Friday, August 14, 2009

N1LF/R For August UHF Contest

I learned some hard lessons during my first Rover outing in the June 2009 VHF Contest. As faithful readers will recall, I used a 40 foot tall aluminum mast mounted on my trailer hitch for that effort. This provided great height, but also resulted in about two hours of work for each stop on my route. Way too many contacts were missed due to this handicap.

I reasoned that the "run and gun" approach would be better, and after looking at dozens of rover setups from around the country, decided to build a PVC "rack" that would sit on my pickup truck bed and allow me to operate quickly once reaching a new high spot in my route.

The design for the PVC rack was my XYL's, Abby Rayburn, who has the workshop that would be the envy of any man. She's a "handy gal" in the extreme, and cut the rack to her own exacting specifications. It was cemented with heavy duty PVC glue, and beefed up with wooden dowels inside for added strength in critical areas.

After it dried, we mounted several long Yagi's for 2M, 222, 432, 902, 1.2ghz, and 2.3ghz to the rack. In addition, I'm using a trailer hitch mounted painters pole that holds dual 2M KA4UB loops, and a single loop for 432.

The ability to run these loops during driving periods adds more than a few contacts to the logbook.

Inside the vehicle, I took an old garage organizer shelf that was lying around, and cut the legs between two of the shelves down to about 8" apart. Then I mounted all the various radios, transverters, and power amps to the two-tier shelf using heavy duty wire ties. On the back, I installed a Rigrunner power panel with Anderson PowerPoles, and labeled everything with a Dymo label maker.

Also adapted an old stereo RCA switching panel to allow me to quickly switch the PTT keying circuit from the FT-817ND (IF Rig) to either of the three transverters. Another antenna switch routed RF signals from the IF rig to the transverter. Switching from one band to the next took only one knob turn and a click. Sweet!

Another antenna switch allows me to feed the 28mhz signals from the transverters to either the Yaesu IF rig or a RF Space SDR-IQ receiver. The SDR-IQ allows me to use the PC to look at a band scope display...making it much easier to find signals on the UHF and SHF bands. Didn't use it much during the contest, but it worked great.

Installed a large 12VDC deep cycle marine battery in the bed of the truck to power everything, and "Glow Fuses" on all leads.

Now to operate portable or rover, I can literally "pick up" the radios, and place the entire shelf unit in the back seat. Place PVC rack of antennas on the bed Secure antennas with motorcycle straps, connect feedlines and batteries, and be on the air! QRV on all bands 6-2.3ghz.

Power for the PC (laptop) comes from an I-Go 12VDC power adapater which didn't put out any RF hash at all. All logging for the contest was done using RoverLog for the first time. Found it to be very useful, but I still like the VHF Log from N3FJP better.

So, how did it play? My wife was really ill on Saturday, resulting in missing the first 30 hours of so of the event, except for some FM contacts from the hospital parking lot. On Sunday, I took it out to EM63 (Locust Ridge), EM62, and EM61. Picked up lots of new grids on all bands. Several stations said I was really loud on 222 and 902, which was great to hear.

The highlight of the event was having Danny, N5OMG in New Orleans call me on 432! We also worked on 222. I'd been trying to work Danny from the home station for over a year without success! We finally did complete on 2 Meters yesterday using JT65b mode (WSJT) from my home station. Thanks Danny!

Some have asked me if operating rover during the contests has improved my grid chasing. Hmmm...that's a hard question to answer. It's added grids to the totals to be sure, but the maximum benefit has come on the bands 432 and up.

The issue seems to be that "contesting" gets in the way of grid chasing. I have a nasty side when it comes to competition. You know, one of those obnoxious guys who take the church basketball league WAY TOO seriously. It's a problem, I'm not proud of it, and I'm working on it. But it also applies to ham radio. During a contest, I get fixated on my score---not how many grids I'm working.

I keep promising to spend one full contest day on Locust Ridge in EM63. It's only six miles from my house. Has great 360 degree views with almost no trees, and it's about 1,100 feet ASL. All stations worked from there count towards VUCC since it's within 100 klicks of my house, but moving to other grids helps the score...and I always end up chasing the score more than the grids.

In terms of "bang per buck", WSJT is the secret weapon for those in HOA situations. I've worked seven new grids on 2 Meters in the past week. My operating time is limited, otherwise my totals would improve faster there too.

Next step is a tilt over mast for the house, and working on optimizing my 2 Meter set up for Meteor Scater and limited EME. I think I can add at least 10 grids on EME with a 10 element beam, 200 watts, and the SSB pre-amp. Time to get to work!

I'll be operating N1LF/R during the September event again---so look for me. I'm on APRS as N1LF-1.

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