Monday, July 17, 2017

Ode to Heakit QRP Radios

There is no doubt about it, the Heathkit HW-8 is one of the most popular QRP radios ever made. Additionally, it also holds the record for the most modified QRP radio in history (so far). 

My love affair with the Heathkit QRP rigs started in early 1970s when I built my first HW-7. Stationed at Lajes Field in the Azores, I found the challenge of QRP invigorating using a 5BTV Newtronics vertical. My first QSO using my HW-7 was a ham in Scarborough, Ontario Canada. 

With one ear on the AFRTS broadcast of Super Bowl VII and the other attuned to the 20m CW band, I called "CQ" and was rewarded with a VE3 who came back. After a short rag chew I let it be known that I was running about 2 watts of RF output power. At which time the VE3 station stated that was impossible as I was a solid S-8/9 on his meter! I sent a picture of my QRP station along with my QSL card. A couple of weeks later I received his QSL and a very nice note stating that he was going to look into this QRP stuff! Welcome to QRP!

The HW-7 followed me to Tinker AFB, OK in late 1973. For FD 1974 I took the HW-7 and a dipole antenna, battery, and a small table out into the bush near Lake Thunderbird. It was then I found out how REALLY bad the receiver was in that rig! I made one QSO and decided that between the HW-7's receiver and the man-eating mosquitoes it was time to go home! 
In late 1979 I was re-stationed to RAF Mildenhall, UK (G5CSU) which was a god-send for my QRP efforts. In 1979 I retired the 7 in favor of the new HW-8.  In addition to the HW-8 I also had a Ten-Tec PM-3A in the shack. My first QRP QSO was with Colin Turner, G3VTT, one of the charter members of the G-QRP Club. The station was about as bare bones as you could imagine....PM-3A fed into a chain link fence behind my off-base house in Bury St. Edmunds. This first QRP to QRP QSO was the start of the most fascinating tour of my USAF career. 

Over the years I sold/traded several HW-8s but still kept my devotion to the "8". About a month ago I managed to procure a HW-8 (and a modified HW-7) from my long time buddy, Mike Bryce, WB8VGE, with the idea of holding on to both of them. The "7" needs some TLC. The "8" seemed ready to go out of the box. 

After shoveling out the shack so I could actually find my way to the ops bench, I put the new "8" on the air for the last two days of the 13 Colonies special operating event over the 4th of July. With a very intermittent operating schedule I managed to work a total of 7 of the 13 colony stations all on CW at about 1W output to wire antennas. 

Thankfully my HW-8 waited until the end of the 13 Colonies event before dying. I was having a lot of difficulty in tuning the rig up on 80 meters. The auto ATU I was using was buzzing and clicking away happily but I was not getting a good match. All of a sudden I noticed that the thru-line bidirectional watt meter was showing no RF output, BUT the meter on the HW-8 was showing RF output! I tried re-tuning everything and setting the ATU loose in the tune mode. No output! 

Found out a couple of VERY interesting things while troubleshooting the defunct HW-8, to wit:


  1.  The PA transistor (2N4427) died due to parasitic oscillations. The original transistor is very hard to find. However, a 2N3553 will work as a replacement for the 2N4427 Hw-8 PA. Although  not  a perfect replacement it does work with the added feature of slightly more RF output. If you have similar issues with your HW-8 PA, be sure that the ferrite bead is on the BASE lead when you install the replacement.
  2.  The new power output (as measured by two separate QRP watt meters) is 2.5W output on 80M, 2.25W on 40M, 2W on 20M and 1.0W on 15M.
  3. Another "sub" for the stock PA is a RCA SK-9645. I have two of them but haven't tried them yet. 
  4. In my travels around the Internet I discovered a site that has compiled a complete listing of all the replacement devices and their commercial equivalence. Heathkit part numbers are unique to Heathkit. This cross reference is a godsend for those of us trying to repair/restore 40 year old gear with parts made from "Unobtanium"! Try: http://www.radiomanual.info/schemi/Surplus_Radioamateur/Heathkit_components_cross_reference_2003.pdf.  
  5.  Additionally someone had been all over the inside of that rig. Nothing Earth shattering, but the PA has been removed, and none too gently, I might add. The PCB traces are all messed up, but thankfully I have a high-end de-soldering station and got the bad PA out. Putting the new device in was a bit awkward, but I now have RF output and it is on freq w/apparently no parasitic oscillations.
  6. The 36V Zener was, in fact, dead. Put a new 36V 3W Zener in the rig with no problems.
  7. I found that the TX/RX relay was not closing when I went into TX mode (apparently some cold solder joints)! Methinks that this was the initial problem causing no load on the PA, which most likely took it out.
  8. I didn't notice that the relay was not closing during the 13 Colonies event since I was wearing some high-end head phones and they mute a lot of the outside noise.
  9. I am awaiting the KC9ON TX/RX relay mod kit and will install it and permanently get rid of that relay. The relay pins on the bottom of the PCB were very badly soldered. I am thinking of going over the entire PCB and re-heat/flow all the connections.
  10. The dial cal was off by over 10 kHz so I tweaked L9 to move the VFO up about 10-12 kHz as an immediate measure. Once I get some additional info not included the manual I received (like the schematic and tune up illustrations) I will do a complete alignment of the radio and then perform the mod to the VFO to reduce the tuning range to 125kHz.
  11. Speaking of L9....I have a very bad microphonic problem, all centered around the L9 area pf the PCB. I have re-heated the case lugs and the contact points on the PCB. It curried the majority of the problems but I still have some work to do to get rid of the problem. 

That is about it for now in my pursuit of restoring this HW-8. In addition I have two HW-7s and two Argonaut 509s in queue for restoration. I will detail the procedure here on the blog. 

Vy 73

Rich K7SZ








Monday, July 10, 2017

I love this radio hobby!!

Way back in the "Good Ole Days", 1992 to be exact, I had just authored my first book on QRP for Tiare Publications out of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. I was excited.....no, I was REALLY excited. I had finally made "the big time". Over the next couple of months excellent reviews of my tome appeared in QST, CQ, Radcom, QRP Quarterly and several other publications. I was ecstatic.

Then, in the Michigan QRP club newsletter, The Five Watter, a review appeared that shredded my beautiful book! Some hack writer by the name of Emory Schley, N4LP, ripped me a new one in print! Of course, I wrote him back and vented my anger at his obvious lack of literary expertise, What transpired after that time was the thing that legends are made of. After calling into question Emory's editorial/writing ability I found out that he was the editor of five (count 'em, five) weekly news papers in Florida. Add to that the fact that Emory had a decades long history of newspaper editing, and I was eating crow! Serious crow! Little did I know, back in 1992, how much Emory's coaching would impact my writing.

Emory, in his infinite wisdom, apparently saw some raw talent in this author, because he outlined where I had "gone wrong" and offered several suggestions to fix the problem in later efforts to author the world's greatest book on low power operating. Emory even offered to edit or at least look over my next book with no cost to me. How could I say "no"?

Over the years Emory and I corresponded and I have to say his sage advice, combined with that of Fred Bonavita, K5QLF, (now a SK), resulted in my authoring four editions of the ARRL's QRP book, four years editing the QRP Power column in QST, and ultimately becoming a staffer on CQ VHF, Popular Communications and CQ magazines. Obviously these two long time editors had a positive impact upon me. Believe me when I say that without Emory's and Fred's tutelage I would not have been able to accomplish the things that I have over the last 20 years. Add to this "talent on loan from God" and you begin to see how important Fred, Emory and God were in my success as a writer.

Emory and I maintained loose contact over the intervening years. Once he found out that I really liked drag racing (no, not guys wearing high heels and dresses running down a quarter mile race course) he procured an autographed picture of Don "Big Daddy" Garlits, one of the most prolific drag race winners in the history of the sport, and sent it to me. Seems he knew the folks at the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala, Florida, where he lived! That autographed picture of "Big Daddy" now resides in a place of honor on my book shelf! Thanks, Emory. 

Flash forward to 2013: Emory sent me an e-mail that literally stopped me in my tracks. Emory had a QRP rig he wanted to send me. This particular rig was an offering from Elecraft and there was only ONE catch: I was never to sell it. If I found someone who needed a QRP rig, and I felt that someone was worthy, I would GIVE the radio set to him/her. I was never to sell the rig, but only to gift it to some deserving QRPer. Once again, how could I say "no".

