Thursday, October 16, 2014

Fury! A GREAT movie!!

I love tanks! No, really I do. Had I not gone into the USAF out of college I would most likely have enlisted in the Army (ours, not theirs) and become a "tread-head".

The movie "Fury" staring Brad Pitt is a blockbuster. Pat and I saw it this evening (Thursday) one day ahead of it's normal opening at a local theater. It was well worth the money and I have to say that the attention to detail in the props, sets and actors dialog was phenomenal. Even the radios in the M4A3-E8 (the "Easy Eight") were original!

I won't give away anything but I will say go see this movie. It is truly and epic movie about tank warfare at the end of WWII in Germany. The tactics were spot on. The actors were definitely believable. Don't know where they found all the tanks for the scenes but someone knew someone who had a stable full of German and US Army tracked vehicles.

The sound and special effects were dazzling. Great movie.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Some thoughts on MilCom gear

It's not a secret that I like, no, make that "love", military comm gear. Over the years I have had my share of ARC-5 sets, a really nice PRC-74B (thanks to Mark Francis, KI0PF), a BC-611 HT (thanks to Breck Smith) several GRC-109 Special Forces/CIA radio sets, and many others. All were working rigs. No "hanger queens" in my shack!!! Unfortunately as time marches onward one reaches a point where collecting and using all these radios becomes somewhat problematic.

First there is the space required to house some really big and heavy radios. Then there is the time spent trying to get them on the air using 70 year old schematics and books on surplus radio gear. Finally there is the availability and pricing of said gear. It seems over the last 30 years or so that Uncle Sam has gone to extremes to insure most of the outmoded/surplus radio and electronic equipment goes through some form of "rigorous" de-milling (the process whereby the gear is completely smashed, ground up under the treads of a tracked vehicle, melted down or thrown overboard). That is bad for two reasons. First it is equipment paid for by the American tax payers...why not let it revert back to serious military collectors and radio enthusiasts? Then there is the idea of preserving the history of military communications that has constantly allowed the armed forces of the United States to win wars and protect the country.

Unfortunately a lot of this historical comm gear has become very hard to find in an unmodified state. Take for instance the ARC-5 radio sets used in aircraft during WWII. Various manufacturers produced hundreds of thousands of these radio sets during the war. The surplus radio market was flooded with these rigs after VE and VJ day, much to the delight of the frugal ham radio operator. Over the intervening 70 years the supply has literally dried up and today it is almost impossible to obtain an ARC-5 receiver or transmitter in an unmodified condition. There are collectors out there in MilComm radio land that pay outrageous prices for pristine gear to add to their collections. Additionally there are military vehicle collectors that require the proper radio equipment to include in their jeeps, half tracks, tanks (yes....there are a lot of tanks in the hands of civilian collectors), and aircraft. This secondary market means that finding unmodified MilComm gear is even harder.

Recently I had the opportunity to purchase several pieces of MilComm gear from the estate of a deceased ham in the local area. At first I was elated that I could possible procure a working AN/GRC-109 spy rig along with a AN/PRC-47 HF SSB transmitter/receiver station. After a few hours and several e-mails to the  principals who were off-loading this gear I decided I didn't really need any more gear. As a matter of fact I have too much radio gear as it stands now. 

What I need to do is off-load a bunch of my stuff. After all, I ain't gonna live forever! I have thousands of pieces of electronic components loaded into several hundred plastic bins in the once-shack/workbench at our place in GA. I have no way to categorize these items, let alone figure out their actual worth. I am no longer building or modifying gear so these things need to find a new home, along with several rigs in various stages of modification/completion. (Anyone need an Elecraft K2, fully loaded, or a couple of Argonaut 509s...how about a Heathkit HW-16??)

I guess what I am trying to say is that all this "stuff" is non-essential to my current status as a ham radio operator. I find very little time to get on the wonderful station I currently have, let alone jump into a long drawn out saga of getting more non-essential gear working that will just sit on the bench.

Don't get me wrong, I love electronics, ham radio, and building/modifying radio gear. But, truth be told, I no longer wish to actively engage in the workbench side of the hobby.

