FT-450D First impressions

My first rig the Yaesu FT-857D has proved a more than capable radio and as a shack in a box covering HF-VHF-UHF it is excellent and has allowed me to try my hand at most things since becoming licensed but I wanted a dedicated HF set up that was a bit less fiddly to use.   

So last month I succumbed to temptation and ordered a Yaesu FT-450D. While it is still an entry level rig I had heard good things about it and liked the look and feel of it. Martin Lynch & Sons had them at a low price and combined with Yaesu’s ‘Late Winter Warmer 2015’ cash-back promotion made it an opportunity I didn’t want to miss.

It arrived last week but I only got to properly have a play this weekend even then not for as long as I really would have wanted. I know people might detest HF contests but I was quite glad of the CQ WPX to try out the radio with plenty of contacts on 10/15/20 and 40m while keeping the output below 50W.

I have still to work out all the settings and the DSP functions but first impressions are of an excellent receiver with good tone and clear audio from the internal speaker. Being a very popular contest the bands were crowded at the weekend but I had no trouble picking out weaker stations even with very strong adjacent stations. Using the supplied microphone and the default processing settings I had no issue getting out either, working nearly all of the stations I called.

I have previously used a manual ATU and found the internal ATU is a nice feature when switching bands and it did a excellent job of fine tuning the M0CVO OCFD. It couldn’t tune it on 40m directly as the VSWR was greater than 3:1 so had to revert back to the external ATU.

Only very minor gripe I had was the CAT connection, In my research I noted it was a standard RS232C 9-pin connector and assumed I would just plug in a standard PC serial lead, but I hadn’t spotted the radio had a male connector not female!

I wanted to try out the CAT but hadn’t got a gender changer or connectors in the shack to make up a lead. I did have a number of commercial RS232 extension leads moulded male connector one end, female the other, so chopped up two and spliced the appropriate halves together. It works fine with a USB-Serial adapter in Ham Radio Deluxe but refused to work with the Omnirig control used by PZTLog until I disabled the hardware handshaking. 

Still early days and I do need to read the manual but more than happy with it.

I am now the Chairman of a radio club!

Firstly my apologies, last weeks post about the Eggciting Eggsplorer-1 HAB project and the talk and demonstration on SSDV wasn’t posted on Amateurradio.com due to an error.

This week South Kesteven ARS (SKARS) held an EGM where I was voted on as the new Chairman. Nigel Booth M0CVO has stepped down following four years in the position citing increasing business commitments. Nigel intends to remain an active member, I and the other members wish to thank Nigel for his efforts over the years and wish him well with his business ventures.

SKARS has a small membership at present which we hope to increase but the committee finds itself in the  Catch-22 position of not having a lot of funds in order to put on activities and promote ourselves to increase the membership.

I have created a social media presence in the form of a Facebook page and twitter account in addition to updating the societies web page.I am hoping that permission willing the GB2EGG and Eggsplorer-1 project will significantly promote the society and the hobby.

I know running a club/society isn’t a trivial undertaking, especially if working full time having chaired a large dog agility training club many years ago. It can take a lot of effort and time and it can sometimes be a thankless task.

Indeed my first twenty-four hours has Chairman saw my first sacrifice, a lovely Yaesu FT-450D was delivered yesterday and I have yet to take it out of the box!

 
Something to be remedied this evening.

Eggciting HAB projects

I have a new high altitude balloon project, this one is very Eggciting.

In June my club South Kesteven Amateur Radio Society (SKARS) will be operating a special event station at the Swaton Vintage Day held at Thorpe Latimer in Lincolnshire. 

The 2015 Swaton Vintage Day will also host the 10th World Egg Throwing Championship  and in recognition the special event station will have the call sign GB2EGG. This popular annual show raises money for local, national and international good causes.

Egg Throwing is recognised by the English Sports Council and the sport is taken very seriously by some competitors. Hundreds of competitors from Europe and around the world are expected to compete this year. Last year’s event attracted teams from Germany, Slovenia, Hong Kong and Brazil.

While planning the special event station I jokingly suggested throwing an egg in to space on board a balloon, I shouldn’t have yoked as it is now a serious project. The idea coming from Dave Akerman’s Spudnik flight for Heston Blumenthal’s Channel4 television program.

Image with the permission of Dave Akerman

Subject to Civil Aviation Authority clearance and weather conditions I will hopefully launch a high altitude balloon carrying one lucky egg into the edge of space and then dropping it back to earth under a parachute. In addition to the plucky Eggstronaut the balloon I have called Eggsplorer-1 will carry a radio transmitter to broadcast its position, altitude and live images of the journey back to earth.

On board cameras will record the journey to be recovered on a successful return to Earth. Radio enthusiasts all around the country will be able to assist receiving the data and pictures and track the progress of the flight via the UK High Altitude Society tracking website.

More details and progress will be posted on here and on the Eggsplorer-1 website  and you can follow developments on twitter @eggsplorer1South Kesteven ARS welcomes anybody with an interest in radio communications, so if want to be involved in this and other events like this please visit us at the show or visit the South Kestevan ARS website and on twitter @M0SKR

I have already begun development of the payload, unlike the moth-balled NERD-1 payload this one will use one of the Raspberry Pi boards since I want to transmit SSDV images live and it supports its own specially designed camera modules. NERD-1 will still fly as a backup tracker.

