VLF Contest Announcement

HCRA & SOTA Jerks
VLF Competition

VLF Bandscope

 

As you know the FCC has recently approved amateur radio use on the VLF (Very Low Frequency) bands starting September 15th, 2017. These bands are 135.7 to 135.8 kHZ (2,200 meters) and 472 to 479 kHz (630 meters). More information can be found about the authorization and bands by clicking the links.

It’s unlikely anyone will be using these bands for a SOTA activation but nevertheless the SOTA Jerks have proposed a QSO competition to spark interest in the new allocations. Our two clubs have gathered together $100 to award the winner of the competition. In the spirit of keeping things simple we’ve made the rules easy to follow. It’s up to you, the station builder/operators to do the heavy lifting on this one!

Rules:

  1. Eligibility
    1. All participants must be hold the proper license and permissions to use the VLF bands.
      1. Bands are open to General and above and permission must be secured by applying to UTC.
    2. All participants must be a member in good standing in either club.
    3. No participant shall have held an experimental license for these bands. We are looking for new folks to give VLF a try
  2. Contest Period
    1. Contest starts October 15th, 2017 at 0000z
    2. Contest ends March 15th, 2018 at 2359z
    3. Winner will be announced at HCRA’s April 6th 2018 meeting
  3. Bands
    1. 630 or 2,200 meters only
  4. Mode
    1. Any mode authorized for 630m or 2,200m
  5. Prize
    1. The winner will receive a $100 gift certificate to DX Engineering
  6. Selection criteria
    1. The winner is the operator with the longest distance, confirmed QSO.
      1. Distance determined by Latitude/Longitude of each station.
        1. Here’s a handy on-line calculator: https://www.mapdevelopers.com/distance_from_to.php
      2. Confirmation Proof by LotW or card only
      3. All entries must contain proof of confirmation and the distance calculated between the two stations.
      4. In the event of a tie a drawing will be held to determine the winner.
  1. Entry Requirements
    1. Submit your longest confirmed QSO to Jim Mullen via email or USPS by March 15th 2018
      1. Email: kk1w.jim@gmail.com or USPS to 144 Tower Hill Rd, Brimfield, MA 01010
        1. Enclose an SASE for return of any submitted cards

That’s all there is to it. As of this writing there are at least two transceivers that can be used without modification on VLF frequencies: Kenwood TS590 and Elecraft K3s. The Elecraft K3 can be modified to use these bands. Transverter kits for VLF are available, here’s one for under $100.

VLF Transverter Kit

These bands are more like our AM broadcast bands (think WHYN-AM 560) than traditional bands. Antenna size and power levels are limited so it shouldn’t cost a lot to be QRV on either of the bands. It will take some ingenuity and good ole’ ham ‘experimentation and modification’, which is exactly what amateur radio is all about.

There are many blogs on the web about VLF and the new bands. Here’s one from AE5X to get you started. These bands can be really interesting once you start digging a little deeper. Your efforts represent the start of a new ham radio frontier!

 

Good luck and may the longest QSO win!

’73…
HCRA and SOTA Jerks

SHOW & TELL 2017 – there’s still time!

People, Projects and Prizes!

As of this writing (March 16th) it’s three weeks until HCRA’s Annual Show & Tell on April 7th. That also means it’s only three weeks to finish your project, put together documentation and perhaps win a nice prize for your efforts. No time you say? Well, twenty two days is over three weeks the last time I checked. I’m sure you can rustle up something to show off to the crowd, get their creative juices flowing for 2017 and maybe win a nice prize! But… you really need to get started pretty soon!

BONUS SNOW STORM!

I don’t know if you noticed but the “super storm” of March 14th has effectively pushed back any yard work for at least a few weeks. Now you’ve time for a project and a prize!

K1VOI and the antenna gun. WB1DBY photograph

What exactly is Show & Tell you ask? Well, it’s a chance to show the members something cool you’ve done in your shack, antenna farm, secret laboratory, etc. over the last year. Maybe it’s a new antenna that works like a signal magnet, or a neat way to mount a radio in today’s ‘too small’ vehicles, or a tesla coil (yes, we’ve had one), or a KW amplifier (had those too), or a trick piece of software, or….  You get the picture. Speaking of pictures here’s a few photos from past events to whet your appetite.

