Hamfest HAB Launch likely to be postponed to Saturday

Given the latest flight path prediction, weather forecast and approval restrictions I will unfortunately have to likely postpone the National Hamfest high altitude balloon till Saturday.

The forecast for tomorrow is strong gusty winds at ground level which isn’t ideal for launching, but that is the least of the issues.

The current flight predictions for tomorrow are not good. The prediction model used is accurate and for the size of balloon I have and the amount of helium at my disposal even a maximum fill giving the maximum ascent rate and assuming the calculated decent rate for the parachute it is still putting the likely landing right on the coast. Earlier in the week the landing wasn’t quite as marginal but as the model’s data set have been updated it has drifted further eastward, it is odds on it will actually land out to sea.

However the real show stopper was when I received the CAA approval for the launch this morning. They have put a restriction not permitting a launch if the balloon and payload is likely to go on a North Easterly or Easterly path that could interfere with operations on local military airfields.

This is the predicted flight path, generated by the CUSG Landing predictor at predict.habhub.org and the flight path currently goes directly over RAF Cranwell but not at a high enough altitude. 

Flight prediction for Friday

Saturday is forecast to be a much calmer day with a predicted path as shown below

Flight prediction for Saturday

There would be no issues with the airfields for that flight path and has the advantage of going almost straight up and landing close by.

Apologies to those wanting to track on Friday, but the situation is out of my control and I would be foolhardy to ignore the prediction and  it is very unlikely it will change significantly to allow a flight tomorrow so I hope you can all track on Saturday. I will still be at the Hamfest tomorrow with the equipment if you want to know more about what it is all about.

Over The Moon – M0NRD

I now have a full licence and a new call sign M0NRD.

I sat the advanced level examination held during the RSGB Convention on the 12th October. The results were due at least six working days later so wasn’t expecting to know how I had done till this week so I surprised when the certificate arrived on Saturday morning and was over the moon to discover I’d passed with a distinction.

I only decided to apply to sit the exam last month. Regular readers may have missed the announcement as it was an after thought at the end of another post.

I became a licensed ‘foundation level’ radio amateur last September (M6GTG) and an ‘intermediate’ (2E0NRD) in May this year. It was a bit of a bold decision to attempt the final stage as I hadn’t been actively studying for it. There have been many people who have progressed in a shorter time but going through the levels in just thirteen months is a big undertaking especially when time and concentration is taken up with work, career and domestic commitments.

After a cursory glance at the syllabus and a quick leafing through the RSGB Advance! book I had decided while there were quite a few areas that I didn’t know in depth the electronics theory and mathematics were okay due to my higher education background (though it has been 26 years since I left University) so I just needed to fill in the blanks.

After posting off the application the plan had been to spend the month going through the book, learning, refreshing and revising the subjects as necessary. Of course I got sidetracked and distracted so it got left it to the last minute, well in fact to the week before the exam.

As soon as I started studying properly I soon realised I’d seriously underestimated the amount of details and facts that I need to understand and recall. I knuckled down and despite doing full days at work I studied in the evenings, making notes, working the questions on the Hamtests website and in the QADV program and gained confidence of getting at least the 60% pass rate. I tested myself on the QADV practice papers and mock papers on the RSGB website and seemed ready.  

I had intended to be at the RSGB Convention proper however I agreed instead to spend that weekend at the Mother-in-laws in Cambridge and drove over to Milton Keynes in thick fog on the Sunday morning.

The actual exam seemed reasonable there were a few head scratchers and several questions on topics I suddenly found myself unsure of. I took my time deliberating and checked every single ‘licence condition’ question against the supplied licence document even if I thought I knew the answer. Double and triple checking questions, values, calculations and answers and with 10 minutes of the alloted time remaining I had filled in the marking sheet and made a quick exit in time to get my Sunday roast dinner.

I had left confident and reasonably happy but over the next few days doubt inevitably started setting in. I kept remembering questions.. had I got that one wrong? I resisted the temptation to check the text book and keep thinking well it is only 60% I need…

To achieve a distinction was very satisfying, a lot of people have said they expected me to walk it but self doubt and a lack of self confidence is something I have suffered from for many years. When I was a spotty student I would probably have agreed but now an overweight, slightly befuddled middle aged man with greying hair you do have your doubts.

I would like to thank all those people who have congratulated me and those who have encouraged me along the way and wish everyone studying and taking the exam in the future the best of luck.

CQ CQ this is M6GTG calling CQ

I was alerted this morning to the news that some of my fellow Foundation candidates had received their notification from the RSGB this morning and had claimed their call signs.

So I rushed home at lunchtime, grabbed the post off the doormat and was excited by the only large white envelope with my name on! Ripped it open to find out I had been specially selected for an American Express Gold Card…. I swore rather loudly!

