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Workbench Review – QRP Labs QCX+ Kit

September 08, 2020 By: Chris G3YHF Category: Club, Fun, News

Earlier this year Ian M0IDR reviewed the original QCX kit from QRP Labs.  Now it’s been redesigned as the QCX+, which Chris G3YHF reviews here. 

QRP Labs have recently started shipping the new QCX+, a single band CW/WSPR transceiver kit.  Mine arrived carefully packed along with the additional metal enclosure.  

Although the QCX+ as delivered is CW only, the original QCX has been modified by experimenters to enable SSB and digital modes.  The QCX+ is likewise a rig designed for modification – with lots of spare pin headers and a separate development board.  

I built the 30m version, pictured above. 

There is an impressive downloadable manual running to almost 200 pages, covering the build, alignment, operating features, fault finding, facilities for experimenting and more! 

The build instructions are very detailed and easy to follow, with a large diagram illustrating each step.  The proof is that my rig worked first time!!  That was a relief!

I initially checked and sorted all the components, putting them in labelled envelopes to make them easier to find. 

The trickiest part – winding the four section RX transformer (centre top of picture) – is the first task and gets this job out of the way.  Then each type of component is installed in turn.

The silk-screen printed PCB is a delight to work on.  My trusty 25 watt Antex iron was just right for soldering the components to the 2 PCBs.  Although there is more room on these PCBs than on the original QCX, a small tip is required to keep the solder points neat and avoid problems. 

Thanks to Ian M0IDR for advice on this, as the QCX+ was the most complex build I have attempted.

The manual emphasises that the enamelling on the wire used for toroid windings needs to be burnt off during soldering, and that failure to achieve this is the most common reason for a QCX build to be unsuccessful first time. This requires the soldering iron to be applied longer than normal.  Continuity testing for zero ohms across the winding is recommended.  I had a couple of instances where I needed to resolder to completely burn off the enamelling.

In fact, I continuity tested each component before triming any loose wires.  I find my analogue multimeter is better to use for this than a digital one, as the needle flicking right across the scale clearly indicates a good connection.

Alignment is simple process using the rig’s inbuilt test equipment, which includes a signal generator. 

I had two small self-inflicted problems in the build. 

I discovered that I had soldered the ends of one of the RX transformer windings the wrong way round, having already trimmed off the wire.  Luckily, I also found that I had wound one too many turns.  I managed to unwind the extra turn without having to desolder the other 6 connections on this toroid, and then had enough spare wire to solder this winding back on to the PCB.  Phew!

This error arose because I wanted to finish installing the transformer even though it was late in the evening.  The moral is: stop before you get tired!

The second problem was that when I switched the rig on, the LCD lit up but didn’t show the initial ‘choose band’ screen.  A quick check and I discovered I’d omitted to install the microcontroller into its socket. 

The rig in test mode is shown above, before fitting in to the enclosure.  This is a sturdy 4mm/2mm thick with laser etched lettering.  The 2 PCBs – one holding the LCD – join at right angles and slide easily into the enclosure. 

It’s easy to remove the top of the enclosure or slide the PCBs out to make mods to the rig.

The rig is easy and intuitive to use.  As a 99% CW op, I was impressed at how clear the CW signals were in such a small rig.  The 200hz filter must help in this regard, and although it’s a sharp filter there is no ringing. 

With masses of audio gain available, and no RF control, I found winding the ‘VOL’ control back helped bring any weak signals out of the noise.  There is full QSK, although this can be switched off.

Tuning rates are 1kHz, 500Hz, 50Hz and 10Hz – selected by depressing the tuning knob.  This scrolls in a loop – so from 10Hz it goes round to 1kHz.  A long hold on the tuning knob is supposed to enable the cursor to move to the left, i.e. from 10Hz to 50Hz.  However I found it difficult to avoid starting my stored CQ message, which is also activated by depressing the same knob.  

Keyer speed and RIT are available with one and two presses of a button.  There are twin VFOs and memory functions, as well as a message facility and CW decoder.  Many other functions are available and adjustable.

