Tag Archives: RIGblaster Plug & Play

KH6 – Hawaii Bound

My current assignment at Fort Leavenworth has me traveling quite a bit. My intent has been to bring a rig with me and have some casual QSOs while on the road. My success has been mixed. I would mostly attribute this to either a lack of planning on my part or being in a stuck in a hotel room with zero antenna opportunities.

One of the most inspiring ham radio blogs I ever ran across was the 100 Pound Dxpedition. I enjoyed how Scott, NE1RD, covered his adventures of conducting portable operations… documenting what worked and what did not. His last post on that paticular blog was back in 2007, but I still use the site as a reference. Scott’s praise for the Buddipole led me in using the Buddipole during my recent tour in Korea. Another tip from Scott I am going to try out is using a hardside golf bag case to transport my Buddipole to Hawaii.

Now for a rig… I think the Elecraft KX3 would be ideal for a Hawaii trip. With 10 watts output and an internal battery, I can’t think of better rig to take to the beach. But the wait time for the KX3 is still quite a while. I have both an Elecraft KX1 and a Yaesu FT-817ND. The KX1 would be great due to its small size and ease of use. But it is limited to only CW and I would like to do some PSK in addition to CW.

I pulled out my FT-817 and conducted an inventory:

    - West Mountain Radio RIGblaster Plug n Play connects directly to the DIN socket on the back of the rig.
    - CAT cable that connects from the RIGblaster to the rig’s ACC socket which enables rig control.
    - PowerPole 12v adapter.
    - Palm Paddle.
    - Elecraft T1 Auto-tuner.
    - Nifty manual for the FT-817.



My FT-817 has quite a few of the optional bells and whistles from W4RT:

I also splurged on two recent upgrades:

    - Peg Leg tilt stand – I think this will be helpful as one of my significant dislikes of the FT-817 is the small display which is hard to see.
    - Magnets for the Palm Paddle – this is critically important as the Palm Paddle by itself is not heavy enough. The magnets allow the Palm Paddles to firmly stick to the top of the FT-817.

For PSK, rig control, and logging I have my Dell Mini netbook. I had not used the netbook in a while, so I started it up to see how it was working. I initally purchased it back in 2009 baselined with Ubuntu and have kept Ubuntu installed on it since then. After booting it up. I updated the distribution to 10.04 LTS and installed fldigi. The RIGblaster easily interfaced with the netbook via a USB connection and the headphone/microphone jacks.

I configured fldigi to work with the RIGblaster to include rig control using Hamlib:

    - Audio: PortAudio using the netbook’s hardware soundcard for both Capture and Playback
    - Rig: Hamlib; Device /dev/ttyUSB0; Baud rate 38400; Stopbits 2; PTT via Hamlib command checked

… clicked on the Initialize button and I was good to go.

Setting up the macros on flidigi is pretty straightforward with the default macros only needing slight tweaking for my personal preferemces.

Once I fired everything up all I had to do was switch to 14.070 MHz, switch the mode to DIG, and drop the input level a bit. With the narrow yellow PSK streams cascading down the waterfall, I picked one that was calling CQ and answered. Transmit worked and my home antenna provided a nice low SWR, no need for the tuner. My macros worked and the QSO was concluded successfully. All with 5 watts.

I plugged in the Palm Paddle, switched to 7.115 MHz, listened and heard nothing, then used the paddles to send QRL? a few times. SWR still looked decent. After a few CQ calls, I got an answer followed by a short QSO. Great – both PSK and CW were working FB.

Now the question is: do I want to bring my small Tokyo Hy-Power HL-100B amplifier that will raise the output to 100 watts? If I bring the amp, I will have to bring a power supply and a different tuner. I am thinking I need to be able to use two different configurations:

    (A) Beach and Buddipole: using the barefoot FT-817, running everything on batteries.
    (B) Lanai Portable: used from the hotel room, with amp and assoicated power supply.

Now it is time to go through my Buddipole bags and figure out what I need to pack.

Looks like I will be there during the Hawaii QSO Party!

Armed Forces Day Crossband Test

I had a fairly successful day participating in the Armed Forces Day Crossband Test. To recap, I am currently at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin for a brief period of time supporting a National Guard exercise. Normally when I go around to different Army units and assist in their exercises I fly. But I decided to take my Toyota Tundra on this trip and re-installed my HF rig. I have never preiously particpated in the Armed Forces Day Crossband Test and have always wanted to…. this was my chance.

The AFD Crossband Test has two components to it. The first is to receive a message from the Secretary of Defense which is transmitted in various digital modes from different military stations during the day. The second part of the Test is to make contact with the military stations with the military stations operating in their band and the amateurs in their band (hence the term “Crossband”).

