I Got Bit By The SOTA Bug

Meeting with the SASQ group at Cheaha State Park this past weekend renewed my interest in SOTA. Over the past year, I have gotten myself in pretty good shape making SOTA more doable. I started putting together a bag for hiking to SOTA Summits. I have hiked and backpacked at different parts of my life so I have an idea of what I need (and want) for a kit. Since I’m an old guy, I do not want to be carrying the kitchen sink with me. I have a QRP radio coming, but that’s another post. Here is the list of my current load out.

I’ll start with my E&E bag short for Escape and Evasion. Typically an E&E bag has the bare minimum of gear. This bag travels with me when I leave my home area. I move it from bag to bag as needed. The bag is a Tom Bihn Handy Little Thing (HLT) size 2. Loaded, it weighs 24 oz (1.5 lbs).

Here is a list of the contents:
Mechanical Pencil
Bullet (Space) Pen
Rite in the Rain Notebook
Mylar Rescue Blanket
2 – Eye Glass Cleaners
2 – Dude Wipes
First Aid Kit
2 – Safety Pins
1 – 1 Liter Water Bag
Compass w/signal mirror
Survival Guide
Dental Floss
Ferro Rod, Striker, and Magnesium
Fire Tinder
Duct Tape
Mini Screwdriver
Flash Drive
Evidence Card
Large Magnifying Glass
Small Magnifying Glass

To carry the radio and associated gear, along with food, water, etc., I decided to use my Camelbak HAWG. It is the older style. I like it because it prevents me from overpacking. The bag and gear without the E&E bag weigh an even 6 lbs., 7.5 lbs with the E&E. With adding food, water, and radios, I am hoping to keep the weight below 15 lbs. I’ve done some Go Rucking with 40 lbs so this should be a breeze.

Here is the list:
Canteen, Cup, and Cover (canteen is Nalgene)
Potable Aqua
MRE Spoon
Garbage Bag – Contractor
Rope Kit w/Duct Tape
Triangular Bandanna
Insect Repellent
Tincture of Iodine
Sit Cushion
Tent Stakes – 6

There you have it. enough to cover most events that may happen on an excursion into the wilds, but not too much where you feel like a pack mule. Next work on the radios. 73 – Scott

A little CW Project

I have the K1EL WKUSB-SMT keyer. I like it a lot. I use it at home and in the field. I would normally either plug it into my laptop or a battery for power. However, I am trying to clean up my act and reduce some of the cabling I have. The keyer will run for months on 3 AAA batteries that stow inside the case. It is a little bit of a chore to change them out due to the 4 teeny screws that hold the clamshell case together. Fine at home, but could become an issue in the field.

I put the batteries in and placed the keyer right-side up in my field box. When I got to the campsite and took the box out of my truck, I heard “dah-di-dah-dit, dah-dah-di-dah” I must have bumped one of the buttons. I open the box and there was the keyer chirping away — with no way to turn it off. Luckily, the paddles were in the top tray so it was easy to hook them up and send a dit to stop the keyer.

When I got home, I scrounged a few parts. All I needed was an SPST switch, some wire, and shrink tubing.

I found an open spot below the paddle connector and drilled an appropriate-sized hole.

A little bit of solder and some heat on the shrink and I’m done.

Now when I travel, I just flip the switch to turn it off. It probably took me more time to write this than to complete the project.

I use the keyer a lot. It integrates with ACLog seamlessly. There is also an app that allows me to program the keyer with a keyboard. I can then save the different message banks on the computer and load the one I need for the trip. I have one for POTA, SOTA, and Field Days. One thing I like is I can slow the CW speed for certain words. I’ll do that with Park ID. Start at 18, slow down for the park number, and then speed back up again. All with the push of a button.

