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.