Thursday, 5 February 2015

Clansman UK/RT-320

A great many thanks today go to David G3RYP, for the long term loan of his Clansman prc-320 (UK/RT-320) HF manpack transceiver. After a pleasant drive that only involved me getting lost once (just a simple wrong turn), I collected the kit this morning. This involved a nice chat about all things radio, a much appreciated cup of tea, and an obligatory shack nosy!

After a similarly pleasant return drive, during which I managed to make the exact same wrong turn but in reverse, I arrived home with the kit at exactly the same time Julie did. It took me 10 mins to unload and set up the kit for testing, but it took Julie only 5 mins to tell me off for cluttering the house up with it!

The Clansman series of radios served the British Army through much of the later years of the Cold War, having replaced Larkspur. Consisting of HF, VHF and UHF equipments, the UK/RT-320 is the HF SSB and CW part of the series. Now replaced by the much vaunted and now much derided Bowman system. These radios are certainly not lightweight, but they are seriously rugged. As can be seen in the photo above, tuning is by decade switch - it wasn't expected that the average soldier would do much band searching for DX! A built in manual ATU takes care of antenna matching, and this beast can work with everything from its 2.5m whip, to full size dipoles and everything in between.

There are two options for carrying this thing - a pack frame, or a padded Bergen. Luckily, Davids radio has a Bergen! Working out which of the many straps provided were for the 320 took a while! Shown above is the radio in the Bergen and with the 2.5m whip antenna. The funny little rolled thing next to it is the solar radiation shield, used to keep the radio cool when fighting in the various sandy parts of the world.

One thing I havent yet quite got set up right is the headset! Getting it all adjusted for my head, and then getting the mic positioning right, is somewhat fiddly.

David also kindly lent us a spare battery and a charger.

I have yet to use the set on air, and as its now quite late at night, the whip antenna would be pretty inefficient on the bands that are currently open. So, having familiarized myself with its operation and setup, I await daylight and the opening of the higher bands for trying it out on air.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

ATX80 A Little Further

A bit of time spent in the workshop late this evening, and the ATX80 ARDF Beacon is a little closer to complete.

The side of the case has been removed to allow the 10x AA battery holder to slide in and out as needed, and the PCB is now supported securely on four nylon stand off posts. These had to be cut down, and the cut ends re-drilled to allow insertion of a few self tapping screws. A layer of tape on the case, and a sheet of plastic film between the stand-offs and the PCB is still needed, just for safety to ensure the batteries cannot short to anything.

The next step is to replace the ATU circuit with this one.  This should allow 5m or shorter antenna wires to work with the beacon. Once thats working, all thats left is to add a label on the inside of the lid with the operating instructions on it, and one on the outside showing what the unit is!

Saturday, 31 January 2015

ATX80 ARDF Beacon Transmitter

Another part complete project!

I stopped working on this a couple years ago when I couldnt get the antenna matching unit to work, and decided that I would re-engineer it for a small SLAB battery,  well, I never got around to that, and the original 10x AA's is probably as good as anything. The board incorporates a simple resistive current limit charger.

The ATX80 is a design by ON7YD of a 80m ARDF low power beacon transmitter, intended to be used with a simple wire antenna and concealed as part of a direction finding contest. My intention, was to use it to demonstrate ARDF to the local schools, with a view to setting up proper events.

The beacon itself worked fine with a simple wire antenna and counterpoise, the inclusion of the ATU was to allow it to use shorter wires. I suspect the design of ATU I used just isnt very good, so will redo it for another proven design.

The first challenge though is to redo the PCB standoffs to allow the board to be secure and yet allow the battery box to fit underneath it. Part of the side wall of the box will need to be cut away to allow the box to slide out when necessary.

The ATU requires not much more than a bit of a rewind, and a few more diodes. It shouldnt take long to get working and finished.

Details of this design can be found here

If your interested in Amateur Radio Direction Finding, and radio-orienteering, G3ZOI has lots of useful info, including details of events, here

A few years ago myself and Sam took part in an open event near Blackpool, we didnt win, in fact we came all but last, but it was great fun! Were now fitter and more knowledgeable, so perhaps, next time...

Now Active on 5MHz

Ive been meaning to get a 5MHz NoV (Notice of Variation) for some time, but as usual never quite got around to it. This afternoon, for some reason, I thought i'd quite like to try 60m WSPR, so, knowing there have been changes to the 5MHz rules but unsure if the NoV had been relaxed or not, I searched for info online, and came upon the RSGB's online NoV application form.

Not thinking too hard about it, I filled in the form and clicked submit, expecting now a long wait for a letter from Ofcom, but no! An NoV arrived mere seconds later by email!

