HF Transceiver and Dipole Antenna

On September 1, 2015, in Amateur Radio, My Technology, by wx4sno

After passing my upgrade exam for General privileges back in July, I have been chomping at the bit to get on HF…especially the digital modes. I had been saving up for a new HF rig for several months prior to taking the test, and in August I put in an order for an Icom IC-7200 and a MFJ-993B auto tuner with DX Engineering. The 7200 has been on backorder for weeks due to a coupon offer from Icom, so I had to wait a bit on it. After my ship date got moved up another month, I decided to look around to see if I could find one available somewhere else. I was in luck…Amateur Electronic Supply out of Ohio had a few in stock that had just arrived. I gave them a call and within a couple days I had the unit; lucky for me, since the rig is now backordered everywhere!

ICOM IC-7200

The IC-7200.

After consulting many websites and even posting some questions on eHam.net, I decided to go with a horizontal dipole as my very first HF antenna.  I also decided to buy some of the parts and make the antenna myself.  Everything came from DX Engineering:  150 feet of #18 antenna wire, 100 feet of 300 ohm ladder feed line, center and end supports, nuts, bolts, etc.  I simply cut the antenna wire in half, giving me 75 feet on each end of the dipole.  After soldering connectors and getting it all setup, I strung it between two trees in the backyard about 6 feet off the ground…just to test the SWR and the RX capabilities.

Dipole center support.

150 feet dipole antenna.

CSV-19 Antenna Launcher.

Everything seemed to work great…at least at ground-level over a week-long test period.  It even survived being examined by our resident male black bear.  It wasn’t until yesterday that I was able to get things prepped to install the antenna at it’s final height, high up in a hickory and a pine tree in the front yard.  So how was I going to get the thing up into the tip-top of the trees like I really wanted?  I decided to go the unusual, but very cool route of using a pneumatic tennis ball launcher.  I bought all the parts I needed, painted, primed, and cemented the PVC, and let the launcher dry overnight.  This morning I test-fired it with 80 PSI…one word, WOW.  It launched a tennis ball filled with 22 pennies to a height of 50 feet and a distance of about 200 feet!  I was very impressed, but would have to dial-down the PSI for my needs.  I actually got the ball stuck in a tree on the first test, simply because I didn’t expect it to go so far!  For trees in our area, 40-50 PSI is plenty of power to get the ball to about 80 feet or so in height.

Dipole installed at ~60 feet AGL.

So today was spent launching balls and hoisting Dacron rope into trees.  I must say I was very happy, it only took one shot to get the rope in the top of one of my hickory trees, and only two attempts to get it into the large pine in the yard.  The antenna stretches between a large Shortleaf Pine that’s about 70 feet tall in the backyard and a hickory in the front that’s about 60 feet tall.  The dipole slopes slightly downhill towards the hickory since it’s further downslope, off toward the NNE direction.

Dipole installed and ~80 feet ladder line.

I decided to put a marine-grade, stainless steel pulley on the end at the pine tree.  I also added weights, about 15 pounds to the rope running through the pulley to the antenna; this allows for some sway and give if there are high winds and the trees decide to move.  All in all, the antenna is at about 60-65 feet above ground and there is right at 80 or 81 feet of ladder line hanging down and running to the window entrance panel on the side of the house in the backyard.  To help alleviate some of my lightning worries, I added a Morgan Mfg. lightning arrestor to an 8 ft ground rod that’s connected to my main ground.  Will this protect if the antenna takes a direct hit…no, but the arrestor does drain static electricity to ground before it enters the house and my rig.  Of course, all my equipment is well grounded as is my tower and antenna mast on the hill.

The antenna tuner by MFJ appears to be doing an excellent job.  My SWR has been 1.5:1 or less on all the bands from 160 meters up through 10 meters.  The auto tuner works by sending a weak carrier signal, 10 watts to be exact, to the antenna and configures to the best SWR possible.  Usually, my forward power is better than 8 watts and almost always 0 watts reflected power.  Very pleased with the tuner so far.  One other thing I did buy was an old Astatic D-104 microphone and rewired it to work with my IC-7200.  The D-104 is a pretty cool, chrome mic from the earlier days of radio…really looks cool with my callsign on it.