KA1TDQ’s 75M AM Exciter

An RF sampler by KB1NWH. WB1DBY photograph

Rock-Mite and keyer by Matt, W1MSW. WB1DBY photograph

 

And of course there’s the prizes. This year the three winners get to choose from a hundred dollars worth of prizes that include an ARRL Operating Manual, a Raspberry Pi 3 and a TC-1 Multi-function tester.

Show & Tell 2017 Prizes

The audience votes for the best project, the votes are tallied and three winners are picked at the end of the evening. It’s easy to do and it’s fun. Of course everyone is a winner here because we all benefit by seeing what our fellow HCRA members created. Everyone in the audience and the presenters takes home a big dose of enthusiasm for 2017!

So there you go. Time to stop surfing, head to the shop and warm up the soldering iron. You too can be a winner at HCRA’s 2017 Show & Tell!

 

Adding Wifi to a KX3

Wifi inside a KX3

20140512_131034-001While browsing info on the ‘Piglet’ on Nick Garner’s Pignology web site the thought struck me, I wonder if I could install a version of the Piglet inside my KX3. I built my KX3 from a kit and never installed the battery holders or the internal charger. I’ve always operated the rig from an external supply;  either Lipo batteries or from a 12 VDC supply in the shack. Looking at the size of the Piglet I thought there might be room enough to fit it inside the KX3.

A few emails back and forth with Nick/N3WG, (the guy behind the pig) confirmed the possibility. Nick suggested a through-hole version of the board, minus the DB9 and Power Poles connectors, for experimentation. A few days later the parts showed up and it was off to the races – another first for Muppet Labs. Actually It turned out to be an easy project and enables logging with  Pignology’s Hamlog app without having to deal with wires.

The first ‘trial by fire’ was on top of Cascade Mountain in the Adirondacks. I brought along pencil and paper as backup but Nick’s Hamlog software and the built in Piglet worked perfectly. I logged 22 contacts without a hitch. I was using the Android version of the app which unfortunately does not export a SOTA compatible .csv file, hopefully Nick may add that in the future. I experienced intermittent cell service while on Cascade which let Hamlog look up callers in QRZ while I was logging. Very cool to be able to answer someone with a ‘Thanks Barry, you’re 599 72”, making a personable, but quick QSO. The photo shows the ‘shack’ on top of Cascade (3880’) but not the phone I was using for logging because???  You guessed it I was using the same phone to take the photo!

Piglet closeup

 

 
What you get is a really cool, KX3/W – not everyone has one of those, right?

This mod isn’t for everyone. You should be comfortable with soldering in tight places and not afraid to damage a $1000 radio. Battery drain is increased as the Piglet draws 70 ma, and you have to disconnect it if you want to use the ACC1 jack to update firmware or use a different logging program. For my use this is perfectly acceptable. The ease of logging and (hopefully) log upload to the SOTA database make it perfect.  As always YMMV, follow along for a detailed, step by step, article.

Caveats

  1. You will have to remove the battery holders in your KX3. This was not an issue for me as I never installed them in the first place. On summits I power the rig with an external Lipo battery, at home with a 12v supply.  If you’re OK with this then read on!
  2. You also need access to P3, so the KXBC3 can’t be installed. Since the battery holder isn’t installed you probably don’t have the charger anyway!
  3. Mounted inside the KX3 without its antenna exposed the Piglet’s wifi range is short, somewhere around 8 to 15’. I don’t see this as an issue as most people will be much closer than that when logging but figured I should point it out.
  4. The method I used to power it is unswitched, whenever there is power at the 9-15 VDC plug on the KX3 the Piglet is powered on. There is a spot on the circuit board with ‘switched’ 12 volts that could be used. This solves the always on when battery is connected problem but still means the Piglet is always on when the rig is turned on, and this presents the last caveat.
  5. Wired as shown the ACC1 jack is no longer usable with the KXUSB (or KXSER) cable when the Piglet is powered on. You must power off the Piglet in order to regain the use of ACC1 for firmware upgrades or using other logging programs.

If you can live with the above then here’s how you do it, including pictures!

This mod isn’t for everyone. You need to be comfortable with soldering in tight places. If you damage your KX3 I’m sure it won’t be fixed under warranty and you lose your internal battery holder.