There are sockets to enable CAT control and to connect an external GPS RX to the rig’s GPS interface. 

The rig is specified to deliver up to 5 watts depending on supply voltage.  Using a 13.5v PSU, my QRP power meter read 3.5 watts out (normal power meters don’t give accurate readings at QRP levels).  As I don’t have a variable power supply, I tried the rig connected to a SLAB measuring 12.3v and it delivered 2.75 watts out. 

According to the data sheets in the manual, it should deliver 4 watts at 13.5 volts.  The manual – and discussion on the QCX forum – advise taking a turn off each of the low pass filter torroids in case the cut-off frequency is too low.

Overall, I’m delighted with successfully building this kit and with it’s performance on air.  My first 3 qsos received reports of 549 from Italy and 559 from Germany (another QRP op) – both in response to my CQs – and 569 from Norway.  Later in the evening I worked east coast USA, receiving 559.  I heard a VK, although only S3.  The RBN for my CQ calls gave very good SNR reports.  The antenna was a dipole at about 25 feet.

So I’m looking forward to having some fun on 30 meters with this QRP rig! 

The kit is suitable for someone who has undertaken some basic constructional projects, can solder effectively and wants to move on to something more complicated.  It certainly left me feeling much more confident about tackling an advanced project.

 

August DX Challenge results

September 01, 2020 By: Chris G3YHF Category: Club, Fun, News

There are lots of counties to work on 30, 17 and 12 meters – as the results of the August DX Challenge at Wythall Radio Club show.

Mali (TZ4AM – QSL card left), the Falkland Islands and Trinidad and Tobago were amongst the more exotic countries reached by Club members.  For a full list, click here.

Tim M6OTN contacted 95 unique counties (each country counting only once across the three bands) and 152 countries overall (the total of the countries worked on each of the bands).   Chris G0EYO had 71 uniques and Neil M0LUH was close behind at 66. 

These three station were all using FT8, a digital mode of communication, and modest power with simple wire antennas.

This graphic shows how Club members’ unique countries increased over the month… 

FT8 is well suited to poor propogation conditions – which may be why the CW-only stations of Chris G3YHF and John 2E0XET were not as successful. 

However it is rumoured that some FT8 ops monitored the bands while they were doing other things – which is harder for CW ops to do!

The September DX Challenge is a FT8/FT4-only event on 40, 20 and 10 meters.  

Good luck and we hope for some excellent DX results!

Free on-line courses for amateur radio licences

August 25, 2020 By: Chris G3YHF Category: Club, Fun, News, Training

STOP PRESS – THE INTERMEDIATE COURSE IS NOW FULL.  FOUNDATION COURSE STILL AVAILABLE.

Wythall Radio Club will be running ONE online courses in September.

The 8 week Foundation course starts on the 13th September .

The examinations for both these courses will be done under the RSGB’s new remotely invigilated on-line examination scheme in the candidate’s own home.

Practical Assessments for the Foundation course have been suspended until such time as the COVID lockdown makes it safe for them to be re-introduced and the Practical Assessments for the Intermediate have been taken out of the syllabus altogether.

There is no charge for doing these courses and we do provide individual tuition via quizzes etc.  Please note that there are specific IT requirements which have to be met for the online examinations.

If anyone is interested in doing these courses with us please contact Chris G0EYO [email protected]  ASAP.

Out and About with Wythall RC Members

August 17, 2020 By: Chris G3YHF Category: Club, Fun, News

The fine weather has encouraged Wythall Radio Club members to operate portable.

Kev G4XLO, based in Torquay, has been out on Dartmoor:

“For the last 2 weeks I’ve been on leave from work, not had too much time for the radio apart from an hour in the evening for HF and also re-erected the wire that the seagulls keep attacking (the bloke in the house behind me is convinced it’s a seagull trip wire – I’ll let him continue with that theory!).

However I was able to get up to Dartmoor this morning with my FT70 HH. Parking up on Haytor car park (photo), there is a formidable panoramic view all the way around and therefore excellent for VHF.
 
