Friday, April 29, 2011

Back on WSPR again...

After a long absence, I am back using the digital mode WSPR again on receive. It's a great tool in that you can just leave the rig on one frequency then come back later and see what you have heard. You have the option of uploading what you hear to the WSPR website and a map like the one above can be generated....(Fri afternoon 29th Apr 2011 on 30m).

It's simple to use now that I have it working but there was a lot of messing about initially....downloading the programme again...and then trying to figure out why wasn't it working!

After adjusting microphone levels, ticking the right boxes, etc...it eventually worked. It was great to see the first spot decoded :o) Now all I have to do is rest the microphone on top of the loudspeaker of the HF rig, tune to the right frequency, run the programme and away it goes.

I also have a small 10 inch Netbook PC that I tried last night. No matter what I did with it, all I could see were corrupted callsigns. Even the receive screen on WSPR looked wrong...too many small lines. I tried the internal mic and an external mic...no joy. I have no idea as to why the desktop PC will work fine but the netbook will not.

Anyway, I now hope to use WSPR on 28 MHz for the Summer Sporadic-E season and see what can be heard.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

CQ 2m Counties Contest...kind of

For the first time in about 2 years, I put out a signal on 144 MHz again today. I noticed about a few days ago that the IRTS 2m Counties Contest was on Easter Monday in the afternoon. Despite my best plans, I ended up just putting an old 2m 5/8th mag mount on the roof of the car in the driveway, running out a mains cable for a small power supply and quickly powering up my Yaesu FT290R.....with it's mighty 2.5 watts!

Considering I caught only the last 20 mins of the contest, this is probably not really a fair assessment of the level of activity but it did seem quiet.

A quick initial scan revealed nothing....no 5/9+ signals. Checked the Cork Repeater on R6 (50 kms west)...opened it...RF getting out...aerial must be working in some fashion....back to a careful scan on FM.

Heard EI3GAB in Mallow.....gave him a few calls with my mighty 2.5 watts...no joy. Mallow is about 35kms away and on the other side of the Nagle Mountains (Hills ;o) so the received signal here was pretty weak anyway....about 5/2

Heard EI3FFB up in Co.Tipperary on the other side of the Galtees, maybe around 65 kms or so. Just above the noise on receive so no hope of him hearing me.

I'm pretty sure I heard EI4CF in Co.Galway. I didn't hear any /P at the end so I presume he was at home? If so, that's about 150 kms to the north. While my take off in that direction is very good, I'm still impressed that I heard him on the mag mount.

Down on SSB, I got my only contest contact when I worked Tommy using the club call EI7T from Caher in Co.Tipperary, a distance of roughly 65 kms. Not bad for 2.5 watts!

So that was the contest....20 mins...one contact. Tommy had given me #035 and considering that he may have worked some stations twice (SSB and FM) then I guess that it was quiet enough.

Tried out the Helvick head repeater on R3 (~50 kms) after the contest and met up with Andrew EI3GSB/M and Denis EI8GAB for the first time. With the FT290 on 0.5 watts, I had no problems working that repeater so that's a good sign. I could hear Andrew at times on the input although very weakly driving on the motorway near Caher about 60 kms away...another good sign. So it looks like if I put up any sort of decent aerial for 2m then I should get reasonable coverage.

70 MHz in Cork....
After the repeater contacts, I had a simplex QSO with Denis, EI8GAB on FM. Denis got his call in the time that I was off-air....2009/10. I was interested to hear that he is active on 4m with a converted Taxi PMR radio and there seems to be a few others active in the Cork area as well.

Looking at EI4DIB's blog, there seems to be some activity up in the Louth / North of Dublin area as well so there are at least some small pockets of activity on 70 MHz. Not sure though if anyone from either group has worked the other group yet?

On the local scene, Denis told me that there is a Simplexer in operation. This is like a repeater except that it records your audio and plays it back on the same frequency. It obviously makes for slow contacts but it's better than nothing when you can't hear the other station. It would also seem to be a good way as keeping a bit of activity on the band.

To be investigated!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Project Blue Horizon Transatlantic Balloon...Fri 22nd Apr

Just came across this.....

 Transatlantic Amateur Radio Balloon Launch

(Edit...As of Friday morning, it has launched and is heading WEST! So....not Trans-Atlantic. Press release seems like hype)
The Project Blue Horizon 5 high-altitude transatlantic balloon is scheduled for launch, weather permitting, at 0400 UTC (midnight EDST) Friday, April 22, from Oswego, New York. The weather forecast for launch time calls for clear to partly cloudy conditions.

The Project Blue Horizon team is attempting to break current Amateur Radio high-altitude balloon records for distance (3361.81 miles) and duration (49 hours, 45 minutes). The payload will be carried beneath a 54,000 cubic foot capacity helium-filled balloon cruising between 85,000 and 100,000 feet.