I hope this gives you ideas for your own projects. 73 — Scott

Day POTA Activation – Cheaha State Park

This morning, 05 May 23, I decided to take a trip out to Cheaha State Park. It’s about a 50-mile drive but worth it since it is the highest point in Alabama. I enjoy the park and consider it my home park. The day was cool and foggy. Since I was operating out of the cab of the truck, it was nice not to see the sun.

For a change of pace, I brought one of my QRP radios, the IC-705 with the AH-705. I like this radio. It is easy (for me) to use since I have other Icom radios and the interface is similar. I don’t have to relearn the radio every time I use it. The antenna was my Frankentenna Mobile version. I also wanted to give it a workout at QRP levels.

I had another motive for bringing the IC-705. I purchased an app for my iPhone called SDR-Control Mobile. It was created by Marcus Roskosch, the same Marcus that made SDR-Control for iPad. This app connects to the IC-705 via Bluetooth and operates FT8 and CW. It also has a logging function along with several other tools. What drew me to the app was the ability to use my cell phone. The cell phone uses far less power and lasts a lot longer than tablets or laptops. I used it for over 2.5 hrs and the battery level barely moved. The app controls the radio like most other apps. FT8 was a breeze as most of it was automated and logging was a push of a button. Exporting the log was also clicky-click.

Band conditions were up and down and even though I operating QRP, I still managed to make 41 contacts. It was nice working FT8 while holding the phone in my hands. In the past, I would have to twist a bit to get to the laptop making it uncomfortable.

While operating, a fellow ham drove up and said he was looking for me! He and 4 others were operating a special event station about 200 yards down the hill from me. the club was the Southern Appalachian Summit QRPers. SASQ or Sasquatch. This is a group that prefers operating outdoors. They enjoy hiking to SOTA summits and operating portable with lightweight gear. I visited with them for a while and interviewed them for my YouTube channel. If you are interested here is a link to their website https://jesarge.wixsite.com/sasq

I made 41 contacts and here is a QSO map of the activation.

It was a good day, I made a few contacts and a few new radio friends. I may have to see about joining SASQ. I also added another tool to my portable operations tool kit. I like it when things end up win-win. Below is a short video on the activation. 73 — Scott

IC-705 Cover

I’ve got a couple of activations coming up so I am trying to get a few things done to bring with me and evaluate. I bought the 705 because it is a small radio. I like that feature. When looking to protect the radio, many have darn near doubled its size so it is no longer a small radio. I tried a couple of padded cases and while they fit fairly well, they still felt too large. I don’t mind tossin a radio in a pack or bag as long as I can protect the important pieces. In the case of the 705 it would be the knobs and touch screen. I decided to make a cover for the front of the radio.

Icom has an STL file for the 705 https://www.icomjapan.com/support/IC-705_STL/ so pulling that into a CAD program, I was able to make a cover. I am not a CAD pro or even a 3D printer pro; however, I was able to scratch something together that is good enough. I roughed out the design and my son printed the cover out for me. It’s not beautiful. it’s not perfect, but it gets the job done. Here is the current prototype.

The inside is mostly hollowed out but the case is supported on the corners of the radio and the speaker area.

For POTA activations the radio resides in a plastic box with a latching lid. Should eb plenty of protection. Because I reduced the bulk and weight, it make the radio eligible for SOTA. I may make another one to adjust some of the dimensions but in reality, it works just fine. I can tweak this and burn a lot of time or I can get out and play radio. Remember “Perfect is the enemy of good”.

I made one other piece, BNC caps, which the STL files are available with a simple Google Search.

I like orange as I can readily see them if I accidentally drop them. Enjoy and hope to work you. Scott

Traveling Light

I like to travel light. Less is better. When I do POTA or SOTA activations I really don’t like to have a lot of stuff. Just what I need with maybe a few essential extras. Over the past couple of activations, I have been doing battle with my Surface Go2. It’s pretty noisy in the RF spectrum range when recharging the battery. It works great as long as I do not have to recharge the battery. When I do have to recharge it, I need more gear because I cannot charge it from the same batteries I use for my radios. That usually means shore power, or an inverter — more stuff. Yes I know I can paper log or I can log on my iPhone using apps like Hamrs or RumLog but with today’s band conditions, it is nice to have FT8 in the toolbox. I decided to try SDR-Control for Icom. This app allows me to control my IC-705 from my iPad and it includes FT8/FT4! The stuff I had to bring with my surface looks like this.

