“Green Band” April 2018 FMT!

I managed to fulfill one of my 2018 goals by getting into the “Green Band” of the ARRL FMT.  The standard is to be better than 1 Hz on all three bands.  My best result was within 0.010 Hz, and my worst was within 0.170 Hz.  The majority of that error is due to uncertainty as to the impact of Doppler.

So I was 10 mHz low on 80m (2.8 ppb), 170 mHz high on 40m (24 ppb), and 100 mHz high on 20m (7.1 ppb); a total error of 33.9 ppb, or an average of 11.3 ppb.  When ranked by average error in ppb, I came in 12th place.  My other RI friends were in 7th and 18th place.

Maybe I can break the top 10 next time!

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Warming Up for the FMT

2018’s first FMT is scheduled for 0100-0225 UTC on April 6 (9 PM-10:25PM EDT Thursday).  It’s been many months since I’ve fiddled with my measurement gear, so today it was hooked up and will be left powered on so that things are thermally stable for tomorrow’s measuring session 32 hours from now.

I’m using a Fluke PM6685R mostly as a Rubidium Frequency Standard, but I do use the counter as a second check of my HP 3335A Synthesizer output frequency.  The output of the generator is fed into the counter, and also feeds a JFW Industries 50BR-001 precision attenuator (0-110 dB in 1 dB steps).  The output of the variable attenuator is fed into a fixed 40 dB 100 watt attenuator.  That fixed attenuator is there just in case something bad/wrong (badong) happens and my transmitter is turned on accidentally (which reduces the 100 watts to a level low enough to avoid frying my measurement gear).  The output of the fixed 40 dB attenuator is fed into a one side of a “T” connected to my Elecraft K3s setup for AM mode.  The other side of the “T” is the receive antenna.

The process is to adjust the frequency synthesizer to come up on the low side of the unknown signal, producing a beat-tone of a few hundred hertz.  The output of the variable attenuator is adjusted to produce a carrier that is approximately the same level as the unknown (as viewed on the Elecraft P3 Panadapter, which visually confirms that the synthesizer carrier is below the unknown carrier).  That beat tone is measured with Spectrum Lab software.  The unknown frequency is then equal to the frequency measured using Spectrum Lab PLUS the frequency of the rubidium-slaved synthesizer.

Groundwaves follow the earth’s surface and aren’t impacted by the ionosphere.  I’ve been able to consistently measure a groundwave signal to within 5 mHz or better.  The Ionosphere, on the other hand, is constantly changing and impossible to predict.  Not only are the deep fades to deal with, or perhaps an ionosphere that isn’t refracting the desired signal at all.  But the real complication is a Doppler effect caused by the relative motion of the ionosphere.  For example, the sun’s solar wind has been pushing the ionosphere down toward the earth surface during the daytime.  After sunset the ionosphere expands outward, increasing the path length, which produces an apparent drop in frequency.

Prior tests with WWV and CHU signals indicate when the MUF is above the measured frequency and the ionosphere is stable, Doppler is inserting an uncertainty of about 10 mHz.  When things are unstable it is more like 250 mHz.  So Doppler effects can be from 2x to 50x more significant than my ability to read an unknown frequency

Even not being able to correct for Doppler, I should still be able to get well within the 1 Hz “Green Bar” requirement as that is a factor of 4 above the maximum Doppler uncertainty that I’ve seen (based on my limited observations).  That said, things move quickly and there are a lot of settings/opportunities for operator error.  My fingers will be flying during the FTM.  If I make a green bar reading then I can scratch one thing off my 2018 goals.

Fluke Counter & Rubidium Source, HP Synthesizer, and JFW Variable Attenuator

K3s Receiver in AM mode. P3 showing 10.0 MHz WWV signal and generator carrier 300 Hz below

Spectrum Labs showing ~ 300.1 Hz beat tone. Most of that shift is gear warming up, but some is positive Doppler Shift during daylight hours

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CQ WAZ #9417 Issued – Thanks CQ & ARRL!!!

Yesterday, the ARRL announced that they had completed a 3+ month long period of Beta Testing, and had opened up the processing of LotW confirmations for the CQ Magazine WAZ (Worked All Zones) Award.

Within a few moments of receiving the announcement (via the Yahoo LotW group), I had selected my WAZ account and processed the LotW side of the application after discovering that I had a confirmation for all 40 Zones.  A few minutes after that, I had emailed John Bergman, KC5LK (WAZ Award Manager) asking for payment information, and shortly after that I received a letter indicating I had completed my WAZ application, and had qualified for WAZ Award #9417 (the certificate will follow in about six months).

Thanks to everyone at CQ Magazine and the LotW team at the ARRL for making this possible!

(In my opinion, WAZ is FAR more difficult to obtain than DXCC.  I bet there are a bunch of happy folks that will soon discover that they have qualified for the award without even knowing it.  It took me a bit over 3 years to complete)

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100th DXCC Entity Using FT8

With the receipt of a LotW confirmation received on March 24th, for a FT8 QSO with H40YM, Temotu Province (part of the Solomon Island chain) on March 14th, I finally had my 100th DXCC Entity confirmed in LotW (not that there is a DXCC Award specifically for FT8 — my Digital DXCC certificate was issued years ago).

My first FT8 QSO was on July 18, 2017, and I made a total of 46 QSOs in 2017, so I wasn’t very active.  Starting the new year with an interest in the International Grid Chase, I’ve completed 1,448 FT8 QSOs so far.