Amateurs worldwide are encouraged to monitor the N2XE CW telemetry beacons at 7.1023 and 10.1466 MHz. The balloon is also equipped with an APRS beacon at 144.39 MHz using the call sign KC2ZJH. Amateurs can send reports via e-mail to PBH15.data@gmail.com.

More information about the program, including the latest projected flight path, is at the Project Blue Horizon website at, http://www.projectbluehorizon.com.

Some info about the 2009 flight on the Soldersmoke blog

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Conditions on 28 MHz...23rd March to 6th April 2011

I have checked the 28 MHz band every day from the 24th of March to the 6th of April 2011. Looking back at the logbook from some time in the future, it might be very easy to get an impression that the bands were brilliant. This post sets out exactly what I heard and worked and I can compare it to say a different point in the current solar cycle.

Some points.....
1) For this period, I was using an old vertical half-wave CB type aerial at about 4 metres above ground level....a pretty modest set-up. The transceiver was a TS690 running 80-100 watts.
2) The solar flux was roughly 100-110. The 28 MHz band was open every day. A few of the days could be described as 'good' with S9 signals and strong enough to be worked on SSB. Most of the days, the signals were weak....less than S5....and this is when CW came into it's own.
3) Most of the stations I worked were with CW. If I was restricted to SSB only, my log would have looked very bare indeed.
4) All signals are F2 related unless otherwise stated.

This is what I heard / worked on 28 MHz over this 2 week period...starting NE and working west...


A) I worked XV2RZ (cw) in Vietnam and VR2UW (cw) in Hong Kong....
I heard HS (Thailand), YB (Indonesia) and western Australia. The furthest I heard and the biggest suprise was the VK8VF beacon near Darwin in Northern Australia.

B) In the Middle East, 7Z1HL (cw) in Saudi Arabia.....

...and A45XR (cw) in Oman were worked while the beacons A47RB and A62ER (UAE) were heard. In South Asia, stations from western India were heard. Further north, several stations in the western part of Asiatic Russia were heard as well as a UN station in Kazakhstan.

C) In eastern Europe, I worked several stations in European Russia and the Ukraine, all on cw. When the band did open up in this direction, the one hop F2 signals were strong. This was especially the case on the 2nd of April when I heard YO (Romania) as well.

D) One of the areas with the most consistent signals was the eastern Med. The only stations I worked were 5B/US5IDX (cw) in Cyprus and 4Z5RT (cw) in Israel although I heard plenty of other stations in 4Z (Israel), 5B4 (Cyprus), JY (Jordan), TA (Turkey), SV9 (Crete), SV5 (Rhodes) and SV (Greece).
From this region, the beacons SV5TEN 28.189 MHz (Rhodes...KM46), 5B4CY on 28.220 MHz (Cyprus...KM64) and 4X6TU/B on 28.200 Mhz (Israel..KM72) seemed to be there almost every day.
These are in the region of 2800 to 4200 kms which for one hop F2 signals would suggest an arrival angle of around 0 to 7 degrees above the horizon.

E) When the F2 skip distance got shorter, the SV3AQR/B beacon on 28.183 MHz (sw Greece...KM07) was heard at roughly 2,800 kms and SV2AHT/B (N.Greece...KN10). Several SV stations were also heard. Sometimes the skip distance got even shorter and IT9EJW/B (Sicily....JM77) and IQ8CZ/B (S.Italy...JM88) were heard. These 2 beacons at roughly 2,500 kms was the shortest skip F2 signals that I heard. That kind of distance for F2 would suggest an arrival angle of about 8 degrees above the horizon.

F) Africa......As expected, North-South propagation was the most consistent and was most likely due to F2 and some Trans-Equitorial Propagation (TEP). In the southern part of Africa, the ZS6DN beacon on 28.200 was often heard as well as several ZS stations. Other beacons heard were Z21ANB in Zimbabwe while 3B8MM in Mauritius in the Indian Ocean was worked on cw and 9J2BO in Zambia was heard.
Further north, I worked the following...5N7M (cw) in Nigeria, D4C (cw) in Cape Verde Islands, TJ3AY (ssb) in Cameroon, 5M2TT (cw) in Liberia, EA8/DL2DXA (cw) and EA8OM (cw) in the Canary Islands and ST2AR (cw) in Sudan.
Also heard were 5H3EE in Tanzania, TR8CA in Gabon and the 5Z4B/B beacon in Kenya.

G) South America.....Again, North-South F2/TEP propagation was consistent. Many PY (Brazil) and LU (Argentina) stations were heard as well as the following beacons....PY4MAB/B (GG68) and LU5FB/B (FF97). CX5BW in Uruguay was also heard while VP8LP in the Falkland Islands was worked on ssb.

