Is there anyone out there?

OK, so I haven’t actually done a lot with Amateur Radio recently, apart from occasionally switching on my handheld and having a listen on the local repeaters which are deathly quite. Admittedly I have heard some people on 2 metres simplex but have wondered if they would hear me? Well, the answer to that one is, you will never know unless you try!

A couple of weeks ago I went for a walk up Bardon Hill in Leicestershire taking my Alinco handie. This is the highest point in the county and is higher than the Chiltern Hills. The site is about two miles west of GB3CF, which is located the other side of the M1 which passes by.

I managed to get into Northampton (GB3TO), Lincoln (GB3LM), Matlock  (GB3IN) and also managed to raise someone in Market Harborough (ok not that far away) via Corby (GB3CO), I also managed to open up GB3VA at about 60 miles distance. As well as the Market Harborough contact there were several mobiles via GB3CF. However, 2 metres seems to extremely quiet. One of my contacts that day explained he thought things were even quieter these days as people were using DSTAR and DMR.

At the weekend I checked the Hack Green web sdr on 4m, 2m, and 70cm. I was hoping there would be some activity on 4m but nothing could be heard, not even a beacon. There were a couple of people using repeaters on the bands. Going down to HF I was surprised by the lack of G & M stations.

You have to ask where is the new blood in Amateur Radio? I dread to think what the average age of an amateur radio operator is!

 

Amateur Radio Balloon goes Transcontinental then Transatlantic

California Near Space Project launched a high altitude amateur radio balloon (callsign K6RPT-12) late Sunday afternoon (Dec 2) from San Jose, CA. As of about Monday 1630Z (8:30 pm PST) it was flying over Chicago, IL about 110,000 feet moving at 200 mph. This flight by Ron Meadows and others of CNSP is another long distance floater.

Last year this team had success with the K6RPT-11 balloon which crossed the United States and the Atlantic crossed a Spain just north of Gibraltar and came down in the Mediterranean between Ibiza and Algeria.

I began following the K6RPT – 12 balloon as it crossed Maine into Canada briefly overflying New Brunswick then crossing the Bay of Funday and then flying out into the Atlantic roughly halfway between Newfoundland and Sable Island, the balloon was finally lost to tracking some 200 miles offshore.

The balloon was filled with hydrogen which is the gas as used by the Hindenburg Airship which caught fire in the 1930’s after crossing the Atlantic from Germany. Most balloons use the non flammable gas Helium.

The tracking equipment was based on the Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) is an Amateur Radio based system for real time tactical digital communications of information of immediate value in the local area. It is often connected with Global Positioning System (GPS) as it was in this case.

Data is sent via Amateur Radio to APRS repeaters which is then shown on a google maps based tracking site (http://aprs.fi.com). The system worked well whilst the balloon was over the United States but once it was out of range, there was no way of telling where the balloon was or where it was heading.

An added problem was that the United States and Canada use a different radio frequency in the 2 metre band to European countries so the project was relying on the goodwill of Amateurs in other countries to retune their radios to see if they could pick up signals from the balloon.

Several anxious hours past and this morning two radio amateurs in Spain (one near Marbella and the other near Granada) picked up a signal from the balloon as it approached Morocco from the Atlantic, making landfall near Rabat it was tracked from Spain as it crossed close by the town of Fes. Finally at around 9.30 UTC contact was lost as the balloon headed for the Algerian border in a south easterly direction. Its not known if the Balloon and its payload came down near to it last reported position or continued out of range of receiving stations. APRS unfortunately isn’t used in North Africa.

The project team are hoping to enlist the support of Moroccan radio amateurs in finding the downed balloon.

Intermediate Licence

So last weekend I was up early on both days to be at the Army Cadet Centre in Letchworth where Stevenage & District Amateur Radio Society were holding the final two days training and exam for the Intermediate Licence.

I had already done the first day back on a Saturday in October, the weeks in between had been spent sourcing and making a radio related kit, then spending a good few hours preparing for the exam, either by reading the Intermediate course manual or practising on the Ham Tests website.

Happy to say that everyone who attended passed. I would urged anyone who has a Foundation Licence to up grade. The increased privileges include increase of power to 50w (on most bands) and use of Microwave bands such as 23cm. My next step will be preparing for the Advanced Licence. This will need a slightly different approach as it a major step up on what has been learned already.

HF isn’t the only fruit – Life above 30Mhz

On Thursday evening I went along to Shefford & District Amateur Radio Society where Tim Kirby G4VXE was giving a talk on My World of VHF. Tim writes the regular World of VHF page in the ever popular Practical Wireless magazine.

To be honest he was preaching to the converted with me although I’m not sure I should be surprised when he asked the audience how many used only HF, the majority put their hands up. From some of the conversations I had with other attendees before and after, many viewed operation on 2m repeaters as nothing more than glorified CB radio (in fact they seemed to view VHF as that in general).