For the Secretary of Defense message I hooked my Rigblaster Plug & Play to my IC-706MKIIG and brought my laptop into the truck (which has fldigi installed). The Rigblaster worked like a charm and I was able to copy the SECDEF’s message from WAR (at The Pentagon), AAZ (Fort Huachuca, AZ), and AIR-2 (New York). All these transmissions were in RTTY, which fldigi was able to read without issue. Now I need to print out copies of the messages I copied (which are the same, except the header information which reflects what station was transmitting the message) and send them in to the corresponding station. In return, I believe, I’ll receive a certificate from the SECDEF (suitable for framing, I’m sure).

The crossband contacts caused me to take a crash course in split frequency operations for my IC-706MKIIG. Fortunately I had my Nifty “Cliff Notes” version of the manual and was able to figure it out pretty quick. Although the actual execution took a bit of time to get down. First, obviously, I had to hear the station calling. MARS HQ publishes ahead of time a list of each station and the frequency that they will transmit from. I built a spreadsheet that allowed me to sort by frequency which made it easier to search for the transmitting station. The searching was done in the IC-706MKIIG’s VFO A. Once I found the station, I had to listen for them to announce the amateur frequency they were listening to… which most stations did periodically. Once I got their listening frequency, I flipped over to VFO B, dialed up the frequency, tuned the Tarheel screwdriver antenna, flipped back to VFO A, then hit the Split function, and waited for a chance to call. In the end, I was successful in contacting five different stations: WAR (at The Pentagon), NWKJ (located on the USS Yorktown, Charleston, SC), NMN0CQQ (located on the USS Midway, San Diego, CA), AAZ (good ol’ Fort Huachuca, AZ), and NWVC (a Navy MARS station in Indiana). For these contacts I get to send in my QSL card and hope for a response.

None of this was exotic DX but it was fun and exciting… and a bit challenging trying to do it all from inside my Toyota Tundra. I hope I am able to particpate again next year.

$3 AIR-2 AIR-2 MESSAGE FOLLOWS

RYRYRYRYRYRYRYRYRYRYRYRYRYRY
RYRYRYRYRYRYRYRYRYRYRYRYRYRY

DE AIR-2 AIR-2 MESSAGE FOLLOWS

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE

ARMED FORCES DAY 2012 MESSAGE

TO AMATEUR RADIO AND
MILITARY AUXILIARY RADIO SYSTEM
OPERATORS

QUOTE

FOR THE PAST SIXTY-THREE YEARS, OUR NATION HAS RECOGNIZED
THE DISTINGUISHED GLOBAL SERVICE OF OUR UNITED STATES
MILITARY DURING THE ANNUAL ARMED FORCES DAY CELEBRATION.

AMATEUR RADIO AND MILITARY AUXILIARY RADIO SYSTEM OPERATORS
PROVIDE ESSENTIAL CONTINGENCY COMMUNICATIONS TO RELIABLY SUPPORT
OUR NATIONS MILITARY AND GOVERNMENT AGENCIES. YOUR SUPPORT OF
COMMUNICATIONS BETWEEN DEPLOYED SOLDIERS, SAILORS, AIRMEN,
MARINES, SUPPORTING CIVILIANS, AND THEIR FAMILIES IS DEEPLY
APPRECIATED.

ON BEHALF OF ALL UNIFORMED SERVICES, I EXTEND MY SINCEREST
APPRECIATIMN FOR YOUR HARD WORK, SELFLESS DEDICATION, AND
VITAL SERVICE TO OUR GREAT NATION. WELL DONE!

/S/ LEON E. PANETTA

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE

UNQUOTE

APPROVED FOR TRANSMISSION,

DE AIR-2 AIR-2
SK

A little DX


I spent Saturday filling out QSL cards, stuffing them in envelopes, and putting on $0.98 worth of postage for the USPS first class international air mail rate. To make life easier I ran both the return envelopes and main envelopes through the printer to get my address on. It would be easier to get some kind of mailing label sheets, which I think I will try to find when I get home for Christmas. Any way you slice it, filling out QSL cards and getting them in the mail takes a while. Keeping me entertained during the QSL card envelope stuffing session was the Insomniac Net through my IRLP node.

Sunday I woke up early and put up my Buddipole antenna, configuring it as a dipole for 20M. Exceptional DX catches for the day were:
UN7FU – Kazakhstan
WH0/WH7C – Northern Mariana Islands
FK8GX – New Caledonia Island
CW3TD – Timoteo Dominguez Island, Uruguay

I am continually surprised by my ability to work stations in South America. I’m not sure what path I am getting the propagation from. There is no one single time of day for my South American contacts – some are in the morning, others in the afternoon.


Today was the first day using my MicroHam USB III. The device is small, just larger than a pack of cards. The radio cable, which comes with the interface, is very well shielded. I used the USB III for both CW and PSK – the device worked well in both modes. Is the MicroHam USB III better than the West Mountain Radio USB PnP RIGBlaster? From a performance standpoint, I think it does a better. With PSK streams, I was able to detect and have QSOs with much weaker signals using the USB III. The fact that the USB III has its own soundcard is a big plus.