(H) West Indies/Carrib....In this region, I worked VP5/W5CW (cw) in the Turks & Caicos Islands while FM5AA and FG4NN were heard. It was an area that I didn't hear too often.

(I) North America......There were a few openings to North America but as they are on a more East/West path, the path was more difficult. The most consistent region heard was the south-eastern USA..i.e. Florida area. Beacons heard in that region were....W3HH/B (Florida...EL89), AC4DJ/B (Florida...EL98), KJ4QYB/B (Alabama...EM63), KB4UPI/B (Alabama...EM64) and W4TIY/B (Georgia...EM73).

Slightly further north, the beacon WA4FC/B in Virginia (FM17) was heard while K1ON in Delaware was worked on cw.

In the NE of the USA, the beacon N1ME/B in Maine was heard several times. This beacon is roughly 4,000 kms from me so it was probably one hop F2 propagation whereas the others were all multi-hop.

The most unusual North-American beacons heard were XE1RCS/B in Mexico (EK09) and WA6MHZ/B in California (DM12). (Note that the first dot seemed to be missing from the WA6MHZ/B beacon. Instead of ' .  _ _' , it was ' _ _' i.e. M!! So what I heard was MA6MHZ/B ;o)
Other than the beacons, there was no other indication that the band was open to these areas. Even for the other American beacons, when I could hear them, the level of activity from these areas seemed very low.

(J) Sporadic-E......In this 2 week period, I noticed 2 short Sporadic-E openings into Europe.....one on the 4th of April and one on the 5th. The following beacons were heard....OE3XAC/B in Austria (JN78), OZ7IGY/B in Denmark (JO55), OK0EG/B in the Czech Rep. (JO70), DB0UM/B in Germany (JO73) and SK0CT/B in Sweden (JO89). SP100MSC (Poland) was worked on cw. All were in the 1,400 to 1,800 distance which is typical for Sporadic-E.

Observations & Conclusions....
1) Most of the signals heard and worked were relatively weak, certainly most were less than S5 while many were just above the noise. To get the most out of the band, you have to spend time listening to weak signals and waiting for signals to come out of the noise. In this aspect, it has more in common with say 6 metres (50 MHz) than say the other HF bands like say 20 Metres (14 MHz). I think it would have been very easy for someone to listen on the band for a few minutes and get the impression that there was nothing there.

2) I was suprised to work and hear so much with such a modest antenna, especially VR2UW in Hong Kong, XV2RZ in Vietnam and the beacons in Northern Australia and in California. If I had been using say an indoor antenna like say a loft dipole, I think a lot of the signals would have been too weak to hear or work. Then again, a beam at say 10 metres up would probably have revealed a lot more.

3) No Japanese signals heard. These were common near the peak of the last cycle. So no real NNE Propagation from here. Same with the USA. There were bits but not much in reality. No NW USA....or mid-west...or states like Illinois/Indiana/Ohio, etc.

4) I have a large hill to the South-West of my location yet I was a bit suprised to hear so many of the South-American stations.

5) I often heard those illegal fishing buoys which give out carrier about 10 seconds long followed by a cw ident. I seemed to hear more in the afternoon than morning which might suggest that they are used in the Atlantic? West Africa? Mid ocean? Impossible to tell.

6) Very often, the last signal on the band in the late evening would be coming from EA8 (Canary Islands). It's a pity that there isn't a beacon there on 28 MHz.

7) USA....loads of beacons there...very useful and easy to see what part of the country is open.

8) All of the F2 layer signals were coming in between 0 and 8 degrees above the horizon. The Sporadic-E signals that I heard were between 2 and 5 degrees. As always, if you want to work DX on 10 metres then you need to get your signal down near the horizon.

9) Going on these results, there should be some great conditions on 28 MHz over the next few years as the solar cycle improves.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Greece to South Africa via TEP on 70 MHz...

I came across this today....the first ever contact between Greece and South Africa on 70 MHz!

As far as I can tell, it happened on the 28th of March 2011 when SV2DCD in KN00LI worked ZS6WAB in KG46RC via Trans-Equatorial Propagation. The distance was just over 7,200 kms as they worked on 70.200 MHz SSB.

SV2DCD was running 70w into a 9 el yagi at 10m agl.

It just goes to show the possibilities of this band.

Finding locator / grid squares...

This is one of those websites and utilities that I had forgotten about so when I discovered it again, I thought that I must put up a post about it so I won't lose it again!

F6FVY has an excellent website that uses Google maps and a simple interface to find your locator / grid square. You just use the controls to zoom in to where you live...click on your house...and up pops your locator square. There is also a box at the bottom of the page where you can input the locator details and it will show up on the map. It's simple to use and shows exactly what the size of the square is.

An excellent site for anyone with an interest in VHF..........or 10 metre beacons ;o)