Installing a Piglet inside an Elecraft KX3

  1. Obtain the Piglet board, minus the DB9 and Power Poles from Pignology
  2. Power up your KX3 and set the RS232 baud rate to 4800
    1. It’s easier to do this now than when the rig is apart for testing.
  3. Open up the KX3 for surgery
    1. I found it easier to work on the rig if I disconnected the flex cable and worked on the front half of the rig (the control panel side) without having the back half in my way.
  4. Remove the battery compartment shield board and battery holders if still installed. Don’t lose the screws holding the battery retainer and shield as It will be replaced.
  5. Prepare a small three conductor, 6” long, color coded cable.
    1. On one end strip 1/8” of insulation and tin the wires.
    2. Solder the ends to the ACC1 jack as shown
    3. Make note of the color code so you can connect them to the correct lands on the Piglet circuit board.
    4. Leave the other end of the cable free for the moment.ACC1 wiring
  6. Replace the battery compartment shield board (you didn’t lose the screws, correct?
  7. Prepare the Piglet (Figure x)
    1. Solder a jumper between pins 4 and 8 of the DB9 connector traces.
    2. Solder a (+) and (-) 2” jumper with jacks to the appropriate locations (where the Power Poles should connect) on the board. See the parts list for the jumpers/jacks I used.Piglet data connections
    3. Roughly locate the Piglet where it belongs
    4. Cut the wires from ACC1 to a comfortable length and solder them to connections 2, 3 and 5 of the DB9 connector traces. You did remember your color code, right?
    5. Use double stick foam tape to mount the Piglet as shown.
    6. Clean the shield and bottom of the Piglet board with alcohol, it really helps the tape stick better.
    7. Connect the power jumpers you installed to pins 1 and 10 to  the KX3’s plug P3KK1W on Cascade Mtn.
    8. Positive (+) goes to pin #1
    9. Negative (-) goes to pin #10
    10. P3 is the plug for the KXBC3
  8. Reconnect the KX3’s flex cable
  9. Plug a known power source into the KX3’s 9-15V power jack. You should see LED’s start to flash on the Piglet
  10. Verify you can see the Piglet in your mobile device’s Wifi list.
  11. Turn on the KX3
    1. Start your Hamlog app and follow Nick’s instructions for setup.
    2. If everything is correct you should now be able to control your KX3 with your mobile device
  12. Congratulations – you now have a KX3/W (Wifi)!

Parts List:

  1. Piglet board w/o DB9 and Power Pole connectors:  Pignology
  2. Small, flexible wire with push on connectors. I used product number 826 from Adafruit for both the ACC1 wiring and the power connections:   http://www.adafruit.com/products/826
  3.  Double stick foam tape. I used servo tape available from any R/C hobby store. Something similar to this should work fine:  http://www.sigmfg.com/IndexText/SIGSH119.html

Other information

1. Elecraft KX3 Schematic KX3 Control Panel Connectors:  http://www.elecraft.com/manual/KX3SchematicDiagramDec2012.pdf

2. KXSER Schematic the cable schematic is on the last page: http://www.elecraft.com/manual/KXPA100%20Owner’s%20Manual.pdf

Don’t forget to disconnect the battery when you’re not using the KX3 or the Piglet will deplete it. The Piglet shows approximately 70ma of current when running. Considering the KX3 can draw up to 3A on transmit it isn’t going to reduce your battery life significantly.

Remember! If you need to use the ACC1 jack with the KXUSB (or KXSER) cable you will have to turn off the Piglet. What I do is open up the rig and remove the (+) connection to the Piglet. I’m sure some craftier folks could find a way to add a switch but I’m OK with this simple approach. The KX3 is usually used portable and the frequency of firmware updates doesn’t make it a burden to stay with the simple approach.

There doesn’t appear to be any negative impact on the KX3’s performance, either RX or TX, since the modification. I don’t have access to sophisticated test equipment but A/B comparisons to an Icom IC756-2 with weak signals, before and after the mod, didn’t show any RX degradation from the mod.

Ideas, questions, suggestions, corrections?  Feel  free to drop me an email!

’73 and enjoy your KX3/W

Jim/KK1W
mailto:kk1w@arrl.net

 

Massachusetts to Host USA ARDF Championships June 5-8

The USA ARDF (Amateur Radio Direction Finding) Championships return to the Northeast this year. ARRL ARDF Coordinator Joe Moell, K0OV, said on-foot foxhunting fans of all skill levels will gather near Boston in early June for 4 days of intense competition. Registration to participate in the event has been extended to June 1.

