Setting up a modern APRS mobile station…

This is a post about my journey in getting a compact portable APRS station going for portable and emergency use…it will be over a few posts as I try a few different methods of implementing my system…enjoy!

APRS stands for “Amateur Packet Reporting System” – APRS has been developed since the late 1980s by Bob Bruninga, (call sign WB4APR), He still maintains the main APRS Web site. The initialism “APRS” was derived from his call sign.

First a brief history of my packet and APRS setups…

I have run packet Radio, off and on since 1995, when I was first licensed as VK5XAW. My first Packet Rig consisted of an Apple Mac Plus, a VK7TM (Sadly, long now a Silent Key) “Pocket Packet” modem I built from a kit, and my first 2m Radio, an Icom IC2GXAT 7watt handheld radio,  plugged into a pole mounted vertical up at about 10m high.21DA2C36-D048-4DEB-A013-974BD1EBE7A0

Everyone said it wouldn’t work, but work it did. As far as I knew I was the only one in SA using a Mac for Packet.

D0B662F1-8C16-485B-A430-D062F18D7BBBThe VK7TM kit modem worked
well and the software for the Mac impressed. I had a lot of fun on the VK5TTY bulletin board, and many direct contacts with Stef, VK5HSX.

I went to my first PC, a 486DX100, (!) and then a PK232 – a 424A8507-D7A7-4CE8-95B3-B45B0F806CD6real proper modem. The 232 soon got relegated to RTTY duties in contests, so I graduated to the PK88 and the MFJ TNC2 clones. I’m sorry to say I can’t even remember the name of the terminal software everyone used to use, written by a French ham? It was a long time ago.

Packet usage began to decline and started to go the way of the Dodo, When it was well and truely elbowed by the newly emerging all singing all dancing APRS.

I believed my first system, from (fuzzy) memory was a MFJ TNC2 clone with a custom ROM, not even a GPS, just  home lat/long entered in to the software as a home station. Quite boring really!

I then moved on to a couple of mobile setups, including a BD5C7FD5-A29C-4063-B62D-F3DCC85FDB52Byonics Tiny Trak3 with a Garmin GPS and Yaesu VX6R 5 Watt handheld, then neat system with an Alnico DR135 Mk111 2M Rig with an Argent Data Systems T2-135 internal modem fitted, with data display and FFD3BA14-A8D5-4189-9EC0-2EA0962494BEmapping/messaging from a dash mounted Garmin c510 StreetPilot in-car GPS/navigation unit. Luxury!!! The argent data setup used the proprietary Garmin sentences to do the overlays on the Streetpilot.

That system served me well despite its warts. It tended to D5C72EFE-8F88-44B7-B238-C16CD45AFCE8be erratic with keeping my own path on the GPS map, but did quite a good job of updating other stations. I found the Alnico Radio to be a good performer with bomb proof front end.

I hadn’t run packet for a number of years until recently. My needs with APRS have now changed, and as I’m quite often out doing Park Activations for the WWFF program, so I like the ability to map for two reasons.

A) As proof that I was where I said I was…and

B) Safety. If I’m lost, it should be easy to find me!

After doing a bit of trawling on the ‘net, it seems that there is quite a few options for APRS these days.

Kenwood and Yaesu both seem to have full function units, both high power mobile and Handheld, that are ready to go out of the box – just put your callsign and SSID in and you’re  away. These are a few generations in now, and have matured into 1 box solutions. Both have limitations with the information that can be displayed

As tech has moved on, so has software and by far the best 3571B18B-5DAF-4681-908F-A37F5C756F6Away to display yours and others APRS data is on aprs.fi, a web based app that uses google maps to plot positions and  track stations world wide in a web page.

Tablets have revolutionised mobile computing and this is the way I have chosen to go as a display for my vehicle APRS system that I’m currently putting together.

I have recently acquired a Samsung Galaxy Tab A, as the dash mounted Display for my APRS set up. It is simply Velcro’d to the dash surface, when in use, and removed when not required to reduce the risk of sun/heat damage or theft. It seems to work extremely well. The tablet doesn’t have to be flash, as long as it has an inbuilt GPS, most reasonably recent ones do, it should be suitable. not that you can even use an Android phone at a pinch. 20180706_163906

It is a perfect size for this application, and is a bigger, brighter and clearer display than any currently available out of the box APRS Radio, and can be used as an Android tablet when not pressed in to APRS duty.

