Sunday, June 27, 2021

FINALLY the 8-L 6-M InnovAntenna is UP!

8-L at 95'AGL Through the Trees on Rohn 45
This project has been a long time coming.  In July 2015 the 8-L 6-M InnovAntenna yagi arrived from Great Britain.  I had spoken to Justin Johnson, GØKSC, at the Dayton Hamvention in May and placed the order.  But it was not until August that I was able to construct it.  Check THIS Blog Post for those details.

The build took place at the QTH of my good friend, Tim, K8RRT, because he had much more available room than me.  Once the antenna was built, I raised it to about 39-feet on Tim's Rohn 45G tower to proceed with tuning the antenna.  Check THIS Blog Post for the details on the antenna tuning.

Once I had the new antenna at my QTH, I was not able to get it up on the tower immediately.  My tower is located in the woods behind my house (down over the hill.)  The base is located about 35 feet below the level of the house and it is quite difficult to get to and work around. Still, as Lance, W7GJ, was about to operate a 6-M EME DX'pedition from V6M, the Federated States of Micronesia, I felt the burning need to try and work him even if the antenna was not atop the big tower.  So as any reasonable ham would do, I erected the antenna temporarily in my front yard!  Check THIS Blog Post for the temporary installation details.  This did not please the Homeowner's Association but the really good news is that I WAS HEARD by Lance!  I was  not able to complete the QSO but still, it was 1/2 of a 6-M EME QSO in my book!

I still could not find a way to get the antenna up onto the tall tower.  It lay on the patio for the next 3 years. But in the summer of 2018 I really wanted to join in on all the DX fun (it had been 4 years since I worked a New One on the Magic Band) - and, I hoped to just maybe work a Japanese station on 50 MHz.  So, I took down the EME antennas from the short tower at the house and put up the 6-M antenna. See a photo on the Photo Link below.

In the 3 weeks the antenna was on the EME tower, I managed to work ELEVEN New Ones bringing my 6-M total to 121.  This certainly proved to me the value of this antenna.  However, it had to come down before it was damaged.  I had just "roped" it to the side of the EME tower and any windy day or a thunderstorm threatened to damage the antenna.  Still, it had proved its worth!

Move forward three more years to the present and I finally decided that I was just not going to be physically able to work on my 85-foot tower myself.  So, I contracted with a firm who has done a lot of antenna work for local hams.  I had them remove the damaged 4-L SteppIR and the 12-foot mast that supported it.  Then they pulled up the new 15-foot mast (See THIS Post for info on the new mast,) the 1-5/8" Heliax, and then pulled up the 8-L 6-M InnovAntenna to it's new location at 95-feet AGL.  

It took a week to complete this project.  You can Click HERE for Photos of this project.  Click on the "i" within the circle to read a description of each photo.  Then click on the first photo to move through all the images in a larger size.  Also, Click HERE for Video (less than 6 minutes) which is a compilation of several shorter videos shot while the antenna was being pulled up from ground level to its final resting place.

Day #1 of the project was me with my grandsons, Owen and Grant, clearing the area, putting together the sections of the beam, me breaking the balun!, and the need for me to make TWO trips up and down the hill.  WHEW!

Day #2 had Joe Beam and his crew come and remove the 4-L SteppIR antenna.  Thank goodness the grandsons, Owen and Grant were also here to help take apart that monster.  I only had to make one trip up and down the hill and don't think I had another one in me.  After accidentally breaking the balun, I followed the advice of Charlie, N8RR, and managed to re-build the balun with a new piece of coax plus using the 25 ferrite toroids from the damaged balun.  You can see the result of that re-build on the above Photo Link.

Day #3 started with "Marvin" of Joe's crew climbing and "limbing" a bunch of trees to give enough room for the antenna to go up and to later rotate.  Due to the physical exercise of the previous days, I was not able to make it outside until noon except to greet the crew upon arrival.  After the Aleve(tm) kicked in, I went out and made one more trip over the hill to help with pulling up the 8-L 6-M beam.  Owen ran the tag line and both of Joe's crew were on the tower.  Joe was at the top of the hill running the winch.  You can see a photo of the antenna on its way up on the Photo Link above.

Day #4 "Marvin" and "Paul" came to trim one more tree and to pull up the 1-5/8" Heliax.  It was a "Good News - Bad News" kind of day.

My Grandson Owen and I rolled out the 190-feet (or so) of 1-5/8" Heliax with "Paul" from Joe Beam's crew holding the end which had the 7/16" DIN connector which Tim and I had installed.  Click HERE for details on that.  This would be the end at the top of the tower.  We had to use nearly all the neighbor's yard clear to the street for the cable to unroll the entire length of cable.

Right away Paul hooked up the pull rope and using the winch, pulled the Heliax up to the top of the tower.  "Marvin" was up on the tower to secure the cable.  This went VERY fast!  I can not imagine trying to haul this cable up by hand.  It weighs 0.72 pounds per foot so the 140-feet or so that we used today weighs about 100 pounds.