I was easily able to access my local repeater GB7TQ and link it into Hubnet, had a qso with M6NVO in Dudley and also called my Peter G7RPG who gave me a couple of gateways I could try to access.
 
The trip gave me an idea for next year though, as I spotted some places for a portable HF antenna, so I’m thinking about QRP portable for next year.  All I need is an FT817 and I’ll be away!”
 
Meanwhile Mark M1AEC uses a Raspberry PI and a DMR handset in his satellite truck when he’s parked up: “I always have internet of course!”. 
 
The antenna has a TX gain of 46.2db so quite some eirp and is fed via 2 x TWTA at 750W linearised amplifiers.  But sadly the TX is 13750 to 14500 GHZ, so no chance for Moonbounce qsos!

Meanwhile Neil G(M)1TZC was on Skye last week – further north even than Dave, our other occasional GM member – G(M)3YXM. 

On Skye outdoor radio ops (photo left) were severely affected by QRM from the midges, but Tony had a few contacts on HF.  Also a couple of qsos with locals on VHF (photo right). 

Neil comments: “Up here in Skye they don’t bother to QSY from S20!”

 
 

Join the Amateur Radio Community – Online Foundation Course starts September

August 11, 2020 By: Chris G3YHF Category: Club, Fun, News, Training

Join the world-wide amateur radio community with our FREE successful online course!

If you, or anyone you know, is looking to get into amateur radio then the Wythall Radio Club Online Foundation course could be just what you are looking for.

With amateur radio, you could be chatting to someone in the next street – or another continent!

With the need for practical assessments currently suspended due to the Coronavirus, together with the RSGB’s ability to offer remotely invigilated online examinations which candidates can do in their own home, we can take students from anywhere in the country.

Our courses are done through a Virtual Learning Experience called Edmodo and comprise a number of video lessons (via YouTube) plus lesson notes and lesson quizzes and other supporting information.

We mark the quizzes and provide individual feedback.  As a consequence,  we limit our courses to a maximum of 20 students.

There is no charge for doing the course.  You will need to book and pay for your examination direct with the RSGB through the exam booking website. You can also purchase the course book “The Foundation Licence Manual” through the RSGB online shop.

You also do not have to be a member of Wythall Radio Club to do this course although many of our Midlands based student do join us.

We will probably start this course in early September and it will run for 7 weeks. If interested please contact our Training Coordinator, Chris G0EYO on [email protected] “ 

Antennas sprout for DX challenge

August 08, 2020 By: Chris G3YHF Category: Club, Fun, News

A variety of antennas are being used for this month’s Wythall Radio Club DX Challenge on the WARC bands, any modes.

Tim M6OTN, at his caravan in Somerset, made an inverted vee sloper cut for 18MHz with a counterpoise out of spare wire he had to hand (photo left).  He was shocked how well it worked – “it’s the fun of antennas!”  Tim now has 48 countries worked on this band using FT8 – and the challenge is only one-quarter way through!

Meanwhile John 2E0XET used his trusty 90 feet-long dog-leg doublet to great effect, working ZD7GB on 18078 CW  with 12 watts.  Nice!!

Using spare ladder-line, a coupled-resonator antenna was put into service by Chris G3YHF.

One side is cut as a dipole for 10mhz and fed with coax.  The other side is a single section half-wave for 18mhz with the middle above the dipole feed point but not connected to it.  The 18mhz conductor placed close to the dipole is imposed on the 10mhz dipole and means that the antenna happily resonates on both frequencies.

And at G0MTN, Lee is using a fan dipole for 10, 18 and 24 Mhz and 50Mhz – carefully disguised in a tree!  This has proved very successful in increasing Lee’s DXCC count.

New pictures from space

August 06, 2020 By: Chris G3YHF Category: Club, Fun, News

Pictures transmitted from the International Space Station (ISS) were received by Wythall Radio Club members yesterday.