I made my very first contact on HF during the “free loaders” net on 80 meters (3.947 MHz) this evening at 19:00 EDT with KK4KMB, Tony in Glen Lyn, Virginia running 40 watts.  He, along with K4PLB, Paul in Moneta, VA gave me a good signal report…and boy was I excited and proud!  I had no idea if the signal would get out, let alone if the D-104 was working correctly.  Everything seems to be running smoothly.  Lucky for me, we live in a very rural area and nobody close by operates radio equipment.  Our power lines are all underground, and the only thing that could interfere with TX is a high-voltage power line right-of-way that’s about 2 miles south of us.  Hopefully there will be no RFI or any interference at all on HF.  No further contacts, just listening to various nets and rag chews across the country from California to New York this evening.  Hopefully I’ll get some further contacts soon and will work all the bands with my good friend N3AO, Carter on Brush Mountain over towards Blacksburg, VA, in the coming days.

Our cat Bigfoot inspecting the lightning arrestor and ladder line grounding...hope she gave it the okay!

I did get some QSL cards made up by Jeff Gaskins, K4JSG, and they came out very nice.  Also have ordered myself a large-print map of the world with all the important amateur radio info from a fellow ham in Russia (forget the call attm).  I’m hoping to work some of the digital modes soon, especially the ARES bi-weekly net that runs Olivia, but also looking forward to trying out RTTY and maybe even CW.  Right now, it’s time for me to relax and listen in on HF…73 de WX4SNO!

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Yagi Antenna Install – Part 2

On August 13, 2015, in Amateur Radio, My Technology, by wx4sno

The Diamond A144S10 with 11.6 dBi gain and the Rohn 9H50 guyed mast overlooking Copper Valley. The Rohn 10 meter tower is in the background; in comparison, the Diamond X50A omni antenna has only 4.5 dBi on 2 meters.

After receiving some additional coax and manufacturing a window feed-through panel, I finally got the new yagi antenna up and going. I must say WOW! What an improvement in reception. Having this thing hooked up to the RCA VH126N rotor, I am able to pickup repeaters that were impossible using my omni antenna. Here’s what all has happened since my last posting.

After letting the concrete cure about 10 days, I was anxious to get the mast installed and guyed. I had originally painted the mast to match my Rohn tower, but the paint was interfering with the mast sections as I was raising/lowering them, so I had to use a power washer and blast the paint off. Power washer did a great job at removing the paint and I went ahead and left the bottom section orange for visibility.

The hardest part of the job was guying the mast. I used masonry string to get approximate lengths stretched out from the mast to the three guy points. In the end, each guy wire worked, but hooking them all up and getting the right tension on the mast was a pain! Next time, I’ll look at getting another Rohn tower, hi!

The RCA rotor is something I picked up from Lowe’s. I actually bought a couple of them, enough for spare parts if needed in the future. I must say, the device works perfectly! There’s about 100 feet of coax and rotator wire between the QTH and the antenna, but I haven’t had any problems with the rotor locking up or anything yet (knock on wood).

Instead of running my coax and antenna lines through the crawlspace and up through the walls of the house, I decided to make a cable entrance panel going through the window beside my desk. The idea came from KB3QLK at http://www.hamuniverse.com/kb3qlkfeedthru.html. I plan on running window line for an HF antenna in the coming months, so I added this, plus a PL-259 bulkhead connector. I have to run to town to pickup some ground wire to ground everything, but it came out really nice…much better than I expected. The panel is made of PVC, so I don’t have to worry about it rotting or of any interference to RF.

Window feed-through on the workbench

The installed feed-through panel

All in all, I am very, very happy and pleased with the antenna. I haven’t made any contacts yet, but I’ve picked up stations on the 147.180 repeater on Brush Mountain that weren’t using the repeater at all! They were somewhere in West Virginia discussing the low temperature tonight of 47°! WOW…the signal faded but then the automatic repeater announcement sounded and came in at a good 5-9!

I’m excited to get on HF…that’s my next project. In the meantime, I may post some additional info about the new yagi setup. But wanted to post a quick update…All for now and 73 de WX4SNO.