Dave Akerman (M0RPI) and Anthony Stirk (M0UPU) have developed the Pi-In-The-Sky ready made boards and the design and software are open-sourced, using this as a starting point together with Phil Heron’s (MI0VIM) SSDV software I quickly had a prototype dubbed NERDPI running.

I did have an issue since the GPS module I currently have only outputs serial data so had to use one of those small TTL USB-Serial adapters and spun some of my own code to get the data out and was soon successfully decoding my own transmissions from the shack and uploading them to the Habhub system.

Today has seen the spectacular partial solar eclipse here in the UK, during the eclipse several HAB flights were launched to try to capture images above any cloud cover (details here)  Fellow SKARS members and members from the Grantham ARC were keen to decode the SSDV images themselves as the BBC Stargazing Live balloons were flying from nearby Leicester.

So on Wednesday I did a talk and demonstration to show how to track and decode the images, it was well received and I uploaded pictures of the audience to the system.

Unfortunately technical issues prevented live images from the Stargazing HABs being transmitted but I was able to decode some images from the University of Southampton OLAF payload They were only lo-res but still pleased to get decodes here it was a good distance from me.

Here in Newark the sky was beautifully clear so the eclipse was visible and spectacular, where OLAF was flying was covered in cloud, so the mission was a success.

   

A dark cold evening in a layby

True to my last post I drove out to some higher ground to operate portable for the 70cms UKAC on Tuesday evening.

Several hours sitting in the car on the side of a deserted road in the dark and cold was worth it. Despite some initial trepidation I really enjoyed the experience until I got spooked at the end.

Like the last time I operated from this location I put the small yagi approximately 3-4 metres up on the top of my ‘painters’ telescopic pole stuck in to a parasol stand. I sat in the car and reached out the open window to rotate the pole as required. I wrapped up well and had a blanket over my legs and a woolly hat on and kept surprising warm despite it being just 1°C, turning the courtesy light on only when I needed to write in the log.

It was nice to be noise free and I made 29 contacts, nothing earth shattering but with a modest set up and operating in the AL section (10W max) I was more than happy and got my first contact in the Isle of Man.

From the reports posted on line it seems conditions were flat and activity was low. Frustratingly several times I found a distant station only for it to be drowned out by splatter. I know some of this is down to my radio and the antenna but the source is nearby and so strong that even turning the beam makes little difference. Ironically being higher up meant the signal was even stronger than I experience at home.

The annoyance is compounded by the operator’s habit of regularly changing calling frequency seemingly with little regard of who is currently operating there. This SDR screen capture shows an example of the same contesters signal during a recent 2m UKAC. Captured using a vertical collinear several strong clean(er) signals are clearly visible even with the mismatched polarisation. Sadly it is not a one-off and I have observed similar splatter from this source during both 70cms and 6m contests.

It was very dark and eerie on the quiet road and I’m afraid I got spooked with 20 minutes of the contest left, a 4×4 drove past slowly and appeared to shine a spotlight at my car. I was midway through a QSO writing in the logbook so I only caught it out of the corner of my eye so wasn’t sure if they did. But a while later I saw what looked like torch beams moving in the nearby field that seemed to be getting closer. In retrospect it was nothing untoward when I checked the map later there are farm buildings in that direction but I’ve seen one too many horror films so decided not to hang about so threw everything in the car and headed home with out looking back..

you can’t get rid of the Babadook
…. you’ll see him if you look 

Operating /P for the 432MHz UKAC tonight

The 432MHz UKAC contest is usually a pretty dismal experience for me, low elevation, local noise and a mediocre antenna makes for a difficult evening. Last weekends VHF/UHF contest and some tests with fellow club member Stewart​ (M0SDM) on Sunday evening convinced me to try operating portable this week.

I have a small Moonraker 7-element ZL-Special on the main antenna mast, purchased originally for monitoring satellites and was pressed into service for SSB when I got licensed. It has never wowed me performance wise and I have been intending to replace it for quite a while but since I only use it one day a month it hasn’t been a priority. So the mast came down last night and I removed it so I can take it out with me to operate portable from some higher ground tonight.

Using the 2m delta beam in June 2014

Last year I had a go at operating portable from the car and posted a write-up. It is my intention to repeat this exercise but with the 70cm antenna on top of my ‘painters pole’ mast. I have serviced the antenna and fitted a new short run of quality coax and spent a far amount of time with the AW07A analyser adjusting the antenna’s tuning capacitor and have got the VSWR right down to 1.1:1 on 432.200MHz so things should be optimal.

I am looking forward to this evening, hoping it pays some dividends.

As I mentioned the 24 hour March 144/432MHz VHF Championship contest took place last weekend. I took part to give away some points just grabbing a few short sessions with the radio. I concentrated on the 2m band due to my issues on 70cm.

In my AW07A analyser review I mentioned some issues with my 2m LFA YAGI, thankfully these have been resolved. The use of some wire wool to remove some corrosion and a hacksaw to take 10mm from the long elements of the loop allowed the end elements to ‘trombone’ in sufficiently to get the antenna resonant and the VSWR is down to 1.2:1 on 144.300Mhz.

I only made 18 contacts, but was happy with the distances achieved with 30W, getting a lot further south than I normally do, given I am 18m ASL. There was also some local wideband noise (I captured a screenshot on the SDR) and the conditions gave some interesting fading.

M0NRD QSO map March 144 VHF

Noise across the band