Not much happening on the amateur radio front I’m afraid. I did have some very good SSTV QSO’s the other day 80M – quite a few in fact ! With that I have been quite poorly with a cough and a cold, hence the COVONIA which has come to the rescue !
I’ve had a large amount of medicine and allot of sleep which seems to have restored me to at least being able to type up my blog. I was determined to get the BONGO going as well, as the fuel filter had arrived. It took a bit of labouring to get the fuel-filter to fit back on the chassis, but sure enough the bongo is now back in action !
Webtechnologies site updates
Other than doing hands-on radio I made some updates the webtechnologies website which captures all the WSPR transmission reception reports. Basically I’ve made it much simpler and requiring allot less maintenance, with better integration into Git with a fully functional CI/CD pipeline. I had this in place already, but it wasn’t quite perfect, so with a chance to sort it out, I’ve reduced the features (FAX pics and KIWI SDR) and kept it to just WSPR reports and Weather from the the local weather station here at the QTH. This will allow me to develop new features for the site as time allows..
With the Bongo back in operation, i’m hoping to get back out and do another POTA activation soon. I still have a pretty full February now but am determined to get out and on the air, hopefully this time with a UK Antennas 40m multiband end fed. I’m not sure I can squeeze POTA in this month due to commitments, but will see how things work out, rest assured, I will be looking to get back out and on the air thou !
Thats all for this week, please keep well and thanks for reading the blog.
Its been quite some time since I’ve had the Alexloop Hampack, and with my QRP, /M and /P work becoming more ‘regular’ (at least one per month) – thought it time to share my views of this antenna system.
Its hard to imaging, but its been just shy (April 2021) that I have had this antenna in my collection. This has given me plenty of opportunity to use it out in the field and for experimentation at home.
I bought this antenna to pair with the Icom IC705, which is undoubtedly an excellent transceiver in its own right – with excellent selectivity and filtering, its a question of putting the right antenna onto it.
The Alexloop Hampack – the good
Lets start what is good about the Alexloop Hampack. All these observations are based on my own usage, so whilst not scientific, they are at least practical and proven.
Its easy to setup
The Alexloop HamPack is very easy to setup. I can arrive at my operating destination and be on the air in minutes. There is no setting up a mast and throwing a wire, there is no tuning a vertical and getting the SWR 1:1 – i can get this antenna out the bag, onto a stand and tuned into the frequency I want to use very quickly. The LED showing the output might look a gimmick, but I can assure you I use this as a visual reference and then checking the radio’s SWR every time I setup or need to retune the antenna.
Its very selective
Now for some this might be a negative, but so far for me its been a positive. When I’m working /M or /P, I am limited to 10W. What I don’t want is to pick up every other station just slightlyoff frequency, and for sure, the AlexLoop gives me that. I can match my IC705 filters to the AlexLoop and get excellent input.
Its designed for and good at portable use
The AlexLoop Hampack bag is very well thought out. It comes with a excellent way of storing the main loop and then the tuner and other parts of the transceiver. I also own ICOM’s LC-192, which is an exemplary piece of portable radio design, however, even thou when I operate /M, I want to reduce the amount of baggage that I take, therefore I stick to using the Alexloop Hampack bag on its own, and regretfully the LC-192 is left at home ! With that, you can be sure if you *dont* have an LC-192 and are considering getting the Alexloop Hampack, the bag will suffice. It is not as good as the LC-192, in terms of access ports, padding and having a full functional HF/VHF/UHF transceiver system on your back, but for HF bands, the Alexloop Hampack bag *will get you on the air*
The price tag
It almost goes without saying, the biggest ‘bad’ of the Alexloop Hampack is the price tag. When I bought mine in April of 2021 it was £505, now an Alexloop Hampack will cost you up of £600. That is allot of money for an antenna and it really needs to justify its cost.
Using in the field
As I’ve said above, I found using the antenna in the field for QRP /P and /M incredibly good. However, not everyone is running an IC705, there are many /P or /M operators that have good transceivers that can push out 100W. The Alexloop is not designed for, and should never be used for values above 20W on SSB and 10W on Digital modes. If you have perfectly good transceiver already capable of powers above these, then is the AlexLoop Hampack the right antenna for you – I would say probably not, especially if you already own the transceiver, however, if you are designing a /P or /M solution from scratch, my answer would differ…
So is there anything ugly about a so well designed antenna. Well, I for one can say there is. When I received this antenna I found assembling it ‘awkward’ – that is getting the loop over the centre pole. This resulted in a nasty ‘nic’ getting into the loop coax.