The software that makes this all modern day APRS happen is an Android app called APRSDroid. It is a free download from the Google Play store. There is no equivalent iOS app, as iOS lacks support for Bluetooth Serial Port Protocol (SPP). The software supports the following connections…

1.via TCP/IP ( needs an internet connection), 2. via AFSK ( audio in and out using the headphone socket to a Radio, 3. via a Bluetooth to a TNC (like the Mobilinkd TNC) and finally, 4. Kenwood (NMEA waypoint)

At the moment, to get my position on the APRS network, my setup is operational with the2018-07-06 22.14.00 Samsung tablet > an ASFK connection via a simple interface> Yaesu FT7800R mobile radio.  APRS RX displays the incoming packets from the 2M Radio, and everything is displayed on the Galaxy tablet in the APRSDroid app. The only disadvantage is that it is not a wireless solution from the Tablet at present, but it’s cheap and it works. The goal is to have say a Pelican style case, with a 2M mobile radio and a Bluetooth capable TNC and all connections ready to go. Just plug it in to some power and an antenna and you’re on APRS, using the Bluetooth connected Tablet as a remote display. A picture tells a thousand words… I have started on the case for the setup, adding an auxilliary USB charging port shown here being tested on the way to help out on a Horus ballon launch with the club…

Until the next instalment on this build, here are a few links to the software and hardware I’m using…

Mobilinkd – http://www.mobilinkd.com/?gclid=CjwKCAjwj4zaBRABEiwA0xwsPwKCAQ68kaig3HeXiN_SCh4bcOryoV-f3G_yN9r2dX8ZgxSLVvXx1RoCXFgQAvD_BwE

APRS.FI – https://aprs.fi/#!lat=-33.86670&lng=151.20000

APRSDroid – https://aprsdroid.org/

Samsung Galaxy Tab A6 – https://www.samsung.com/au/tablets/galaxy-tab-a-7-0-2016-t280/

Andy

VK5LA

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Been a bit quiet… Update Time!

iciclesOK… it’s been a quiet month for us in the RRC. Perhaps the cold weather has been getting to some of us.

Andy VK5LA has still been busy activating parks up and down the Murray etc, Ivan VK5HS has also been out chasing Sondes and also been putting together chase car rigs.

Rob VK5TRM gave the club a presentation on his tracking station setup and I, Danny VK5DW, am working on putting together a HF APRS iGate, but early days at the minute so we’ll see what happens there. Others have been busy too, Ron VK5MRE has finished his Crossed Yagi and it looks really good so keep an ear out for him on the birds. And of course a number of our members helped out on the Riverland Paddling Marathon.

Speaking of APRS some of you may have noticed a couple extra callsigns appearing on APRS.FI about the Riverland, Andy VK5LA and I (Danny) VK5DW have been playing around in this space. Andy has transitioned from TCP/IP (VK5LA-10) to VHF. While I am still fluffing about on TCP/IP I am interested in setting up a HF (VK5DW-15) system, most likely on 30m I think.

gold-trophy_1284-1735Unfortunately posting to our website has gone a bit quiet but none the less the numbers keep ticking over. We have already surpassed our previous best year to date figures for unique visits, likes and comments… and we’re only 6 months into the reporting year. A really pleasing effort I reckon.

The club has been meeting twice a month as per usual and a sub-committee has been put together to start the ball rolling for the BRL Gathering in April next year. I’m sure Ron VK5MRE, Andy VK5LA and Ivan VK5HS will have this all well in hand by the time April rolls around. We’ve got a couple more Tech Nights planned out and we will be building a couple different HF field antennas, members choice, starting next session on Monday night July 23rd.

With July just around the corner it will soon be time for our Annual General Meeting in September. And so some thought has turned to the currency of our Constitution and Rules. It may be that some amendments are tabled for change.

A few little things on the radar for us includes the acquisition of a banner for use at club promotions and activities such as the upcoming Remembrance Day Contest in August in recognition of VP Day. We’re planning to activate for this special event somewhere, somehow.

Anyway that’s enough of an update for now, hopefully when the weather is a bit more kind to us we’ll be out nd about in force again.

Cheers and 73’s,

Danny VK5DW

Riverland Paddling Marathon (RPM)

Image result for riverland dinghy club photosThe Riverland Radio Club (RRC) assists the Amateur Radio Experimenters Group (AREG) provide communications and a safety network for the River Murray Marathon (RPM) a canoe paddling event http://riverlandpaddlingmarathon.com/paddling held over 3 days on the June long weekend. The AREG team spend many hours of work planning the event in conjunction with the canoe committee. The event is held over 200Km of river, starting at Berri and finishing down stream at Morgan. High cliffs and the meandering river presents challenges for providing continuous radio coverage.

