but it is still very lightweight. I didn’t use the knobs that came with the case as I like my previous upgrades better, however, that is the only aspect of the case that wasn’t an improvement. This case is definitely worth the money and even though it is more than double the price of my old case the radio-case combination still costs well under $600.

mcHF Update – Touchscreen

The mcHF firmware developers have added a lot of UI functionality that uses the touchscreen, with more coming in the future. Some of these added features are simple conveniences that save the user from going into the menus to change a setting. Others are more involved and they have made touchscreen usage more of a requirement going forward. After investigating how the touchscreen could be enabled for my version of the kit I decided to go ahead with it.

Touchscreen Activation Steps v0.5

  • R30, R31, R32 should be a 0 ohm resistor (this was already done on my board)
  • R33 and R34 should be removed
  • R34 (right pad) is connected to R47b (bottom pad)
  • R33 (right pad) is connected to R47d (bottom pad)

 

 

 

 

This process was actually far simpler than I had first anticipated and can be completed in under 30 minutes. When the radio is turned on it now shows “Touchscreen: Yes” on the boot screen indicating that the touch sensor is detected by the firmware. In order to test if everything was working properly I used the Button Test function. This is done by holding down any button (other than band minus) while powering on the radio. I then drug my finger around the touchscreen and noted that it correctly read the touch input. With touch enabled it is much easier to change the meter reading as well as toggle from spectrum display to waterfall and switch between the various input methods (microphone, digital, digital iq, line in, etc.) without having to go into the menus.

WSPR Antenna Comparison (Loop vs Dipole vs End Fed)

Over the last few months I have been playing with WSPR and I wanted to be able to use it as a rough way to evaluate the relative performance of different antennas. My goal was to test how well two different antennas that I made for field use compare to my base station antenna.

Antennas

My base station’s loop skywire was tested in its current configuration, 270 feet of wire strung between several trees. The two test antennas were put up in the same configurations that I intended to use them in the field.

Test Procedure

I did 24 hour WSPR runs using 5 watts of power with each antenna on successive days. The idea was to test each antenna in as equivalent band conditions as possible. By using the WSPRnet Database, I was able to collect signal reports from every station who heard me over the 24 hours. I then put all of this data into a spreadsheet. I calculated the average, median, maximum, and minimum dB signal reports for each antenna on every band I did the test. I also generated the same results for stations within a 500 mile radius as well as within a 300 mile radius. The purpose of these additional calculations was to evaluate each antenna’s performance for EMCOMM situations. Finally I calculated the same data for the distances from the receiving stations.

Results

WSPR Antenna Comparison Data (PDF)

Conclusions

The first thing that I noticed when looking at the WSPR data was how closely the end fed and loaded dipole performed on both bands. The end fed seems to have a slight edge, but I would put this down to it being higher in the air rather than any inherent design advantage. On both bands the end fed is about 1dB better than the dipole, but given band fluctuations from day to day and the inaccuracy inherent to WSPR signal reports I’m going to call this a draw. Even the receiving station distance numbers were strikingly close to one another. This makes sense since both of these antennas are essentially identical, except one is fed in the center and the other is not.

On 80 meters the loop is clearly the best performer, besting both of the test antennas by at least 2dB overall and by several dB for regional contacts. It also reached much further out with almost double the average and more than double the maximum distance to a receiving station. Add in that it had the most spots from almost 40% more stations and it is clearly the most effective antenna.

On 40 meters the loop’s results are more complicated. Looking solely at the signal report data the loop is the worst performer of the three. I found this to be a ridiculous assertion because of how well this antenna performs in my personal experience for both regional and DX communications. One explanation for the relatively poor overall report is that the loop easily outperformed the other antennas in average and median distance to receiving station in addition to receiving 27% more signal reports from 33% more receiving stations. This could have skewed the results because more distant stations with additional spots would give weaker signal reports.

