Tuesday, 12 August 2014

SOTA Activation Ditchling Beacon G/SE-006

On Saturday 26 July I activated SOTA summit Ditchling Beacon (G/SE-006). Although there is a bus from Brighton to Ditchling, I enjoy walking so I took an early train to Lewis followed by a 10km walk along the South Downs Way.  My plans went slightly awry when the Southern train broke down at Haywards Heath, but after a 30-minute delay we arrived at Lewis.  This section of the South Downs Way is well signposted and so I did not get lost this time. My pack was a little heavier than usual. It was a very hot day so I carried extra water, not knowing that there would be an Ice Cream van, also selling water (but two quid a small bottle!), at the Ditchling car park. The walk took around 2 ½ hours, including a short sandwich stop.
M0BGR/P at Ditchling Beacon, G/SE-006. July 2014

I have never suffered a catastrophic failure on one of these expeditions but today was the exception. I use a small plug box (in the foreground of the photo) so I can quickly connect several items to my  lead-acid 7.2Ah battery. I wired up the FT-817 and switched it on while I set up the Super Stick HF antenna. After about 5 minutes there was a bang from the vicinity of the plug box and the 817 reverted to internal batteries. I quickly disconnected the lead-acid battery and began to investigate, thinking something had shorted. All the external wiring seemed OK so the problem had to be in the plug box.
I carry a small tool kit but I had omitted to include a small Posidrive screwdriver, required to open the plug box, and a multi-meter which would have been helpful when fault finding. I could have carried on by either using the FT-817 internal batteries, which would have lasted about an hour, or directly connecting the 817 to the battery – a little inconvenient as I could only power one item at a time. I decided to investigate and was able to open the plug box, carefully, with the tip of my pen knife blade.  The inside was a complete mess! It used to have an electrolytic capacitor but this had blown itself apart. As this was not required for battery operation I surgically removed it, cleaned out the wreckage, put the box back together again and re-connected everything (carefully!).
The 817 was still not receiving power but checking fuses without a multi-meter is difficult and none had obviously blown. I am a bit fanatical about fusing everything and there were three fuses in the 817 circuit. Fortunately I carry spares, taped to their respective leads so I opted to replace them all even though only one should have blown. I had been some time since this plug box had been used. I powered it up before leaving home, but only for a few seconds, so I guess this was not enough to reveal a weak electrolytic capacitor even though this was adequately rated for the job (100 uF, 25V).
 Next timecheck tool kit, test everything properly, before leaving home, and carry a multi-meter!
Finally, I was on the air and firing on all cylinders. This was the day of the IOTA contest so I spent most of my time on the WARC bands, with occasional calls on 2m and 4m FM. This was the first real outing for my new Wouxun KG-UV6D – it performed well.  Band conditions were not great but I quickly worked the four stations I needed for a valid activation, thanks to Mike, G6TUH, who I worked on several bands and also spotted me on the clusters. I was on the air for three hours and worked 14 stations, including 5B4KH in Cyprus (Asia-004 in the IOTA contest). During the afternoon lots of people stopped to ask what I was doing. Although this interrupts operating time, I always take the opportunity to explain amateur radio and why it is relevant today.
I packed up in time to catch the last bus to Brighton, but it was such a lovely afternoon I decided to walk back to Lewis, after pausing for an Ice Cream! The walk back was uneventful, apart from getting a painful blister on my right foot with about a mile to go which I had to stop and sort out (I always carry a basic First Aid kit). On the walk back I was passed by lots of Ghurkha soldiers who were doing a 100km run along the South Downs Way that very hot day, which rather puts my 10km walk into perspective, but they weren’t carrying an amateur radio station!  

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Wouxun 2m/70cm Radio - Initial Review


Wouxun KG-UV-6D

I have recently purchased a new KG-UV6D Wouxun radio, for 2m & 70cm in addition to the 4m KG-699E I already own and like. Martin Lynch (www.hamradio.co.uk) had a special-offer ‘Pro-Pack’ package that was too good to resist and as my Yaesu VX-5R is getting a bit long in the tooth I decided to invest. I have not yet had the chance to do a major field trial with the new radio so this is a first-look review.