I could easily accept this on a ‘cheap’ antenna with no instruction, but of an antenna, that at the time cost me £500+, I really was perturbed why a decent instructional video or document was available on how to set this antenna up. Furthermore, show how the selectivity worked would of been a benefit to a first time ‘loop’ user. Hindsite is 20/20, but when you pay allot you should really get that level of service included, not as an add-on.
Being an IC705 user, I found the Transceiver bag in the Alexoop Hampack to be oversized, compared to the afore mentioned LC-192, its padding/packaging for carrying a transceiver was really not as good as Icom’s own product. To me, this was scrimping on cost, rather than any other reason (i.e. a transceiver would fit in the bag) – and at the price-tag, was a little disappointing.
Summary / Recommendations
So its been nearly 2 years since I’ve had this antenna, I have at least 2 other antennas I can use with the IC-705 when working portable or mobile, and have the actual ICOM bag for the IC705, so what are my personal oonionsf the Alex Loop Ham Pack.
I am person that is time-poor, that is for me to go /P or /M requires planning and organisation, its not like I can just grab my radio and go out when I like, I’m busy. With that the Alex Loop Ham Pack always ensures that when I go out, I will get on the air – its easy to setup and I can make contacts as soon as the antenna and transceiver are matched. I don’t need to setup a mast, wire and ATU for an antenna, the Alex Loop Ham Pack does that for me with its simple and effective compact solution.
The biggest issue to me is the price, today (Jan 2023) it would cost me £600+ to get this antenna. That is a serious amount of money and given it is only capable of 20W maximum, is it the best antenna for the price ? I would say not, that a good dipole, end fed or vertical will outperform this antenna, but would it be as compact, easy and portable ? Probably not.
If you today you don’t have a QRP solution, you really cant go wrong with an IC705 and the Alexloop Hampack antenna, but then you are looking at a solution that is going to cost upward of £2000, to which you can get on the air with a QRP rig and antenna for £100-150 using a ubitx and simple dipole/end fed solution.
There is going to be a big difference in performance of the radios and antennas, and cost might be your personal motivation, where as quality/time maybe the secondary consideration.
Eitherway, the most important thing is to find the best solution you can afford, starting with the antennas as part of the solution, not the secondary, and getting outdoors and on the air.
Happy New year to you all who follow the blog ! Apologies for the absence of postings, hopefully I’ll keep them a little more regular, at least with doing a PoTA once a month.
Having watched several of my youtube hamradio favourites I was really inspired to get out with my radio and enjoy it. With amazingly good weather, I headed out to the New Forest, specifically to Bratley View.
I was quick to get the Alexloop Hampack antenna setup quickly and the IC705 tuned into 17m quickly. Using the excellent SDR Control on the IPad it wasn’t long before the contacts on FT8 started coming in.
In under 30 minutes I had made 13 FT8 QSO’s on 17M. I then tried FT4 on 20M, I could pick up the signals ok, but wasn’t haven’t much luck in making contacts.
I headed down the band to FT8 which was busy as ever ! I had no problem getting out and making contacts there.
With well in excess of my required 10 contacts for me to activate the park and with my lunch finished, I headed back to home to enjoy the rest of the day with XYL.
I wasn’t able to locate my pen, so couldn’t log manually, which I usually do just incase something happens to the IPad.
As I was totally dependent on the IPad for logging, I exported and ADIF file. Since I last done POTA there is now an option to upload your own log files, so I set about checking out how to do that. A great video really helped me along.
The log export from SDR Control is great, but requires a bit of ‘munging’ to get into PoTA format. I found a script ruby-pota-csv-to-adif available here which made getting the file uploaded right first time.
With the upload complete, the following morning most of the processing was complete, I was pleased to see other PoTA Hunters in the log.
It was great to get back out on the radio and enjoy the simplicity of FT8 – I’m hoping to get some practice and try out using Telephony QSO’s via SDR Control, or just using the microphone, it felt great to be back out with the radio and enjoying it again!
Hopefully I’l have more progress on other radio fronts as well, but until next time, 73!