A total of  87 various class of canoes with 124 paddlers entered the event. One of the AREG senior members had a shock when a race boat practicing for a upcoming event went passed his check point, going at 90Km/h it was a bit quicker than he was expecting 

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RRC members Nat, Peter VK5PE, Andy VK5LA, Ray VK5RR, Rob VK5TRM, Bob VK5FO, Ivan VK5HS participated in the event which provides a very welcome donation for our efforts. This event is our clubs major fund raising event for the year.

The RRC local 2 meter repeater situated at Rob VK5TS property provides Amateur voice communications as well as APRS for the Hams at the various check points. A commercial repeater is also setup to provide communications with the safety power boats. As the event moves further down stream away from the repeaters coverage, temporary communications equipment is deployed to maintain continuous communications coverage. The use of mobile phones is limited because of the cliffs shadowing reception from phone towers. 20180610_105800

This year RRC members, Rob VK5TRM club president, Andy VK5LA club secretary, Peter VK5PE with his wife Nat and  Ivan VK5HS  all operated check points with various activities ranging from spotting and reporting canoe numbers as they passed our check points, to assisting at race control with erecting masts , antennas and tents to operate out off.

Martin the race director at a 100Km start.

It had finally rained in the Riverland prior to the event, approximately 20mm had fallen making the clay mud flats very boggy for all to get to check points Rob VK5TRM had taken delivery of his Rav 4 on Friday and was keen to play in the mud along with a couple of the AREG team. Race control was quickly advised by the trio to tell the entrants to park on the high ground and walk into the start points at a couple of locations. Boys!!!

The teams are a mixture of members from both clubs, meeting people, putting faces to call signs and a lot of chatting about radios and many other subjects fill in the time between waiting for canoes to pass their check point.

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Andy VK5LA & Scott VK2JAX at a check point, they had to put the FT817 mic down for a photo opportunity.

One RRC member managed to make some Parks and Shire contacts on HF during his time at a check point. I am sure I read somewhere we were not to play in the Shires contest !!!

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  The River Murray provides some stunning views for the visiting paddlers. Below Peter and Nat enjoy a quite moment on the river bank

 Thank you to the club members who participated in this great fun event, all the necessary activities were handled well by the RRC members. Several Shire and Park contacts were made. To top the weekend off Andy VK5LA and Ivan VK5HS retrieved a Sonde after completing our Saturdays duties.

 

Thank you for reading my article and please leave a comment,

Ivan VK5HS..

White Dam Conservation Park

On Sunday, 3rd of June, I headed of early to activate the White Dam Conservation Park VKFF-1122.

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It was a very frosty -2.1 degrees when I got up to get ready to head out to the White Dam Conservation Park, VKFF-1122. First things first, COFFEE STOP!!! No affiliation, but Pit Stop in Barmera, SA is a favorite place of mine to grab a traveling caffeine fix when heading past…

20180603_072707The Park is located around 115Km from my home, just west of Morgan, on the Morgan -Burra Rd. It was a beautifully crisp and clear morning, perfect driving conditions for the 1 hour 20minute drive. I stopped at Waikerie to have a look at the low cloud/fog  in the river valley.

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Then on to Morgan and across the ferry…

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Then a short drive up the Goyder Hwy on the Burra Rd for about 14km until you get to the park…

The maps show the location of the park and my operating position just off of Powerline Rd, in the north west corner. This was one of the few places I could gain access to an area that looked suitable to set up. X marks the spot!

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The Park is described in DEWNR website as such, and I quote:

“Habitat: The landscape is flat to gently undulating, with much of the park comprising low open woodland of Black Oak (Allocasuarina cristata) with an understorey dominated by Bluebush (Maireana sedifolia). Other understorey species present include spear grass (Austrostipa sp.), Emubush (Eremophila sp.), Bullock Bush (Alectryon oleifolium), False Sandalwood (Myoporum platycarpum), Quondong (Santalum acuminatum), and Nitrebush (Nitraria billardierei).”

20180603_083431

I will now give you the description in layman’s terms:

“Hard Sand. Small, dead looking bushes . The few short trees look like they will die soon, and it’s too cold for Kangaroo’s or birds!

This is harsh country. The Park is intersected by the Goyder highway and there a a set of ruins in visible from the road in about the middle of the park on the northern side. It’s quite obvious that the park hasn’t seen a decent drop of rain for many, many months.