The package came with the KG-UV6D radio and lots of accessories that are compatible with my KG-699E. See photo:

Wouxun KG-UV6D and Accessories

The package included:

·         The KG-UV6D radio

·         Two Li-Ion batteries, one 1300mAh and one 1700mAh capacity

·         A dry-cell battery case

·         A battery-replacer with a cigar lighter plug.

·         A mains charger, which has 12V dc input and an adapter.

·         Hand microphone

·         Earpiece/microphone

·         Two antennas – a stubby and a short whip.

·         A protective case and lanyard

·         Handbook, radio programming software and a computer lead with its driver.

The KG-UV6D radio appears to be well made and robust. It is IP55 rated so it should be OK to operate in the rain but this may not apply to accessories. It looks like it will survive fairly hard knocks, but do not try this at home! The antenna connector is an SMA male (same as KG-699E) and I had to buy an adaptor to BNC (which I use on all my equipment).

The KG-UV6D has a couple of extra buttons, that are not present on the KG-699E and this makes operating a bit more flexible. It includes a lamp, activated with one of the side keys – useful if you get lost in the dark, and a stopwatch. (I have no idea why you would want a stopwatch on a radio). The handbook is intelligible and the radio is easy to operate as most of its 32 menu functions are self-explanatory and most work the same way. I have had a few QSOs and audio reports are good.

The charger will charge both a radio and one battery together (or separately) and works with the both the KG-UV6D and KG-699E. Unlike the KG-699E charger, which is mains only, the KG-UV6D uses 12V DC so can be used with mains or in the field from a car battery, for example, if you have a lead for this.   

It offers two scan modes, frequency or channel. Unfortunately, Wouxun got this part of the design badly wrong and neither are much use for amateur radio operations.  In frequency mode, enter the start frequency and press the ‘Scan’ button. So far, so good but the problem is there is no programmable stop limit so the radio just keeps scanning on up and up and up! It is possible to reverse the scan direction, manually, with the tune knob but there does not appear to be any way to limit scanning to a range of frequencies (eg. 145.000 to 146.000). I can see no reason why a radio would work this way and scan limits need to be added.

In channel mode, the channels can be programmed either manually which, like most radios is tedious, or with the software. However, selecting whether a channel is scanned or not is “strictly via KG-UV6D programming software”. So before going out into the field one has to decide which channels will be scanned and use a computer to set these. So if you change location and want to add extra repeaters to be scanned, or remove those that are out of range, you can’t unless you have a computer and the Wouxun software with you. If you programme a new channel manually then you cannot designate it as a channel to be scanned.

 I can see why radios for commercial applications would work this way but for amateur use it is ridiculous. An additional feature, to allow selection of channel scan or not scan, without software, is required.
The radio connects to computers by a USB adaptor. The adaptor driver and programming software loaded OK and runs on both Vista and Windows 8.1 but do run it as 'administrator'. The programme allows you to download the current radio configuration and save it to a configuration file. It can then be edited and uploaded back to the radio. There are a couple of problems - the programme uses virtual COM ports, with a maximum port number of COM 20. Sometimes Windows 8.1 assigns a higher port number so the programme cannot talk to the radio. Sometimes uploading produces a 'Write Error'.  For both these, the answer is to disconnect and reconnect the adaptor and radio and restart the programme. The software should really work better than this - virtual COM ports are so last season.
Wouxun KG-UV6D Software 

The KG-UV6D includes an FM radio, which works well with the whip antenna and gives reasonable audio quality. When in FM mode, the radio still continues to monitor the ‘normal’ channels. If a signal appears on these then the radio switches to the active channel and there appears to be no way prevent this. So, if you don’t want to miss ‘who dun it’ when listening to a radio play on FM then set the squelch to maximum before switching to FM to minimise the chances of the play being interrupted at a critical moment.  