Looking at my range of contacts, my first unique country (X37M) was confirmed on October 3, 2017, and the 100th (H40YM) on march 14, 2018.  So it took 166 days (5.5 months) to complete FT8 DXCC.  That’s actually longer than it took to complete my original Mixed Mode DXCC.

My FT8 WAS was issued on January 25, 2018, and took 31 days to complete the required contacts (Dec 21 to Jan 21).

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Now 3D Printing

My wife gave me a da Vinci mini Wireless Printer for Christmas last year.  At the time, with various discounts, it was < $150 before tax.  It has sat in the box unopened for almost 3 months.  Since it is St. Patties Day, and I happen to be alone, I had some time to give it a try.

My first attempt was a messy failure as the model detached from the print bed about half way through.  I guess that recommended “Glue Stick” was a critical step.

I went for the gold ring on my second try (laying down a layer of glue stick gum and putting the shield around it (prevents little fingers from touching it and also blocks air flow).  I chose to print the 3DBenchy Benchmark Object called a “torture test for 3D printers”.

An hour and 13 minutes later Benchy was finished.  He measures 2.4″ from stem to stern, 1.9″ tall, and 1.2″ abeam.

Now that I have it working, I hope to use it for some Ham Radio related parts (mast adapters, project enclosures, etc.).

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The Little Generator That Could

We’ve had a string of winter storms (3 in two weeks and a 4th on the way), and in each storm we have lost power, the last one for a little over a day.  When we have a power failure, I wait about 30 minutes then isolate from the grid, and power up most of the house with a Honda EU2000i generator.

I put the generator on our back deck and cover it with a small table, but that often isn’t enough to keep the snow off of it.  Doesn’t seem to matter.  The only significant loads are the heating system and refrigerator.  We used less than a tank of gas to keep things running for the last event.  Good thing is it is RF quiet.  Even better thing is I can’t hear it running (but can hear other generators all over the neighborhood ).

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Eureka! PortableRotation AzEl Rotor Running with SatPC32

I’ve toyed for years with installing a steerable array for LEO Satellites at my home.  In fact, somewhere in the mess I call my basement lies a 19 year old “new-in-the-box” Yaesu G5500 Az/El rotor.  I had purchased it to work AO-40, but it that bird ate itself alive, so I never had a chance to use it.  However, I’ve been successfully using M2 EggBeaters at home for about two decades, and they have been “good enough”.  So I’ve shelved the thought of erecting another antenna “monstrosity” (in my wife’s eyes).

One thing that operating a satellite station during the past six Field Days has taught me, is it is pretty easy to get a satellite contact in the field.  Usually I set an Arrow crossed beam on a camera tripod fixed at mid-pass Az/El, then let the bird find me.  It’s worked every time.  But I did want a chance to work some of that low elevation “DX” that I can’t do at home.

I began reading everything I could on small antenna rotor systems, even picking up parts to build one of my own.  And I began following the developments of a company in California called Portable Rotation.  They introduced an Az/El rotor system that runs off a 12 volt battery and weighs about 8 pounds.  It is designed for portable operation (water resistant, not water proof, and not good for blowing winds and ice up here in New England).  That seemed to fill the bill for me, as I was interested in something that I could quickly setup at a school or meeting, or field event.  I finally caved and purchased one last week.


Posted in AMSAT, Antennas, Gear, Satellite | Leave a comment

Busy 40m FT8 Night

40-meters on FT8 at night has always been sort of a nightmare for me.  As 17/20/30-meters fade out, 40 comes alive with DX and US stations all jammed into that 2.5 KHz window.  Here’s a sample of what it looks like on my end.  Note the waterfall display in the upper-right:

I called CQ up near the top of the band and worked dozens of stations in about 45 minutes.  PSK Reporter coverage looked pretty outstanding too:

If it was dark and there were people there, the signal was making it there.

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IGC Update End of Feb

The International Grid Chase has been a wonderful distraction this winter and has given me an excuse to spend an hour or two on air almost every day.  In fact, when I miss a day, I feel like I’m missing out part of my routine.

In terms of the contest itself, I’ve dropped into a distant 2nd place behind Jim KS1J — about 120 points behind.  And Russ, KA1ERL, is right behind (as I write this it is March 4th and Russ is within a few points of me, and I’ve fallen even further behind Jim — however, I’ve been mostly off the air since Feb 28th).

There is a great side benefit to the IGC; one is likely to pick up missing band-point for the DXCC Challenge.  That’s certainly been my case, and I’ve already exceeded my goal for the year.  As of the end of February I have 1,305 band-points, and even picked up a new country for a total of 265.  Of course I’ve been concentrating on 160-meters, gaining 16 new countries to 53 total (beating my year-end goal of 50), but I’ve also really added a bunch of 30 and 17-meter countries as those seem to be the “goto” bands for FT8 (40-meters is a zoo).

I also managed to complete 48 of the 50 states for 160-meters, missing only Alaska and Hawaii.  The latter I can work if I decide to get up around 3-4 AM some morning.  The former is likely to be my Waterloo. 

Posted in Contests, DX, Grid Chase, IGC | Leave a comment

Education Fund Established

I was honored by my club, Newport County Radio Club, this past December when they established an Education Fund in my name.  I’ve been quite active in RI and teaching Amateur Radio Classes since 2011.  In those years, I have taught slightly over 10% of all RI hams.

The plaque is actually above a beautiful table lamp, complete with a Eimac 3-500Z transmitting tube, given to me by NCRC several years ago.

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