Saturday, October 17, 2009

SteppIR Tuning Relay

Since my 4-element SteppIR antenna was graciously erected by the WVDXA members last weekend, it was now time to build up the SteppIR Tuning Relay I had purchased long ago. The SteppIR Tuning Relay is a device that connects between the PTT line of the transceiver and the PTT input of the amplifier. SteppIR specifies no more than 200 watts be applied to the antenna while it is being tuned from one frequency to another. Doing so could damage the antenna and result in an expensive and time-consuming repair.

So, Larry Phipps, N8LP, has designed a device to detect when the SteppIR is moving and break the PTT line to the amplifier during that time. You can see all of Larry's fine products on his WEB SITE. In addition to this SteppIR Tuning Relay I also own his LP-100 Digital Vector Wattmeter which I dearly love!

After unpacking and checking all the parts I began placing them on the circuit board. This consisted of sticking the leads through the plated holes, soldering them in place and cutting off the leads. I took my time attempting to do a fine job. You can see both the underside and top side of the completed board below (click on any photo to see it larger):

The assembly went easily and took about 2 hours. Once I had all the parts mounted I double checked the placement of the diodes, relay, transistor, and I.C.'s to make sure I had made no mistake. I cleaned the excess rosin off the bottom of the board and then made the simple resistance and voltage checks. Everything checked out OK. At that point I placed the circuit board in the case and buttoned it up.

During normal operation of the SteppIR antenna, an "asterisk" blinks on and off on the SteppIR control box indicating that the antenna is tuning. That is just not enough of a warning to keep you from engaging the PTT and calling the DX especially after you have clicked on a spot which caused your rig to change bands and the SteppIR is moving to the new frequency. With the SteppIR Tuning Relay in place, I now do not worry about accidentally engaging the Alpha while the antenna is moving!

Below you can see a photo of the Tuning Relay to the right of the SteppIR control box. Note that the Asterisk is blinking on the SteppIR control box and the Red LED is lit on the Tuning Relay indicating that it has interrupted the PTT line to the linear.

In tests with the amplifier all works perfectly. Now I can comfortably interface the SteppIR controller to the computer so that the antenna will automatically change to the appropriate band when I click on a spot. That is one more step to both automating the station and assuring that the operator does not forget to change the antenna when he changes bands (like I did when I was chasing K4M!)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

W8TN's Antenna Project - SteppIR Installation

OK, we set the official date for the installation of the SteppIR 4-L yagi with the 30/40-M option for Sunday, 11 October 2009. I put out the call on the WVDXA Reflector for persons who would be willing to come and help with the operation. Several people responded that they would be there. However, I was more than a little surprised to see that TWELVE hams showed up to help. What a fantastic turnout! I did not get any photos of all 12 at the same time but here is a single shot with 9 of the guys (click on any photo to view it larger.) All photos except this first one were taken by Hal, W8HC.

There was a lot of discussion about what had to be done and then folks just started DOING stuff. I am still stuck in this wheelchair so all I could do was supervise from my hamshack door. I had stayed up until 2:30 a.m. the night before getting all the "parts" ready. Tim, KC8UHE, had taken me "shopping" on two days in the prior week to acquire all the bits and pieces we would need. We had communication over 2-M H.T.'s between those outside and myself in the shack so everyone knew what was happening.

Mike, NU8LL, aka the "Tower Man", arrived and hit the ground running. He began instructing the ground crew in how he wanted them to do everything while he was up on the tower. Safety was stressed all around and I'm proud to say no one received any sort of injury during this operation. Here some of the Ground Crew are shown pulling on the rope (well away from the base of the tower) to raise the antenna (L-R, KC8UHE, KE8V, WA8VPN, & N8RR):

In the following photos you can see the antenna as it reached the top of the tower and then after Mike, NU8LL, flipped it over and attached it to the mounting plate. The antenna is now UP. It sits atop a Rohn 45 tower at about 86-feet above ground. The hillside behind the house slops very steeply so that the base of the tower is 30-feet below the top of the hill.

The group was here for as long as TEN hours but when they left, the antenna was atop the tower and fully functional. All the fine details were attended to and the only job left is to run the coax through the PVC tubes up to the top of the hill and then through more PVC underneath the back yard and up into the shack. In the interim they thoughtfully brought the cables up to the hamshack window so that I could go ahead and put the station on the air (and I have!) Come Spring a 6-M beam will be installed above the SteppIR but in the meantime, I'm back on the air!