Overall, I am pleased with my new radio; it is robust and easy to use. The scan function is the only bad feature I have found so far and the software could work better. The only extra I needed to buy was the SMA-BNC adaptor. I will comment again after I have used the radio a bit more.
My Wouxun KG-699E has been reviewed previously, see:

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Summits on the Air Activation. SOTA G/SE-011


Last Saturday I activated Wilmington Hill, SOTA G/SE-011. My equipment was very similar to my activation of Firle Beacon (SOTA G/SE-010 http://m0bgr.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/summits-on-air-sota-firle-beacon.html) a few weeks ago, except this time I carried a bit more water as it was much hotter. I took the train to Eastbourne, but thankfully this time we were free of the dreaded engineering works.
On arrival at Eastbourne, I walked through the town, a rather tedious trek through boring suburbs, with little of interest, to access the South Downs Way long-distance footpath. The Downs, above Eastbourne are crisscrossed with many footpaths and it did not take me long to set off on the wrong one, having ignored my map and some obvious cues about which way I was going.  In that situation I should have retraced my steps and got on the right path, but I decided to go for a ‘quicker’ route back, which lead me further astray. In all, I probably lost a good half hour of valuable operating time through multiple navigational mistakes. If I do this route again, I think I will take the Brighton bus, or even a cab, to Eastbourne Downs golf club, from where the route is fairly straight forward, thereby missing the delights of Eastbourne’s suburbs and saving perhaps an hour.
Not the Way to Wilmington Hill
The walk from there is much more pleasant but the path climbs up to 200m before dropping into Jevington village, at just 50m ASL, before climbing back up to Wilimington Hill 214m above sea level. This makes this summit rather hard work for just one SOTA point.  I stopped at the ‘Eight Bells’ pub in Jevington to top up my water bottles and was greeted by very friendly bar staff who were happy to fulfil my request. Unfortunately they only have a very limited snacks suitable for walkers. Feeling hot and frustrated by my earlier errors, it was very tempting to abandon my activation and to spend the afternoon in this delightful hostelry, but I pressed on, reaching my destination in the early afternoon.
En route, to and from the summit, I called CQ on 2m and 4m FM but was not rewarded with any replies.
The summit is well worth the climb and commands great views of the coast and southern England. Setup was quicker than the previous activation as I did not want to lose any more time and I have made new radials for my Super Stick HF antenna, which are much less prone to tangling. They are also white so visible even in long grass. I worked Mike, 2E0ZXW, on 40m first. He was quite close by but had trouble reading me so I guess he was on the edge of my ground wave. Thanks for persisting Mike.  Most of my 13 QSOs were on 20m or 17m, both CW and SSB. Unfortunately 12m and 10m were dead. I tried a few CQ calls, but no one replied. I called CQ several times on 2m and 4m FM, but the only reply came on 4m from Frank, G3VPS, who I worked previously on the Firle Beacon activation.   
M0BGR/P on Wilmington Hill G/SE-011
I packed up at 1630 GMT as I wanted to leave plenty of time for getting lost on the way back. Fortunately this did not happen and I made it back to Eastbourne station in a little over two hours. My equipment worked well. The band conditions were not great; 10 and 12 closed. There was long skip on 15m so I heard K6YRA in California and W4AZB in Tennessee but they did not hear me and I did not work anyone on that band. VHF/FM was again disappointing with the lack of activity (apart from Frank, G3VPS) and I am wondering if it’s worth taking the kilogram or so of radio, spare batteries etc. for these bands on these trips. I had wanted to do a comparison test the new home-made radials for the Super Stick antenna. Time precluded this so I will do it in my back garden where conditions should be more controlled.  


Roberts Unologic Radio, DAB and DAB+ (DAB Plus)

As you know from previous posting, I really like the Roberts Unologic DAB radio (see 13 July 2012, http://m0bgr.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/roberts-dab-radios.html). So much so that I recently bought another as a gift for someone.
Roberts Unologic DAB / DAB+ Radio
Roberts Unologic DAB / DAB+ Radio
I was surprised, when I opened it, to see a label on the front saying DAB+ (DAB Plus, a more advanced digital broadcasting system).
Label on New Roberts Unologic Radio
Regular readers will know I have written previously about DAB vs DAB+ (see July 2012 http://m0bgr.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/fm-switch-off-ofcom-response.html and July 2011 http://m0bgr.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/fm-radio-switch-off.html ) I strongly believe UK, by being an early adopter of digital radio, has chosen the wrong system.  With its proposals to drop FM broadcasting (and so free up the spectrum for sale) UK Government is trying to force us to all use the unsatisfactory and obsolete DAB broadcast standard when a much better DAB+ system is widely used in other parts of the world.
I emailed Roberts to ask them what was going on and here is their reply:
All our new production will have the combination of DAB/DAB+
If the box and the information states DAB/DAB+/FM then it does have all these functions.
The UK uses DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) mode and other countries such as Australia, Switzerland, Germany use the DAB+ mode.
As we now supply these countries it was necessary to add DAB+ to the formats although there are no written in stone plans to change to DAB+ in the UK in the near future.
The operation of the set would be the same with either DAB or DAB+
It is good to see that at least one manufacturer, Roberts, has seen sense and is now including DAB+ capability in its new radio production. Taking this reply at face value, it seems that the user does not need to do anything to tune these radios to DAB+ broadcasts when they become available.
So, for purchasers of new Robert’s products there is apparently an upgrade path when UK government is forced to abandon DAB and go over to DAB+. I am not sure about other manufacturers or older radios, but please post any information you have here. I also wonder how many people have been conned into buying radios that will become obsolete by the ‘I love DAB’ publicity campaigns over the last few years.  