I couldn’t wait another day so rang the RSGB Examinations department and the nice lady there informed me it had been sent out yesterday and Ofcom had been sent the information but kindly gave me the candidate number I needed to log on to the Ofcom website to claim my licence… 

Five minutes later I had my callsign

M6GTG

Mike-Six-Golf-Tango-Golf has a nice ring to it, and I chose it to celebrate my late Father (his initials) it was he who encouraged me and made many sacrifices, including no end of electronic devices which I invariably dismantled on my way to becoming a nerd!

Oh that is me on the left 😉

Foundation Passed! – International UKHAB Conference 2013

Picture courtesy of Steve Smith G0TDJ

It doesn’t happen very often but someone took a picture of me looking happy! (I am the big guy on the left struggling to smile, my face muscles have obviously atrophied)

The six of us had just successfully completed and passed the Foundation Exam and Practical course held as part of the International UKHAB Conference 2013. Now am just waiting for the official notification in the post so I can go on-line to claim my M6 call sign.

Over the last six months I have become a keen tracker of High Altitude Balloons (HAB) released by a motley crew of enthusiasts. It is a multi-skilled fascinating hobby involving electronics, embedded system programming, radio as well as some Blue Peter art and craft skills to construct the payload.

I wish to become more actively involved so decided to attended the conference held this weekend at the University of Greenwich. After booking my ticket I learned the organisers were planning to hold an Amateur Radio Foundation Practical Course and Exam and so jumped at the chance as I could finally get my licence. My previous attempts having been scuppered by apathy, shyness and circumstance.

Picture courtesy of Steve Smith G0TDJ

The conference consisted of a number of talks and discussions followed by a number of demonstrations and workshops, while the demonstrations and workshops were taking place we went away to do the practical assessments and the exam. I would have loved to sit in on some of the workshops but you can’t have everything and there is always next year.

There was some interesting talks including a talk by James Coxon who took a look back at the early days of High Altitude Ballooning, John Graham-Cumming gave a humorous and painfully accurate talk on software debugging, one highlight being when the presentation froze on a picture of Don Johnson in his Miami Vice days (it was an Adobe pdf need I say more!)

Other talks included Matt Brezja on Forward Error Correction and how it could be implemented to improve tracking with low-power transmissions. Making the conference truly international were Ara Kourchians on Environmental Testing, Design, Analysis for HABs as well as Alain Verbrugge (F6AGV) who gave a talk mostly in French on ideas for controlling solar balloon flights, however it was fascinating and informative thanks to an impromptu volunteer translator from the audience as well as James Coxon and some other French speakers assisting.

The conference was filmed and streamed by the BATC and some of the talks can be viewed on their website and can be viewed here select the “HAB 2013” archive and then the desired presentation from the drop down menu.

Despite my almost chronic shyness I got to chat to quite a few people including Steve Smith G0TDJ who took the picture above and has given me permission to use it. I even went down the pub and had a quick pint before setting off back home.

Down the pub

The venue itself was very impressive, got to admire the historic buildings and the restored Cutty Sark walking to a from the train station. London transport was flawless including the impressive Docklands Light Railway (DLR) it was a brilliant if tiring day.

The Venue – Old Royal Naval College

 

The day draws to an end at the Cutty Sark

I would like to say a big thank you to Anthony Stirk (M0UPU) and James Coxon for organising the event and Philip Crump (M0DNY) and Mike for holding the practical course as well David Akerman (M6RPI) and Phil Heron for invigilating the exam, we even had a visit from the RSGB inspectors.

Some audio from the 144MHz SSB Contest

Not had much radio time since Saturday due to family duties but did managed to find time to edit down some of the audio from the 144MHz SSB Amateur Radio Contest I received.

The first part of the audio was from the FUNCube Dongle, the latter part from the Ultra cheap NewSky DVB-T stick running the RTL-SDR driver.

Both were received using the loft mounted discone antenna which I believe is vertically polarised and so wasn’t optimal since SSB is broadcast using horizontal polarization. Even so I was quite impressed with what I did receive with such humble equipment.The stations calling in the audio were G0VHF (morse and voice), M0KWP, M0BAA, 2E0KWM and G4SIV

  144MHZ SSB Contest by nerdsville

Please note the corruption that can be heard toward the end of audio appears to be an artifact of the sound editor and/or the transcoding used by soundcloud as it wasn’t in the original audio.

RTLSDR – Part 3 – CQ CQ Contest

As it’s the weekend I have managed to experiment with my new SDR device. I have sorted out an adapter so I can connect it to the loft discone and it has been pulling in some very nice clear signals. I have had to do some tweaking especially of the usb transfer buffer size to get some decent audio out of it. I have also had to learn how to use the HDSDR program which I haven’t used much before favouring the SDR-Radio one with the FUNCube Dongle.

One thing that caught me out is that when I last used HDSDR with the FUNCube I had to swap the I and Q signals and I don’t need to with the Newsky Tv28t so initially I was very confused as it all seem arse about face! Duh! But now actually growing to quite like it as having a much wider spectrum to see is very nice.

By a pleasant coincidence yesterday saw the start of the RSGB 144MHz May Contest so lots of SSB transmissions to tune in to. The FUNCube definitely has the edge when it comes to quality of audio and sensitivity and being able to tune down the gain helps in preventing out of band signal overloading the front end. With the Newsky device I’ve had to have the gain right up most of the time, but I suspect there is still more optimising to do.

Just a small video showing some of the SSB Contest signals on the spectrum. Don’t you just love the masses of noise? Really must do something about that damn router!


I’ve also got to discover how to calibrate the Newsky as it shows quite a bit off frequency, I understand I need to discover the actual crystal clock frequency and can feed that into the EXT-IO plugin.

Hamfest 2010

Took the afternoon of work today and went to the Newark Showground for a few hours to experience the National Hamfest 2010 Despite the weather which was absolutely appauling I had an enjoyable time. I resisted the urge to purchase any new equipment, this was difficult as some very nice receivers, scanners and antennas were on sale.

Because of the rain the intended outdoor carboot section was almost none existant which was a pity as I fancied a rummage. Inside it was mostly new ‘expensive’ gear a few surplus stores and a few clubs and others with some used and ‘junk’ stuff for sale. It is quite noticable that the cheap chinese import transceivers that are flooding ebay were also much on offer and I suspect if I do take the exam and get my licence I will end up with one of those initially.

In the end I picked up some adapters, a few books and I did take advantage of the RSGB special offer and joined up. I also signed up for the Group for Earth Observation (GEO) the members on the stand were very helpful and this was particularly interesting as the members of the group use relatively inexpensive equipment to receive data from satellites to produce weather images and other earth observation. I dabbled many years ago with receiving data from the NOAA polar orbiting APT satellites which can be done to a limited extent using a normal scanner and a PC soundcard. It was only £20 to sign up and the welcome pack for GEO was extremely generous and consisted of the last four quarterly magazines packed full of information and pictures and a lovely book all about the EUMETSAT system.

Station Report

It has been a few weeks since I dug out my neglected scanners and despite not being able to spend hours with them I have still had an enjoyable time reacquainting myself with them and experimenting.

Despite the growing use of digital transmission systems there is still a lot to listen to on the airwaves. I should note at this point that using a scanner to monitor anything that is not intended for ‘General Reception’ is illegal.

The Amateur bands are fairly quite around my location, however I was pleasantly surprised to be able to here to receive a number of Amateur repeaters both on the 2 meter and 70cm bands despite appearing to be outside the predicated coverage.

The CB bands are also very quiet but I suspect that is more to do with the high levels of interference I seem to be suffering. I have been struck by the apparent increase in interference (QRM) on a lot of the bands since I last used the receivers. I can hardly hear anything on the short wave HF bands except the more powerful commercial transmitters.

I suspect this interference is down to the proliferation of computers and associated peripherals, wired and wireless networking. Energy saving fluorescent lamps and microprocessor system in all manner of consumer equipment such as TVs, PVRs, DVD players for example means the airwaves are full of noise.

The Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB) who represent the thousands of Amateur radio operators have begun to campaign to save the radio spectrum from such interference, specifically they are currently campaigning against the threat poised by the proliferation of PLA/PLT devices (such as HomePlug) these devices use the house mains wiring to transmit network data. However what happens is the wiring then acts an effective radio antenna transmitting the traffic at such levels blocking out other legitimate radio transmissions. This sounds(sic) to be in direct contravention of the EMC Directive of the EU that prohibits the manufacturer of any device that interfers with radio and telecommunications equipment.

However despite representations by the RSGB, the BBC and others OFCOM and the last Government have dragged their heals and refused to act. Hopefully the new Collation Government will be different, but I won’t hold my breath. More information at UKQRM
  
However given all this noise there are still things to listen to, of course I haven’t since it is illegal, but if I were so inclined there are plenty of analogue VHF/UHF Private Mobile Radio (PMR) systems still being used by commerical organisations. Such as taxi firms, councils, security patrols or by large business to facilitate communication across sites.

In the past it would be difficult to know the source of the transmission often listening for clues to try help identify them such as names of locations, buildings, streets and people for example. However nowadays it has been made a little easier by OFCOM who have allowed on-line access to the Wireless Telegraphy Register database. The use and allocation of radio frequencies is strictly regulated so now if get a hit on a frequency it is possible to use the WRT website to help identify them.

The air and marine bands are still as active as ever, given my location near to a number of RAF bases it could prove interesting if I were also so inclined.