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Short Takes #16: A Tale of Two Whips

By Dave Jensen, W7DGJ

In this issue of Short Takes, I will be reviewing a quick-deployment antenna from Chameleon, one referred to as a "Tactical Delta Loop." This isn't the classical delta loop as described in the amateur radio literature, as it is an "upside down" delta loop configuration, using 17' long whips in a dipole configuration along with a top wire between them. But it does offer some of the same advantages as the traditional delta loop, and I'll describe those in this issue. It can also be run as a vertical if so desired.

It's never occurred that two very similar products arrive at my door for review from companies that are clearly in the same market. That's what happened this month, with antennas from both Chameleon Antenna and Alpha Antenna arriving within a few days of each other. While they are described differently in the marketing literature, upon inspection I found them to be quite similar. While I don't have room to put the Alpha into the same article, look for an Alpha review in the near future. Both companies are known for their quality and uncompromising commitment to ham radio.

I've had mixed luck with whips, however. And now, after playing with these, I'd say that this was probably because I've been using inexpensive whip antennas out of China that were completely disposible in quality. In this case, examining the Chameleon whips, I see what real money can buy when applied to the concept of a whip antenna. (The Chameleon TDL hovers around the $400 range, depending upon your choice of accessories). Its whips are not constructed of "reinforced" stainless steel as are the less expensive eBay, Aliexpress, and Amazon units. I've found "reinforced" to be a marketing term. It means: "we've got some stainless in here, but for the most part, it's pot metal."

The first photograph shows you how I know about the strength of these Chameleon whips . . . I put the Chameleon TDL on a tripod in my front yard after I returned from a portable activation (I used an Alpha Antenna tripod, clearly the best tripod I've ever used -- sorry Chameleon). I wanted to see how it would do with a few hundred watts thrown at it as the "mini" balun can handle 500W PEP on SSB. So, after having radio fun and some nice QSO's, I went in for dinner until I heard a crash outside a moment later. I went out and found that Punkin, our 100-pound pet Tortoise, had been exploring the new object in her yard and she'd decided it was not to be trusted. She bulldozed it over, and down came hundreds of dollars worth of antenna, without one damaged section. Yeah, it's "tortoise proof!" Compare this to the $120 Chinese whip I reviewed in an earlier column, which broke upon falling five feet.

Let me describe a bit of Chameleon's history before I go into a thorough explanation of the TDL with performance from my own personal experience. I was lucky enough to meet the founder and owner of Chameleon as we both live in the same region and met up at a local watering hole.

 

 

 

 

The Chameleon Tactical Delta Loop Mini (TDL)

Carl Lavoie has seen nice sales growth over the last few years for his company. Chameleon is a brand name that has become easily recognizable to ham operators, and it is always associated with a top-grade build quality. As there's no piece of gear in the ham operator's toolkit with a closer personal connection to the designer than your antenna, it's nice to know a bit more about the why's and wherefore's of the product before going too far into the technical details.

Carl is of French Canadian heritage, and grew up being a techie with great programming experience. He spent much of his earlier career, both in Canada and the USA, in video game design working for companies with huge sellers like "World of Warcraft" and "Tom Clancy's Rainbow 6." I have a feeling he did very well there, investing in ham radio as he began to wonder (like many in the burgeoning Prepper community) about what happens when communication goes down.

This began while he was driving to work one morning in Southern California; he sat in his car as traffic slowed to a stop due to an earthquake. "It was scary, but the worst thing was that I couldn't reach anyone by cell phone. Each and every person on that freeway was trying to get on their phone and the earthquake made it impossible." 

When he begin investigating how communication might work with the classic "old school" methods, Carl became fascinated with radio. He got licensed and began building his own antennas to stick out on the balcony of his high-rise SoCal apartment. He put a few of his initial designs on eBay and Chameleon Antenna was born. Since 2007, his designs have become more and more sophisticated. Chameleon's trademark, in my opinion, has been the balun or unun, as these have always been "built to last" in his shop. My first Chameleon product, acquired a few years ago, was a sloper wire antenna with a grey bullet-shaped balun that you could literally beat with a hammer. With this CHA TDL he showed me the other day, to say that I was impressed with the 500w "Mini" balun is an understatement. It's a thing of beauty (see photo), a white Delrin and Stainless Steel device made to withstand anything you can throw at it.

"We don't make anything black any longer," Carl told me. That comment reminded me of a dipole I have with a black center connection point made out of some kind of plastic that literally melted on the wire. As Carl's company is based in the desert SouthWest, these are lessons he's learned as well.

The antenna is also supplied with two 17+ foot whips, a centerpiece that holds the whips at a 45-degree angle made out of a solid chunk of stainless steel, an overbuilt mounting stake, and a wire winder with clips and wire for the loop.