The Elecraft K1 arrived a couple of days after our exchange of e-mails. I was unsure as to exactly what I was going to receive, however, after opening the box and popping the case, I suddenly found myself in possession of a full-housed K1. The ONLY option that was not included in this radio set was the LDC back light option! WOW!!!

This was KARMA in the extreme. Going back to the late 1990s, my original K1 was stolen out of my truck! I was visiting Fran Slavinski, KA3WTF (now K3BX) and Paul Stroud, AA4XX, who had just fractured the world distance record for a QSO on 40 meters using QRP. In the length of time it took the three of us to greet each other (at Fran's place) and swap a couple of "QRP war stories", my new K1, along with a palm top computer and SWR bridge was stolen from the cab of my truck! I was devastated. Fran, Paul and I combed the area, asking questions but drew nothing but blanks.

About 2 years ago I purchased a K1 from Jim Stafford, W4QO, and used it while on several trips to Pennsylvania. I ended up trading this K1 off for another QRP rig. While I liked the K1 a lot, the only way I can play the ham radio game is to sell off gear in order to afford new gear. Oh, to be independently wealthy!!!!!

I always liked the Elecraft K1. It is relatively small, can generate a full QRP "gallon" of 5 watts output, has a really hot receiver with selectable bandwidth crystal filter/noise blanker and offers up to four (4) HF bands (40, 30, 20, and either 15 or 17 meters selectable upon building). The K1 is an outstanding radio and provides the frugal QRPer with a great portable/trail friendly radio with expansion capabilities.

Needless to say, I was totally stunned by Emory's generosity. I went on the Elecraft website and priced out the K1 and all the options: $670+ worth of radio!! My only reservation was "why me"?? That is when it dawned on me: Ham Radio is a tremendous hobby with unbelievably generous people. I felt humbled and honored by Emory's generosity. Eventually, mostly likely sooner than later, I will be presenting someone with this K1: paying it forward, if you will. Until that time I fully intend on operating that little radio and enjoying some serious DX! Thanks, Emory.

Until next time, I hope to meet you on the air.

vy 73
Rich K7SZ

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Of canoe anchors and such.......

I know, I know....I should be ashamed for not posting on this blog for so long. Actually, a number of things came into play, none the least of which was several surgeries and a down turn in my enthusiasm for ham radio. WHAT???? How can someone who has been in this hobby for over 50 years lose interest? That's just it....50 years of ham radio and I had to take a bit of a vacation and get back into photography. All that and the fact I ran across one of Bill Meara's, N2CQR, Solder Smoke postings telling the world I had a blog!!! I figured that I better get back in the saddle and do something to earn that endorsement!

In the immortal words of Jack Nicholson, "I'm BACK!!!!!" 

It is with renewed interest and enthusiasm for ham radio in general and QRP in particular. I am also going "retro". I am tired of being bombarded with digital this and digital that.....I like radios that have knobs, push buttons, analog dials, some even glow in the dark....you get the picture. Oh, OK....I'm reliving my "yoot"!

It's not that I am against the digital revelation in ham radio, it's just that I have more fun and more attachment to the analog gear. I have built a K1, K2, KX1, K3/P3 and I have loved the novelty of using "bleeding edge" technology. For me, it's more than software defined radios, and digital signal processing. It's the "feel" of using older analog gear and busting a pileup or working a new one, being able to actually WORK on the radio gear and not get eyestrain or having to invest into specialized bench tools and test equipment in order to troubleshoot and repair the newer digital gear. 

To that end, I have, over the last few months, became the proud owner of two (2) Heathkit SB-series HF transceivers: SB-301/401 pair and a SB-303/401 pair, along with the station monitor, console with clock, and the panadaptor! That's the QRO station.

In the QRP arena I just procured a near mint Heathkit HW-8 and a little beat up HW-7. Additionally I have two (2) Ten-Tec Argonaut 509s which I am restoring and a VERY highly modified Wilderness Radio NorCal-40A (actually, I may rename it a NC-40AX). 