Activities begin on Thursday, June 5 with a 10-transmitter short-course sprint competition on 80 meters. The following day is the foxoring event, a combination of RDF and classic orienteering on 80 meters in which participants navigate to marked locations on their maps where very low-power transmitters can be found nearby. Saturday morning will be the classic full-course 2 meter main event, with five transmitters in a very large forest. The banquet and awards presentation follow that evening. A similar full-course 80 meter main event takes place Sunday morning, with awards presented afterward.
ARDF champ Vadim Afonkin, KB1RLI, is this year’s lead organizer, event host, and course-planner.

National ARDF championships typically take place in late summer or early fall. This year, though, the ARDF World Championships will take place during early September, however. To provide plenty of time for selecting Team USA members and planning overseas travel, the 2014 USA ARDF Championships must take place 3 months before.

ARDF championship rules are set by the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU). For scoring and awards, participants are divided into 11 age/gender categories. In classic ARDF championships, competitors start in small groups comprised of different categories.

The USA ARDF Championships are open to anyone who can safely navigate the woods solo. A ham radio license is not required. Each participant competes as an individual.

Stateside winners will be considered for membership in ARDF Team USA, which will travel to Kazakhstan for the 17th ARDF World Championships.

An online entry form and more information are available on the Boston ARDF website. Read more. — Thanks to Joe Moell, K0OV, ARRL Amateur Radio Direction Finding Coordinator

 

Show & Tell Meeting – March 7th

There are less than two months left before Hampden County Radio Association’s Annual Show & Tell meeting. During this meeting members bring in projects they have either completed or have made progress on over the last year and give a short presentation to the membership. This is a great opportunity to show others what you’ve been up to and for fellow club members to get ideas on projects they might want to try. Past projects have ranged from the simple to the complex and from very small to very large and everywhere in between. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to share. There is still plenty of time to build that kit you have stashed away or put together photos from the project last summer. We look forward to seeing what you’re up to! If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

73,
Matt – W1MSW

2013 Annual HCRA Show & Tell Meeting a Success

Last Friday’s Show & Tell meeting was a great success.  We had 9 members bring projects that were either completed or close to completion. All of the presenters did a great job explaining their projects in detail to the club and the audience had good questions for the presenters.  Congratulations to Juergen – AB1SU (DK1TM) who scored the most points with the audience and chose the Raspberry Pi microcomputer for his prize.  Jeff – NT1K & Dan –KB1VWQ tied for 2nd place and duked it out over the last two prizes.  After the dust settled, Dan went home with the Arduino Uno Microcontroller and Jeff took home two raffle tickets for the KX3 drawing.  All of the presenters did a wonderful job with their projects and we thank you for taking the time to show your fellow club members what you’ve been working on.   Thank you to everyone who was able to make the meeting, including those who were able to tune in via the live stream on the HCRA USTREAM channel.  A special thank you to Jeff – NT1K who setup the live stream and manned the camera throughout the evening.  It’s never too early to start thinking about that project for next year!

If you were unable to attend the meeting, you can always see what you missed here: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/29659726

Matt – W1MSW

Visit the HCRA Table at the MTARA Hamfest this Saturday.

MTARA Hamfest this Saturday, March 2nd – Visit us at the HCRA club table!

The hamfest/fleamarket season is just getting underway. What better way to break out of the winter blues than to spend a few hours with your local friends, wander aisles of tables full of ham radio bargains, eat food you probably shouldn’t, and overall have a good time than to go to one? I for one can’t think of anything better, that’s for sure. Lucky for us there’s one right around the corner!

The generous folks at MTARA have again made tables available for local clubs and HCRA will be there in full force. Please stop and say hello while you’re browsing the aisles for that ‘special bargain’. Want to join or renew your membership, you can do that. How about chatting with club members, yep, you can do that too. Buy a raffle ticket or three for a KX3 – most certainly. Pick up a bargain item donated from our members – yes sir. We’ll even have a few projects from the previous nights Show & Tell on display, maybe they will inspire your creative juices and give you ideas of what ‘stuff’ you can pick up to build something yourself?