I should also mention that my wife, Evelyn, cooked up a large pot of homemade chili, and made a couple of pans of Brownies! That made for a wonderful meal break before the guys began pulling up the antenna.

Here is an 8-minute video that shows several scenes of the operation. The video was shot by Garry, W8OI. On the bottom row of the YouTube video below, you can click on the next to the last icon (a small rectangle inside a larger one) and it will switch to Full Screen mode. Press your ESC key to return to normal mode.

As an extra added benefit to the day, the DX'er Emeritus of the WVDXA, Bob Hall, W8QHG, was celebrating his 93rd birthday the very next day. So, unknown to Bob, the WVDXA surprised him with a Birthday Cake and a Card signed by all the club members present. He was truly surprised and I was amazed that he stayed here for 6 hours watching the installation. Here is a short video of the presentation of Bob's Card and Birthday Cake:

Below you see the beneficiary of all this work, W8TN, peering longingly out of the hamshack door. I so wished I could have been out there in the middle of all this activity.

I want to especially thank all those who were here that day:
Bob, W8QHG - Charlie, N8RR - Pete, K4OM - David, W8IW - Lonny, WA8ZDL - Dwight, KC8WDT - Garry, W8OI - Mike, KE8V - Hal, W8HC - Bob, WA8VPN - Tim, KC8UHE - And, our Tower Man, Mike, NU8LL.
I also want to thank those other members of the WVDXA who helped previously both in person and on the email reflector. It is my privilege and honor to belong to such a wonderful group of hams. It just doesn't get any better than this!

Now, Bring On the DX - I'm READY!

Friday, October 2, 2009

W8TN's Antenna Project - Phase III

A funny thing happened today. I had a mis-communication this week with Mike Null, NU8LL, about when he was going to come and do some work on the tower project. So, about 1:30 p.m. Mike called to say he was on his way to the house and was apologizing for taking so long to find all his equipment. WOAH! The last communication I had with him was me asking him how many folks he needed to help him. Somehow, I never received the email he sent me on Thursday night so I thought the work was called off due to the chance of rain today. Mike thinks he was in a bad coverage area all day yesterday and his iPhone failed to properly send the email to me due to lack of network coverage.

THANK GOODNESS Tim, KC8UHE, was off work and agreed to drop everything and come up here to help. I sure hope Tim did not miss a chance to work FT5GA because of his unselfishness!

Above you see the entire crew for today's work. Mike on the left and Tim on the right. That meant Mike was the "tower guy" and Tim was "ground crew." It also meant that Mike stood on the tower for a few hours while Tim ran up and down the hill - again, and again and again! Poor Tim, his legs must be killing him tonight.

Below you can see a close up shot of Mike in his climbing gear. Also, another shot of him on the top of the tower. I had one little "clearing" in the trees where I could see him from the hamshack. So, I shot this photo through the window in the shack. He is right at the top of the tower.

You can click on any photo to see a larger image.

Anyway, in about four hours this two-man crew accomplished the following: removed the TailTwister rotor from the tower, removed the current rotor cable, installed a new thrust bearing on the top accessory shelf, installed the M2 Orion 2800AC rotor (that puppy weighs 45 pounds!) - the installation of the bigger rotor meant the mounting holes had to be slightly enlarged so Mike had to mount and remove the rotor in order to get the holes right. They then pulled up and connected the new rotor cable, dropped the mast onto the new rotor, secured the thrust bearing and did several other small jobs associated with this rotor installation.

In addition, Tim sprayed more Roundup and cleared the brush from the guy anchor positions. I think there is one small tree that still needs to be removed and that may require Papa November's brush cutter.

On Thursday I had prepared the pigtail on the rotor with a quick disconnect connector and ran the rotor through its check out and calibration routine. While the first part of the work was being done today, I installed the mating connector on the rotor cable which was just delivered by UPS yesterday.

The good news now is once we acquire a couple of missing flat washers and some stainless steel spacers, 200-feet of PVC and a "pull box" to connect the PVC together, and some other miscellaneous items - we are READY to pull up the SteppIR! Tom, AB8RL, came by on Tuesday and went over the hill with the SteppIR controller and an MFJ-259B and confirmed that the antenna functions properly after its two-year hibernation standing beside the tower.

Pizza Hut kindly delivered a pizza for the crew at the end of their work so everyone got some calories to make up for all that were expended today. The completion of this project is getting so close that I can almost smell the finish line!