Sorry if I sound morose. That was not my intention. I am perfectly happy with my current level of participation in the ham radio hobby. Both Peppermint Patti (KB3MCT) and I are active with our local ARES unit and maintain our deployability standing within that group. I do not fancy myself a "real" DXer, although I do manage to work a new one once in a while. I am no speed demon on CW but I find that working CW DX contacts means more to me than SSB contacts. No, I still don't have the necessary QSL cards accrued to qualify for basic DXCC. However, I know in my heart-of-hearts I have made DXCC at least three separate times using three different call signs while overseas with the USAF. For some unknown reason the local DX club (of which I am an associate member) doesn't like to recognize me as a "real" DXer. It doesn't matter to me. Will I ever get DXCC confirmed via the ARRL? I seriously doubt it, as I just do not care whether I submit the necessary cards.

OK, time to go. I am writing this while sitting in a motel room in Wilkes-Barre, PA. We attended a family reunion this weekend and are now headed to Lake Carey then to Williamsport to meet with Dr. Paul Shuch, N6TX, head honcho of the SETI League. Finally, headed back home to Dacula, GA. I miss the dogs and my cats. I have to admit that I am no longer the road warrior that I was 10 years ago. The long (1800 mile) trips are better met with air fare rather than wear/tear and gasoline for the truck.

Don't forget the upcoming CQ VHF contest at the end of September. I plan on being on for part of that contest using my IC-202S feeding a 10W linear amp into a 13 element long boom Yagi and my TR-600 at 10W output into a Ringo Ranger for 6 meters. Certainly no "high speed-no drag" contest station but I like it!!

Vy 73

Rich K7SZ

Monday, August 18, 2014

My love affair with the Icom Bookcase V/UHF Rigs

A little over 30 years ago, while stationed at RAF Mildenhall, UK, I discovered the ICOM IC-202S 2M SSB/CW QRP rig. This being England (oops...sorry....the "UK") I found a very large group of British hams that loved to work 2M simplex on both the FM portion of the 2M band (remember their band allocation was from 144 to 146MHz, a full 2 MHz short of what we enjoy in the States) and the low "DX" end of the 2M band.

With my trusty IC-202S and an 11 element Yagi up about 6 ft off my roof, I was able to work all over the UK and into mainland Europe. I was thrilled about using only 3 watts of RF to work some rather exotic grid squares during my time in the UK. I had no linear amp for 2M so I did this all with the IC-202 running barefoot with 2W of CW and 3W PEP SSB.

Upon returning to the states I was a bit disappointed to find that hardly anyone worked simplex on FM. The SSB portions of 2M were exceedingly sparse pickings except for contests. All in all it was a very big let down from my heyday in England. Too bad, as the my fond memories of operating in the UK left me wanting.

The IC-202S featured 3W PEP output on SSB and about 2W output on CW and was initially set up to cover 144.0 to 144.4 MHz in two 200 kHz portions of the band. This rig was a VXO controlled radio and therefore had no phase noise, so prominent in the early synthesized radios of the time.

My little 202S also had a XTAL in place for the LEO satellite portion of 2M. It also boasted both USB and LSB (the original models 202 and 202E, the "European" version of the rig) had only USB. The LSB enabled the user to work via the LEO birds that had inverting transpondsers (ie: 432 MHz uplink USB and 145 MHz LSB downlink).

All in all these tiny radios (they weren't really a handi-talkie) served the VHF/UHF community very well over the four or five years that they were offered by ICOM.They were quite popular in the UK and mainland Europe, also very popular in Japan. However, they didn't catch on well in the US. I really don't know why,as they certainly offered a great bunch of fun in a small package and were priced right for the majority of us hams living on tight budgets.

Over the years I have had the entire collection of the ICOM bookcase rigs: IC-202 (2M), IC-502 (6M), IC-402 (70cms) and the IC-215 2M FM radio. All except the model 215 were SSB/CW radios and had a massive output of about 3W PEP.

A little over two years ago I became the owner of the entire set of bookcase rigs thanks to a friend of mine's generosity. Unfortunately, about 18 months ago we had fallen on hard times and I sold off the entire set to get some funds to bail us out financially. One thing about these rigs: they hold their resale value very well.

