Monthly Archives: November 2010

My 2010 CQ WW CW contest station

Although I only notched two contacts I consider this a great result
for two reasons. First: it was the first real- world test of my just-
completed Elecraft T1 antenna tuner. It worked great! I can say that
because, second, I worked JA1DLE (Japan)! By Great Circle that's 4786
miles. Not bad for 3 watts into a humble dipole wrapped around my
house roofline.

I began the contest at 0000Z at my operating position in the garage.
It's been quite cold this past week, -10 on Wednesday, and in the 20s
on Saturday. After several hours it became a bit too cold to operate
in the garage, so I shifted upstairs into the house.

There, with assistance from my XYL, I quickly rigged up an indoor
dipole and set up my station in the spare bedroom.

Indoor antennas rarely outperform those outside and this was no
exception (either that or 40m condx had deteriorated in the late
evening to where I was hearing almost no signals).

I went QRT till Saturday AM when I returned to my original operating
position using my bent dipole at about 20 feet.

At 0200Z Saturday I fired up my trusty NorCal 40a and immediately
heard plenty of activity on 40m.

Plenty of action from the Pacific including China, Australia, New
Zealand, Hawaii and Japan.

I hailed each station calling but received no responses. Maybe I
hadn't done as good a job as I thought building the T1.

Then, at around 0330Z I heard JA1DLE calling CQ Test. I
responded…nothing. He responded to many callers. I called
again…nothing. I called again. JA1DLE sent .._ _..

I quickly sent my call. Nothing.

I called again. Again JA1DLE sent an uncertain .._ _..

I responded again with my call, but a bit slower.

JA1DLE responded: N7RCS 5NN 25

Contact! 5NN 3

Wow, the magic of Amateur radio. A faint, 3w signal shoots skyward
from my Idaho roof edge, along the way it gets stripped down to a
microwatt or two, then skips twice off the ionosphere and briefly
connects two radio stations 4786 miles apart.

All accomplished with gear made by my own hands: transceiver, antenna
tuner, antenna, feedline, and key.

Powerful.

Elecraft T1: Construction update

Had contacted Elecraft tech support about a problem with a resistor reading. Couldn’t get the component to read the expected resistance. Elecraft said some DMMs have problems reading component values in circuits with semiconductors. They advised to press on with construction. Their advice proved correct.

I completed assembly this evening!

– Ran final tests on the unit at my “bench”. (Had to move upstairs from the garage as outside temperatures were hovering around 0F.) T1 checked out fine.
– Moved down to the garage. Connected T1 to a dummy load and ran additional tests. All checked out fine.
– Connected T1 to my dipole and NorCal 40A.
– Ran tests. All checked out fine.
– Antenna tuned and was putting out 2-3 watts, as expected.

Unfortunately, 40m band conditions were not good this evening. So, I’ll be on early Thanksgiving morning to see if conditions have improved to make my QSO with the new tuner.

My plan is to participate in this weekend’s CQ WW CW contest which starts Friday at 0000Z.

Latest project: Elecraft T1 ATU

This small kit has proven to be a pretty good challenge. As always, it’s all about technique.

I need an antenna tuner to make my 40m dipole useful. Since it’s “mounted” as a loop wrapped around my house, and since I’m trying to maintain a low-profile with my amateur radio operating, I don’t want to spend a lot of time climbing up and down ladders to make adjustments by physically trimming or bending the dipole to tune it.

The T1 is a great solution since its small, portable and automatic.

The kit only has a small number of parts, but they are tightly packed on two boards. Thankfully, Elecraft provides an excellent assembly manual with good photos of the PCBs. Still the control board is so tiny my Panavise can barely hold it.

The kit includes several toroids and although winding them is not too difficult, tinning and installing them was a challenge. My technique was to place the soldering iron, a 25w Weller, against the wire and apply solder. This technique seems to make the leads brittle. In some cases the leads would snap off as I bent them during installation.

Trying to fit them onto the board took some finesse as they are spaced pretty close together. One toroid had board space for a single toroid, but the assembly manual called for a double toroid (two glued together). I managed to fit in on, but just barely.

The first set of tests when fine, everything checked out fine. When I got to the second set of tests (near the end of assembly) I discovered what may be a bad capacitor (C19). So, at this point I’m at a standstill till Elecraft responds to my weekend email.

Elecraft tech support has been great. Very responsive.

I was hoping to complete the TR1 last Friday, but soon realized it would take longer. My goal was to finish in time to compete in a weekend contest. Ah well.

If all goes well, Elecraft will have a replacement part to me this week so I can get back on the air this coming weekend.

My first ARRL CW Sweepstakes

I had a blast! The last time I participated in a contest was the 1970’s as a Novice! (Remember the old annual Novice Round-up contests?) This time around I was operating QRP on 40m and managed to notch 39 contacts. Not bad for my first effort and only operating for a few hours.

I really appreciate what a great little rig my NorCal 40A is. The keyer worked flawlessly and made it possible for me to keep up with the Big Dogs with speed if not with power. I worked 20 states, including Alaska, Florida and Maine.

My goal for the 2011 CW Sweepstakes is 100 contacts. I still plan to run QRP, but I’m hoping to be active on more than just 40 kHz of 40 meters.

A new project and a new distance record

I recently built an SWR meter but soon realized that without an antenna tuner to straighten out high SWR my signals were not going far. So, my next project is the Elecraft T1 QRP auto-tuner. I’ve been using a loaner MFJ 940 from N7CE which has made a huge difference in my signal.

Last evening I worked KH6MB in Hawaii on 7023 MHz at 0240Z, my longest distance QRP QSO to date: 2869 miles (Great Circle calculation). My previous best had been a QRP QSO with W5EIY in Enid, Oklahoma on 24 October 2010 on 7048 MHz at 0430Z.

I hope to receive the T1 in the next few days. It should only take a few days to build it. I downloaded the operator and assembly manuals last evening. So, I’ll be ready to start on the kit arrives.

The other cool thing is that I’m beginning to receive QSL cards again! That got me thinking about my old QSL cards, so I got my old cards out from back in the 1970s which brought back a lot of fond memories of my Novice days as WN2MFW. Great times! Going through the cards made me decide to join the QCWA.