With the upcoming Hamworthy Park Festival I wanted to see if there was any chance I could reach the QTH. Previous attempts from Poole Harbour were unsuccessful with FM and the Bongos whip antenna, but having a new antenna in the armoury thought I’d give it a try.
I had already tested from the drive way of my QTH, then headed out to what is the nearest high point to my QTH in IO90BS, that of Ringwood Road near to the Matalan – IO90AS. A test of the SSTV repeater there worked well.
I then headed down to Hamworthy park, as I drove through Bournemouth and Poole the hills behind me which I knew would absorb my weak signal, but I’d thought I’ve got to give it a try.
I had the hand-held antenna quickly setup, it was fun to do it out in the field. I attached it to the THD7 and tried to reach the QTH station.
I was not surprised to not hear the pips back to transmit, but as I had driven there, transmitted anyway to see if anything would be received. I wasn’t expecting anything back as the replay mode hadn’t kicked in, so I would have to wait until I got home to see. Sure enough I had received something, albeit mostly static, but at least the application and radio could pull the signal out.
APRS Provided some interesting information. My route was entirely captured, this is due to the geography of where the APRS stations are located.
If I compare my APRS packet reception to my location of the transmission from IO90AS, the APRS station is just down the road near to Bournemouth University.
As soon as I go over the hill, all my packets are received from stations to the east.
The hills between each location are clearly visible using the useful line-of-sight tool.
Between Hamworthy Park and Corfe Mullen
So it was great to go out and test, albeit the transmission back to the QTH from Poole was again not successful I was able to gain valuable experience and APRS packet data. I think I will be able to setup another solution utilising the Bongo’s 2M whip antenna and a small laptop for the actual Hamworthy Park Summer Fete, so will put those pieces together and test those out next !
Today (19/6/22) was my first attempt of using satellites put in place for amateur radio. Having read up and joined Amsat (a very modest fee for quality content!) I targeted AO-91 as my first satellite.
I could see there was at least a possible chance of making a contact at 09:14 BST, so I set out with the Arrow II 146/437-10WBP 2m/70cm antenna and my TH-D7 hand-held.
Having got the antenna built and radio ready (I pre-programmed the optimal tuning in the shack) I setup a comfortable postion to operate from.
I made sure i was ‘aligned’ to the sky with a real magnetic north compass to ensure that I would stand the best chance of being able to hear the satellite as it came over on its relatively low and short pass.
I was astounded that with pointing the antenna on frequency I was soon hearing QSOs from Italy and the Netherlands via the satellitle on 2m and 70cms. As I was about to try calling my THD7 stopped working ! In a rush I got the THD7 plugged into the Bongo power and could continue to receive, but was unable to complete a QSO this time.
Whilst the battery had got the better of me making a QSO, I was really happy that the antenna and receiver worked and even on a ‘low’ short pass I was able to hear QSO’s. I was amazed at how quickly people gave callsigns and grid locations – there was little time more for anything more – I can see why people recommend recording contacts on satellitle and make the log book after.
I headed back to the shack and tried the AA battery pack that came with the THD7, this also failed to power the radio, so I had to engineer a solution ! I found a ‘spare’ connector from an adaptor set and ‘butchered’ that to make a DC power supply from the batteries I usually use on the IC705, these would be more than enough power for the THD7, even with the squelch fully open, to operate receive and transmit for the times the satellites came over.
Whilst my first attempt at satellites didnt result in a QSO I gained valuable experience and could confirm my antenna and transceiver worked correctly. Whilst the in-built battery was bad, and replacements unreliable/dangerous, I was able to manufacture a replacement. I’ve since ordered a ‘cheap’ Digital voice recorder and headset for QSO’s – I think I have a splittler cable, but will find out when the digital recorder arrives how to drive both headphones and recorder.
In all I was very happy to go from 0 experience, to at least listening, which is pretty much what I done on all the bands in the past anyway, so was very happy to make my first steps in amateur radio satellite communication.
Following last weeks attempt, I headed back to Garston Park to attempt activating the park again. Armed with two lots of battery packs, mains charger and the iPad with SDR-Control loaded onto it I was determined to activate the park.