Last week I cam across an e-bay auction by Russ, N5WS, who had the entire set (except for the model 215) and managed to pick up the IC-502 for 6M along with a IC_20L 2M 10W linear amp for the IC-202S. I had managed to find a 202S locally and I traded for it, so now I had the two SSB rigs I needed for my portable/rover project. Additionally, I found an IC-215 2M FM rig buried in a box from our move 6 years ago from PA to GA. Now all I need to find is the 402 for 70cms. These rigs are quite rare and I have only seen three of them in over 50 years in the hobby!

So here I am sitting with the 2M, 6M SSB.CW rigs and the 2M FM rig  trying to visualize some form of cabinet/portable container that would allow me to pack all these rigs together, along with their linear amps, power supplies, mics,antenna switching and SWR monitoring. This is where Paul Kelly, W4KLY comes in. Paul is a very talented and adroit word worker and I have seen some of his creations which I can personally attest are just out of this world!!. Paul and I will be working on some form of container to house these three radios  so I can hit the road or hilltop and have some fun playing ham radio on the high bands.

Stay tuned. This is about to get interesting.

Anyone interested in checking out these ICOM bookcase rigs just Google "ICOM IC-202S" and stand back!! There is also a Yahoo group that caters to these little fun rigs. Log onto Yahoo Groups and look for "Icomportablerigs".

Till next time: Have fun, fly some rockets, and dig out the old V/UHF gear that is gathering dust in the attic or closet, and get on the air!

vy 73

Rich K7SZ

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Catch Up

Well, it's been a while since my last posting. Things have been going at breakneck speed around the Bent Dipole Ranch. To wit:

1. In February Peppermint Patti and I flew out to Hill AFB, UT to take part in our granduaghter, Kielan's, wedding. It was a "Steam Punk" theme....Luckily I don't have any problem with being the center of attention in times like this. It just goes with the territory! We had a grand time. Patti and I were dressed as "adventurers": she the female version of Indiana Jones, and me....well, lets just say I was a cross between the Great White Hunter of the African veld and the commander of a troop of HM's Bengal Lancers, circa 1850!

It was wonderful to see Kielan again. Unfortunately the trip was a short one and we flew back to Atlanta in a few days, leaving the cold, barren mountain peaks of Utah behind us. To be truthful, the scenic landscape of the area around Hill AFB was right out of National Geographic Magazine.

Having procured a 13 year old Chevy 1500 pickup in January, Patti and I decided to drive out to Lackland AFB, near San Antonio, TX to participate in Kielan's graduation from USAF basic training in late April. We put about 3600 miles on the old/new truck during this trip. We drove from the Atlanta area to New Orleans, LA to stay overnight with our daughter, Maja, who lives in the French Quarter. From there we drove to Lackland AFB for Kielan's graduation ceremonies. After spending a few days in Texas, including an all-day trip to San Antonio and their beautiful river walk, we drove back to Atlanta. Most of the return trip was in driving rain as there was a huge weather front that was moving with us! Never so glad to be back home as when we pulled in the driveway from this trip.

 Kielan was the first of the fifth generation of my family to become a member of the USAF. Uncle Don Stewart was a flyer in WWI, his son (my cousin), Malcolm Stewart, was a pilot in WWII and Korea and retired as a Major in the mid 1960s. I enlisted in 1967 and served 20 years and met and married Peppermint Patti in England, where she was serving as a chapel manager at RAF Lakenheath. Our daughter, Gwen, married Kyle Stanfield, who served two enlistments in the USAF as a crypto maintenance troop. Kielan, Gwen and Kyle's daughter, enlisted in the USAF in 2014 and is currently in training at Keesler AFB, MS (near Buloxi, MS). Upon completion of her technical training she will be going to Misawa Japan on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido as her first duty station. Having spent over 6 years in Japan myself, I can hardly wait to cllimb on a USAF transport and "hop" to Misawa!!

Our trip back from Lackland AFB included a two day lay over with Maja in New Orleans. We went to the National WWII museum, which is something EVERY person in America should do. The exhibits were phenomenal to put it bluntly. We had several great meals in the French Quarter. NOLA is the only place I have ever found that will give you a "to-go" cup for your drink or beer!!! Go figure!!