The pictures were received as the ISS passed near the UK on four occasions during the afternoon.  Besides pictures of the ISS, the main theme was Russian helecopters.

Pictures were transmitted by Slow Scan Television (SSTV) on the 2 meter amateur radio band (145.800MHz) and make a warbling sound that needs to be decoded using free MMSSTV software.  

Signals were received by Chris G0EYO and Chris G3YHF along with other members of Wythall Radio Club, using their normal 2 meter VHF equipment.

G0EYO used an FT847 transceiver linked to his computer via a Signalink sound card and a collinear antenna, while G3YHF used a small FT7900 mobile transceiver again with a Signalink and collinear. 

The picture on the left shows the SSTV signal being decoded on MMSSTV.

The ISS astronauts make regular SSTV transmissions.  These are part of the MAI-75 experiment at the Moscow Aviation Institute (MAI) to support video information broadcasting from space in real-time to a wide range of users.

Wythall Radio Club members monitor the bands for these events.

The MAI-75 experiment is carried out using a notebook computer on the ISS, which stores and prepares the photos and videos that are then transmitted to Earth using the ham radio communication system, the primary component of which is the onboard Kenwood TM D700 transceiver of the “Sputnik” ham radio system within the 144-146/430-440 MHz bands.

More pictures received around the world from yesterday’s transmissions – and from previous events – are available here

Monitor ARISS (Amateur Radio on the ISS) for details of future SSTV transmissions.
 
Picture on right shows Russian Cosmonaut M. V. Tiurin during a communication session with the Moscow Aviation Institute. Credits: Moscow Aviation Institute (National Research University)

Worldwide contacts in Wythall RC’s July ‘Challenge’

August 01, 2020 By: Chris G3YHF Category: Club, Fun, News, Training

What countries can Wythall Radio Club members contact on the 80, 40 and 20 meter bands during July?
 
That was the challenge for Club members, who could use digital, voice and Morse Code to make contacts around the world. 
 
Overall, club members worked 116 countries – including Alaska, China, Hawaii, Kenya and St. Helena island.  To see all the countries worked, click HERE
 
Impressive results were achieved by Allen 2E0VVG who worked 101 unique countries (each country counting only once across the three bands) and Chris G0EYO with 192 countries overall (the total of the countries worked on each of the bands). 
 
Allen decided to give his FT8 signals a little more elevation, so packed up his little all-band, all-mode FT817 rig and operated from his car on a hill-top (photo above).  Perhaps this gave him the edge in being the first to contact 100 unique countries!
 
He also spent “a lot of time on Google maps looking for places that I’d never heard of.   Mayotte is a French island just north of Madagascar apparently!” 
 
Mark M1AEC also managed contacts in the Indian Ocean:  “had a nice contact in to The Re’union Islands off Mauritius on 40m yesterday…. callsign FR4OM”.
 
Carsten OY1CT gave some members a contact with the Faroe Islands, located between Shetland and Iceland.
 
Some burnt the midnight oil in the hunt for rare countries!  “Inspired by the midnight/early morning efforts of Chris G0EYO and Kevin 2E0NCO, thought I’d explore the 40m band at 4.00 a.m. on Saturday” commented John M6KET.  “Surely there would be a VK/ZL waiting for that elusive M6 QSO?  ZL there was – but not audible here!”
 
However Chris’ occasional midnight operations were more productive than John’s:  “Some good ones caught at those times. eg US Virgin Island on 40m at 00:59Z. UAE at 01:33Z on 40m. Uruguay and Dominican Republic at 01:03Z on 40m etc.”
 
Chris G0EYO observed that there are “some interesting differences between us FT8ers (digital mode operators) as we each seem to get countries that others cannot connect to or in my case even see.  It’s all to do with timing, as I guess we have pretty much the same equipment set up.”
 
Here you can see how the total number of countries worked by each member across the 3 bands developed over the month!
 

The Challenge is part of a series, with a different group of amateur radio bands or modes being the focus of activity each month.  Previous months have covered 15,12,10 and 6 meters, and all bands Morse Code only.