At this point Paul went up the tower to attach the "hangers" to secure the Heliax to the tower plus carry the weight of that cable.  Marvin started climbing a tree that had to be cut back and began working on that.  Owen took off to the doctor because he picked up a serious case of poison ivy or poison oak when he was here on Day #3.  He ended up with a steroid shot and is feeling somewhat better.

I then began installing the female N-Connector on the 1/2-inch Heliax which runs under the back yard and into the shack.  Just to make sure this system would play, I put a small amount of my blood onto my work!  Before I finished that connector, my grandson, Grant, showed up and he helped me saw off about 42 feet of the 1-5/8-inch Heliax which was surplus to this installation and then helped me use the Commscope-Andrew Easiax Automated Prep Tool (CPT-158U) to prepare this big feedline for the connector installation.  That went quite well and the big Heliax now has a 7/16" DIN connector on the shack end as well as the antenna end.
At this point, Joe Beam showed up just as his crew was finishing and packing up.  Grant left to go do other things.  After Joe and his crew left, I finished the connector installation on the 1/2-inch Heliax and connected the 1/2" to the 1-5/8" cables with a 10-foot jumper of 1/2" SureFlex Heliax with an N-Male on one end and a 7/16" DIN Male on the other.  

I then taped Ziploc bags over each of the connector joints - just in case.  As it turned out, as I was picking up my tools, it started to rain!  Not a lot but it was enough to make me glad I had covered my butt so to speak.  I will apply a more permanent weatherproofing solution to those joints at a later time.

I quickly hooked up the new antenna and did an SWR check.  Things looked REALLY good.  Remember my antenna was tuned for the low end of the band for SSB and CW but my tuner will adjust the SWR at 50.313 to 1:1 so, no worries!

Logger32 Beam Heading
50.100   1.1:1
50.150   1.2:1
50.200   1.3:1
50.250   1.3:1
50.300   1.4:1

Now here is where the Bad News comes in. Just after checking out the SWR, I found my rotor did not rotate.  That was a huge BUMMER!  I was trying to hear the K8MMM beacon and went to rotate the antenna a little to the West and the rotor controller gave me an "E 1" error message.  At this point I called it quits for the day.  But when I came back later, I found that the rotor would rotate just fine in the ClockWise direction but not at all in the CCW direction.  Possibly that was just an issue with the CW wire between the controller and the rotor.  I also found that I had picked up two ticks on my left leg.  Thankfully neither one infected me with any "tick-borne" diseases.

On Monday, "Paul" came to help figure out the rotor issue.  He climbed the tower checking the rotor cable as he went and found no problems.  Where the cable attaches to the pigtail coming out of the rotor I had used a pair of "Trailer Plugs."  Paul found some corrosion there and by plugging/unplugging the connections plus a little cleaning of the pins, the rotor now turns just fine.  As you can see in the image on the right, my M2 Orion RC2800PX rotor controller interfaces just fine with Logger32 to tell me where the antenna is pointed and to allow me to quickly and easily rotate the antenna.  Click HERE for a 20-second video of this feature in action.

I think this installation will play very well.  There is approximately 262-feet of feedline from the antenna to the radio including all jumpers.  The combination of 1-5/8" and 1/2" Heliax pieces should result in a total feedline loss of 1.35 dB which includes an allowance of 0.50 dB loss for 10 connectors (0.05 dB per connector.)

On June 26, 2021, just 5 days after installing the antenna the above station was decoded. This 9K2NO (Kuwait) entity would be a New One for me (No. 124 on 6-M) but propagation did not last long enough for a QSO.  I think at this point I will say this antenna project was definitely worth the effort!  Bring on the 6-M DX!!

Saturday, June 5, 2021

1-5/8" Heliax Feedline & Mast for 6-M Beam Installation

Progress continues to be made on the 2021 Antenna Project to put the 8-L InnovAntennas 6-M yagi (11.7m, or 38.4-foot boom) up on top of my 85-foot tower.  

On May 24, 2021, Grandson Owen drove me to Metals Depot in Winchester, KY, with a trailer, to pick up the new mast - a 15-foot length of 1-1/2" Schedule 80, A500 Uncoated Steel Pipe, 1.90" O.D. x .200" wall x 1.50" I.D. (T511280 Structural Steel Pipe.)  I had to go with this 1.9" O.D. pipe over a 2-inch O.D. mast because of the size of the top section of my tower.  On the right you can see the photo of the new mast on the trailer.  The inset shows a close-up of the end of the mast.  To prevent the mast from rusting, grandsons Owen and Grant have sanded, primed and painted the mast as it was uncoated when I bought it.  (Click on any photo to see a larger image.)

Thankfully a few years ago I had acquired a length of used 1-5/8” Heliax cable (Commscope-Andrew AVA7-50) which had been removed from a cellphone tower.  Click HERE to see a photo of the Grandsons (Owen & Grant) helping me bring the cable home.  (Yes, they were MUCH younger then!)