To test this idea I dug a little deeper into the data and looked at stations that heard all three antennas. What I found was that the loop generally had more spots from the same station than the other two antennas. These extra spots always came at the poorest times of day for propagation and consequently resulted in very low signal reports. When the receiving station had spots for all three antennas at the same time of day, the loop almost always had the highest signal report, usually by multiple dB. This combination of factors pulled down the average and median signal reports and masked how well the loop performs on 40 meters. I think this information also points to just how good of a performer the loop is on 80 meters because in spite of having a similar problem to overcome it still received the best signal reports by far.

Using WSPR to evaluate antennas is not an exact science and I am far from an expert statistician, so these results are by no means definitive. That said, I think this was a worthwhile exercise and resulted in some interesting data that generally correlates with my first hand experience using these antennas.

80/40 Meter Loaded Dipole Antenna

After having success with my resonant end fed antennas I decided that I wanted to build a more traditional resonant half-wave antenna that was also considerably shorter than normal. The plan for this antenna was to build a lightweight 80/40 meter antenna for field use (as part of my Go Kit) that wouldn’t overload my 21 foot telescoping fiberglass mast. The antenna also needed to be capable of handling 50 watts at 100% duty cycle for digital operation as well as 100 watts of SSB.

Design

Similar to my 80/40 resonant end fed antenna, the goal for this antenna was to achieve resonance on both 80 and 40 meters by using loading coils large enough to isolate the 40 meter element of the antenna while simultaneously greatly shortening the space required for 80 meter operation. Several vendors sell antennas of this design (MFJ, Alpha Delta, etc.), however, I always prefer to build my own since I can build the antenna exactly how I want, save money, and learn something in the process.

There are a lot of good resources regarding how to build this type of antenna. K7MEM has a loaded dipole calculator that lets you play with different parameters to determine how big the loading coils should be and how far they should be placed from the feedpoint. This works best for single band designs, but it also serves as a good way to double check antenna dimensions. I also found this design, as well as an article in the April 1961 issue of QST that both provide a great starting place for antenna dimensions and what size loading coils to use. The coils used tend to be in the 80uH to 130uH range. Larger coils allow for a shorter antenna, however, they also reduce the available bandwidth. I went for somewhat of a middle-ground with 111uH coils. Due to the antenna’s limited bandwidth I planned to use extension stubs to shift the antenna’s resonance from the top of 80 meters for voice work to the bottom for digital operations.

Construction

In order to keep the antenna as light as possible I used 18AWG stranded copper wire. The coils were wound using 22AWG enamel wire. Each 111uH coil was made using 65 turns of the enamel wire on a 1.25″ PVC form (I used K7MEM’s coil designer to figure out the details). I used stainless steel screws and 8-32 hardware to secure the enamel wire and provide a connection point for the antenna wires. I then coated each coil with two coats of polyurethane for weather sealing and to secure the coil to the PVC.

For the 40 meter elements, I first connected the two antenna halves to the center balun (I used a Unadilla W2DU 1:1 balun that I had laying around). Then I connected the other end of the wires to the loading coils. The short 80 meter elements were then wired to the other side of the loading coils. The 40 meter elements were trimmed for resonance at 7.1MHz which resulted in a span of about 67.5 feet for the 40 meter section.

I then began trimming the 80 meter elements. While there is minimal interaction between the 40 and 80 meter sections of the antenna due to the choking effect of the loading coils, when the 80 meter section is trimmed is does slightly effect the 40 meter section’s resonance. For this reason the 40 meter section was left a little long so that when the 80 meter section is the correct length, the 40 meter section resonates on the desired frequency.