This does not include whatever power source I need to recharge this. My iPad looks like this.

Whatever I use to run my radios, I can also recharge the iPad’s battery. Two of my solar panels have usb ports so I can charge the iPad directly from them while also charging a battery. This is something else I cannot do with the Surface. My truck has usb ports so I can charge from it. I set the app up with my IC-705 and it works as advertised. I have an activation planned this weekend so I will try to give the new setup a good work out.

There is a caveat, and that is the app works with the IC-705 (also the IC-7610 and IC-9700). This is not a problem as the 705 is my goto POTA radio. On the occasion I bring a different radio, I will either forgo FT8 or bring the Surface and work with its limitations. If I am doing something like a SOTA activation, I would either log on paper or my phone in which case I would not bring either the iPad or the Surface.

I may or may not add a keyboard to the iPad. It’s screen keyboard is pretty good. Another thing is I am using a 2018 iPad (6th Gen) so it’s not the most zippy out there but does fine. Most radio apps don’t require a lot of horsepower to run them.

I have another activation planned that does not include shore power at any of the sites. I will be relying on battery/solar to make it through the activation. I’ll dig a little deeper as I put a few activations under my belt with this new set up. 73 Scott

9:1 UnUn QRO

Today’s dalliance is UnUns. An UnUn which stands for Unbalanced to Unbalanced is a transformer of sorts which in this case matches or attempts to match the impedance between an antenna and a transceiver. Today I am making a 9:1 ratio UnUn which is suppose to match a 450 ohm antenna to a 50 ohm transceiver. When the impedance is matched between a transceiver and an antenna, maximum power from the transceiver can be transmitted to the antenna. A 9:1 UnUn is used with random wires and a counterpoise. I call this UnUn QRO because it is rated at 250 watts. I would use this in the field with a radio like my IC-7300 even though I rarely go above 50 watts. I went QRO because this is my first turn at winding a toroid and I thought starting with something larger would be easier.

I will only list project specific parts. The toroid kit come from Palomar Engineers https://tinyurl.com/3tkctj2e. This gives you the toroid, wires and instructions. The other project specific part is the case which came from amazon https://tinyurl.com/2p93h9r5 Everything else is generic parts that I either had on hand, purchased locally or from amazon.

The Palomar Kit looks like this.

The kit comes with decent instructions but, with a couple of caveats. One, the wire that comes with the kit appears to be random. The colors of the wires, do not match the colors in the instructions. this is not insurmountable, just makes things a little more difficult especially for first timers like me. The second nit is the pictures provided, while of decent quality, are black and white. In today’s world, color photos should not be that big of deal. The kit can be wired as a BalUn or UnUn. The way I overcame the mentioned shortcomings was to annotate the schematic they provided.

The UnUn is the schematic on the right. According to the instructions, the 3 wires are wound 10 times or turns with each pass of the wires through the center of the toroid counting as one turn. The wound toroid looks like this.

Before I went any further, I tested the toroid. I did this by hooking up a 450 ohm 50 watt resister to the antenna and counterpoise leads and attached my Xiegu X6100 to the input of the UnUn. I then used the SWR Sweep function on the X6100. I knew this wouldn’t be an exact science since I was using a 12″ RG-316 cable and 12″ jumpers, but should be close enough to see if I am in the ball park. Here are a couple of the test.

