Sunday, 10 March 2019

2018 Commonwealth Contest and QRP

My Yaesu FT-817 and Winkey

This weekend has seen the Commonwealth Contest 2019. I documented my 2018 attempt on the blog, and was keen to give another go this year.

Last year I used my Icom IC-756 Pro 3 wound back to 5W, but this year decided to use my Yaesu FT-817 for a real QRP approach. I bought a USB lead for it this year to give full computer control with N1MM and decided to use my Winkey for full auto CW .

This year I had a slight change to my antennas. Out went the end fed half wave (with 80 loading coil) and in came a 66ft OCFD with the apex at about 8m. Also new was a quarter wave vertical for 20m, erected for the weekend on a 10m fishing pole - more of that later.

The contest ran from 10am, but at 9.30am I was struggling with the computer and interface. Stupid me forgot to turn off the keyer on the FT817 - duh!. Soon we were under way.

The contest got off to slow start with my 5W struggling to break through. Many stations just couldn’t hear me. The quarter wave vertical for 20m turned out to be a noise magnet - almost S8. I  decided to abandon it quite quickly.

After an hour I had a few stations in the log - 5B4AGN (Cyprus) and 9H1CG am (Malta), but nothing better. 3B8XF Mauritius (G3TXF) was audible, but I couldn’t break through. Same with ZF2CA Cayman Islands (both 3B8 and ZF were worked last year).

The afternoon saw Canada romping in and I ended up doing an hour at about 10-11pm, clearing up the UK HQ stations.

Sunday started at about 5.30am and a few more Canadians on 40m were cleared up. I then had a big breakthrough - VK4CT on 40m. It wasn’t easy, as they needed three or four repeats on their serial number, but we got there eventually.

So there you go - 34 QSOs in total, which doesn’t sound much, but I didn’t take part for the full 24 hours and it is HARD work with only 5W. Peter M0RYB, a fellow Norfolk Amateur Radio Club member, cleaned up with 70 QSOs in the QRP section. Must find out his secret!

Note: The FT-817 isn't much of a contesting radio. I found it struggled with a nearby 400W station and also found the 500Hz filter a bit too wide. Might be back to the IC-756 Pro next year.

Monday, 4 February 2019

HF propagation charts updated

I have just updated my HF short-path propagation prediction charts for the UK (accessed via a link on the right).

I had to update them with the latest smoothed sunspot numbers for the next 12 months.

This is a little depressing as after May 2019 the predicted SSN falls to "one" and stays like that for the rest of the year! Sunspot minimum is currently thought to be later this year, but could spill over into 2020.

These charts are meant as a rough guide. Other tools that are available are:

1. The VOACAP RadCom prediction tool - this replicates the locations found in the monthly RSGB publication, but lets you choose your own mode, power and antennas to give more accuracy.

2. The tool - this tool, developed by Gwyn Williams G4FKH, uses the latest ITURHFPROP prediction engine to let you produce point-to-point or area propagation predictions, again with full control over the input parameters.

3. Propquest - this is a near real-time tool, developed by Jim G3YLA, that shows the critical frequency and extrapolated maximum usable frequencies available over different path lengths. The critical frequency (the frequency at which a radio wave launched vertically stills gets returned to Earth) is derived from ionosonde data, mainly from Chilton and Fairford.

It should be your first port of call to see what conditions are like. In the summer it also has predictions for Sporadic E, courtesy of Jim.

Steve G0KYA
RSGB PSC Chairman

Monday, 21 January 2019

Yaesu FT-991A firmware update warning

I have owned a Yaesu FT-991A for about two years. I have to say that I really only use it on two metres. It isn't a bad radio, but it can be fiddly and you have to get used to going through lots of menus to do what you want it to do.

As such I tend to use my Icom IC-756 Pro 3 as my main HF rig (unless I'm using one of my QRP rigs like the Elecraft K1, YouKits HB1A, QCX, MTR etc). Use the QRP tag on the right if you are interested in reading about them.

Anyway, I recently tried to use Yaesu's Fusion mode as we have a new Fusion repeater (GB7NM) about 10 miles from me.

I wasn't impressed with the audio though. Half the time it was unintelligible and pretty awful to be honest. I did wonder if the signal strength is sufficient, but it is S9 +30db. Also, I live about half a mile from the police headquarters and do suffer some desensing on 2m if I use a cheap handheld like a Baofeng connected to my 2m antenna. Perhaps that's the problem.

However, I checked and found that the FT-991A's firmware (including C4FM) was out of date and thought that an update might improve things.

So, following the instructions, I first uploaded the main firmware - and this is where I came unstuck. Once I had completed it I rebooted the radio, but it wouldn't - all I had was the Yaesu screen.

Arrrgghh! Now what. Reading around the internet I found that you have to upload all four of the Yaesu firmware updates - the main, the TFT screen, the DSP and C4FM.

If you don't the radio won't work.

To be fair it does say in the instructions:

MAIN Ver. 02-01 also requires TFT Ver. 02-00; also DSP Ver. 01-11 and C4FM DSP Ver. 04-15.
If your FT-991A does not have them already, please update all firmware, they must be used together.

Once I had uploaded all four and reset it all was fine again - apart from I had lost all my settings.

Another quick hint. If you have memories loaded use VK2BYI's FTRestore software before you start the firmware update and make a copy of the memories. Once you have made the firmware updates you can then reload the memories and save yourself a lot of time.

Anyway, after two hours of messing around I had the radio back the way I wanted it.

So is Fusion better now? I still don't think the audio quality is that good, although it my be a bit better. But at least the radio isn't bricked!