The Challenge for August is to work as many different countries as possible on the 30 meter band (using Morse Code and FT8 digital mode) and the 17 and 12 meter bands using these modes and voice (SSB).  
 
 
 
 
 

QRP anyone? Low power fun at Wythall Club

July 13, 2020 By: Chris G3YHF Category: Club, Fun, News

Low power operating – QRP – has added an extra element of fun to Wythall Radio Club members’ recent two-way contacts.

John 2E0XET/M6KET often operates his small KX3 radio (on the left of the desk) in QRP mode – defined as 5 watts output or less – and recently serendipity struck!

“Funny thing radio conditions. With hardly a red spot in sight yesterday morning on DX HEAT at about 11.50 local time I called CQ on 14.060MHz with absolutely no expectations and only 5 watts output.

The band appeared empty, but Leslie K4DY in North Carolina USA came back to me with my RST of 529 (he was 329 here).
 
Hardly earth shattering DX I know, but it made one enthusiast just a little bit more enthusiastic!!”
 
QRP signals may not be s9 – but often they are perfectly readable, especially when using CW.
 
Meanwhile Darren GW7HOC/MW5HOC fired up his 20m FOXX-3 for the first time in about 3 years.  This little kit rig is built into a mint tin and is rock bound (crystal controlled) on 14.060MHz.
 
“I put out a QRS (low speed Morse Code) call with maybe 1 watt, and a guy in Greece called me back! First proper CW QSO in quite a while.  I do like making contacts with my mint tin rigs. Serious fun!”
 
So much fun, Darren has built 3 of these rigs!!
 
14.060 MHz is the calling frequency for QRP stations around the world on the 20M band.
 
Chris G3YHF is another QRP enthusiast.  He recently used very low power (QRPp) – 100 milliwatts – to contact stations in Belgium, Germany and Bulgaria on the 40 and 20 meter QRP frequencies.  Like John and Darren, he used Morse Code, this time with his K3S rig and 40 meter delta loop antenna.
 
His contacts were to celebrate receiving the QRP Master Award from the GQRP Club for working 70 countries with 5 watts of less, of which 20 must be 2-way QRP, plus 60 GQRP Club members.  This was achieved with an Icom 725 modified for QRP output and a G5RV antenna.
 
So wind back the power and give QRP a go!
 
 
 
 
 

90 countries worked in June’s ‘High Band Challenge’

July 01, 2020 By: Chris G3YHF Category: Club, Fun, News

What countries can we contact on the higher HF bands during June?
 
That was the challenge set for Wythall Radio Club members.  The focus was on the amateur bands from 15 meters to 6 meters, using the digital mode FT8.  This follows the similar Morse Code-only challenge in May.
 
Overall, club members worked 91 countries – including Hawaii, Chile, Mauritania, Saint Helena island, Cuba and Asiatic Russia.
 
Impressive results were achieved by Chris G0EYO who worked 77 different countries, closely followed by Lee G0MTN with 69. 
 
On 6 meters – a band noted for its occasional and often very short openings – Mike G4VPD was very active working an impressive 46 countries.  Best DX included Bahrain, Puerto Rico, Tajikistan, Canada and Armenia.
 
Overall, there were 607 QSOs during June’s High Band Challenge.
 
But it wasn’t all easy going.  Band conditions were often poor, with limited and sporadic propogation – “Bands dreadful today, but managed to get Albania on 15m this morning, only there for 10 mins”. 
 
The heat wave in the middle of the month caused additional problems – “Too hot to go into the shack today!” 
 
And occasional erroneous entries in the on-line log caused excitement – “Well done – Swaziland on 15m & 12m! ”  “Just checking my log. Looks like I probably did mean Switzerland.”
 
Here you can see how the QSOs developed over the month!
 
 
July’s challenge for club members is to work as many different countries on 80, 40 and 20m using any mode – digital, Morse or SSB (voice).
 
To see the countries worked by band in June’s Challenge, click this link