Within minutes, i'd retuned the DX-70 to 5MHz, adjusted the software settings, and was seeing my first WSPR spots on 60m!

A few more adjustments, and a bit of trial and error with the ATU, and im now running 2W at a 10% Tx cycle, and having my signal spotted as far out as Scotland and the Netherlands. So far, the DX-70 seems happy with the little excursion from its normal band ranges.

My next task is to look for a suitable box to build the 40m Sudden into! I have a small case from a defunct DVB-T Set Top Box, which might well make a nice case. I will check this out at the same time as sticking a rivet into the handle of my snow shovel!

Friday, 30 January 2015

New Toy Arrival

A few parcels have arrived in the past couple of days from the Far East. These include the Bluetooth A2DP receiver, and the K150 PIC programmer.

After looking more deeply into the various protocols used by the different types of Bluetooth equipment, im not sure that pairing this to a hands free microphone will actually be possible, however, I will try it out and see what gives. There may be a way to hack the beast. I suspect that the internals are a universal Bluetooth module, designed to be used for many and varied purposes, and it might just be a case of finding how to make it shift profiles.

All of which is currently academic - as I cant find the bloomin' hands free headset!

The K150 PIC programmer should now allow me, once I get suitable software installed, to start on the DDS VFO. As yet, the DDS module hasnt arrived, but, I should be able to get the controller and its LCD module working.

I do have a lot of part complete projects, that I really should get around to finishing off! These include -

40m Sudden receiver - needs boxing up
80m ARDF Beacon - needs battery pack, and possibly moving to a non metallic box
10m WSPR 'Wispy' transceiver - well, needs plenty of work!
4m - 10m Transverter - Needs final Tx stage, switching etc. Also, needs a 4m beam antenna!
Voice Keyer - needs a box

Many of these I could probably get finished if I just put myself to it one day!

Monday, 26 January 2015

Back On Air!

and it only took five months!

I finally got around to rebuilding the main station this afternoon. It had all been sat in a box under the desk since last Septembers CHOTA station.

It all seems to have gone back together properly, HF works, and it all looks neat and tidy on the desk, wonder how long that will last!

Too late to do much now other than a quick tune around and a bit of 40m WSPR monitoring. One thing that isnt quite right though, is that for some reason my PC Line In is 'unavailable', which is very odd, so im having to use the mic input, which isnt very good as I cannot lower the signal level enough, so am slightly overdriving the decoder.

MAG Lyke Wake Walk

Myself and Bob M1BBV are planning on doing the Lyke Wake Walk, 40 miles across the North York Moors, with 5000ft of climb, in under 24h, around mid-summer, in aid of the charity MAG (Mines Awareness Group)

Many people do this walk, but we're planning something a bit different - we will maintain HF radio contact throughout. What this means in real terms, is we will operate HF portable, under special event station conditions, making as many QSOs as we can during the crossing.

It is our intention to solicit sponsorship for both the walk itself, and per QSO. We also intend that QSL cards will have to be 'bought', the cost covering printing, postage and a donation to MAG.

There are three main difficulties with this venture, which are Physical, Electrical, and Logistical.

Physical - well, its 40 miles over mountainous terrain. This difficulty speaks for itself! Mucho training walking needed and good foot care!

Logistical - The route is linear, so, we have to not only get to the start, but also get back from the finish!

The biggie really is Electrical - neither myself nor Bob have suitable radio equipment! We have of course VHF handies, but they wont get us enough contacts. We need HF, and we need man-portable HF. Essentially, this boils down to just one system, the Clansman PRC-320 HF Manpack.

Now, we could just go out and buy one, but neither of us can afford it, even if we invested together. So, the challenge is to find some kind hearted and charitable soul who will be willing to provide us the equipment on loan for an extended period.

An extended, long term loan is needed as not only will we need to train with the radio on the hills to acclimatise to its weight, but also as nether of us were ever signalers, we will need to train with it on-air to become competent at setting up and operating the system.

Training with it will comprise a good number of SOTA activations!

Another difficulty not mentioned will be persuading Ofcom to allow us a special event station callsign. We could operate under our own calls, but it wouldnt have the impact of a SES callsign, and to be honest we'll get far more contacts working as 'GB0MAG'

The plan is to do the walk the week after summer solstice, so we have the maximum number of daylight hours, although we will probably start the walk at midnight, and get the most of the climb out the way whilst its cool.