On the home front, Pat and I have started thinking seriously about her retirement and what we intend upon doing in about 2 years. Plans include selling our current home, buying a large RV and do some traveling to include being "camp hosts" at various national parks for a few years. It's sad to think of leaving this place, especially since we just spent almost $10K on upgrading to a new HVAC system, installing new efficient replacement windows, and new flooring. Oh, yeah, lets not forget the tower and some great antennas!!

We had two of our grand sons with us this summer. Casey James, our son, Jamie's boy, was here for a couple of weeks. KC, Gwen's son (and Kielan's brother) was here for a couple of days. Unfortunately he was not here long enough to participate in the July Southern Area Rocketry (SoAR) groups launch date. However, Casey James was present and he and "Pop-Pop" had a great day launching rockets at a sod farm north of Atlanta.

SoAR is our local rocketry club and they have at least one launch date per month (weather permitting) and sometimes more. I had procured some ready-built rockets (Estes) and some motors which is what Casey and I launched that Saturday. I also had a scale model of an Army Honest John rocket which I had built over a year ago. First flight was great. The HJ went up about 800 feet and returned after the parachute deployed. HOWEVER, the second flight was a little less perfect and a whole lot more dramatic! The HJ left the launch pad as planned, going vertically like a bat outta Hell! After engine burnout the deployment charge fired to deploy the chute for a return to Earth. Unfortunately, the rocket motor was not secured well in the aft end of the rocket and when the deployment charge fired off it blew the motor out of the back end of the rocket and failed to pop off the nose cone and subsequently deploy the recovery chute! My Honest John became a "lawn dart" and buried itself, cone first, into the sod about 1.5 inches! I was bummed! The HJ now sits on my bookshelf, retired from flight, complete with the dirt still on the nose cone!

Well, it's getting late and I need all the beauty sleep I can have. Therefore, I will close this posting with the promise to not be so late with future posts on the blog.

Oh, one last thought: I am currently contemplating outfitting a rocket (one of the LDRS type) with an altimeter (yes, they make them for  model rockets), a small processor and a VHF transmitter and marry the hobbies of ham radio and model rocketry for some tests. Oh, yeah....LDRS stands for Large Dangerous Rocket Ships, which are capable of reaching altitudes in excess of 20,000 feet (that is close to 4 miles for you mathematically challenged out there)!  When you get into the really big rockets (LDRS types) most of them have an electronics  bay incorporated into the rocket body that houses the altimeter....this is used to fire off a pyrotechnic charge to deploy the recovery chute. If you are interested in LDRS, check out the Discovery Channel's programming....they filmed the LDRS launches in 2003, which they occasionally air as a filler for air time. They probably have it on a DVD for sale at the Discovery Channel site. Check it out.

'Till next time, get on the air, launch some rockets, take some pix and have a ball.

Vy 73,
Rich K7SZ

 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day & the Summer 2014 VHF Contest

It's been a while since my last posting. At the end of May Ryan Wheeler, K4HQV and one of his tower crew came by and finished my tower installation. At long last (about 10 L-O-N-G months) I finally had the tower completed and the antennas mounted. It's really nothing special: a Cushcraft A3S at about 65 ft, a 13 element long-boom Cushcraft Yagi for 2meters above the A3, and at the very tip-top.....a Diamond dual band (2M/70CMS) vertical. Nice little antenna farm, if I do say so myself.

This weekend was Father's Day. Today I tried my new antennas out on the June VHF contest. Totaled a massive 28 Qs and 390 points! Certainly not anything to brag about but it was fun. On Saturday my next door, Darrel, helped me relocate my only 6M antenna, a Cushcraft Ringo Ranger, from the original mounting place on the lower side of my roof to the vacated Glen Martin roof tower on the peak. We clamped the Ringo onto a 10 ft R-S mast and stuck it into the roof tower thrust bearing and secured it into the Alliance HD-73 rotator. This is a temporary installation. Sometime in the fall I will be taking it down, sending the rotator off to be rebuilt, and eventually re-install it on the roof tower to spin a 5 element 6M Yagi (of my own design). I will top this installation off with the 6M Ringo making it a single band "stack".

