With the S2S event coming up on the 19th and the fact that I have built an HF Amplifier that hasn’t been tested “in the field” I needed to do an activation where I could use all the gear I have planned for Attensberg on the 19th. Weichberg is a good location to test as it’s about a 50-minute drive from home, has just enough room to get the VP2E antenna out and it has a picnic bench and seats to work from. I had intended to do my test a week earlier however I caught the flu and the weather turned bad. The weather forecast for the 8th. was one of the better days in the week, with heavy rain expected from Wednesday onwards. As I was going to be using the gear intended for contacts into VK/ZL, I decided an early start to get me to Weichberg in time for the morning long path window would be a good idea and one of my mates in Australia – Ernie VK3DET agreed to be in the shack to see if he could hear me and give me a call.
All was not to go to plan …. But the purpose of this activation was to catch problems before the “big event”.
The trip down to Weichberg was uneventful even in the new car (a three-year-old Peugeot mini-SUV 2008 model – a bit underpowered compared to my last car but far more economical). Another question was answered as regards transport – the Surveyors tripod would fit in the back of the car along with the usual small rucksack and camera bag (which now holds the rig, the amplifier and the battery box).
The weather forecast was for dry but cold – and indeed it WAS cold! My quilted winter jacket put in good service but as many actions needed me to take off my gloves and by the end of the activation I could hardly feel my fingers. I guess it was never over 6 degrees on the summit and with the winds during the second half of the activation, I guess the wind-chill factor took temperatures down to near zero.
As mentioned above this was NOT an easy activation with several problems occurring causing me, most likely to miss the long path window due to the delays. Here is a list of the problems …
Problem 1 – while putting up the mast, I dropped and lost a large silver coloured washer – not essential but I didn’t want to leave litter on the summit – searched around for 15 minutes – it had disappeared! I found it when packing up, but why was it not visible earlier I have no idea!
Problem 2 – I was surprised to fund squeezing in the 40/20m VP2E antenna was a stretch and involved a bit of careful climbing down a slope to tie off one end of the antenna to a tree in the correct direction. This took longer than expected.
Problem 3 – Once I had connected all the gear up (made more complicated with the added amplifier and its control cable), it didn’t seem like I was getting nearly as much power out as I would expect. Suspecting the new amplifier I tried with the amplifier turned off (pass-thru mode) – even that was not showing a fifth of what I would expect on the power meter. I replaced both coax leads thinking that may be the issue – no change – then I decided to check the SWR on the antenna – it was bad, with way too much RF coming back down the antenna lead! OK, something has failed in the antenna. should I put up the 20m/17m VP2E antenna instead? Probably not as 40m seemed to be the band of choice. So I took down the 40m/20m VP2E and packed it away and then put up “old faithful” the SOTABeam 40/30/20m linked dipole. As I was rushing, it managed to tie itself in knots but I got it up eventually.
Problem 4 – now checking the SOTABeams linked dipole, it also had a terrible SWR – why is that, is it the SWR bridge that is faulty? Then the penny dropped …. the coax cables on the back of the meter were reversed – so of course the reflected power was high and the forward low – as this was reversed!! I switched the cables around and things looked fine again. Of course, I now don’t know if the VP2E had a problem or not – probably not but I will need to check again. Having lost so much time, I decided not to switch back to the VP2E and rather just use the linked dipole – which was, of course, was set-up in the wrong direction for VK/ZL but even at the 9 metres that the middle now was, the Inverted-V on 40m has little or no directivity.
Problem 5 – in order to try to get the average output up, I had increased the compression on the built-in (audio) compressor to 3 from the usual 2 (it can be set from 0 to 10) and that was not sounding good to some contacts but while the button on the X108G for putting the value UP works fine, the one for DOWN did not (something else to fix). These are rubber buttons that have ferrite in them that short against printed circuit board contacts. I decided after trying several times, to leave it as it was – the winds had increased at this point and some clouds were heading my way, so I tried a couple more calls specifically looking for Ernie VK3DET without success and then started to pack-up.
Throughout the activation, it only ever took 2-3 minutes for QRM to appear next to (or on) the clear frequencies that I found – unfortunately that’s normal for 40 Metres SSB in Central Europe!
At least the day was so dull, that I could read the display on the rig and didn’t need to plug the Smart Phone in to see the frequency, power etc. It served its other roles as a camera and a spotting and email terminal.
- Xiegu X108G.
- Battery box (2 x 5000maH hardcase LIPOs).
- Linked (20m/40m) VP2E (Vertically polarised, 2 element, wire antenna).
- SOTABeams Linked Inverted-V 40/30/20m dipole.
- Surveyors tripod.
- 10 metre DX-Wire fibreglass portable mast.
- HF 70/100w PEP output power amplifier.
This activation was not as successful as I had hoped. It would have been great to make a contact with Ernie in VK but with the delayed start I think I was simply too late. The PA doesn’t seem to be putting out as much power into the antenna as it did into the dummy load and the X108G’s standard microphone doesn’t seem to be very “punchy” I will consider trying a different one once I make up an adapter. The VP2E antenna will need to be re-tested to make sure it’s SWR is actually OK and it was only my cabling error on the SWR Bridge that was the problem. The button problem is solved as I have swapped the important DOWN adjustment button with a less used one. Longer-term I may look to replace these buttons with proper mini-buttons with normal contacts in them.
This was planned as an activation to find problems and that it did! I will need to make another outing (probably not to a summit this time), to check the antenna is, in fact, OK and possibly to try out the different microphone.
73 ’til the next Summit!
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