Current VHF/UHF setup

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Diamond A144S10

Diamond A144S10 and RCA VH126 rotator

Finally got around to putting the 2m antenna together a couple days ago and today I went ahead and installed it on the RCA rotator I bought. It’s a basic rotator that I bought from Lowe’s and is supposed to support up to 20-25 pounds…I went ahead and bought two of them in case I need parts. The antenna is mounted on a 3-ft mast and I’m using Davis BuryFlex low-loss coax which will run down the length of the mast and grounded at the base prior to running down the hill to the house.

I went ahead and bought some outdoor splicing tape that is supposed to weatherproof the coax connections. I stretched and applied this to the antenna connection and then added two layers of liquid electrical tape. After that dried, I added a final layer of Super 33+ electrical tape, so this should really help to keep out moisture from the connection; I plan to do this on all my connections running to the house, and in the future, apply this method to all my other tower connections.

Splicing tape, followed by two applications of liquid electrical tape, and finally a layer of Super 33+

The only thing that worries me is how I had to run the coax along the antenna. The way the rotator is setup, I could only attach and point the antenna in this direction for it to be aligned with 0° North. Therefore, I had to run the coax along the antenna to the boom, and then under and between two sets of elements, then across the boom and down the mast. I’m hoping this doesn’t give me any problems with RX/TX. I’m thinking that since the coax is well-insulated, it shouldn’t be a problem, but we’ll see.

I’ve also been looking at HF transceivers and am thinking of buying the Icom IC-7200, and for starters, getting a G5RV from these guys here. I’ve got some really tall white oaks and hickories around the house for mounting…we’ll see…but will have to save up for that, HI! On top of that, I’ve been studying CW/morse code using the Koch method…hope to actually learn this on my own over the coming months!

All for now…
73 de WX4SNO

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After the success I’ve had with my Rohn 10 meter tower, I decided to go ahead and install another antenna up the hill, this time a yagi, or directional antenna. On my present 10 meter tower, I have a 2 m/70 cm omnidirectional antenna (shown here) which is fairly good at hitting most of the repeaters in this area. However, I cannot access the 146.895 Mhz repeater along I-77 on Big Walker Mountain west of here in Wythe County. I’d like to have the ability to contact this 2 meter system since it is linked with several other repeaters in southwest Virginia and northeast Tennessee.

The new antenna will be at approximately 2,510 feet in elevation on a mast that extends 10 meters (~34 feet). I went with the Rohn 9H50 which is UPS-shippable. I plan to use at least 4 guy wires per anchor and spaced every 120 degrees around the mast. The mast will set down into the ground approximately 1.5 feet with another foot or so of concrete extending above ground. I was able to get the guy wire and mast holes dug today and poured some concrete for the mast and two of the three guy wire supports.

Figure 1. Rohn 9H50 concrete base and temporary mast

240 pounds of concrete form the base for the mast. The 2.5″ pipe shown in Figure 1 is temporary; I installed it and poured the concrete around it. While the concrete is curing, especially for the first 6-8 hours, I’ll rotate the pipe and moved it very slightly to keep it from bonding to the concrete. Once the concrete dries overnight, I’ll remove the pipe and this will create a shaft that’s just the right size for the 9H50. This will drop the mast down into the ground over a foot and a half, which will bring the top sections within easier reach to install the antenna and making it easier when it comes to raising the mast.

Two guy anchors are 32 inches long buried in 28 inches of concrete, while the third anchor is 40 inches with over 36 inches in concrete (Tractor Supply only had two 32-in versions). Each of the anchor holes is tapered outward at the bottom, which should create a concrete block similar to the one show in Figure 2. This will hopefully aid in keeping the anchors in the ground.

Figure 2. Tapered concrete piers

Figure 3. Guy anchor before concrete

Figure 3 is a shot of one of the guy anchors before adding concrete to the hole. Once these harden, the concrete should be more than enough to support the mast; most likely the 1/8″ guy wires will snap before they have a chance to even nudge the concrete anchor blocks.

That’s what’s happening here in Snowville today…I’m hoping to work on assembling the antenna (a Diamond A144S10 with 10.6 dBi gain on 2 meters) tomorrow, as well as paint the mast to match the Rohn 25G tower I already have. I also need to add two additional bags of concrete to one of the guy anchors since I ran short on 80 lb bags. Should be a week or so before I install the mast and get things setup as I’d like to give the concrete a good amount of time to cure, I just don’t want to have to wait 28 days for full strength!

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