20180603_091616

It was still quite fresh when I parked the car and began to set up the station. I decided to run the 80M End Fed Half Wave (EFHW) again, as I have had good luck with it so far, and wanted to give any VK5 operators a chance to work me, as the close in propagation isn’t working too well at the moment on 40 M. Rob, VK5TRM was the first in the log, and I soon had the park qualified on 80M. I went to the 40M band after about 22 contacts in the log on 80M.

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40M was quite busy with the usual suspects calling me.

These stations made it P2P, most on several bands.

VK2JNG/P, VKFF-1165

VK4HNS/P, VKFF-1675

VK4AAC/3, VKFF-0622

VK3ZPF/3, VKFF-0622

The big surprise for me was 20M. The 80M EFHW Antenna is 2 wavelengths on this band and seems to work well. I had several contacts this activation and some quite close in VK3, not what I’m used to.

I finished the day with 55 contacts across 80,40 and 20M in the log.

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As it was a beautiful day I decided to stop again in Morgan for lunch. Last weekend, in between activating 2 parks, I went to the Terminus Hotel.

This week, I thought Id try the pub directly opposite…The Commercial Hotel…Not Bad!!!

 

 

VK5LA Murray Activator 10

I recently received my Murray River Parks Award 10 as an activator. This is a great motivator for me to get out and add to the tally. I am enjoying the activating in this nice weather, lets hope it lasts!

Thanks for reading,

Andy VK5LA

 

Fox / Sonde hunting

sonde7After 3 previous day time successful sonde recoveries, Peter VK5PE  and myself Ivan VK5HS thought we would attempt a night time sonde hunt using the chase car software. This was the first time I had used the software and Peters first attempt at a recovery.  I had been using a home brew 5 element yagi with a R10 Icom receiver, which can be seen in the below picture along with a phone antenna used for internet access in the vehicle, the old chassis houses the raspberry pi, RTL-SDR and antenna switch.  A quarter wave vertical and a home brew crossed dipole, is some of my other equipment I use.

sonde1

I decided to make a new directional antenna. After some research on the net,I decided on the HB9CV design. http://www.qsl.net/dk7zb/HB9CV/Details-HB9CV.htm   There is also a handy online calculator,https://www.changpuak.ch/electronics/HB9CV.phpWith the dimensions from the calculator I set about sourcing the necessary components all from the junk box.Some 10mm alloy tubing for the boom, a couple of stainless steel tapered whip sections which were off cuts from commercial whips, and a wire joiner terminal strip. I removed the brass wire joiners from the plastic housing and cut them in halves, a small screw and eye terminal for the coax ground.I drilled the boom as required by the plans.

sonde6 The element holes were drilled  to 1.5mm. The tapered elements are then tapped into position until they locked tight into the boom, the elements start at 1.2mm and finish at 2mm.  I then constructed the matching section from another off cut of whip.

Next I installed the matching section using heat shrink to lock the screws into place. Then the variable capacitor was installed to aid in tuning the antenna.

.

.

sonde4

I made up a coax to suit and then tuned the antenna for 402.00 MHz.

sonde2

The next test was to see if I could hear the sonde signals from Renmark, I started with listening for the Adelaide sonde which was a good signal at approx 6000m. Next I listened for the Melbourne sonde which I received with good signals at approx 20,000m. Then a test to compare front to back and vertical and horizontal polarization. All appears to work as I had hoped, now to wait for a sonde to travel towards the Riverland so the real test can be conducted. And yes we were successful in recovering our first night sonde.

I hope you enjoyed this article.  Ivan VK5HS.

My First Sonde Chase

Happy Pete 2After watching the progress of a predicted evening landing on Tuesday the 29th near Waikerie I called Ivan VK5HS and he was already thinking what I was thinking. This is close enough to do a recovery.

So on Tuesday evening Ivan and I headed off towards Waikerie. Due to Danny VK5DW not having the time or energy (Editor (VK5DW): very funny Pete!!!) to come along with us my wife Nat decided to tag along to see what I was so excited about.

We arrived at Waikerie at about the same time the Sonde launched and parked in a rest stop with some lighting. Ivan and I set up for tracking putting magnetic antennas on the roof and booting the computers up. Within a few minutes we were locked on to the Sonde and ready to roll. I sat in the back seat with all the gear and became the back seat navigator. After getting an update on the landing site I decide to head to Blanchetown and wait on this side of the river and re assess from there thinking the Sonde might land on either side of the river.