Shown are 160 meters, 30 meters, and 20 meters with all showing an SWR of ~3:1 or less. Not too shabby. With a random antenna wire of around 49 feet and a 25 foot counterpoise, I expect the SWR to even be less. That means anything from 160- 20 are well within the capability of most tuners. I suspect that I may be able to get down to 10 meters once I hook it up to a real antenna.

The case was a guess on my part, but as it turns out, it was the right size.

Then all put together, it looks like this. The toroid is mounted on a sheet of plastic and glued into the case.

The input connector is BNC and the screws are 10-32. I have some 10-32 wingnuts on the way to make it easier to attach wires. The eyebolt was to help take some of the strain off of the antenna wire and BNC connector is on the bottom to help protect it from the weather. One final test.

This was a fun little project and gave me some experience and confidence making UnUns. My next project will be a QRP UnUn. I mostly operate QRP when out in the field (max 10 watts. I know). However, some of the stuff I bring is QRO rated. I am trying to reduce the load. Making antenna parts that are QRP rated instead of QRO rated, reduces weight and space. Right now I am doing POTA activations, but hopefully this fall when the ticks and chiggers die off, I will try my hand at SOTA. 72 de Scott

Paddle Mount for the IC-705

I kinda like the idea of being able to mount your paddle to your radio when operating portable. You can use the weight of the radio to help prevent the paddles from moving around and it frees your off hand for other tasks. We see examples of this with the Elecraft KX series of radios and there are some adapters for radios such as the Yaesu Ft-817/818.

I really like my IC-705. It is probably my best radio for POTA/potable operation. I think the only time I would leave it home is if weight became a problem or I needed to exercise one of my other radios. Recently, Begali came out with a mount to attach their Adventure paddle to the IC-705. It is a sweet set-up; however, the approx. $400 USD price tag got me looking for other alternatives. I have nothing against Begali, I own three of their paddles, and they are superb instruments. I think I wanted to tinker, and this gave me a good excuse.

For paddles, I have a set of Larry’s (N0SA) SOTA paddles. I love these paddles. When I go on an activation/Portable Operation, I bring these and my Begali Travelers. If I was going to do a SOTA activation, I would just bring Larry’s Paddles. Next was a trip to Tractor Supply Company (TSC) for a sheet of 16 ga. Steel. That set me back $16. I cut it to 3″ by 3 1/2″ using a cutoff wheel on my grinder.

I already have a stand I made out of 1″ x 1″ angle aluminum so I cut this to fit behind it.

The blue on the metal is Dykem Blue which is a layout fluid. In creating this project, I am only using hand tools. Power tools consisted of a grinder with a cut-off wheel. a hand drill, and my trusty Dremel tool. Here is a picture of me giving the mount a rough finish with a file.

My next step was to install the mount on the radio. I left the tail that will hold the paddles a little long to see where I wanted the paddles.

I am right handed so I mounted the paddle to the right of the radio. As a child, I broke my right wrist and lost a little range of movement so for me, I cannot use a paddle straight on. I found an angle of about 40 degrees to be about right. I also bent the mount down a bit to get the paddles close to level.

I turned one of the machine screw holes into a slot. That way I only have to remove one screw to install and remove the mount.

Next is a coat of primer, followed by a coat of flat black. I also added a clear coat to increase the durability of the finish.

Here is the finished product installed on the radio with the paddles.

The screws that hold the paddle to the mount are #4-40 x 1/4″. I am going to change the hex head bolts that hold the tilt stand/paddle mount to the radio with M4 x 10mm knurled head bolts so I can remove/install without tools. The mount itself weighs in at about 1 ounce.

This was a fun little project. The radio could move around on a smooth surface so something like a silicone mat would cure that, but on something like a wood picnic table it should be just fine. Except for the sheet metal this was built using whatever I had around the house. How does it play…


I got the final pieces in the mail. One thing I tried was to mount the paddles on the top of the mount. This also works very well and may even be better in some cases. The only button that the paddles get in the way of is the autotune button. It can still be reached fairly easily.