I could see attitudes were going to be hard to change. Tim started with the 6m (50Mhz) allocation and went through its peculiarities, including the effects of meteor scatter on these frequencies. Most amateurs these days have access to “Six”  as it is often included with newer HF rigs (If they have a HF rig that is!)

Six has always held a fascination for me and its a band that I have yet to operate on.  Tim then moved onto the 4m (70Mhz) allocation and gave a good representation of how the band performs and the equipment used. 4m suffers from a lack of commercially made equipment with most being limited to Chinese hand-held radios with inefficient antennas or multi mode transverters (more on the latter later!). 4m despite being a small band is gaining in popularity and is slowly spreading around the globe. Tim explained that one station in the United States has obtained a licence to operate a beacon on the band.

It then came to 2 metres, probably one of the most diverse VHF bands for operating modes and interests. 2m is a primary allocation in Amateur radio so the band should be core to operating on Amateur Radio. Tim covered everything from operating on SSB to FM, through EME (Earth-Moon-Earth) and how that had now progressed to using digi modes. Following how meteor scatter affects the band it was then the turn of satellite operation (something that I’m really interested in).

At this point Tim used a photo of Peter Goodhall 2E0SQL using a dual band hand held (2/70) and a hand held crossed element beam whilst accessing satellites (birds as they are known in the States!). This is the great thing about Amateur Radio, with a little thought you do not have to spend a lot of money nor use a lot of operating power to get great results.

As well as satellites there is the International Space Station (ISS) which has Amateur Radio equipment fitted, you can send packet data via the digi repeater on the ISS as it passes overhead. Less often when a suitably qualified Astronaut/Cosmonaut is aboard two way phone contact on FM is possible, although when this occurs it does tend to get rather busy..

Tim then went onto the use of Echolink (analogue) and D-Star (Digital), a lot of people will dismiss these as “not being real amateur radio” the idea that both use the internet (VOIP – Voice Over Internet Protocol) is somehow abhorrent to those who maybe spend their time on HF only but this misses the point. I can be mobile or using a hand held radio and talk through a repeater and make contact with my brother using his hand held in Adelaide in Australia whilst he walks his dogs. Also with APRS you can now link your radio via the internet to show location via GPS and or take part in the CWOPS weather station programme. Your can see APRS activity including D-Star (those who have a GPS capability) on http://aprs.fi/

In the United States most D-Star repeaters are linked by a microwave link in case the internet fails during a major emergency. During the recent Tropical Storm that hit hit most of the east coast the MARS network was in operation on Amateur Radio but in particular on D-Star.

Digital isn’t about buying an expensive radio off the shelf, in fact some repeater keepers are now building back up systems based on old PMR radios, how long is it before someone does the same and home brews a D-star transceiver? Its not as difficult as it may seem.

Finally Tim covered the 70cm band, depending where you may live in the UK, 70 is either hardly used or has very vibrant use. . But the band has the same following on everything I have mentioned with 2 meters.

Did the talk change attitudes? I’m not sure because some views are pretty entrenched, at end of the day Amateur Radio is what you make of it. The spectrum to use is wide so go out and explore.
Thanks for Tim for the talk and Ken Amos G4YRF (chairman of S&DARS) for making me welcome at the club.

The club website can be found at www.sadars.co.uk

2 meters from a hill top

I’ve often wondered how many people involved with Amateur Radio have hand held radios (Handies).

Certainly most people I seem to to speak to either in person, or whilst they are operating from home or mobile admit to having one sitting on the shelves in the shack (normally not getting a lot of use).
I take my 2m Alinco with me every time I go for a walk, I can access both GB3PI (GB40PI) and GB3BF with ease as they are my two local repeaters. I can also access GB3EA (near Bury St Edmunds) from my home QTH (at the same signal strength as GB3PI which happens to line of sight) despite GB3EA being 41 miles away as the crow flies, the other two I can access are GB3AL at Amersham and GB3VA at Brill.

Yesterday I made the most of the nice weather  and did my a regular walk to the north of home which takes past the Knocking Hoe National Nature Reserve, Deacon Hill (known locally as Pegsdon Hill) and Telegraph Hill.

Both local repeaters were fairly inactive (normally getting use during rush hour during the week). As I walked past Knocking Hoe I could hear activity on GB3CO. Although I have heard this repeater before I have never worked it so far south, on this occasion I made contact with Michael (M6BJL) who was parked up somewhere near the Northamptonshire, Leicestershire border.

When I walked up to the top of Deacon Hill I put out a call on CO again and I was heard by Adam (M6OMV) who was in Daventry, the signal strength from the repeater here was as good as GB3BF so really strong.

As the daylight faded I walked back home, this took me to Telegraph Hill, I was still talking to Adam and he suggested we moved to GB3TO at Northampton, this is a repeater I have never accessed before and I was amazed to use it.

Traditionally VHF is taught very much line as being line of sight, if you can a bit of high ground you may find a 4 watt (depending on battery use-age) handie can manage around 40 miles in normal conditions.