After arriving at the Murray River Blanchetown I was confident we could head toward Nottswell the predicted landing site. I chose a route which looked good on the map until we came to an intersection with a set of gates and a house number which made it look like a private road. Not wanting to knock on the door late at night I decided on an alternative route.

After only a few minutes heading North the decision was made to turn around and go back the way we came as the alternative route would require a possible long walk of 3 or 4 kms (Editor: SOFT!!!).

Arriving back at the same set of gates and house driveway as before, on closer inspection one set of gates was actually a public road. As the landing time as getting very close we moved quickly to a position on the road directly under the predicted flight path with about 3 minutes to spare before landing.

We had been tracking the Sonde on a 5/8  wave antenna with good success but now the Sonde was getting very close the Degrees of elevation was increasing rapidly and when it reach about 35 Degrees we lost the signal Ivan had put an antenna switch on the tracking setup so with a quick flick of the switch we change to the Crossed dipole and had the signal again.

I stood outside the car shinning the torch into the sky hoping I might be lucky enough to catch the reflector in the beam Ivan saw a quick flash of light but I was not quick enough to follow it.

Once the Sonde landed we checked the last GPS coordinates which we received at 60m altitude I entered the coordinates into Hema maps on my iphone and plots the location 1.1KM in from the road. Ivan also confirmed the direction with his hand held yagi and portable radio.

All 3 of us headed in the confirmed direction using both tracking methods. We were pretty lucky it was easy walking with very little scrub. We wTopo Mapere also lucky it was still transmitting as the paddock was full of small white limestone rocks making it hard to see a small white box among them. Using a good high power torch was great and about 200mtrs from the Sonde we could clearly see the light shining on the reflector. After taking the obligatory photos we headed back to the car. The route back to the cars was slightly longer than the route in due to me not following the GPS and thinking I could just head back the same way See pic. If you get the opportunity to do this I highly recommend it even if you have no technical interest my wife still found it interesting and fun.

Happy Pete 1

Editor (VK5DW): Pete VK5PE on the left is still smiling. Well done you three and great story Pete. Thanks for the contribution.

Two Park Sunday… VK5LA

On Sunday the 27th, I decided to head out early and spend the day activating 2 parks for the WWFF program.
The 1st park was Hogwash Bend Conservation Park VKFF-0892. This park is located on the River Murray, near the town of Cadell, in the Riverland region of S.A. It is approximately 75 Km from my home and I arrived at around 9:00am.
 
Screenshot 2018-05-29 21.27.52
Activation Spot
 
I travelled along the western boundary, it was well signposted but all the access gates were either locked or fenced off. I ended up walking in to the park after parking my car at the end of Hogwash Rd, near the entrance to the walking track. The red dot shows my operating position

 

The Wikipedia page has a good description of the park and the reasons for its existence https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hogwash_Bend_Conservation_Park

The park is adjacent to the popular “Hogwash” camp ground that is a Mecca for skiers and day trippers. The place is also packed at Easter and most long weekends. (when the water is churned to foam by so many boats)

Hogwash Bend Pk Sign

I set up my station just inside the park boundary, a few metres from the information bay in a clearing to the right of the walking track. You can just see my table set up on the right of the picture.

 
The weather loomed ominous, with threatening clouds, but any rain around either held of or missed me.
For the antenna, I set up the End Fed Half Wave I have been experimenting with. This antenna is approximately 40 metres long making it a 1/2 wave on 80M, 1 wave on 40M and 2 waves on 20m.
 

Match Trans 220180516_200335

To match it I used a 3:24 turns ratio autotransformer to match the very high impedance of the end fed ~3000 ohms to 50 ohms our rigs like to see. I had the transformer at the base of the Squid pole and the 40m length of wire vertical for around 7M and the rest tied of to a distant tree above head height. at around 40M long its a large antenna.

A quick check showed the VSWR on 80, 40, 20 and 10 M to be below 1.5:1 on all bands. no tuner needed! This was a very pleasing result as I meant I wouldn’t have to touch the antenna to change bands.

On switching on the radio I tuned the 80m band and was pleased that the WIA Broadcast relay, via John, VK5NX (in beautiful uptown Surrey Downs) was coming through very nicely. It had actually been many years since I had called in on 80M. The radio was also seeing a very low VSWR at 80M, 1:1.2 with out the tuner engaged.

 
Come callback time John’s signal was S9 as were the other callers. Rob VK5TRM from Loxton was the strongest Riverlander with a terrific 59+15dB signal, all others were very strong as well. My signal was heard very well by all parties.