Having quickly setup, I was approached by two friendly chaps asking what I was doing with the equipment I had setup. Their initial assumption was bat watching ! (Makes senses with an antenna I guess !) We had a great conversation about parks on the air and also bat watching. Its something I’ve never heard of and with this park being quite near without a lock on it, something I wouldn’t mind trying – an overnight PoTA and bat watching. I’ve looked up some equipment and the bat watching website, so I’ll be looking into that later on in the year, probably when dusk/evening comes in a bit sooner.
With that I setup the IC705 to the IPad and SDR-Control – have to say that this application is fantastic – other than having to adjust the connectors in the IC-705 if I want to use the radio independent of the app, its as close to getting to 0 touch to getting on the air in FT4/FT8 modes.
Having experimented with FT4 at home and also updated my version of WSJT-X on the QTH windows machine, I was amazed at the rate QSO’s are completed. For me with a QRP radio and wanting to try battery usage where possible (I don’t always operate from the Bongo) this was great. At the QTH FT4 contacts where made in rapid succession, likewise in the field, when an opening came, the FT4 contacts came flying in ! within several minutes had equalled my previous weeks telephony contact ! I then went over to FT8 to try my luck there, sure enough, the QSO started to come in. The one problem with Garston Wood is the really weak mobile phone signal – for PoTA you really want to self-spot to get that first log on the page, then more will follow, sure enough I was determined to ‘self-spot’ and was rewarded with more FT8 QSO’s.
The SDR Control app made logging and contacting as easy as it could be, I was amazed at how well thought out this application is. It can be configured to automatically log, which I tested for the first time today and confirm works wonderfully. Essentially this means you could run FT8 & FT4 completely hands free.
I exported the log from my ipad to my icloud storage, with a bit of simple ‘grep’ and redirection I had the file in the format ready to submission to the POTA Administrator.
I tried SSTV with the black cat app, but it wouldn’t integrate with SDR Control, so I tried the old fashioned method of picking up a microphone, but whilst I could pick up SSTV from the IC705 with my own ears, the ipad app was pretty much deaf out in the field. As I am great fan of SSTV this is the one thing the SDR Control App is missing – if a way could be found to integrate either the black-cat app into SDR Control so they can run both the same time, or SDR Control had its own native SSTV app, that would be amazing !
I tried a few more SSB contacts on 20m, but to no avail. With the weak phone coverage self-spotting was tricky and when I could self-spot it would take another ‘strong’ station to come in over the the top of me to make that frequency out of use to me. I tried 2M and although hearing some activity (always glad just to hear something!) couldn’t complete a QSO.
So today turned into all about Data, and how important to activate a park SDR Control is, being my 2nd visit, I was determined to get the 10 contacts to activate, and I wasn’t let down by the application. Being restricted in self-spotting also meant that when I could get onto the POTA website, I was consistent, and I was rewarded with a FT8 contact from K3VAT in the US.
I’ve had a fantastic time of late travelling around to various PoTA locations and this was by far the most challenging one so far, with limited mobile coverage, varying conditions and generally being a bit busy, it was great to get the 10 QSO’s needed to activate the park.
My next ‘planned’ PoTA is quite a few weeks off, and its getting further afield to find ‘unactivaetd’ parks, but I’m really excited about it, until then I’m going to be utilizing my season ticket for Upton Country Park, with lovely weather and long evenings, I can head over after work and set up for a fun evening of ‘parks on the air’ close to home.
Until then 73 and hope to catch you in the log book !
Finding unactivated parks around IO90 is becoming hard, thankfully there are stil a few, one of them is G-0202 Garston Wood. With only a short drive and beautiful weather I headed off to the park.
The drive in the early morning (approx 7:30AM) gave stunning views and morning mist, I was glad to have sat-nav as the lane leading to the park was very narrow and with all the trees having all their leafs was very green ! I found a nice spot to park and setup my mag-loop antenna on the bike stand. The gates to the park were near to hand as well. There was plenty of parking space at this hour, and it didn’t get much busier in the time I was there (2-3 more cars parking max)
Unfourtantly when I arrived I noticed I had left my iPad behind ! Not a disaster, but that meant no digital modes such as FT8 or SSTV, and I was looking forward to SSTV, still undettered I tried for making 10 Telephony QSO’s! I started out ok, making contacts into Spain on 10W. Having learned last time that repeating calling CQ is tiring after a while (thats when I usually switch to FT8 now) I used the 705 in-built voice recorder to play back my CQ POTA call.