On odd occasions I speak to to people who are taking the dog for a walk, if you have a 2m/70cm handie why not blow the cobwebs of it and take it with you next time you go for a walk and give a repeater some much needed use.

Bedfordshire Steam Rally – GBØBSR

This years Bedfordshire Steam Rally was held from the 14th to the 16th September at Old Warden, in the grounds of Shuttleworth College and Collection.

Its a regular event for Stevenage and District Amateur Radio Society who in conjunction with Shefford and District ARS run a special event station with the call sign GBØBSR.

I went along on Saturday 15th September which turned out to be the last hot day of summer. After a walk round the site I went to say hello as I had obtained my Foundation licence with the Stevenage club. Later in the afternoon I went back and was able to operate on 10 and 15 metres.

I made contact with the following stations:

Date Time (BST) FREQUENCY Station REPORT Remarks
 (Mhz)  Called/Worked Sent Received
15/09/2012 15.40 28.45454 G7VQE 4.8 5.6 Dave (Yeovil)
15/09/2012 15.45 28.45454 2E1RDX 4.7 5.6 Ian (Derby)
15/09/2012 16.00 28.45454 AB2DE 5.9 5.8 Glen (NJ)
15/09/2012 16.12 28.45454 AB2KL 5.7 5.7 Tony (Long Island)
15/09/2012 16.25 28.45454 K1CN 5.4 5.4 Bill (Cape Cod)
15/09/2012 16.27 28.45454 G1HQE Therfield, Nr Royston
15/09/2012 16.30 28.45454 W3ANJ 5.9 5.9 Tom (Penn)
15/09/2012 16.35 28.45454 G1XYM 5.3 5.3 Karl (Calverton)
15/09/2012 17.05 28.45454 DJ3PS 5.9 5.9 Fred (Munich)
15/09/2012 17.07 28.45454 W4LBT 5.6 5.6 Bill (Carolina)
15/09/2012 17.16 28.45454 VA3PEG 5.9 5.9 Paul ( Woodstock. Ont)
15/09/2012 17.20 28.45454 N9DFD 5.7 5.7 Mike (Georgia)
15/09/2012 17.22 21.8359 VA3FP 5.9 5.9 Colin (Ont)
15/09/2012 17.25 21.8359 K6BV 5.9 5.9 Tony (SF, Calif)
15/09/2012 17.45 21.8359 VE6MV 5.9 5.9 Denny (Calgary)
15/09/2012 17.47 21.8359 K65IFN 5.7 5.7 Harold (Oklahoma)
15/09/2012 17.49 21.8359 KD4QMY 5.9 5.9 George (Georgia)
15/09/2012 17.51 21.8359 W6FTA 5.9 5.9 Chris (Orange, Calif)
15/09/2012 17.55 21.8359 KW6JP7 5.9 5.9 Brian (Arizona)
15/09/2012 17.57 21.8359 WA4RG 5.9 5.9 Rick (Georgia)
15/09/2012 18.00 21.8359 ZS1S 5.9 5.7 Paul (Cape Town)
15/09/2012 18.05 21.8359 K4IME 5.9 5.9 Hugh (Carolina)

 

The rig was a Yaesu FT-1000MP and a beam fitted to a 80 ft mobile mast (a photo of which can be seen at: http://www.sadars.co.uk/ )

My 2m FM handie

I popped into the Moonraker Head Office in Cranfield Road, Woburn Sands yesterday, I was after a Wouxun ((pronounced Wou-Shin) KG-UVD1P which is a dual band 2 meter and 70cm FM handheld which retail around £89.99) unfortunately theses radios have been flying off the shelves (even the official importer Martin Lynch and Sons in Chertsey are awaiting further deliveries). I did have concerns mind as you have to programme these radios yourself (there is a handy CD and USB available though it will set you back £20 or thereabouts but does make life easier).

Alinco dj175

I ended up settling for a Alinco DJ-175 2 metre hand held (I brought a mic/speaker as well) must say the instruction book was a nightmare! I managed to set it up wrong and it was stuck in repeater mode whilst being unable to access any repeaters! I took it into Stevenage & District Amateur Radio Society (SADARS) tonight and and a very helpful M1HOG managed to put things right, the radio was tested on a mini mag-mount and was able to access the GB3PI repeater at Barkway near Royston (200 ft communications mast). A quick check when I got home from the spare bedroom and sure enough I managed to access GB3PI with just a rubber duck antenna and 5 watts of power (distance being some 20 miles although GB3PI is line of sight from my QTH).

Also tonight I got my Yaesu FT-730R 70cm FM mobile rig back after it had been tested by Keith G4KGP, I brought this in mint condition off ebay for £60 and I’m happy to say all is well, all that is needed is to have a CTCSS board fitted so I can access local repeaters like GB3HN (Hitchin) and GB3PY (Madingley). The CTCSS kits can be found at: CS Technology Ltd.

Thanks to M1HOG and G4KGP for the help, much appreciated.

This post was originally written and published on Wednesday, 27 October 2010