The next job was to install connectors on the 1-5/8" Heliax.  These connectors are 7/16 DIN female and each connector is 4 x 2-1/2 inches and weighs 1.7 pounds!  Not your typical PL-259.  You can see an image of one of those connectors on the left.  I had worried about how to install these and recently found that Commscope-Andrew makes a special tool to do this.  Click HERE to see a video of this tool (CPT-158U) in operation.  It is just amazing to me to see how simple it is to use this tool.  After watching that video I decided I just "had" to have that tool for this project.  I found it on eBay (new) for $85 so that was purchased.

Then on June 1, 2021, Tim, K8RRT, came to help me install the first connector.  This will be on the end of the cable that is at the top of the tower.  Once the cable is installed and unrolled to the top of the hill, it will be cut to length and the other connector installed.

On the right you can see me working on prepping the cable to install the 7/16 DIN connector.  Note the red-bordered inset - this is what happens when you fail to wear your gloves!  But, this is a GOOD thing.  As amateur radio lore goes, an antenna will just not work right unless you bleed on it!

I can attest that this method (using the Commscope-Andrew Easiax Automated Prep Tool) is totally the berries!  I have installed connectors many times on 1/2-inch and 7/8-inch Heliax over the last 30+ years and this method beats the dickens out of the old methods!  Cut the Heliax off flush, run the Easiax tool (chucked in a power drill) for 5-10 seconds to remove the outer conductor and trim everything else to size.  Then, use the plastic separator tool to separate the foam from the outer conductor, put the two parts of the connector on the cable, and tighten!  DONE!  You can see the installed connector on the left.

Why did I choose to use such large feedline?  Since the feedpoint of the 6-M beam will be 272-feet from the transceiver/amplifier, I need to minimize the loss in that length of feedline.  For the entire 6-M feedline I will use 46-feet of M&P HYPERFLEX 13/.500" cable to connect the antenna balun to the top of the 1-5/8" Heliax.  Then I will run the Heliax down the side of the tower and up to the top of the hill where my shack is located.  This should take 150-feet of the Heliax.  A 10-foot jumper of 1/2" SureFlex Heliax will connect the 1-5/8" Heliax to the 63-feet of  1/2" Heliax (LDF4-50A) that runs under the back yard, under the house and up to the shack.  A 3-foot jumper of the M&P HYPERFLEX 13/.500" will connect to the amplifier.  

By using these low-loss cables, and taking into account the loss in all the connectors, the loss in 272-feet of feedline should be only 1.36 dB.  Were I to use Belden 8267 (RG-213) cable (an excellent cable), my feedline loss would have increased to 3.95 dB.  Putting 1,500-watts into the Belden RG-213 would result in only 605 watts reaching the antenna.  900-watts would be lost.  By using the above Heliax feedline, the same 1,500-watts at the amplifier would result in 1,097 watts reaching the antenna.  That's an extra 492 watts or 81% increase in power transfer over using the Belden RG-213.  AND, a reciprocal improvement will be seen on received signals.

The next issue was to see if the current antenna rotor would work.  Since the SteppIR antenna had failed some years ago, I disconnected the rotor in order to protect it. This rotor is an M2 Orion 2800 with the RC2800PX controller.  You can see an image of the controller on the right.

First I fished out from behind the operating desk the pigtail from the rotor control box.  It ended in an 8-pin trailer connector and I plugged that trailer connector pigtail into the mating trailer connector on the lightning arrester.  Then I powered on the rotor.  No joy!  I had no directional indication and when I tried to rotate it, I got an "error" message.  Crap!  So, out came the manual and I started to troubleshoot the problem.

Finally, after wasting a couple of hours on the troubleshooting issue, it became aware of the fact that the lightning arrester was not connected to ANYTHING!  The cable to the rotor on the tower WAS NOT CONNECTED to the lightning arrester.  Boy, does that make me feel STUPID!

Now that I knew the issue, I began trying to hook up the rotor cable.  But, I had to now figure out which wire in the rotor cable went to which pin in the lightning arrester.  Rather than destroy a $3,000 rotor, I took my time and triple (or more times) checked my work.  You see, there are 8 wires in the cable going to the rotor.  The first problem was that the colors of those wires do not agree with the manual's "Getting Started" section.  Then I saw that the wires in the rotor cable (which is then connected to a lightning arrester and then connected to an 8-pin Trailer Connector), had even DIFFERENT colors of wire.  The mating trailer connector is then wired to the control box - WITH DIFFERENT COLORS OF WIRE!  What a "cluster" that is!

After I eventually resolved the color code problem, I still did resistance checks on the wire to the rotor JUST TO MAKE SURE I did not fry something. Once I was ready, I turned the antenna 30° and ran over to the window to see that it had indeed moved the antenna.   IT'S ALIVE !!!  WHEW!  What a relief.  Then I moved it back and it rotated the other way.  After working for literally HOURS to get the correct wires connected, my rotor now turns the antenna!  YIPPEE!!!  The problem was that while I HAD made notes of the wires color code when it was installed, my notes were confusing after so many years. It turns out that my notes were correct (color to color.)  If I had just added a little bit of a description, then things would have been so much simpler.  Nevertheless, I can now check off "one more thing" that needed to be done on this project.  Forward, ever forward!