I then commenced my activation and spent the next 2 1/2 hours getting my 44+ contacts to qualify the park. I was able to swap between 80 and 40M effortlessly, very convenient!
I did pull the EFHW down with about 15 contacts to go and put up the Linked dipole to check if it was any better. I wasn’t seeing/hearing any stark improvement, in fact I reckon signals on 40 were about the same, but without the convenience of instant band changes I couldn’t tell on 80 or 20M.
 

The next step is to have both the Link dipole and the EFHW set up together so I can do a direct comparison with a switch, which I will do soon on another activation.

I managed 49 QSO’s across 80 and 40M, covering VK1,2,3,4 and 5.

I packed up after 50 contacts and headed to the town of Morgan, for a bite to eat before heading to the next park. I ended up at the historic Terminus Hotel for lunch, one of the two classic old Aussie pubs in Morgan.

 

I decided on a stone grilled rump from this classic county Pub. The meal was great and the super friendly publican was a good laugh!

Lunch

After lunch it was of to park number 2, The Morgan Conservation Park, VKFF-0911.
This park is located south and east of the big bend in the river at Morgan, details here…https://www.environment.sa.gov.au/parks/find-a-park/Browse_by_region/Murray_River/morgan-conservation-park

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After leaving the hotel and crossing the Ferry I turned hard left, which puts you in the park. I drove past the Park sign and followed the road down past the many shacks that dot the river, hoping to find a nice clear section with some river frontage to set up the antenna. Unfortunately the track tuned to sand and I didn’t want to risk getting my Falcon bogged, so I found a clear area of the old Cadel Rd in which to set up for the remainder of the afternoon. The red dot indicated my operating position.

 

 
At this location, I set up out the back of the car and used a tree stump to attach the squidpole. I used a different autotransformer, this one having a 2:14 turns ratio, and using an FT140-43 mix core material, rather than the unknown core from the original
Autotransformer (AT) I wound that was salvaged from a commercial broadband HF antenna. The only difference in the actual antenna deployment was instead of having the AT at ground level I attached it at around 1 metre off the ground. I felt that the antenna seemed to work slightly better in this configuration. Further research confirmed my thoughts, others have confirmed there are less ground losses when the feed point is elevated,. 
 
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Match Trans

 
 
Car and Antenna
 
 
 
I was soon underway, activating 80/40/20 throughout the course of the afternoon, 20M did seem a little flat, but I did hear a VK6 Station calling CQ. I was chuffed to give Jason, VK6YTS a 55 report on a fairly flat band. He also reported he wasn’t hearing much, and gave me a 52.
 

I felt that the antenna seemed to work slightly better in this configuration, rather than with the Autotransformer/feedpoint at ground level. Further research confirmed my thoughts, others have confirmed there are less ground losses when the feed point is elevated,. 

Again, the convenience of not having to touch the antenna to change bands was a very handy thing, and made operating just that bit better.

I will have to conduct more experiments with the Autotransformers and EFHW wire, hopefully the next park will also be close to one of our lovely old country Hotels that do our state proud, even better if it’s lunchtime!

 

Tech Night – May 2018

Its been a while since our last posting so a quick update on the our Club members builds on their Crossed Yagis.

DSC_0743It was the Riverland Radio Clubs monthly Tech Night tonight which was scheduled for a bring in whatever you want help with night. So Ron VK5MRE and Rob VK5TRM both finished off their take on the build design of Danny VK5DW.

Ivan VK5HS bought in the ‘shorting’ bars for Ron and Rob to complete the Gamma Matches while both Ivan and Danny bought in their antenna analysers to help the lads give the yagis and tune.

20180326_211630Both antennas tuned up quite well and of course not solely satisfied with just an analyser saying the antenna is good to go, a few on air tests just had to be done to prove the point. So out in the car park of the SES Headquarters at Berri there we were trying to throw a signal into a couple repeaters around the area.

After the field tests which included trials of front to back and polarity attenuation, which all seemed quite good, we retired back to the comfort of inside. By now the Sonde WX balloon had been launched from Adelaide, so it was time to get out with Rob’s VK5TRM antenna configured in the 5 element 70cm format to see if the Sonde could be heard.

Adel_BerriYep sure enough it was there, given we are about 200kms away and on the wrong side of the Mt Lofty Ranges we were getting the Sonde from the SES car park with a hand held antenna with the Sonde at only about 4500m elevation. Yep Rob seemed happy with that.

Once again we returned inside for a bit of a chat before retiring for the evening.