I'll update this blog with details until such time as I have enough to start a dedicated blog. A 'justgiving' page will be arranged in due course.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Cellflex/Heliax DF Loop - Hmmm, Probably Not

Whilst sound in theory, the physical construction of a VHF RDF loop antenna using entirely 'hardline' coax has a number of drawbacks, which mean I probably won't pursue the design any further,

Firstly, these types of coax use a solid, continuous outer conductor, which is corrugated.  This makes it very difficult to remove just a little, theres no trimming it off with a pair of side cutters like with braid!

 The next problem, is that the inner conductor is just copper plated. This means it has a huge thermal mass, but very little of the heat you put into it goes towards warming up the copper so you can solder to it!

As one side of this antenna requires a 1/4wave of outer to remain, one end of the 1/2wave length of Heliax was bared back and the outer copper cut and soldered to the inner

Heres the cut in the middle. At VHF, this gap may be too small, and increasing it isnt easy. Likewise, adjusting the 1/4wave section to make a good match but cutting away a bit of the outer at a time, is going to be very tedious. 

But the big problem came here, with the Cellflex handle! Just look at the mass of copper! Even cutting it was difficult, and required the employment of a full size hacksaw

Soldering all this together was a nightmare. None of my soldering irons is capable of providing anywhere near enough heat for this job. Ultimately, the task fell to a butane torch. The whole thing was much closer to brazing than soldering.

And, with the loop now attached, a major structural problem came to view. The inner is taking all the bend strain at the 1/4wave cut.

 Although the Heliax is rigid, it will deform easily if bashed about. With the loop being some foot or so wide, I dont think its got the necessary strength to survive real life use. I will test it, and see if it performs as a loop antenna, and if it does indeed exhibit a single deep null, as to the design. But, I really think this is a dead end project. Indeed, im not yet even sure how the heck i'll connect a feedline to it!

 I think perhaps the 3-element 'Tape Measure' beam will be more successful. If, that is, I can find anywhere that stocks the T and cross pieces!

Friday, 23 January 2015

VHF DF Loop - with Integral Sensing

For some time now ive been planning building a 2m DF loop, something that can stay in the car as a ready to go device for tracking down interference and/or abusive/pirate transmissions on 2m. But as with a lot of stuff ive never quite got around to doing it!

Recently though I came across a simple design on the 'net, of a 1/2 wave loop made from coax. A 1/2 wave DF loop has a figure of eight radiation pattern, meaning the target can bearing can be found using one or other of the sharp nulls in the pattern, but leaving you with no clear idea which direction along that bearing is correct! A 1/4 whip would then be added to 'fill-in' one of the nulls, and allow the bearing to be established, this being known as a 'sense' antenna,

Where this design differs, and which lends itself to easy and simple construction, is that the 1/2wave loop is formed from the coax inner conductor, and the 1/4wave sense element is formed from the outer braid. The braid itself then also acts as a matching element, allowing the antenna to be tuned for best match to the 50 ohm feedline.

And it really is that simple. Add a bit of feedline to the radio, or a suitable connector, plus some hardware to make the whole lot rigid and provide a handle, and your away.

Im considering making one using some offcuts of Heliax, which will allow me to make the whole shebang - loop and handle, out of coax, and still be suitably rigid. A piece of 1" dia Heliax for the handle, and some half inch Cellflex for the loop, plus a pigtail length of RG-58 with a BNC connector on it. Perhaps, a single hole chassis mount BNC socket can be 'engineered' into the end of the Heliax handle...

The joints can then be coated in liquid rubber to seal them.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Planning a new mic interface for FT-857D

My Yaesu FT-857D is equiped with a homebrew interface box that allows me to use either the stock fist mic, or a modified ex-telco Plantronics headset, along with a remote manual PTT button. This is a good system, but has three drawbacks -

1. The mic level out of the headset (which gives by far the best audio) is much greater than that from the stock mic, and hence the radios mic gain setting for ideal SSB modulation with the headset means the fist mic is almost unhearable!

2. I have no way to inject DTMF tones into the mic line to use IRLP and Echolink, and I dont have a DTMF mic!

3. The current arrangement is also not open to use with my proposed Bluetooth mic system.

So, I have redesigned the interface. The new version will include a 1:1 audio transformer in the mic line, and a level control pot, to allow injection of DTMF tones from an external dialler, or, audio from the Bluetooth receiver. There will also be a level control pot in the mic line from the Plantronics headset, to allow the level to be turned down to match the fist mic, and so let the radios mic gain be set to the best for both. A switch will be provided to select between the two main mic inputs.

Ive seen cheap copy Chinese DTMF mics on ebay, these look like the Yaesu mics, but I dont know if they are exact copies, or whether I could make one work properly with the FT-857D. If they can, then one of these would eliminate the need for an external dialler.

I dont know when i'll be able to put this together, it all depends on finding a small but suitable box for the interface.