Sunday, 11 March 2018

Commonwealth Contest 2018 and QRP


RSGB certificate for 5th place QRP section.
Update: It turns out I came 5th in the QRP section of the 2018 Commonwealth Contest. I lost two QSOs for being "not in log",  and lost 4th place by 10pts to Dave G3YMC (which is how it should be!). Great fun and I'll do it next year, probably with my Yaesu FT817 and the addition of an EFHW vertical for 20m too.

I took part in the 2018 Commonwealth Contest this weekend on HF CW. This was always going to be a casual entry as I had other things to get on with over the weekend, not least was helping tidy the house for Mothers’ Day on Sunday!

I decided to enter the QRP category with a maximum of 5W. One reason was I knew that my good friend Dave G3YMC had won the category last year with 30 QSOs. I mean, how hard can it be to beat 30 Qs with 5W? Answer: very hard apparently!

I got going with 20m and quickly worked four stations in Malta and Cyprus. I also cracked off some of the UK HQ stations on 80m for 25pts apiece.

The afternoon saw openings to Canada, which brought in a few VEs. I was also happy to work the Cayman Islands and G3TXF on Mauritius.
My multiband fan dipoles in the loft.
Only used with QRP for EMC reasons.

Ionospheric propagation conditions were lousy with no sunspots and a geomagnetic disturbance the night before.  Fifteen metres was closed so it was a 80, 40 and 20m only event.

What you quickly realise is that many stations are using the full legal limit, so might be running 400-1,000W. If they aren’t very strong they probably won’t hear your 5W QRP station - fact of life!

So there were lots of “NR?” being sent for repeats, if they came back at all.

I went to bed about 23:30hrs and set to again at 06:45hrs. At that time 20m was dead, but there were some 40m and 80m contacts to be had and I managed to get VE in the log again. I also swept up the remaining G, GD, GI, GJ, GM and GW HQ stations as these were quite easy with 5W.

The antennas were my loft-mounted fan dipoles for 40-10m, which beat the outdoor multiband 80-10m end-fed half wave and W5GI dipole on 20m - go figure. I used the EFHW or W5GI for 40m and 80m, depending on which gave the best signal.

The “nearly” category included QSOs with Singapore, Australia, Gibraltar, New Zealand and Zambia - I just wasn’t loud enough. But hey, Cayman Islands, Canada, and Mauritius on 5W will do me!

Next year if I do it again with 5W I might put up a monoband 20m EFHW and perhaps use my Yaesu FT-817 (I don’t currently have a CAT cable for it), although the IC-756 Pro3 band scope is handy and it is an excellent rig, even when backed off to 5W. Logging/keying was with N1MM+, which worked flawlessly.

All good fun and 30 Qs won’t win it ( the highest QRP entry so far is C6AKT with 92 QSOs), but my unconfirmed overall score was higher than the 2017 winner’s, so not too shabby.

The Commonwealth Contest is a great one-weekend opportunity for UK stations to work DX with no big pileups.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

IBP beacon predictions for UK using ITURHFPROP

Over Christmas and the New Year I got better acquainted with the ITURHFPROP propagation prediction software.

This is the software that Gwyn G4FKH uses to produce the monthly HF predictions for RSGB’s RadCom magazine and which was produced by the ITU.

Gwyn adapted it to produce a graphical output, which can be found at www.predtest.uk

But I was intrigued to see if I could use it to produce some predictions for the worldwide International Beacon Project (IBP) chain that runs on 14, 18, 21, 24 and 28MHz. I won’t go into too many details here about the IBP network as you can find all you would want to know at http://www.ncdxf.org/beacon/

The good news is that as they all use the same power output (100W max.) and the same antenna (pretty much a unity gain or +2.15dBi antenna) it should be fairly easy to model what the expected signal strength should be here in the UK.

ITURHFPROP runs in Windows and uses an input file with all the parameters needed, such as your QTH lat. and long., the transmitter’s lat. and long., required SNR, bandwidth, smoothed sunspot number, power etc etc.

You then run it from the command line and it creates an output file.

I ended up creating input files for each of the beacons, and a spreadsheet that can take each of the output Field Strength (dB(1uV/m)) figures and convert them into S units.

I then created a batch file that runs all of the predictions for each of the beacons in one go. With an I5 processor this takes less than about 15 seconds.

The spreadsheet then formats these so that I can produce the chart you see on the page. This may sound long-winded, but it really doesn’t take long. I’m sure someone with Python programming skills could automate the whole thing, but I wanted to make sure it worked first before going any further.

The end result has proved to be quite accurate and shows that at this point in the sunspot cycle we can’t expect miracles in terms of hearing the distant beacons. While some are audible on 14 and 18MHz, generally we are not hearing much above that.

In the UK, what have been audible quite regularly this month on 14.100MHz are RR90 (Novosibirsk, Siberia), CS3B (Madeira), 4U1UN (New York) and occasionally 4X6TU (Tel Aviv).

It also shows what the effect of an elevated K index can be as this generally means the beacons are less audible (if there at all) as the MUF declines. We have been suffering from the adverse effects of coronal holes recently and that isn't going to end any time soon.

You can see the predicted MUF over different path lengths in near real-time using the graphed ionosonde data for the UK at http://www.convectiveweather.co.uk/ionosphere/graphs.php?type=live

This was produced by fellow RSGB Propagation Studies Committee member Jim G3YLA and his colleagues at Weatherquest in Norwich.

I’ve posted the predictions here to see if they are of interest to anyone. If they are I’ll update them monthly.

To view the January IBP prediction chart full size just click here.