Friday, 25 April 2014

Summits on the Air (SOTA), Firle Beacon

I have been off the air for a while. Building works at home meant I had to dismantle my station and it has taken me a while to get it back together again. I have also not done much portable operation for while so I decided last weekend that I would activate a Summits On the Air (SOTA http://www.sota.org.uk/) summit, Firle Beacon, SOTA reference G/SE-010 (WAB TQ40, JO00BU) on the South Downs Way south of London.

When doing portable operations, I do not believe in driving to a car park, walking 50m or worse still operating out of the back of a car. For me portable is  public transport and boots. So, first thing on Saturday morning saw me at my local station en route to Firle. Unfortunate it was a week of ‘Engineering Works’ so the journey took longer than usual. My train pulled into Southease station at 10:30am. After a quick trip to the near-by YHA cafĂ© (http://www.yha.org.uk/hostel/south-downs) to top up food stocks it was time to hit the trail. The walk to Firle is about 8km. The first part is quite steep with a 200m climb up onto the downs. 90 minutes later I arrived at Firle. On the way, I put out occasional CQs on 2m and 4m, but no one responded.

For this expedition I took a Yaesu FT-817, two hand-helds (Yaesu VX-5R for 2m and a Wouxun KG-699E for 4m, which I review elsewhere in this blog). The antenna was a Super Stick and the power was provided by a 7Ah SL AB. That, plus a small tool kit, First-aid pouch, food ‘n’ drink took my pack up to my self-imposed limit of 10kg.

Set up took about 40 minutes and I started with CQ on 40m. This did not produce any response, but I heard M0SIY/P, Simon, so I called him and got a 3-3 report from him. The Super Stick does not produce great results on 40m, but considering its overall length, this is not surprising.  I switched to 20m SSB and rapidly logged another five QSOs – enough to ‘qualify’ the activation for SOTA. I tried 17m and 15m with little success.

M0BGR/P at Firle Beacon, Easter Weekend
The early part of the day was bitterly cold and dull, with a northerly wind, and I considered moving on to another summit, or even retiring to a local pub especially when rain threatened, but I decided to stay put and do some more operating. By mid-afternoon the sun came out and the wind veered little which made everything more pleasant (except for a radio-controlled glider pilot who lost his lift!).  Later in the afternoon, 17m became a lot more active and I was able to work a few stations on CW and by 5pm, when I needed to pack up, I had 17 QSOs in the log. Best DX was UT7IA on 12m SSB at 2255km – not bad for 5W and a small vertical. You have good ears Uri!

A real disappointment was VHF/FM. I took along a couple of hand-helds to cover 2m and 4m. I broke off operating HF about every half hour to call CQ and did the same while hiking to and from the railway station. From the top of the South Downs I should have been easy to hear up to 100km away, which means most of SE England and parts of France, but I got only one response for my troubles, G3VPS on 4m – thanks Peter. VHF FM is the entry level for many newly qualified hams, but they will soon be put off if no one comes back to their early calls. Can I ask that you monitor FM whenever you can and reply to any calls you hear?

My equipment worked well during this expedition. I had a minor fault with the FT-817, the narrow CW filter stopped working, but as I could live with this I decided not to dismantle the radio on top of the hill. I was very impressed with the Super Stick antenna on 20m and above. A nice thing about operating on top of a hill is how quiet the HF bands sound, compared with my usual urban location.  It was also nice to take some time to chat to other walkers who were on the South Downs Way and explain why I was doing amateur radio on such a cold windy day.