I also replaced the hex head bolts with knurled head bolts so I can install/uninstall the mount without tools. I got them in red, just in case I drop one. As you can see I only have to completely remove one bolt and loosen the other to remove the paddle mount. This allow the tilt stand to remain with the radio.

The bolts will tighten down with either one or both pieces; however, I only snug them down. That’s the completed project and overall I am pleased with the results. Next field trip is in a couple of weeks. 73 Scott

Vertical Antenna Support

I like to tinker. Always have and probably, always will. This past weekend while I was activating K-2171, I swapped out antennas to see if one was any better than another. My first antenna was my Frankentenna set up as a vertical. Later in my activation, I switched to my random wire vertical. To use this antenna, I had to shoot a line up into a tree. Band conditions were not that good, and truth be told, I am not sure which antenna was better; however, for this activation, I gave a slight edge to the random wire.

For those that have operated within State Parks, rules and regulations sometimes seem to get a little blurry when it come to operating amateur radio within park boundaries. There is a general consensus that Park Rangers do not like things in their trees. I personally have not had this issue, but I was never approached by a ranger. I operate CW with earbuds on, so I do not really attract attention to myself.

Recognizing, that it might be a matter of time before I get “caught” with something up in a tree, I thought I would look for a solution to solve a potential problem. I have a B&M Black Widow 20′ fishing pole that should work just fine for my random wire antenna. A trip to TSC got me a 4 foot piece of 1 1/2″ x 1 1/2″ Aluminum Angle Stock. Tools used were:

Layout was pretty simple. The angle for the pointy end was 20 degrees and the slots for the straps were 3/8″ by 1 1/4″ (approx). The total length of the stake is 28″

I got everything cut out and deburred. I added a coat of zinc chromate primer and a finish coat of flat olive paint.

I have two small Velcro straps that I had lying around that work perfectly,

Then by turning the stake around, it stores nicely on the fishing pole. Together the outfit weighs a touch over 1 1/2 pounds. This is easy to carry and by moving the stake more to the center, it would be better balanced for walking.

This gives you options. You should be able to use this anywhere you can drive a tent stake into the ground. With this setup, you can use many different antennas besides a vertical. I am going to try it with my 40m OCF dipole (I may have to mount it a little down from the tip).

When I do an activation, I like to carry a minimum amount of gear. Sometimes, I feel my Frankentenna is too big even though it fits in a small Buddipole bag. It is fun trying to operate with a small amount of gear. For my next activation, I will bring the pole with everything else fitting in an 8 liter Bucket Boss bag. Instead of the Bucket Boss Bag, I could use a small backpack. In fact, I am thinking about doing a couple of SOTA activations this year. I hope to hear you out there! de Scott KK4Z

POTA/SOTA Antennas and More

My amateur radio club, West Georgia Amateur Radio Society (WGARS) decided to participate in Winter Field Day. We are going to operate from Talladega National Forest in Alabama. It doesn’t take much to get me out in the woods with a radio. As a club, we will be operating QRP and I will be doing CW.

Since joining POTA, I have been more inclined to build things. I had forgotten how much fun this can be. So today, I thought I would build a couple of antennas for the outing. My first antenna will be a replacement for my speaker wire non-resonant vertical. The idea came from Thomas K4SWL using speaker wire. It was an okay antenna but it was bulky and heavier (12 oz.) than I wanted it to be.

A British company, SOTA-Beams sells some remarkably thin antenna wire. It is insulated and approximately 24 AWG. The best part is they sell a 100 meters for $10.37 and their shipping rates are reasonable. You can find it here: https://www.sotabeams.co.uk/antenna-wire-lightweight-100m/.

A non-resonant antenna is an antenna that is not resonant on any of the frequencies you plan to use. In non- resonant antennas only forward waves exist. A non-resonant antenna radiates as well as a resonant one. Here is what I started out with.