Unfortunately my shack was moved about 3 years ago from the back end of the house which had no HVAC to the spare bedroom. At one time it was all set up where I could do some serious QRP operating. However, about 2 years ago it became a "temporary" storage area during some remodeling. That "temporary" designation ended up being more of a permanent storage area so now I have the task of digging out all the gear from the mess and setting up a couple of stations. It's a tough job and I wish someone else would do it!!! 

OK, let's talk about the Heathcritters....the HW-7 and HW-8. Talk about iconic QRP radios, these two rigs, which Heath brought out in the early 1979s (for the HW-7 followed in a couple of years by the HW-8), have the distinction of being two of the most heavily modified QRP rigs on the planet. My current HW-7 is the fourth one I've owned, and the HW-8 is my seventh or eighth one...actually I've lost count! They are fun rigs. Plus when built from the original kit they gave the original owners a particular sense of pride in accomplishment, especially when they made their first couple of QSOs with about two watts RF output.  

My "new" HW-8 is not pristine....it has had a couple of mods: a SO-239 replaced the original RCA phono antenna jack and there was a S-Meter mod. Other than that it is stock. Overall cosmetic condition was an 8.5 on a 10 point scale, so this rig is definitely worth the effort to customize into a real "DX-getter". 

Over a couple of weeks I trolled the interweb and found so much info on modifying the HW-8 (and HW-7, too) that it was difficult to pick and choose what I wanted/needed. Unfortunately, I do not have a copy of the Hot Water Handbook by Mike Bryce, WB8VGE, but I muddled through the overabundance of articles on the web and selected the ones that looked particularly suited to my needs.

Here is where I found out about John Clements, KC9ON, and his "3rd Planet Solar" e-store (http://kc9on.com/ ) which offers a whole bunch of unique kit-lets and homebrew parts to warm the heart of any HW-7/8 owner. 

There are three "modules" that are on order from John's store: the replacement audio board module, the solid-state full QSK replacement module for the TX/RX relay, and finally the reverse polarity module all for under $20 plus s/h!!! (On my last HW-8 I accidentally reversed the 12V power leads and suffered the indignation of telling Mike Bryce, WB8VGE, who quit laughing at me after about an hour!!)

Those three mods are absolutely necessary to move the HW-8 (or HW-7) from the bare bones QRP transceiver into the realm of a very nice analog rig that is a pleasure to use. John also offers an audio filter (CALIF) and two versions of a CW keyer (one for internal mounting and the other for outboard) plus a replacement module for IC-1, the MC-1496 IC, in the HW-8 that is currently made of "unobtainium". Luckily I was in the right place at the right time and procured an actual MC-1496 IC about 10 years ago and I have it in my bench stock. Thankfully these ICs seldom go bad. 

As I progress in my mods on the HW-8 I will post the details (hopefully along with some pictures) on this blog. 

Until next time, Vy 73 es good QRP

Rich K7SZ

 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

2015 in review, the Yaesu FT-817 redux and other things

I've been a very bad boy! I have not kept up with this blog as I should. I am going to try to do better henceforth.

OK, quite a few things have happened at the Bent Dipole Ranch over the last year. In June 2015 we lost our Aunt Betty (Pat's aunt). Betty was 83 and had suffered a broken ankle in Sept of 2014. She could no longer live with us so we bit the bullet and placed her in a very nice skilled nursing facility.

Pat and I had been Betty's care givers for 15 years. Betty was mentally challenged (she had the intellect of a 5-6 yr old) and required constant care and supervision. We took her into our home late 1999 after the nursing home she was in in Pennsylvania was deemed not fit for occupation due to extremely negligent owners/staff. She was "Our Betty", mental disability and all. Even with her special needs she was never a problem for Pat and me. We took her everywhere and even gave her her first flight in a commercial airliner when we went to visit our daughter, Gwen, when she gave birth to our grandson K.C.

The one thing that made Betty unique was her smile! You just couldn't help falling in love with her once she gave you that smile! Ask anyone who knew her what they liked most about Betty and the immediate answer was "her smile".

At her memorial service Pat gave a short eulogy saying that Betty came to the metro Atlanta area from Pennsylvania and conquered the South with her smile! Something no Union general accomplished during the Great War of Northern Aggression!!!

Pat and I both miss Betty. We would watch Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy after dinner and she would try and guess the answers. She loved to watch the "rowboats"....meaning that she liked to watch the robot wars on TV. She also liked Shooting USA and any of the shooting shows I liked to watch. Several times she accompanied Pat and I to the gun range just to watch us shoot. She loved it and we loved her. RIP and God Bless, Betty......we'll see you again sometime in the future.

As 2015 progressed I became more detached from the ham radio hobby. Earlier last year we had decided to sell our current home and move into an RV and do some traveling. This sounded good but in truth we came to realize that we would never be able to buy a new RF ($80K) and I want no part of a used RV. Too many problems.

In an effort to downsize our "stuff" (in preparation to move into the RV) I sold off my K3 station. I replaced the K3 with a new Yaesu FT-991, which is smaller, and more flexible than the K3/P3 combo. The 991 gives me 70 cms which the K3 does  not. So far I have not regretted that sale and I am more than satisfied with the 991.

A few weeks ago Pat and I sat down to discuss our upcoming procurement of an RV and we finally realized we were not flush enough money wise to go through with the idea. We have down scaled our plans to encompass purchasing a new 16 ft SCAMP trailer which we could pull with the Chev truck.

Dale Parfitt, W4OP, and I got together about a year or so ago. Dale is an absolute genius when it comes to homebrewing ham gear or restoring comm gear. I had procured three SBE 34 SSB transceivers along with a SBE-34 carcass to be used for parts. I gave him two of the 34s to restore. One for him and the other for me. I told Dale not to do a complete restoration, just get the rig working and I'd be stratified. Dale was OK with that and drove off with two SBE-34s and the carcass. I a month or two he e-mailed me stating that he  really didn't need to restore one for himself, but would restore one of the rigs for my use! WOW! A complete W4OP restoration for my shack!!!

It took a while but Dale did an outstanding job of restoring the SBE-34 that was manufactured by Linear Systems, the last producer of this series of radios. It looks spectacular and plays great. Dale also added all the factory mods including the circuitry for the power meter to act like an S-meter on receive. I cannot thank Dale enough for his gift to me. The other SBE rigs? They were given to several members of a group of boatanchor oriented hams for spare parts. Small price to pay for an outstanding example of an iconic 40+ year old radio! Thanks Dale!

About mid summer I was able to trade off a partially built Elecraft K2 w/options. I had procured this rig from a local ham when we lived in PA and had not competed the kit. I also received a non-working FT-817 withe the trade. I was told that it had suffered a "power incident" and it would receive but not transmit. I sent it off to Yaesu in California for repair. About 5 weeks later I got a call from the Yaesu service manager that the cost of the repair on my newly acquired FT-817 was a whopping $73 not counting return shipping. I was ready to plunk down up to $300 thinking it would be worth it for a factory restored 817. So the $73 price tag was music to my ears.

The 817 arrived in pristine shape. I now use it as my home rig, mostly for 2M FM. The other 817 (which is fully tricked out with the dual filter mods and a DSP unit by W4RT) is my go-rig and lives in a backpack with the accessories needed to play QRP mobile/portable.

OK that is it for now. I will do my best to keep posting on a regular basis. I have several topics that I need to place on this blog. So until then, Vy 73 and have fun on the air.

Rich  K7SZ


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

My devotion to the Yaesu FT-817

About 3 days ago I bought yet another FT-817. This time (unlike the first two radios) this 817 it was the "ND" version which features on-board digital signal processing. I sold off the first two 817s to finance other radios that I had an interest in. All things being equal, I should have just kept my 2nd FT-817 since I had the CW/SSB filters and the BHI DSP unit from W4RT.

My love affair with the 817 goes all the way back to the early 2000s when I procured my first unit from Universal Radio in Reynoldsberg, Ohio. I had this one fitted out with the 500hz CW filter and used it on trips, vacations, and the occasional Field Day outings. Peppermint Patti (KB3MCT) found a padded cooler that would hold the rig, V/UHF Mirage linear amp (40w on 2m and 35w on 70cms) along with an HF antenna and coaxial feed line, CW paddles, straight key, mini-log book, and a whole bunch of other "stuff" that was designed to help me have fun with the rig while on the go.