So, how was the performance in the field using dual 17+ ft. whips in an upside-down Delta Loop configuration?

The Chameleon TDL Antenna in Use

For the purposes of this article, I set up my portable table in Arizona's desert and put the Chameleon antenna 20 feet away from me on my North side and a traditional dipole 20 feet away on my South side, with both of them oriented for best performance in the same direction. I used a Daiwa antenna switch and my Xiegu G-90 with about 10 watts going into the antennas. I powered the Xiegu with the Bioenno BLF-1206A battery giving me 6-8 hours of radio play time.

My first impression was very positive, but my start-up time wasn't the four minutes I heard from a YouTuber about deployment (that was for an earlier 100-watt version of this antenna). The TDL comes with a massive stake that you pound into the ground 8 or 10" and the center mount for the balun and whips attaches to that stake (see photo). Well, as I've noted here before, Arizona is not a place with earth that is easy to "stake." Try pitching your tent in my backyard and most of your effort will be spent putting in the pegs at the corners. Anyway, after an intense 15 minutes of pounding and some lost water to soften the earth, I was able to get it 8" down. The rest of the deployment went great. How lucky you Midwestern or European hams are who can lean on a stake and have it sink right into nice, mossy earth.

Impressions

I always prefer to use a resonant antenna, but the problem with that for a POTA activation is that you may be relegated to one or two bands if you aren't using a tuner. In the case of the homemade dipole I was making comparisons with, it was a 20M wire perfectly resonant at the frequency band I was operating on for SSB. I switched between the dipole and the TDL, and noticed a lower noise floor with the Chameleon. Score one for my friend, Carl.

As I continued to work the two antennas, I noticed that the native SWR on this antenna was never worse than about 2.5 to 1, and on some frequencies much better than that. Still, that meant using a tuner would be required. I was also able to tune 30, 40, and even 80 meters with my Xiegu, although I could tell that the antenna had lost some of its efficiency at those frequencies. I do so much on 20 and 17 (and 10 when it is "hot") that this antenna will make a great antenna for my go bag.

As noted earlier, I brought it home and ran it outside on my patio (until Punkin bulldozed it). In that case, I was operating with my IC-7300 driving the Mercury LUX, at about 400-450W SSB. I was getting instant matches with my Mercury AT tuner, literally in less than a second. This indicates to me that the SWR is natively suitable for use with built-in 3-to-1 tuners (unless you're using a linear amp, of course). 

 

My signal from Scottsdale to Indianapolis, for Special Event station W9IMS at the Speedway, gave me a real 5-9 with comments about the great audio. I picked up East Coast and Caribbean stations that evening as well, all with good reports on the signal, running a few hundred watts into the TDL.

In Conclusion

The Chameleon TDL is built well, in line with other Chameleon products. I would recommend it, and others have as well, as a great go-to antenna to be used in any grab-and-go application, such as a POTA activation. I wouldn't recommend it as a permanent base antenna unless you find a way to stake it securely as the antenna will swing around with the wind. But I have no doubt that the whips and the excellent mini balun supplied would work in any climate, in any locale. It's so easily deployed, however, that a person with HOA restrictions could use it as a temporary set up any day they want to really get out on their radio.

I rate the antenna an A+ for build quality and an A for user experience, based on my experience getting that stake into the Arizona ground. We have something here called "caliche" soil, where calcium is continually added to the soil, mainly dissolved in our monsoon rains. This calcium combines with carbon dioxide and forms insoluble calcium carbonate deposits that over time builds up into a solid, sometimes massive layer. (In fact, it can be used as an ingredient in Portland cement.) Now you know why I'm not jumping up and down when it comes time to put in a new ground rod or two!

73 for now,

Dave

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Dave Jensen, W7DGJ

Dave Jensen, W7DGJ, was first licensed in 1966. Originally WN7VDY (and later WA7VDY), Dave operated on 40 and 80 meter CW with a shack that consisted primarily of Heathkit equipment. Dave loved radio so much he went off to college to study broadcasting and came out with a BS in Communications from Ohio University (Athens, OH). He worked his way through a number of audio electronics companies after graduation, including the professional microphone business for Audio-Technica.  He was later licensed as W7DGJ out of Scottsdale, Arizona, where he ran an executive recruitment practice (CareerTrax Inc.) for several decades. Jensen has published articles in magazines dealing with science and engineering. His column “Tooling Up” ran for 20 years in the website of the leading science journal, SCIENCE, and his column called “Managing Your Career” continues to be a popular read each month for the Pharmaceutical and Household Products industries in two journals published by Rodman Publishing.


Articles Written by Dave Jensen, W7DGJ

This page was last updated August 9, 2023 16:15