The end insulator and the wire winders were 3D printed by my son. The battery is for scale. The antenna length is approximately 28-29 feet and the counterpoise is approximately 17 feet. Putting it together was straight forward with the end result looking like this. It weighs 3 oz.

I have discovered that I like working the low bands while on a POTA activation. It takes a little more doing as the antennas get more complex and heavier. My Frankentenna can reach 160 meters but it is a pretty heavy antenna. Again, taking a clue from K4SWL, I acquired a piece of military surplus radio gear. I found an antenna winder for a dipole that is fed with 30 feet of twinlead. I got excited! A doublet is one of my favorite wire antennas as the vertical element can also radiate giving you some DX capability. It will also tune a broader range of frequencies than a dipole. Here is what I started out with.

Note that it is made by the Hughes Aircraft company. I cut the wire at 67 feet per side which should give me an approximately 132 foot dipole. I should be good to go down into the CW portion of 80 meters. While it won’t be efficient, I am thinking I can get an impedance match on 160 meters with my Elecraft T-1 or AH-705 tuner. A half wave dipole for 160 meters is about 270 feet and would be too unwieldy for the field. Getting things hooked up was straightforward.

Everything wraps on the winder. I added a balanced to BNC adapter and two 25 foot lengths of reflective cord I picked up at Tractor Supply. It all weighs 1 lb 3 oz and it all fits in a gallon size freezer bag.

There will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 operators at our site, so I don’t know if I will have the room to get the big antenna up. I hope so.

In case you couldn’t tell, I am a big fan of Ziplock Freezer bags in the quart and gallon sizes. They are tough, waterproof and cheap. I buy them in bulk at Sam’s Club. When one wears out, I pull a new one from the box.

Low band POTA activations can be a challenge, but not impossible. My activation at Ft Mountain State Park in GA. proved that. I am one step closer to being ready for Winter Field Day. Should be a lot of fun. It’s supposed to be cold (cold for us southerners) Night time in the mid 20’s and daytime south of 50 degrees. I’ve lived in cold climates; but, what will get me is my hands. I get pretty fumble-fingered on the paddles when my hands get cold. Thank goodnes for propane heaters. We will be operating under the callsign W4D and hopefully be turning in a log to POTA as well. Hope to hear you out there.

IC-705 Stand

I bit the bullet and ordered an Icom IC-705. It really was a no-brainer for me as I already have several Icom radios. I have had other brands, but I keep going back to Icom. Anyhow, once I got the radio I needed a stand to keep it tilted at the right angle. There isn’t a whole lot out there. The commercial stands are rather pricey, and the 3D printed versions are nice but my son’s 3D printer is down for maintenance and upgrades.

I had a $30 gift card from Tractor Supply I received for Christmas, so off I popped. The stand is made from 1/16″ thick, 1″ x 1″ angle aluminum cut to 2″ long. I got a 48″ piece for 10 bucks. While there I picked up some M4 x 10 machine screws and some M4 washers (about another 2 bucks. Icom gives you the dimensions for all the mount holes in their manual.

I cut it to length, drilled the holes and then did a nice deburr on it. Needle files and a Dremel work great here. I then lightly sanded the whole piece and cleaned it with non-chlorinated brake cleaner (great stuff and cheap at any auto parts store).

The next step was a coat of primer, in this case zinc chromate, a throw back to my Army Aviation days, followed by a coat of high temperature flat black. It’s what I had on hand.

Finally, I added a clear coat and let it sit over night. Here is the final product installed on the IC-705.

It was a fun little project and only took a couple of hours time. The 705 sits back on that angled section at the back of the radio — perfect. I found a padded telephoto lens case that should fit it just fine for about 20 bucks. I’ve taken Icom radios to the field before and they hold up well. I’ve made some CW contacts from home and the radio works as well as my other Icoms. I made out to California and up into NY. I am looking forward to getting this in the field.