The second FT-817 was procured from e-bay. I'd had it about 3 months when the driver went south and I had to send it to Yaesu USA out in California for repair. After $140 including parts, labor and postage both ways, I had my little gem back. I then sent it to W4RT to have them add the 500 hz CW and 2.3 khz SSB filters and the BHI DSP unit. I also upgraded the pathetic 1400 aHr rechargable pack with a pair of 2400 aHr packs from, of all places, Radio Shack!! This is the rig I used while house sitting at my daughter's place in Tampa. The housing area had definite "no antenna policy" but that didn't stop me. Oh, no....Up went 30/20m dipole and an 80/40m dipole into a handy palm tree. Height at the feed point was about 15 ft off the ground! It was still enough to allow me to work the K5D DXpedition on Desecheo Island on 3 bands with only 5w output from the 718. Not bad. Unfortunately, I sold this rig to finance yet another radio set that I thought I really needed. OOPS....bad move.

So, that brings me up to earlier this week when I took the plunge, went to HRO and picked up my new FT-817ND. This new radio will eventually receive a 500 hz CW filter  and the 2.3 kHz SSB filter, along with a Heil HC-4 mic element (I saved one from the last time I ordered one from Heil....they no longer offer these elements).

My very first accessory will be the Tactical Transceiver Bag from AMP-3 (http://stores.amp-3.net/amateur-radio/) which is the first intelligent bag system I have seen for this rig, especially for an ARES/RACES go-bag. There is room for a lot of "stuff" in that Tac Transceiver Bag, including a 7aHr gel-cell battery, coaxial cable, and all sorts of operating goodies.

Next comes the Mirage BD-35 dual band linear amp (FM only) from MFJ/Mirage (http://www.dxengineering.com/parts/mir-bd-35?seid=dxese1&gclid=CJGxg5f00MECFUMV7Aod1jQAwQ). The small form factor and extremely light weight make this linear a must-have for anyone needing more than 4-5 w output on V/UHF bands.

At a future time W4RT will get the rig to install the 500 hz and the 2.3 kHz Collins mechanical filters (http://www.w4rt.com/FT-817-Accessories/filters.htm). I already have the mini-paddles along with a small straight key.

One thing I will need to procure is a netbook-type mini-computer for the go-bag. With the emphasis being placed on using FLdigi and other digital modes on our ARES deployments I need a small computer to meet these ARES requirements.

Long ago Fair Radio Sales in Lima, OH, sold a set of fiberglass poles that fit together to yield a portable mast about 16 ft long. Included with this mast set was a ground plane antenna cut for around 80mHz. By trimming off the radials and the primary radiator I got the ground plane antenna to resonate on 146mHz with no trouble at all. This antenna also had about 25 ft of 50 Ohm coaxial cable in the kit so I have a ready made mobile antenna system thanks the the Israeli Defense Force!  That Israeli mast system was so cool I obtained another set so now I can go up over 30 ft using all the sections including the the antenna.

Personally, I like the 817 a lot. Several folks I have talked to wanted to know why I didn't buy an Elecraft KX-3 transceiver. Simple answer: the KX-3, while a really great radio, is way too expensive. At a cost of $1000 for the bare bones rig, you rapidly escalate that price tag as soon as you start adding crystal filtering, and other options. Besides, I could not even imagine me taking a $2000+ radio out into the bush. Not gonna happen. My K3 lives in my shack and it stays there....I have no desire to drag my K3 out to Field Day, etc. While the KX-3 is a great radio with outstanding specs, unless you are on a DXpedition or living in a condo and have your shack in a closet, I cannot really see the need to procure a KX-3.

I honestly think that the FT-817 is the most flexible radio set currently on the market. It gives you access to all the HF bands from 160 to 10 n, 6m, 2m and 70cms. All modes (AM/CW/SSB/Data), access to the MF and SW broadcast bands, the commercial FM freqs, along with air band. In short the tiny package makes the FT-817 my personal choice of a go-anywhere rig at a very reasonable price.

Vy 73

Rich, K7SZ

AMSAT 2014 Symoisium

As I sit here at my daughter's home in Maryland ruminating over the past weekend's events while attending the 2014 AMSAT Symposium and annual meeting, I am exceedingly glad I had the opportunity to attend. The last symposium I was able to attend was in 2008, the year we moved from PA to GA. The 2008 event was held in Atlanta so there was virtually no travel involved. Sweet!!