This got me another contacting in Poland, and my first ever Park to Park ! I found this really satisfying not only on the DX but reaching another park and getting a good signal report both ways (mutual 59) with SQ5MPG – Maciej in Poland at SP-0643 – Los Nature Reserve. What is more tricky with a park to park is getting the callsign and park locator correct, as this is required for logging later on.
I tried staying on 20m, but it was soon filling up with contest and people with far stronger signals than my own, I’d like to think they just could hear me being only on 10W and that goes with being /QRP that you’ll get more powerful stations boom over you higher up the band. I tried 40m and 17m – with 17m being a non-contest band, but to no luck on either, so headed back to 20m.
I made one more contact, another park to park with EC2AG (Antonio) into EA-0837 (Rio Agüera EU Natura 2000 Protection Area). Again, great DX and made the full Park-to-Park contact. I thought my battery had become disconnected, but it turns out for the first time ever I had drained the LiFo battery completely ! I guess this is what using the voice-record repeat for serveral hours will do, and I was reduced to 5W of power.
I returned home as my battery and power wasnt helping, and with so much contest traffic on, it was getting harder not easier to even make any initial contact. I made notes on my log book of the things I had missed today to remind myself of what to add when I got home, so as you can see this time I have added the USB cable and cigar-lighter mains adapter for the IC705 into the alex-loop hampack accessories bag. Of course I have put the Ipad in there as well 🙂
Whilst I didnt get 10 contacts to activate the park, its will mean I can make a return trip and be better prepared. I had a great time and the two park to parks were extra great, so am looking forward to returning, iPad and mains-power in hand !
Firstly the Mazda Bongo is back from Wales after the brakes have been repaired in Bangor ! Very grateful to Kevin at Bangor Kwik-Fit for sourcing all the parts required to get the Bongo back on the road.
When I returned home I found a package from America waiting for me, which turned out to be the connector cable between the Garmin eMAP and Kenwood TH-D7. The only place I was able to find this was an on-line shop in the USA.
When I contacted them they was unable to ship to the UK ! I contacted a friend in Portland who was kind enough to order it for me and send it on to me here in the UK, I was really grateful to get the ‘final’ piece of kit required to use APRS and GPS with my Kenwood TH-D7.
I setup the emap and TH-D7 to produce packets via the beacon method and setup my home computer and IC-9700 to relay APRS packets.
Whilst I have a dual-boot machine, for simple reception and digipeating I’m able to use Direwolf in Windows. I was able to ensure my APRS packets are being transmitted and received before going out and doing a field test.
I headed out with the Mazda Bongo on a trip to one of our local farm shops and then to Poole harbour which made a nice way to spend a trip out and combine with some real data creation.
On return to home I was able to look at APRS.FI and see my route had been nicely recorded and received via various Digipeaters around the IO90BS area. I was quite suprised that the coverage was as good as it was giving the hilly nature of the route and small low-powered 2m/70cm antenna on the side of the Bongo.
Clicking on anyone of the data points will show all the data received and relayed, and from where. In this case we can see I was doing 22MPH on a heading of 101, this was received by M0VPN-1 whereby it was then put into APRS.FI website.
Whilst it took some time to get all the components I needed to get GPS and APRS working with my older Kenwood TH-D7, it has been well worth the wait. I can now setup position reporting and include useful messages, this will be in particular use when en-route to amateur radio activities (weekly club, conventions, POTA activations) and to send messages to other APRS users.
I would recommend that if you are looking to get more from your 2m/70cm experience and have the budget invest in a radio that has GPS & APRS, it may not seem obvious as to why it could be useful to start with, but certainly could be something you may well find yourself using when you have it.
With the weather being so lovely and time allowing day time operation, I headed out to Upton Heath – this is just opposite Upton Park but separated by the busy A35. Although once in either, you wouldn’t notice that it is there !
I brought my wagon along to help transport the radio and accessories from the car to the heathland, with just a short walk to find a good bench to operate from it was no problem at all.
I was able to be on the air quickly with the excellent Alex Loop ham-pack antenna, I used a bungee to attach it to a direction post as my bike stand is still in the back of the bongo in North Wales, but the bungee was excellent to use and changing frequency across the 20M band was very easy to get low S.W.R. across the operating frequencies.
