Friday, October 9, 2015

New antennas, 50 MHz and up!

I just completely reworked the VHF-UHF antennas here at the Palm HQ.  Everything came down, I installed a new rotor, and then put up new antennas on 50, 144, 222, and 432 MHz.  For 50 MHz I have a Cushcraft A50-5S five-element beam.  144 MHz is covered by a Cushcraft A148-10S 10-element yagi.  I built an N6NB 8-element quagi for 222 MHz.  And 432 MHz sports a 22-element K1FO yagi.

These antennas aren't up very high off the ground, but our QTH is at about 1250 feet above sea level and has a commanding view in all directions.

Everything performed very well in the September ARRL VHF Contest.  I have lots of plans to upgrade on all those lower bands, plus push up to 902 and 1296 MHz.  But for now it's simply nice to be back in business for basic VHF and UHF weak signal work.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Proper IF Rig.....Finally!

It has taken me way too long to get to this point.  I have been working off and on (mostly off, I'm afraid) working with and building my own transverters, for almost six years now.  One obstacle I've encountered again and again is the need for a proper IF rig, with an attenuator that switches in and out of the RF path during transmit automatically.

For those unfamiliar with how a transverter works, basically you start with a local oscillator (LO) at frequency X.  You then mix that with an intermediate frequency (IF) Y to get the desired operating frequency X + Y (or less commonly X - Y).  So for example if you start with an LO running at 756 MHz and mix that with the output from an IF rig at 146 MHz, presto! you're operating at 902 MHz.

I have found out the hard way that transverters are fiddly things.  The mixer that combines that IF and LO, for example, can only take a few milliwatts of power.  More than once I've blown the mixer on my transverter because I thought I could hook up an IF rig with no attenuator, just to test the receive path.  I won't accidentally transmit this time.....really, I won't (zork!  smoke......$#%@&!)

I've had a Downeast Microwave (DEM) Transverter Control (TC) kit for a long time now.  This board is particularly good for use with the W1GHZ transverters that I'm building, because it can be configured for transverters with a single mixer.  Well I finally got the thing built, tested, adjusted, and integrated with the rig.  It works great.  Why did this take me so long?  This is not exactly rocket science, eh?  I don't know why.  But I'm glad to have it done.

As you can see from the pictures, I have a Yaesu FT-817 and TC board (in a scrounged enclosure) velcroed together and connected with some stubby cables.  A single Power Pole connector powers both rig and TC with one connection.  Included in the enclosure is a SP4T RF relay that I got from K2TER (thanks Bill!), so that with the twist of a rotary switch (not yet wired in) I'll be able to switch my IF to up to four transverters.  I also rigged up a simple pushbutton allowing me to key the FT-817 while I test the transverters.

So that's the interface.  What about the rig itself?  I'm using a Yaesu FT-817 because I think it makes just about the perfect IF rig.  It can do 28, 144, or 432 MHz IF.  It can be modified to transmit out-of-band for odd IF frequencies (legal to do if you're only generating that RF for a transverter intermediate frequency.)  And of course it can do HF, VHF and UHF FM, satellite, and a bunch of other fun stuff.  I managed to find a reasonably priced FT-817 non-D radio, which was just what I wanted.  The non-D has had some problems with blown finals at full power, but I don't care about that because I'll only be transmitting at around 1 watt all the time.

I'm going to modify the FT-817 further to incorporate the N1JEZ/W1GHZ panadapter (I'll write up that project as it happens), which I'll then use with an inexpensive SDR-RTL (more on that later too) to get a waterfall display.

I adjusted the DEM TC board to give me just about 0 dBm (1 mW) out for 1 watt in (that's the L2 power setting on the FT-817.)  That lets me drop down to around -3 dBm with the 0.5 watt setting or bump up to 3 or 5 dBm if I need a bit more oomph.

So finally I have an IF rig tightly interfaced to a transverter control.  So now I just need to get a W1GHZ transverter on the air.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Getting a fresh footprint on 432 MHz at the Palm HQ

I am in the process of upgrading all of my VHF-UHF antennas here at the Palm HQ and made a nice breakthrough last night on 432 MHz.  For some years now all I've had on that band is a cheesy little 6-element beam.  That's not a lot of gain, so performance wasn't great.

I've been getting emails about a Monday night weekly net on 432 MHz run by Steve, N4PZ down in Mount Morris, IL which is a 130 mile shot from me.  Since I recently acquired a 22-element boomer for 432 I thought last night would be a good time to try things out.

I assembled the yagi, attached it to a 9 foot piece of PVC, lashed it to our clothesline pole, hooked up a feed line and routed that into the house.  The SWR isn't perfect, but not bad -- I can probably tweak that a bit for a better match.

I pointed the antenna in Steve's general direction and waited for the start of the net some hours hence.  But then I noticed that Bob, K2DRH, was on the ON4KST chat so I asked if he could give me a shout on 432.100 MHz.  In the meantime I ran outside and swung the beam to point more or less at Bob.  Sure enough, a few minutes later I heard Bob in there (he's also about 130 miles from me) and we were easily able to make the QSO.  Bob thought it should been stronger but since I just guesstimated his direction it probably could have been optimized.

I swung the antenna back toward N4PZ's QTH and not long after that heard him in there calling me.  There was some fading and, as with K2DRH, I'm sure that the direction needed to be tweaked.  But it was good solid copy both ways, even with my measly 10 watts.

When that antenna gets up to 40 feet and I kick in the amplifier I should be very solid indeed on 70 cm.