After trimming, the 80 meter elements were about 4 feet long for a total antenna span of about 76.5 feet (including the coils). This resulted in resonant frequencies at 7.15MHz and 3.977MHz. I found that by adding 18.5 inch stubs (using Anderson powerpoles) to the end of the antenna resulted in a resonant frequency of 3.583MHz. The 40 meter 2:1 SWR bandwidth effectively covers the entire band. On 80 meters the antenna has about 40kHz of 2:1 bandwidth and 60kHz of 3:1 bandwidth. One major advantage of this antenna over my resonant end fed is that it does not use any complex matching system, only a 1:1 balun. This allows for more aggressive use of an antenna tuner without the risk of damaging the matching system, which increases the usable bandwidth of the antenna. Using the internal tuner in my Yaesu FT-450D I can increase the antenna’s 80 meter 2:1 SWR bandwidth to about 130KHz.

This antenna turned out about as well as I had hoped it would. With the winder it weighs only 3lbs, 1lb less than my 80/40 end fed. It is also a very good match for my Go Kit’s fiberglass mast as this combination held up well even when loaded down with some ice and snow and with wind gusts over 30mph. The loaded dipole makes a nice balance between size and performance and will be my Go Kit’s primary HF antenna going forward.

Boafeng UV5R USB Soundcard Interface

I recently purchased a Baofeng UV5R5 to throw in my Go Kit as a backup handheld and I decided to build an interface to be able to send and receive digital signals. The interface was intended to be as simple and inexpensive as possible, much like the radio itself.

VHF/UHF digital EMCOMM transmissions in my area typically use the MT63 mode which is very robust and can work quite well using only acoustical coupling. While this technique works surprisingly well, it has limitations. If the area you are operating in is too noisy, your audio is too weak, etc. the data transmission can have issues getting through correctly. It also doesn’t work very well for modes other than MT63.

USB soundcard interfaces are very common, I have multiple SignaLink USBs myself, but they are definitely overkill for this application. After some experimentation, I built this simple interface for under $20.

Parts

Construction

The main idea for this project was to replace the external speaker microphone functionality with that of the USB soundcard. In order to do this I used the speaker mic cable and wired it to two 3.5mm stereo audio cables such that the speaker output from the radio connects to the microphone input of the soundcard and vice versa. Each splice was soldered and insulated with heat-shrink tubing. The entire joint between the three cables was then secured with more heat-shrink tubing. Each 3.5mm plug was marked with colored electrical tape to make it easy identify which cable plugs into which port of the soundcard (red for microphone, green for speaker).

Operation

To operate, I plug simply plug in the cables and connect the USB soundcard to my computer (a big advantage of this model of soundcard is that it does not require special drivers for Windows 10 or Linux, it is truly a plug-and-play device). When I am ready to send data I simply key the radio using the PTT switch on the side and click the transmit button in the digital software. When the transmission is finished I unkey the radio. I had originally played around with an external VOX circuit as well as the UV5R’s internal VOX feature, however, neither of them would reliably key the radio and stay keyed throughout an entire data transmission and I decided they were unnecessary. Using manual keying is actually somewhat of an advantage since it simplifies the interface, reduces complexity, and doesn’t require changing the radio’s configuration.

Calibration

I used FLDIGI to test the interface over simplex to another radio. After some experimentation I found that with the radio’s speaker volume set at a comfortable level (about 1/4 turn) a setting of 50% for the soundcard’s microphone gain was a good audio level for receiving data. For transmitting, I found that a setting of 1% from the soundcard’s speaker produced the cleanest output.

If I was going to build more of these I think I would add a 10K ohm resistor at the connection between the soundcard’s speaker output and the radio’s microphone input. This would attenuate the signal somewhat and allow for finer control over the transmit audio level. Even so, as it stands now the audio is clean and data transmission worked flawlessly. I have used this interface on my local digital net and it performs very well. This has definitely found a place in my Go Kit.

Update (March 2017)

I recently discovered that FLDIGI has a built in TX Audio Attenuator feature. Using this I can achieve much finer control over my transmit audio level, even with the soundcard’s speaker output set to 1% volume. This makes adding a resistor in the transmit audio wiring unnecessary.