KX3 Raffle. The winning ticket for an Elecraft KX3 will be drawn around noontime at the hamfest. Tickets are selling fast (there’s only 250 being sold) so stop by the table early to get yours. Think about how you will feel taking home a $1000 radio for the price of a winning ticket!

Do you have something you would like to donate to HCRA to sell at our table? If you do please either bring them to Friday’s HCRA meeting or contact Jim/KK1W for pickup. We’re not accepting items for sale, just donations. If you have items to sell yourself contact MTARA (see link below) and see if they have any table space left. And please, no computer monitors, printers or anything else you would have to pay for disposal.

The MTARA Hamfest will be held at the Turnverein Club in Feeding Hills, MA. Doors open to the public at 8:30 AM. For more details and directions please click here.

See you at the hamfest!

Jim/KK1W

 

 

Foxhunting meeting tomorrow night – don’t miss it!

February first is indeed tomorrow – also the date of our next HCRA meeting.

We’re putting on an ‘all about foxhunting’ presentation by a few of our members. If you’ve never heard of foxhunting this will be the time to learn. If you have foxhunted in the past that’s OK, we’re going to cover some exciting new material, both technology and methods, you may have missed over the last few years.

We’ll have a brief presentation with visual information and a video, presentations by some experienced foxhunters, examples of equipment used and then it is YOUR turn. Would you like to jump on board and ‘re-invigorate’ foxhunting in the area and if so – what type(s) of hunts would appeal to the majority of our members?

In the back of the hall Jeff/NT1K will conducting the ‘Build-a-Beam’ workshop.The results will be a perfect foxhunting antenna. If you are one of the dozen or so folks signed up don’t forget to bring your payment along. I don’t believe our Paypal account is setup for payments quite yet.

Don’t forget to pick up a KX3 raffle ticket while you’re there – they’re going fast and the drawing is only a month away.

See you tomorrow night,
Jim/KK1W

VHF 3EL Tape Measure Yagi Workshop – February 1st

A part of next month’s meeting will consist of a “Build A Beam” workshop where you can build a 3 element VHF Yagi that is made from PVC and measuring tape.

3EL Beam

 

It’s a great antenna for portable operations such as foxhunting (RDF), SOTA, camping or anything else that you need an improved antenna over the stock “rubber duck” antenna that comes with your portable.

Here is a quick video of it in action.

The antenna will be mostly fabricated before the meeting. At the meeting we’ll be assembling the antenna and soldering on the coax which makes it a easy and fun build.

The antenna will end up costing $20 that has to be pre-paid before the meeting to cover the costs of material. If you’re interested in making an really neat Yagi, please fill out the form below.

UPDATE: ALL SPOTS ARE FILLED. NO MORE ANTENNAS AVAILABLE! 
Those whom have not paid, please bring cash to the meeting. Thank you!

Kenwood IF-232C USB Replacement Interface

For those of you with ye olde Kenwoods, this little rig control interface may be of some interest to you. It does what the Kenwood IF-232C does but only cost me about $25 and a little time for soldering.  I haven’t tested every aspect of it yet, but I know the VFO changes in both N1MM and Commander from the DXLab Suite.

http://people.wallawalla.edu/~Rob.Frohne/SDR/USB%20Interface/IF-232%20USB%20Replacement.html

A couple notes from my experience building it:

Because the site in the tutorial was out of stock at the time, I purchased my board from here:
http://www.karlssonrobotics.com/shop/breakout-board-for-ft232rl-usb-to-serial/

Also, my board had a solder jumper with two connectors, so I just moved the solder bridge from the 3.3V pin to the 5V pin removing the need for the extra wire jumper in his design.  My board had different connections on the sides so I just connected wires to the connections indicated by the pinouts of the DIN-6 (RTS, CTS, RXD, TXD, GND).  These are clearly indicated on the underside of the board (my board at least).  Yours may vary here as well, so look before you leap.

In addition, the mappings to the DIN-6 connector are as you’re looking into the radio, not as you’re looking into the connector. I discovered this the hard way and had to do some resoldering.

One last note: FTDI released a successor for MPROG called FT_Prog which works perfectly fine for programming the chip for the inversions needed. Drivers are available on their site, but Windows 7 SP1 x64 pulled them down from Windows Update without a problem.

There is also a utility on the FTDI site to remap COM ports if the chip ends up with a COM number greater than 8 (the max N1MM supports).

73 and Happy New Year de K1MAZ