FT818

I now have an FT818 as well as the FT817 so I have been rearranging stuff yet again. The FT817 was destined to be used portable but will now be a shack fixture – it has 2m and 70cm which is lacking since I sold the two transverters. The FT818 will be paired with the LDG Z817 autotunes and I will put together some wire and stuff to go portable. Both rigs came with the internal battery packs and together there is now a car charger, two mains chargers (one converted to power pole connectors) and a couple of leads that are of no use now with the power pole adapters being fitted to both rigs. There are lots of ideas floating about on using better battery packs or external batteries which I will have a think about. Given my ‘portable’ use initially is more likely to be in holiday accommodation there will be mains available.

So, having decided the FT817 is to become a fitment I have connected its Signalink to the Linux box along with the one already attached to the FT450D. Wsjt-x has this though out nicely through the ability to have multiple configurations. I’d never want to run two copies of wsjt-x for the two rigs at the same time so this works well. The documentation explains it but basically it’s a matter of selecting Configuration and cloning the current one, choosing names for each (I just used the rig names), and then selecting the second Signalink and rig details in the cloned configuration. All seems to work fine, the only thing that initially caught me out is that when one selects a configuration wsjt-x closes and reopens – I thought it had crashed.

I only run the radio at 2.5W but I do have a 2m linear to play with at some stage. It always surprises me how far 2.5W and the loft mounted big wheel will get on 2m.

This means my current configuration – digital wise anyway – is the FT817 and FT450D are connected to the Linux box via their Signalinks and CAT cables but the FT450D Signalink and CAT control can also be switched across to the Windows PC where I have Vara and VarAC installed. And a mess of wire…

Non-functional leads

I had a patch lead, about 1m long, PL259 to BNC from the tuner to the patch panel. It’s been fine since I made the thing weeks ago. Today, halfway through an FT8 exchange it decided it no longer wanted to be at all functional. I wondered why the ALC on the FT450D had suddenly gone to max then I noticed the flashing antenna symbol! Fortunately the rig reduces power if the SWR goes mad.

Typical.

More stuff to fiddle with

Armed with the LF converter I have been experimenting with antennas for the low side of things. There is far too much electronic hash in the house for any hope of receiving things so I now have a couple of antenna options to try outdoors. Given the radios are all upstairs and there is no easy cable route to the workshop where the antennas can go this means a remote SDR. There is already Ethernet in the garage where the QO100 transceiver was so experiments can begin.

Anyway, here are the new fiddleables… an IP35 mini whip from eBay seller radio.el32 complete with bias tee:

This comes as the two PCBs – antenna and bias tee – plus 3 BNC sockets. The metal box was sourced from eBay and the waterproof plastic housing from Amazon. It’s a lot bigger than is needed but should be fine.

And a ‘loop antenna amplifier’ (LAA++) and bias tee from Cross Country Wireless:

All being well the first test will be of the IP35 antenna once mounted on a wooden pole. The LAA++ will take me a little longer as I need to make a loop for it.

FT817++

Getting closer to being portable – not that I go anywhere! I now have an LDG Z817 automatic tuner. It seems to be working fine although it arrived with dead batteries, one of which had leaked a bit. That cleaned up ok and it now sports a set of Energizer Max batteries (ok, I had a box…)

Having run up FT8 on the Mac 40m was packed but I did manage a contact with an EA station on 80m with 2.5W via the random bit of wire in the loft.

Note to self: remember there are batteries in it!

Going down…

My vision, if I even have such a thing is constantly going up in frequency. I am (still!) assembling various bits of microwave gear currently aiming at 10GHz. (EME would be nice, but, baby steps…). Lower frequencies are also interesting me and to that aim I now have a VLF converter which takes 50-500kHz and makes 4.0 to 4.5MHz. After throwing a bit of wire out the window I can pick up Radio 4 – which, of course I can do on just about any old thing (!) but it proves it works. Hopefully this will put SAQ on my radar, but more importantly the 136kHz and 472kHz bands – receive only for now.

The bit of random wire was particularly useless of course, but sufficient to pick out speech on 198kHz.

Twice FT8

Having two radios, two SignaLinks and multiple computers I figured why not spread a little… so here’s 4m FT8 from the FT450D and transverter plus 2m FT8 from the FT817. Well, it would be rude not to use both together…

Mind you, the poor old i7 MacBook Pro does seem to have a whinge if I dare do something else at the same time – it seems to temporarily forget the USB and gives a rig control error. On the other hand it is quite convenient to have the Mac set up as now because it is always on and I can very quickly get onto 2m FT8 (or indeed 70cm FT8 but my best QSO so far has been all of 7km!)

70cm FT8

My first FT8 on 70cm. Only 25km, but still a first for me. No reply sadly, so no QSO this time. At the time I sent a few CQs while watching pskreporter and seeing nothing. I checked this morning just out of interest and there was this one reception report.

This was via the FT817 and 2.5W into a 70cm big wheel, which isn’t at all big at that frequency! I had only just installed it which itself was a bit of a comedy of errors. I had some M&P cable ready for it but just never got round to making it up, so soldering iron out, BNC at the shack end, cable pushed through the hole in the ceiling, N male at the antenna end. The centre pin fell out! So, picture me managing to pull the loft end of the cable back down the ladder and across there landing floor to the shack (hard enough feeding the cable through the hole so I really didn’t want to have to pull it put again!), supporting it with my knee, soldering iron at maximum reach and more heat… the NanoVNA showed the SWR to be just right where it needed to be so all was well. And clearly too much cable to be able to do that maneuver! But it reminds me I really do need to sort my coax feeds out, and sort out the ceiling hole by fitting some trunking.

Edit: I did manage one QSO later on, at just 7km. But hey, it’s my first on 70cm FT8.

VARA HF and VarAC and USB fiddling

I had heard of VARA HF but not done anything about it because the Windows machine is not connected to the HF rig. That was cured yesterday by something I should have got ages ago – a USB switch. This switch has two USB connections aimed at connection to two PCs, and then four USB sockets for devices. So the SignalLink and the USB adapter for CAT control are now plugged into this switch which shares these between the Linux and Windows PCs. It all seems to work fine with USB devices connecting and disconnecting and, fortunately for Windows anyway appearing in the same place. It took me a whole to figure out that the CAT control, ends up as COM6 on the Windows box but so far it has not decided to change when reconnected.

Now the Windows box can see the FT450D I tried WSJT-X – no issues there, and it provided a good end to end test. I downloaded VarAC and the VARA HF modem. Installation went fine and almost straight away it decoded a beacon on 14.105. Since then it has been decoding numerous other beacons and a few CQ calls but I have yet to answer one. No time right now and I don’t want to use this for short FT8-like overs. I did send a few beacons and pskreporter showed that I am being received. Nice.

I have yet to get CAT working though. I don’t know what the issue is there as everything is set the way it should be so I am tuning the rig by hand until then. PTT is via the SignaLink which will do vox so tx works anyway. (Update: CAT now works fine – I had not set RTS and DTR to High in the CAT Configuration section despite it being that way in the pics in the documentation…)

And there is an issue I missed at first – VarAC plays sounds on events so the right would occasionally transmit for a bit of a second – Settings -> Appearance and Sounds and unchecking ‘Play application sounds (…)’ sorted that out.

I did notice one thing though. When I turn the Linux machine on it is generating noise on 20m. The Linux and Windows machines are essentially identical so something is causing pickup. I’ll need to unwind all the cables and add ferrites – a useful indication hopefully easily fixed. There are now far too many cables and all in a mess!

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