Invisible airwaves crackle with life
Field Day 2009
Once more it was off to Largo to do my now-customary 1B Field Day setup. I tried to pare down what I took along,but still ended up with a fair amount of stuff. I got most of the little bits crammed into the duffel bag. Here's the inventory,minus incidentals like the tools and parts to finish building the 2m Yagi:
I began prep a few days early this year; by the Thursday night before Field Day,I had the parts measured and cut for the obligatory new antenna (a 2m Yagi described below) and the TS-430S modified for variable output power (a slick reuse of the largely useless for SSB squelch control that left it operable for FM).
Amanda and I loaded up the car and headed out from Gainesville late Friday afternoon. After a couple of munchie stops,we got to Largo and got settled in for the night at the inlaws'. I sort of lost all my momentum somewhere,and decided to finish constructing the 2m Yagi in the morning.
Saturday morning dawned bright and hot and humid. I rolled out of the sack and got to working on that Yagi. It's largely fashioned after a design written up by W4RNL(SK) Larry Cebik,dean of antenna tinkerers,published in the December 2004 QST - a 6 element OWA-based antenna with 1/4" elements on a 56" PVC boom. I developed what I think is a fairly clever way to mount the driven element. I shortened two legs of PVC cross fitting,and epoxied in a pair of 1/8NPT to 1/2NPT adapters. The driven element halves are fitted with 1/8NPT to 1/4 compression fittings that screw right into the adapters. The feedline is then attached with a couple of outsized alligator clips. I used the same general approach on my 6m portable Yagi,with allowances for the latter's larger elements.
As I was nearing completion on the Yagi,I recalled something inconvenient: the 9913 for the 2m feedline had N connnectors. The FT-100 had SO-258s. I had no suitable adapters. So it was off to Radio Shack,a fruitless endeavor (though I wound up going BACK to Radio Shack when I realized I'd left all my PL259 barrels at home...); at Chester Electronics I was rewared with the N-to-PL259 adapter I needed,and an N chassis connector to attach to the antenna. Back to the barn to put the finishing touches on that Yagi,secure in the knowledge that I could feed the thing.
Once the Yagi was done,it was time to get out there and assemble the station and antennas. A couple of TV tables were set up and the radios and old-fashioned pad-and-paper logging system were laid out and made ready. Out back,I hauled the 40m dipole up into the trees,hooked the bottom five sections of mast together,pounded in the tent stakes and laid out the guy ropes. I assembled the Yagis and attached them to the top section of mast,then grabbed my father in law to support the mast while I hauled it upright with one of the guys. A quick test with the MFJ antenna analyzer showed that I'd botched something up; the 2m Yagi was measuring no better than 4:1 at 144. Hauled it down and rejiggered the feed point; that's better! Time to start operating.
No,NOT time to start operating. The TS-430 wouldn't even power up. Uh oh. I grabbed the voltmeter and confirmed my worst suspicion - the deep cycle battery was kaput,dead,pushing up the daisies,despite being charged fully just a week ago. Figures. Deja vu- I'd bought that battery in 2007 upon discovering that all the 14AH UPS batteries I'd packed along to Tennessee for that Field Day were dead! Once more,then,it was off to WallyWorld for a new battery - this time a 125AH monster trolling motor battery.
Finally I was on the air. Nothing much was happening on 6 or 2 (naturally, given all the work building, assembling and erecting all that VHF stuff),so it was down into the feeding frenzy I went. Once again,the narrow SSB filter proved to be a very welcome addition to the radio,enabling me to shoulder aside the constant interference from adjacent QSOs. One big change from the last couple of years is that everyone seemed to have discovered 15 meters; it was every bit as crowded as 20,at least up to 21.400. There was some activity on 10m,but was spotty,and I didn't have much in the way of success up there. 75m was very noisy and not that busy from what I could hear Saturday night. I didn't try 160m,given my past experiences with arc-over failures in the smaller MFJ tuners.
One issue I ran into was one I'd hit last time I had done Field Day from Largo,back in 2006. On 15 meters,the 40 meter dipole evidently has some nulls in the pattern,in some pretty inconvenient directions. I was prepared for that,and dug out the half-homebrew BuddiPole. When built with 3 arms and a short whip on each side,the BuddiPole falls smack dab in the middle of the 15m band. I stuck it on a broom handle and velcored the broom handle to the mast,then shoved it up as high as I could reach. An ocassional turn to follow the action was all it took to keep me in play on 15.
Here's a closeup of the center of the BuddiPole. I picked up the VersaTee at Orlando a couple of years ago to replace my homemade pipe and plumbing fitting center T. Budd and Chris were out of Triple Ratio Switched Baluns at the time so I threw together a quick-and-dirty 1:1 choke balun based on a discussion I'd had with Jerry W3CDE,one of the SouthCARS net controls. The dipole arm sections are 1/2" aluminum tubing with the ends tapped 3/8-24 and 1/8NPT pipe nipples and couplers screwed very tightly into them. The outer sections are stock short BuddiPole collapsing whips.
During a lull in the furor,I stepped out back and snapped a couple of pictures of the antennas. I was in a bit of a hurry when I built the 2m beam; that first director is a little crooked. That'll be easy enough to correct later - just lop a hunk out of the boom,glue in a coupler,and drill a new hole. After some stretching (the back ache was, I think, an indication that I needed a taller table or a shorter chair) and a quick shower to chase away the last vestiges of heat and humidity,I snitched a Klondike Bar from the inlaws' freezer,sat back down,and made a few more contacts. Then it was time to crash for the night. The radios were disonnected and set inside the house,and I hit the hay for a few hours' worth of sleep.
I got up at about 9:30 Sunday morning and got right back into it. At some point Amanda grabbed my camera and sneaked a shot of me slogging away. I made a steady stream of contacts,then started having "issues" - reports of rough audio,high SWR readings,the radio behaving oddly. Hmm... I wired the voltmeter across the behemoth battery and operated for a while longer. Uh huh,turns out the 430 is one of those radios that's really picky about operating voltage. Anything less than 12.6V and the radio throws temper tantrums. Fortunately the solution was close at hand - just disconnect the 6m Yagi from the FT-100 and hook up the HF wire. That's how I ran the rest of the event. Clearly,I'll be buying one of those MFJ-4416 battery booster gizmos before next Field Day!
Given as I didn't start setting up until Saturday morning I could have run on till 5:00pm,but I decided to wrap up at 2:00. It took about an hour to disassemble everything (with some help from Amanda lowering the mast),bundle it all up,and get it in the trunk of the car. Then it was time for a shower (takes a lot to stay on top of the humidity here in Florida!) and a jaunt by WallyWorld to recover the core charge for the replacement battery. A quick stop in Dunedin to pick up my nieces,who were spending the week with us,and Field Day was wrapped up for another year.
The lessons learned this time around and things to do for next time: