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VK2AAF Australia flag Australia

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Australia Day & ANZAC Day callsign is AX2AAF. If you worked me on either Australia Day or ANZAC Day and would like a special QSL with that callsign, please ask via email & I will make some up to send to you. :)

Please QSL via eQSL. Will send paper QSL card on receipt of your paper QSL. No need to send postage/green stamps/IRCs.

[QSL card trivia- because I've been asked several times now... Yes, I shot the photo. It's one of a series taken on 31 July 2011 in my 'back yard,' which actually is a part of the UN World Heritage listed Blue Mountains National Park just beyond my back gate. Early recipients of this QSL card will notice the birds are identified as 'Red-tailed Black Cockatoos.' A local birder corrected me- they are actually Glossy Black Cockatoos, which are classified as 'rare and endangered' in Australia. GBCs are lot rarer than RTBCs due to the GBCs' fussy diet- they will only eat seeds of the allocasuarina tree. Allocasuarinas are under pressure from human activity and bushfires. I've seen these characters only once since I've lived in the Blue Mountains beginning in 2006. Lucky photo op!]

I've been a ham since 1976. My first Novice callsign was WN8NWU, issued when I was 14 years old and living in Ohio, USA. I struggled with CW but managed to pass the 5WPM element. My family moved to Indiana in 1977. I passed Element 3 in Indianapolis and got the Technician class ticket with the callsign WD9GYO. I hadn't a hope of passing 13wpm code, my main interests were V/UHF and was mainly an apartment dweller, where HF antennas are pretty much impossible, so I've remained at Tech class for all these years.

In 1994, the CW requirement was dropped for the Technician class, so my license was grandfathered to 'Technician Plus (code)" class. The FCC restructured Amateur licensing in 2000, reducing the number of classes to 3; Technician, General and Extra. Having passed Element 3 before March 1987, my Technician (Plus) ticket was eligible to be grandfathered to General. I finally found confirmation of my pre-March 1987 Technician Class license in March 2017 and got the General Class upgrade granted. 

I used to be quite active on 2m & 70cm in Indiana, chasing tornadoes for the National Weather Service and providing emergency communications in the aftermath of severe weather. I very much enjoyed the public service aspect of Amateur Radio. I've lived in the lovely and rugged Blue Mountains of NSW since 2006, where bushwalkers have a habit of going missing. A bloke went missing up around Leura back in July 2013 and WICEN put out a call for hams to help in the search. Still had some 2m/70cm gear in a drawer but had not applied for my VK reciprocal ticket- so I felt kinda useless.

I dropped in on the Blue Mountains Amateur Radio Club for their August meeting at the club shack at Glenbrook. Great bunch of blokes. They put me on the path to apply for a callsign with WIA and lodge an apparatus license application with ACMA.

A 1949 QSL card from the 1st known holder of VK2AAF, Des Kelly of Parkes NSW

WIA recommended a recycled callsign, VK2AAF. The 1949 QSL card above descibes a QSO between the first known user of VK2AAF, Des Kelly of Parkes, and W5EFC on 20m AM with a homebrewed 6V6 & 807 transmitter putting 30 watts into a 1/2 wave folded dipole- bet that was a challenge! ACMA issued my Advanced apparatus license on 29 August 2013. So here we are!

I've recently laid my paws on a very old (1985) but super-tidy Icom IC-735.

Mint condition IC-735, vintage 1985.

The trusty old critter was a great rig for re-entry into amateur radio after a 17 year absence. However, it developed a habit of jumping +15Hz or -160Hz unexpectedly; this turned out to be caused by some plastic bodied trimmer caps in the PLL/VCO which perish with age, for which Icom has published a Tech Bulletin, indicating ceramic caps to be used to solve the problem. Upgrading the caps did sort the problem but the new caps needed to be 'exercised' a bit before they would work properly. In a small fit of panic, I found a cherry 2nd hand IC-718, which is now the main station HF rig. The 735 has been passed on to a new ham who is enjoying it very much. 

The 718 is rock-steady even when run hard & hot on digital modes. Drift is about 1-3Hz tops. Have since found a copy of the UT-106 DSP module for the 718, which I recommend highly. Makes SSB work on thunderstormy nights on 80m easy, where it was a real chore with the 735's notch & IF shift and manipulation of RF gain to mitigate noise. The 718's noise blanker, automatic noise filter & DSP combine to make QSOs enjoyable even in marginal conditions. 

I've also found a very tidy Icom IC-208H for 2m & 70cm. With 50W on 70cm & 55W on 2m, it's quite the little powerhouse! A Yaesu FT-79000R joined the menagerie in August 2015, with the intention of going mobile.

UPDATE: The FT7900R/E has found its way into the 1987 Hilux. I mounted the control head on a microphone gooseneck with desk mount flanges fitted to both ends. The control head cable is threaded through the gooseneck and hidden under the carpet on its way to the radio unit.

Four 3/32" brazing rods inserted through the inside of the gooseneck make it stiffer so it doesn't sway around when rounding corners, yet leaves the gooseneck malleable enough that it can be moved around to suit operator or passenger comfort as required. The radio unit is mounted to the floor under the passenger seat. A remote speaker is mounted to the upper back of the cab behind the driver's head so it can still be heard when driving this aircon-free antique with the windows open, as is required in summer.

All up, makes for a tidy and useful installation. 

The antenna is a Diamond NR770HB 2/70 collinear, which is just over a metre tall, mounted on the 1.5m tall cab rooftop. This is a bit tall to enter most garages without the radiator banging on garage ceilings. This is solved by mounting the NR770 on a Diamond K9000 motorised mount which flops the antenna down at the press of a button for easy parking in my home garage or in shopping centre garages. 

Works a treat!

Back to the history of the V/UHF base installation.... 

A quickie 1/4 wave ground plane fashioned from copper-plated steel TIG welding rod & an SO-239 connector is surprisingly effective on both bands (functions as 3/4 wave on 70cm). The TIG rod version worked for a while but the copper plating on MIG rod isn't very thick and the elements went to rust in a couple of months. The antenna was rebuilt with 3mm brazing rod, which survived the weather much better.

The homebrew 1/4 wave GP served very well for almost a year, but a Diamond X200A in reasonably good condition (for 7-8 years in the weather) came available 2nd hand for very cheap- $50 ain't bad when they're $230 new! The X200 bumped the homebrew antenna out of its temporary mounting position on a vent pipe. The X200 will be on the top of the 3.5m mast pipe when the 10m tower goes up. The homebrew brazing rod ground plane was bequeathed to a local new Foundation class licensee.

The 600m elevation of my QTH is fantastic for V/UHF operation. I'm able to work repeaters from Newcastle to Wollongong with the thumping 55W on VHF from the 208. All Sydney 2m & 70cm repeaters hear me at full quieting with 5W. The X200A makes contacts possible on the 147.100 Cabbage Tree Mountain repeater, 225km to the NE. 15W will key it up but I need all 55W to carry on a QSO.

I can work the VK2WI 147.000 reperter with my rustic, dusty, yet trusty IC2AT on 1/2 watt low power level, strictly handheld with the rubber duck antenna. It's 52km (32.3 miles) from my QTH to VK2RWI, but the old 2AT makes it full quieting- says a lot about the great antenna & receiver at Dural! Many thanks to BMARC for the BC-35 drop-in charger, which they gave to me for free at the November meeting at Glenbrook. It was in a box of junk which was about to be turfed out (and it worked A1, to boot!). The charger had been in use with the Rural Fire Service for about 30 years before they retired it 5 years ago- you just can't beat Icom durability!

The 2000 foot high perch seems to have a pretty good takeoff for HF as well, since I've been able to work Spain, Puerto Rico, Easter Island and Wake Island on 80, 40 & 20m recently.

Recently scored a 2nd hand 10m tower on the super-cheap ($50!) and am now puzzling through the complexities of mounting it to the solid bedrock I affectionately refer to as a back yard.

What it looked like in the last place it lived...

It's only resting. Luvly plumage.

...and what it looks like now.

The biggest problem with putting up the tower is it has to be set into solid rock. It also had its legs cut off and left in the ground at its previous home. So, I fabricated new legs out of 6mm thick 50x50mm galvanised angle stock with some cleats added to assure they'd bite into the grout...

Got some 150mm dia holes bored 500mm deep into the sandstone bedrock...

And grouted them in with structural grout that expands when it sets. Ain't going anywhere. 

There will be some rebar sections laid across the rebar connecting the legs together with concrete to be poured over top of that. We've had a long weather delay due to extended wet conditions preventing pouring concrete, though. Also planning on routing cables to the house through 40mm galvanised pipes. Once all that's done, we can stack it up!

Once the tower is again upright, a recently acquired and very 2nd-hand Chirnside 10/15/20m trap tribander (pictured in its last installation)...

goes up, along with the Diamond X200 on the tip-top of the mast pipe.

Pictured above is my 80/40(15)/20m fan dipole with coil loading on the 80m section, designed per the K7MEM short dipole calculator so it would fit into the 29 metres available between the homebrew dipole masts. It's proving effective on all 4 bands, despite the 80m portion being a bit limited in bandwidth. The 2:1 VSWR bandwidth on 80m is just 100kHz but my AT-150 auto tuner allows me to use it on 3500-3700 with no trouble. The VSWR is a bit too high to use the 80m DX window (3776-3800 in VK) with the AT-150 tuner; still investigating ways around that problem.

I'm trying to catch up on operating all the new digital modes that have popped up in my absence from the hobby. The IC-735 was one of the first radios that allowed any kind of control with a computer, but as such, doesn't allow much control. You can pretty much only change frequencies and modulation modes via the data connection. So, to operate the PTT line, I had to cook up an interface. Ham Radio Deluxe can toggle the DTR line on a serial port, but my only serial port on my desktop box is constantly connected to the data port on my solar PV inverter to monitor output. The only option was USB. I found a super cheap ($1 on eBay) USB to TTL module based on the Prolific PL2303HX chip to get me started. The DTR pin on this chip goes low when active and I needed to operate a micro reed relay to pull the PTT line on the IC-735 to ground. I cookbooked a circuit that uses a PNP transistor to energise the relay coil, as shown:

The 1N4007 diode is necessary to absorb the back-EMF spike which occurs when the relay is de-energised else it would trash the transistor. I found in early testing that there was some sort of ground loop between the PC & radio ground potentials which prevented the PTT circuit from operating properly, so I had to isolate the respective chassis by use of a couple of cheap audio transformers in the TX & RX audio lines. The whole schlemozzle looks like this:

Only thing I'd have done differently would have been to remove the chip LEDs from the USB-TTL board. They're not visible inside the plastic project box and serve only to draw current from the PC's USB line. However, it works like a charm- and I think I have a little under $15 in it, which is pretty good considering commercial products which do the same job like SignaLink cost about $160 from local ham radio supply shops.

I check in to as many weekly nets as I can. I am occasionally on the VK2WI Sunday evening net at 7:30pm local time, calling back on 1845kHz (when conditions permit), 3595kHz, 7146kHz and on the VK2RWI repeaters on 147.000MHz and 438.525MHz. I am net control for the Blue Mountains Amateur Radio Club's 8pm Tuesday evening 80m net on 3545kHz and am often on the BMARC 8pm Wednesday 2 metre net on the 147.05 Lawson repeater. I'm also the Repeater Manager for the Blue Mountains Amateur Radio Club, maintaining the 2m, 70cm & 6m VK2RBM repeaters.

I've found that as net control on the 80m BMARC net, conditions are often poor, especially in summer, with loads of lightning activity in eastern Australia. If propagation is good, storms 800km away will cause serious disruption to the net. So, I figured a bit of power might be helpful. The SSB power limit for the top Advanced Class licence in Australia is only 400W PEP. I put some feelers out in the club and found an Ameritron AL811 amp, rated 600W PEP all day. Bought that and used it for several weeks...

...and it worked great. Pounds out the power and at a reasonably good price. However, tuning up a tube amp is fiddly & time consuming- and you can forget about fast QSY if you want to do some contesting. 

What I really wanted is something of a unicorn in Australia. The 500W class Icom IC-2KL is highly sought after despite having been made only for a few years in the 1980s. After about 4 years of searching, I finally found one in good nick with the matching IC-LPS 40V power supply and an AT-500 automatic antenna tuner. I'd had an AT-150 for a while, which was totally brilliant with the IC735 and the IC718 which replaced the 735 after it had been in the shack for a couple of years. The AT-500 is all that and more. Quieter, faster & no need to transmit a signal for it to tune up. Just QSY & bang, the AT-500 does the rest by itself in about 9 seconds. 

The 2KL is no junior-level Icom amp. It makes constant, reliable, clean output all day long at Australian legal limit 400W PEP and if driven hard, will bang 1kW PEP into a dummy load. The IC-2KL & IC-LPS supply cooling systems are more than adequate to keep everything under control even when being worked hard.

Very well suited to Australian power limit conditions with all the features of the bigger Icom amps. Instant QSY with nothing to do but watch it work. 

I am a bit handy mechanically and can MIG, TIG & stick weld mild steel. If you're in the Blue Mountains area and need some steel welded, drop me a note and I'll see if I can help!

See you on the air!

73 de Brian VK2AAF/WD9GYO


8095207 Last modified: 2017-05-14 14:56:51, 19059 bytes

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