Over the years I have been an on-again off-again member of AMSAT, depending upon my interest in space communications at that time. I have always been interested in the space program and satellite communications, but more often than not I did not have all the gear I needed to do SatComm justice.

Finally, in the early 1990s I obtained a nice, fully loaded Yaesu FT-726 and I went after the "birds". Over the next few years I did a lot of low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite contacts (QSOs) and enjoyed the experience very much. With the launch of AMSAT/OSCAR thirteen (AO-13) in a highly eccentric orbit to continue with meaningful SatComm work I'd have had to invest close to an additional $1500 in my station to equip it with the necessary bits and pieces (not to mention steerable, as in AZ-EL, antennas) that I felt the time had come to go another direction in my ham radio career.

With the launching of several of the "FM repeater satellites" in LEO which you could work with a handheld V/UHF radio and a simple antenna, I decided to jump back into the fray. While the FM sats were fun, on the horizon, thanks to AMSAT, was the "cube-sats" which were almost the ultimate in miniaturization. Being only 100 mm on a side (approximately a 4 inch cube) these cube-sats could be cluster launched from the International Space Station (ISS) providing a variety of satellites and modes at a reasonable cost.

In my interview with Keith Baker, KB1SF, AMSAT treasurer, Kieth gave me a great line from the movie "The Right Stuff" concerning the cost of operating in space: "No bucks, no Buck Rogers". How true that statement is. Space exploration and, in our case amateur satellite launches, are extremely expensive. The bigger the satellite the bigger the price tag to loft it into orbit. The days of getting the USAF or NASA to piggy back one of our birds on an upcoming launch vehicle for free were OVER! One figure I heard quoted this weekend concerning cost of launching a ham satellite was $100,000 per kilogram of satellite weight! That is outrageous but none the less true. You wanna play, you gotta pay.....plain and simple.

 Recently I have had other hams question my reasoning as to my support for AMSAT. After all, AMSAT is our "ride" to the future. They keep ham radio in space. Period. If we don't have AMSAT, we don't have an amateur space program. To which they replied (paraphrasing now) "there aren't any satellites available to work, so why should we join?" To this I say wander on over the the AMSAT website (www.amsat.org) and take a look at the number of active satellites currently on line..You will be amazed.

More amazing than that is the saga one of the older birds, AO-7, first launched in November of 1974. It functioned until the batteries succumbed to the hostilities of space in late 1981. Everyone on the AO-7 command team thought that this satellite was gone...dead.....stone cold dead. THEN, in June of 2002, Pat Gowen, G3IOR, in England heard the downlink beacon of AO-7 and alerted AMSAT! AO-7 was back!!!!! Totally inoperative for almost 20 years, the old girl decided to come back on line as long as the solar panels were in direct sunlight. In eclipse (the satellite is in darkness) the birds shuts down and then reawakens when sunlight once again strikes her solar panels. AO-7 is not fully functional as it first was but it is usable and it is currently the only LEO mode A satellite in orbit. Mode A referrers to the uplink/downlink pairing, in this cases 2m up and 10m down, making it a great teaching tool for schools. The gear to operate through AO-7 is very simple: a 2m transceiver capable of CW or SSB emissions and a 10m receiver capable of receiving CW and SSB. Simple antennas are the order of the day.

AMSAT membership costs $44/year. Compered to ARRL dues at $39/year it is more expensive and where as you get QST each month you only get the AMSAT Newsletter once every 3 months (quarterly). The thing is, the money you give to AMSAT in dues goes directly to support research, development, fabrication and launching of the ham satellites. Of course $44/year per member doesn't really make up the costs of all this. For that AMSAT relies on fund raising and grants. The cost of procuring certified-for-space-flight sub assemblies and parts  for a satellite are unbelievably costly. Many times commercial satellite companies and developers would toss AMSAT a bone by giving them needed space certified gear. This drastically cuts fabrication costs. Even then it takes a lot of cash to orbit one of our birds.

So, my hope is that you who read this posting decide to support AMSAT. Drift on over to www.amsat.org and look around. If it tickles your fancy send in your yearly dues and get busy on setting up a simple SATCOM station. 

Vy 73

Rich K7SZ

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.