Thanks for reading,

Danny VK5DW

Pooginook Conservation Park VKFF-0929

Map ImageOn Saturday 5th of May I activated another park for WWFF and VKFF.
Pooginook Conservation Park is a plot of mallee about a 45 minute drive, approximately 50 km west of my home QTH.

From the National Parks website…
“The dense Mallee scrub in the northern part of the park provides shelter to a range of wildlife, including Kangaroos, Echidna, Hairy-Nosed Wombats, Fat-Tailed Dunnarts and the rare Malleefowl. In contrast, the southern section features open Mallee as the area was once largely used for wheat farming.

The park provides good opportunities for bird watching. Keep a look out for Black-Eared Miners, Honeyeaters and many other colourful Mallee birds. During spring the park blossoms, displaying a variety of colourful Mallee plants. The park’s camping ground is accessible to conventional vehicles, however, some sections of the boundary road are only accessible by 4WD.”

I drove in to the park from the Goyder Highway, it’s signposted but the sign is old and faded and is white on a brown background. As I pass this sign regularly for work road trips, I knew it was there but if you’re unfamiliar with the area you might miss it.
file5The Park sign itself is old and dilapidated, I’ve noticed a lot of the South Australian Park signs have been upgraded to nice clear easy to read Green/white signs but this one hasn’t made the grade yet…

I only had to drive in a short way until I found a nice clear area to park my vehicle and set up the station…

file1Although the signs have long disappeared I’m fairly sure this is one of the designated camping areas in the park. If you do come here to camp overnight or longer, you will need to bring absolutely everything, as there are no facilities here.

 I wasted no time in setting up the station between my car and a convenient tree. The weather was perfect for a park activation, around 22 degrees with a coolish, light south westerly breeze. Although there were some visible 22Kv power lines running east west about 500 metres away to my north , I hoisted my Link dipole up on its Squidpole so that both legs were at 90 degrees to them to hopefully quench any noise they might generate. I didn’t have to worry however, as the noise floor was non existent, the joys of a quiet park!

 

 

This activation was an interesting “first” for me. This was the first time I would be using a logging program on my iPad to log the Park contacts, instead of the usual paper logs. I hate paper logs, and the work involve in getting the contacts into a computer and emailed off to the right people.

I had done a fair bit of research in looking at a log programs that would be suitable for a park activation. My requirements were quick entry capability, support for VKFF/WWFF and generation of the correct ADIF formatted logs for direct emailing off to the coordinator. There didn’t seem a lot out there.

I was at the stage where I was considering buying an Android tablet so I could run the most excellent VK-Port-log (http://vk3zpf.com/vk-port-a-log). After registering and downloading the app from the files section of the yahoo group, I gave it a try on my android phone. It’s very good but the phone format I find is a little small for the eyes and fingers.

It was while I was looking at the parks and peaks web site where I saw a link to the Parks and peaks iPhone app (https://www.vk5ayl.com/). Sue only had the non logging version available via the App Store so I got in contact with her about the newer V2 version that supports logging. To cut a long story short I soon became a beta tester and was now trying the app in the real world for the first time…

 

 

The app offers spotting and alerting to the parks and peaks website, along with logging of contacts for an activation…

This is all entered as you log the contact, directly into the phone or iPad. It’s very quick and easy to do. Most fields can/will auto populate, for example when you enter a call sign, if there is a matching name in the database (which is updated at the push of a button under settings) it will magically appear in name field.

file11After the QSO’s are done you are left with the log for the activation. You can Scroll through and edit any entry with a double click if you need to.

Then export the log…

file12

It’s really that simple.

Just like Port-a-log has revolutionised portable logging for the Android platform, Parks and Peaks will soon be the go to app for the iOS platform.

Ok, there was a few things about the app that I felt that needed attention and Sue, VK5AYL was most receptive to ideas. I’ll be using this app on all my park activations
from now on, it’s fantastic! No more dread of converting paper logs into the computer. (Yes. There will always be a pen and paper in the go kit just in case)

I ended up with 55 contacts in the log in about 2 1/2 hours. You tend to learn something each activation and for this one, it was “Don’t forget the Aerogard”
I did, and the flies were INCREDIBLY annoying!!

Andy, VK5LA

Recent Andy VK5LA Activations

On Sunday the 29th April I decreed it “Get out and play Radio day”, as it was the last day of a 2 week Annual leave break for me. A relaxing day in one of our beautiful parks seemed like a perfect way to end my break.