I love old gear: specifically some of the late 1970s through the mid 1980s transistorized equipment. Several months ago I purchased a Kenwood TS-700A (2M Multi-mode transceiver) on e-bay. At the Atlanta Hamfest a week ago I purchased it's 6M brother, a Kenwood TS-600.  While there are certainly better, newer, more flexible, digital equipment on the market, I find these older, analog rigs a lot of fun and quite the challenge. Both the Kenwoods ran very well. Although the 6M rig needs some TLC on the bandswitch/controls. As with everything electronic, moisture and "mung" accumulate inside the rigs on the switch contacts necessitating a liberal application of DeOxit, which is the next major shack undertaking. 

The "new" 2M station consists of the TS-700A (about 9-10 watts of RF) driving an old Lunar 85 watt 2M amp with a 15dB receive preamp inside to boost the RSLs on the weak stations.  The amp is of thbe same vintage as the radio and they play together very well. Employing this Luna amp gives me a bit more RF not to mention flexibility.

The "new" 6M station consists of the TS-600 running barefoot at between 8-10 watts of RF output. The receiver on the  TS-600 seems to be very sensitive, but a good pre-amp probably would not be a bad idea, as long as the gain can be controlled so as not to destroy the receiver performance by over driving the rig's RF front end. I will be looking for a 6M amp with or without a receiver preamp. To be technically adroit and focus on sound station engineering practices, I should actually add any receiver pre-amplification at the "head end" meaning at the antenna feed point. Mast mounted pre-amps are not cheap and the engineering that goes into their proper application makes this a major K7SZ upgrade project for the future. Although I have used the MFJ mast mounted pre-amps several years ago, I will probably go with the pre-amps manufactured by Advanced Receiver Research due to their better overall design. Of course, with mast mounted pre-amps comes the always-fun-to-design transmit/receive sequencing which can become a real pain in the tail. 

All in all, it has been a great Father's Day. Peppermint Patti (KB3MCT) and my daughter Gwen (ex: KB4UNT) went together to give me a great present: a years membership to the brand new gun club and indoor range that just opened up about 4 miles from the Bent Dipole Ranch! Thanks, girls!!

That is about it for now.  I have a lot to blog about in the near future, including my grand daughter, Kielan, who just went on active duty with the USAF!

Here is hoping that some of you readers wander onto the VHF bands (no, not on the repeater sub-band) so I can QSO you. Till then, Vy 73

Rich K7SZ 





Monday, April 7, 2014

The Tower Project that Just Won't Die!

Well, here it is, the first part of April and the 60 ft tower project with the HF Yagi, the 2M long-boom Yagi and the 2M/70cms vertical omni is still bogged down in logistics. My main tower guy and climber, Bill Wilson, KJ4EX, is thankfully recovering nicely from his heart attack around Christmas time last year. I have been in contact with a person who owns a commercial tower company in Winder, GA and he has surveyed the situation and thinks it will take him and his crew about 4-5 hours to complete the installation, run the coax, mount the antennas, rotator, etc. and run the guys....cost: $around 400-500 Buck-a-roonies!! That's a whole bunch more cash than K7SZ has available on short notice. Ryan, the tower company owner, said he would be available in April and May so maybe, if I can find the cash, the installation will be completed.

Originally I had decided to include an HF Yagi, a 6M Yagi and the V/UHF Omni on the mast that would protrude about 12 feet above the 61 ft tower top section. This would give me a total installation height of about 73 feet above the dirt. Not bad, considering. Sure, I would have liked to have a 90 or 100 ft installation, but I cannot complain, especially in light of the cost of the project todate.

Bill, KJ4EX, had constructed the 6M Yagi but was having all sorts of difficulties getting it to tune properly before installing it on the tower. Since I have a 6M Cushcraft Ringo on a separate mast on the roof, I decided to leave that 6M Yagi off the tower installation and substitute a long-boom Yagi for 2M in it's place. After scrounging around the area I came up with a KLM 14 element Yagi from the 1970s, which I picked up at a reasonable cost. In inspecting it, I noticed that the antenna had a log-periodic feed system and one of the element clamps had broken, which would take some work with some high grade epoxy putty to put right before it could go up in the air.