I wanted to get better at Telephony contacts so started with Phone on 14.241 and used the PoTA App to self-spot, within minutes I was trying to manage a pile up ! I was getting so many call signs at once, it was hard to distinguish them and get back, thankfully I got most, but some I couldn’t complete, but that’s what experience and patience will teach me ! I managed 6 Phone contacts, whilst I appreciate all of them, it was great to get a fantastic signal report from K1RO in New Hampshire ! I was so glad to have a break and a drink of water with me.
I then moved onto FT8 and completed enough QSO’s to active the park, with reports coming in from all over Europe.
Whilst I had been operating for just over an hour, I wanted to give SSTV a try, my previous attempt was thwarted by a very busy 20m band, but today I was able to get thru a fantastic signal from HA1AD
With my water supply fast running out and time getting on, i packed up having had a fantastic time at Upton Heath. It is definitely a park I will come to again, its nearby, really accessible and lovely location to work from.
So I planned my trip to Wales carefully, ensure that I had packed all that I needed for my weekend in Wales. I booked a campsite, only to find when I got there they don’t open the main gates until 8AM, so that would mean being late for lectures ! Instead I stayed at the lovely Bangor Business School Hotel – not as cheap as camping, but very much getting me there on time and a good nights sleep.
Sadly on the way up the Bongo’s breaks made the awful noise of metal on metal, so on Thursday I booked it in for a Saturday ‘break check’ – low and behold, new disc, pads and caliper required ! With that my planned PoTA activation for Snowden was off, and I headed back to Bournemouth via Train whilst my Bongo is repaired in Bangor.
I unloaded my radio, alexloop and computer along with my suitcase from the Bongo, a total of 4 bags. The train required no less than 3 changes and the underground – but in all this travelling the alexloop and Icom bags really proved how good they are. The Alex loop is incredibly light and was easy to carry, whilst the IC705 and the radials was slightly more weighty, choosing to carry that one on my back it was easy to carry around. My other bag continued 2*Battery so weighed a fair bit, but wasn’t to bad.
It took about 9 hours to get from Bangor back to the QTH in Bournemouth, but I had done it ! Only thing which I had ‘lost’ is the antenna of the THD7, on the scale of things, I wasnt going to complain ! (it must of slipped out the bag at some point)
With that doing PoTA from the Bongo is on hold until I get it back, hopefully this week if the caliper arrives in time ! (which means a return train trip to Bangor, luckly I love trains 🙂
POTA 22/3/22 – Upton Park
The weather in Bournemouth is being fantastic, not wanting to bury myself in over 40 research papers the whole day, decided to go out and do a local activation at Upton Park – I have been there to visit before, but not for PoTA. As it was so nice, I really wanted my XYL Monica to come along as well, as there is plenty of facilities there, i.e. tea/coffee/light snacks and decent clean toilets, all within a short walking distance from the car park.
With the Bongo still being in Bangor, the XK8 is getting plenty of action, whilst I cant easily operate, it got all that I needed and XYL to Upton Park without problem.
To activate a park, you only need to be within the boundary, and as the tea room is within the boundary of the park, was a perfect place to setup. There was some curiosity as to what I was doing, but no problems with putting my alex-loop in the table and then running my laptop into the IC705, we bought some nice tea and cake, plus a bottle of water as the temperature was really getting up at midday !
Even with the antenna in a compromised location, I was getting out just fine on both 17m and 20m.
As soon as I self-spotted on the PoTA app, i was getting more calls, amazingly 2 from the USA ! Albeit FT8, it was really satisfying to get so many DX contacts on 10W.
For the first 30 minutes, the contacts came in very quickly, but after 12:30 there was a real slow down – i said to XYL Monica that if it was only 2-3 contacts made, I would of come back the next day (you can do activations over multiple days) but I was on 9 and need just one more ! I tuned to 20M and sure enough made my last contact there quite quickly once I had re-tuned the alex loop and found a clear part of the FT8 bandwidth to operate in.
With the 10 contacts made which are required for a park activation, I packed up and we headed out for a lovely drive around the Dorset countryside. At home I processed my manual log thru the excellent Excel spreadsheet to produce the ADIF file and sent that off to the regional POTA administrator, hopefully my results will be processed in the next day or two..