Almost done reading A Year of DX by Bob Locher, W9KNI. Bob details his year-long run in the CQ DX Marathon. The reader gets to sit side-by-side with Bob as he uses his Elecraft K3 and DX cluster alarm to work country after country. Bob demonstrates the importance of researching the various rare entities, determining when they might become active and how best to work them. The book is divided month by month, detailing the QSO with each new entity. Between the month chapters are useful chapters concerned with amplifiers, SSB phone techniques, and an amusing Walter Mitty-esque short story themed around DX contacts. I’m enjoying the book and recommend it (…potential stocking stuffer!).

Station goals


I set a few goals back in July and thought I would take a look at my progress:

What I want to accomplish in the Kansas Shack:
- HF phone and CW operation; 80m-10m
- HF digital modes (PSK-31, RTTY, PACTOR III)
- Computer logging
- 2m FM base station
- APRS weather station, interfaced with a dedicated 2m transceiver
- Online weather page, showing current weather conditions
- Separate, organized workbench

HF phone and CW operation; 80m-10m – my HF activities are centered around my IC-7000. I would like to get the TS-930S up an operational, but I am afraid that is not in the budget at this point.

HF digital modes (PSK-31, RTTY, PACTOR III) – I am using my RIGblaster Plug & Play for digital modes… other than PACTOR III. I have not yet hooked up my SCS PTC-IIusb Modem.

Computer logging – I do have Ham Radio Deluxe loaded now, but I want to find a good linux version.

2m FM base station – currently the FT-2800M for the job. I do have some plans to move my IC-208H from the truck into the shack. That will give me a 70cm capability in addition to the 2M. The truck is getting a new rig… more on that soon.

APRS weather station, interfaced with a dedicated 2m transceiver – I am using a FT-1500 for the job, connected to UI-View32 and receiving data from the Davis VantagePro2. The problem here is that I only have the one antenna up so this limits my ability to hop on the local repeaters from the shack. I need to either get a coax switch to be able to switch between the two rigs or put another antenna up.

Online weather page, showing current weather conditions – yes indeed… I think this is working pretty nice.

Separate, organized workbench – also a success… although it seems to be too crowded with stuff. The best part is the pegboard for tools – I no longer have the problem of quickly locating the tools I need.

Overall, I am happy with the progress I have made getting the shack in shape. What I want to work on now:
- New antenna for HF
- Fix up the ARSIB
- Get the SB-200 amp working
- Transition all shack computers to Ubuntu linux

Back in the saddle

I -finally- got my HF rig working here at the Kansas QTH.

Since arriving here back in July, I’ve been super busy. School (the Army’s Command & General Staff College (CGSC)) kicked in at the beginning of August. The last formal schooling I had was eight years ago – so I was a bit rusty at getting into the swing of things (i.e. reading, reading… and more reading). I’m also taking a complementarity master’s degree program in International Relations through Webster University (two nights a week). The good news is I was able to talk the XYL into taking the master’s courses with me. The bad news is that sometimes the master’s stuff chews up more time than my school work for CGSC.

CGSC can be intense. September was packed with wall-to-wall learning, usually from 0830 to at least 1530. The schedule is starting to lighten up a bit.

Today I was able catch my breath a bit… out of class at 1130. The sun was shining, a beautiful day. I had some antenna maintenance to do. A little bit of time on the roof and the majority of my HF problems were fixed. I’m now up on HF, except for 80M. I think a little work on my counterpoise will fix that.

Back in the basement (aka The Scud Bunker) I hooked up my Icom IC-7000 to the new and improved HF antenna – bingo… all the problems I was experiencing in the past were gone. A QSO with KC2PBX, Pierre on Long Island, NY on 20M and then TI8II from Costa Rica on 17M, later with Ray, W1RAA from Tampa, FL. It felt good having some HF QSOs. I did a little more work with my station setup; hooking up the RIGtalk and RIGblaster Plug&Play. There’s more work to do and I should have time later in the week.

Other news:
- I’m switching from Windows to Ubuntu Linux. I WILL NOT UPGRADE FROM XP TO VISTA. Vista is a tool of the devil and I will have no part of it. My Toshiba laptop has been dual boot between XP and Ubuntu for a while, but had rarely been using the Ubuntu. I ordered a Dell Mini 9 (very tiny netbook) to help with school (writing papers in the library rather than goofing off in the Scud Bunker). The Dell Mini is coming with Ubuntu pre-loaded. Sweet. The next step will be setting up one of my towers as an Ubuntu server. Goodbye Microsoft.
- I’ve gone Kindle. Both the XYL and myself have the Amazon Kindle. I like it a lot better than my Sony eBook. Getting the Washington Post first thing every morning is great. The battery life is a little to be desired. The best part is that I can read KE9V’s blog right on my Kindle.

Ok – back to the books. I will get better at making frequent updates here.