In addition to the KLM, I also found a local ham who had a Cushcraft 13 element long-boom Yagi that I picked up at a great price which was fully functional. All I had to do was assemble the boom (again) and bolt it together, which I did. I enlarged the through-boom screws from #8 to #10 size to give it added strength. I have to put this antenna on a test stand and insure that it is tuned for the lower portion of the 2M band (144-145MHz) for terrestrial weak signal work, but that shouldn't take all that long to accomplish. I was able to obtain copies of the Cushcraft manual so I am good to go.

As far as things I have to accomplish before Ryan and his crew arrive some time in May (or June, or July, or.......): wire up the rotator and control box, (I have already tested them out together, I just need to get the long cabling set up and labeled), obtain some low-loss coax/hardline and connectors for the two V/UHF antennas, get the coax and connectors on the cable for the HF Yagi, set the screw-in guy anchors for the tower, and fabricate a piece of angle iron to act as an anchor for the center feed point of the 40M EDZ that will be side mounted from the 55 ft level of the tower.

Stay tuned....I might have this installation completed before Christmas 2014 yet!!!

Vy 73

Rich K7SZ

Power Mites of Old!!!I'

I saw an ad for my first Ten-Tec Power Mite transceiver when I was stationed in the Azores in the early 1970s. The price was attractive but other things took priority. Thankfully, Jake Ritzen, CT2AZ, loaned me one of his Power Mites and I had my first experience with direct conversion receivers. I was suitably underwhelmed.

In 1973 I procured a Heathkit HW-7 QRP rig and built it according to the manual. It, too, had a direct conversion receiver. Again I was suitably underwhelmed! It seemed that any time the base MARS station came on the air (irrespective of the band) I was unable to use the HW-7....something I also experienced with the PM-2 from Jake.

Over the years I have had several of the PM series....the PM-3A being my favorite. It covered only 40 and 20 M but had break-in keying, which was nice. No having to switch from TX to RX on the front panel, as with the previous models. Power output on the 3A was around 2.5 watts (5W input power).

Some how I ended up with a PM-2B while I was in Japan (KA2AA) in the late 1970s and that rig followed me to England (RAF Mildenhall), my next duty station. We were relegated to quartering off base, in our case, the town of Bury St. Edmunds, the place where the English Barons met at the Abby of Bury St. Edmunds and vowed to force King James (you, know.....Robin Hood and all that) to sign the Magna Carta (circa 1214).

Our house was positioned in a housing estate located on the end of a huge soccer field next to a school. Surrounding the field was a very large chain link fence. Lacking a suitable aerial at the time, I affixed a piece of wire from the fence into my bedroom and hooked it up to the PM-2B via a AC-5 antenna tuner. My first contact was Colin Turner, G3VTT, a member of the G-QRP Club. That started a 35 year love affair with the G-QRP-C. I met many fine QRPers during that time period and on the occasion of my 37th birthday, my wife, Patricia (KB3MCT) conspired with George Dobbs, G3RJV, head honcho of the G-QRP-C and his wife, Jo, to put on a surprise party for me at the Dobbs' home near Birmingham. With about 25-30 QRPers in attendance we had a grand time and I even was introduced to that old Scottish tradition, the Haggis! (Hint: If you get past the smell you got it made!!)

On a recent trip to Norm Schlar's, WA4ZXV, to pick up an antenna analyzer, I was presented with Norm's ailing PM-2, in hopes of getting it back into running condition. Unfortunately, I had off-loaded all the T-T literature I had amassed on the PM series of rigs dating back to the mid-70s, so troubleshooting this little QRP rig is proving to be somewhat problematic.

So, I am now on a quest to obtain a schematic of the PM-2 (I have one on the PM-3A but that is an entirely different radio) so I can get this old gal back on the air for Norm. Therefore, if anyone who reads this posting might happen to have a copy of that schematic and possibly the entire 9 page manual, I would be very grateful if you would contact me directly (k7sz@live.com).

Looking over the PM-2 I am amazed that anyone was able to make a QSO with these simple rigs. The receiver is just this side of "horrible", and the power output is around 1W going flat out with a tail wind! All that being said, those were the things that made life using QRP "interesting".

Vy 73

Rich K7SZ