32130442_10214326172020994_1585984036315070464_n
 
I’m lucky enough to have the Murray River National Park VKFF-0372 within a stone’s throw from my home location, (see the map) so it was a trivial matter to pack up my portable station (more on this later), pack a lunch and put everything in the car and head out.

The Katarapko section features 9,148 hectares of black box, red gum and lignum covered floodplains and wetlands, that are alive with aquatic bird species. Katarapko Creek itself is a significant creek that flows through the park and provides great canoeing All the creeks and waterways in the park are a very important habitat for native fish. The Ngak Indau walking trail is great for viewing the abundant wetland birdlife. Rilli Island, Media Island and Kapunda Island Conservation Parks are also part of Katarapko. These are easily accessed from the River proper, best from the Loxton boat ramp if in a power boat.
Katarapko itself is divided into three sections: Lock 4 section, Eckert’s Creek section and Katarapko Creek section. Each section has a separate entrance with visitors being unable to move from one section to another through the park.
31960740_10214326205221824_4067388592576528384_nhttps://www.environment.sa.gov.au/parks/find-a-park/Browse_by_region/Murray_River/murray-river-national-park#about
Katfish Reach is a community environmental rehabilitation project that encompasses the Katarapko and Eckert Creek area. The area has been identified as a priority floodplain for environmental flows, and for broad‐scale rehabilitation works for native fish.
32073015_10214326166300851_3805240496251469824_nhttp://katfish.org.au/ 
In about 5 minutes I was at the park entrance of the Katarapko – Eckerts Creek section of the Murray River National Park.
 

I wasted no time in setting up after finding a suitable site. I had a brief look at several potential areas before deciding on Campsite 14. This area is marked on the map and is at the junction of the Eckert Wide Waters and the South Arm.

There wasn’t a soul around, and the Squidpole was suitably strapped to a convenient tree and the 20-30-40 Metre link dipole hoisted up and the antenna ends tied off. My portable table was called to arms and the station set up in the shade of a lovely old tree in about 10 minutes.

 

 

 

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After a quick bite of lunch, I spent an enjoyable afternoon, easily qualifying the park, making 77 QSO’s across 40 and 30 metres. The band conditions were quite good, and the super low noise floor of operating in an area with no man made noises from power lines or electrical goods allowed me to work stations low down. Most stations were ‘armchair” copy, 5 by 7 being the normal signal report.

I have often been asked about my Antenna and radio setup by operators I contact on the air during my park activations. My portable station seems to work well. I can usually work anyone I can hear, including DX stations. It is a simple setup, and it’s quick and easy to deploy.

 

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The Radio
For the majority of activations, where you drive in to the park and set up “Picnic Style” with a table and chair, you can’t beat a 100 Watt class radio. My choice is the Icom IC-7300, a fantastic rig with a large, easy to read display, excellent receiver and punchy transmit audio. This is my preferred rig, 100 watts of TX power seems to be the way to go while the sun is half asleep and conditions are average.
I also have a Yaesu FT817 that has been a trusted companion over quite a few SOTA activations, many, many VHF/UHF Field days and a few park activations. If I need a light weight option then this little Radio is a fantastic choice.

32081608_10214326171180973_8703392690064064512_nThe Antenna
My antenna at the moment is a very simple “Link Dipole”. There is a million pages of info on the internet about these so I wont elaborate here. A picture tells a thousand words. Mine is for the 20, 30 and 40 Metre Amateur bands, and has been adjusted so that the VSWR is below 1.5:1 on each band. This is so it can be used with a Radio that doesn’t have an antenna tuner, like the FT-817.

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32074746_10214326167580883_4781961727749128192_nSquid Pole
The ubiquitous Squid pole has be a handy dandy addition to the portable Ham Radio station for quite a few years now. Mine is a one of Australian distributor “Haverford”, 7M heavy duty model. This has served me well over the years. It gets strapped to a Tree, post or other support with an octopus strap.
 
The Table
My table is a lightweight fold up aluminium job I obtained from Cheap as Chips around 10 years ago. It packs up into a bag that’s slightly smaller than your average camping chair.
 
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Other things to make life easy out in a park come from experience. The chair for instance, is quite important since you spend a fair bit of time in it. My wife has a very nice “Jetpilot” branded chair that just seems to be 10 times more comfortable than the average camp chair so I take that with me at every opportunity.
I’ve recently begun using a quality external speaker that points at me when sitting at a table, this makes stations easier to copy. What about headphones? Sorry, not a fan of them. Don’t forget your Hat, your sunscreen and the bloody AeroGaurd!!!

 

 

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Thanks for reading,
Andy VK5LA