Thoughts on QRP/Portable Operating
2020-03-26 Since taking the x5105 to the back yard yesterday I've been thinking about what I might do to make the G90 more portable friendly. The shape, orientation and size of the x5105 make it ideal for portable. It sits easily at a convenient angle on a rock or the ground or a park bench so you can see it and get at all it's controls. On the other hand, the G90 is long and thin with the controls on the end. It is hard to place it so you can see the front panel when you are using it on anything other than a table, and even there if it is much below eye level it is inconvenient. It does have a removable control head which could solve that problem if it had legs or some sort of stand that would hold it at a somewhat upward aiming attitude.
So today I decided to remove the control head and see what I could rig up. The photos below show the result. Built from thin plywood left over from my RC plane building hobby it holds the control head at an angle and allows room for connecting the control head cable. I haven't tried it "in the wild" but I'm hoping it will work OK. It does add to the bulk of the rig but you can't have everything! Now for a nice day to try it out.
A Back Yard Portable Outing!
2020-03-25 I've been itching to set up outside after being "trapped" by winter for a while. Yes, I've been playing with antennas off and on throughout the winter but its different when your rig is inside! There is less magic or mystique or something than when you take the whole kit and caboodle out back. But I'm not very adventurous and so doing that when it is below freezing is not fun! I did do it for Winter Field Day, which was fun, but that was different! Today the temperature rose to near 60, so this was the day.
My plan was to go to a nearby state park and do a POTA activation. But after dreaming about that all night it seemed less desirable this morning. So I convinced myself that the smart thing was to take the kit to the back yard and set it up just as I would at a park. I had my bag with the xiegu x5105, key, cables and mic. I also had a note pad to keep a log and a couple pens. The kit included my 29' end fed antenna based on the QRPGuys 9:1 unun, some 1/8th inch bunge cords and cord locks and one of my collapsible fiberglass fishing poles with guy ropes and tent pegs. Finally I had a 25 foot piece of RG-174 coax with BNCs on both ends to connect the antenna and radio. When I left the house I purposed to NOT come back in to get anything. But I broke my vow and came back in for my bag containing a throw line and weight. That is now on my checklist!
There is a tree behind the house that is in just the right place so I tossed the throw line over a branch and tied the end of the antenna to a temporary loop I made in the line. I let the weight hang down to provide the tension for the antenna. After surveying the situation, a simple way to attach the wire winder/balun came to me. So I simply wedged it in a gap between a couple of the huge rocks that line the back of our yard. Now all that was left was to connect the coax, turn on the radio and have a go.
Forty meters was live with strong signals. Twenty meters wasn't far behind. And almost immediately a station in Louisiana began calling CQ SKCC. He was 599+ so I answered his call. He came right back and we had a very nice ten minute QSO. 599 both ways, he running 500 watts to a quad and I, 5 watts to my 29ft sloping wire.
After we finished I flipped over to 20 meters Another 599 station was calling CQ SKCC so I answered him. He didn't hear me though I called many times. Confusing. I want back to 40 meters. There, was a guy from Texas calling CQ SKCC so I answered him. Our 599 QSO was shorter but absolutely solid again. But once again I couldn't raise anyone on 20 meters. And then signals began to fade and disappear.
After a while I gave up, packed up and came inside. I had been out there for a couple hours and had about all the vitamin D I could handle for our first warm day of Spring! My conclusion is that it works! And as usual, propagation is everything, particularly with 5 watts and a short antenna. And it is fun. Kind of sorry I didn't just go do that POTA activation!
2019-08-07 About 6:00AM this morning a friend called to go fishing at Lake La Grange in the Kettle Moraine Southern Unit area in SE Wisconsin. I'm NOT into fishing so my inclination was to look for a way to say thanks but no thanks. Then my wife intervened and suggested I should go along since Mike and I are good friends. So, I hastily threw my xiegu x5105 and Wolf River Coils antenna in a bag, filled a couple water bottles, grabbed some snacks and headed out. It was a half hour drive followed by about a half hour of hiking along the Ice Aged Trail to the lake. As the photo shows, the lake is really beautiful. We were blessed with a shady spot and a nice strong breeze so no mosquitoes or other pesky bugs bothered us.
Mike got unpacked and got his fishing gear ready and I did the same with my rig and antenna. He made the first catch, a nice little bass. Then I got mine, a 20 meter contact with a guy doing a SOTA activation on Pikes Peak in Colorado. Mike went on to catch two more fish and I made two more contacts before we packed up and headed back home. It was my first "real" portable, somewhat remote operating experience. The small package, consisting of the self powered x5105 and the quite compact and easy to erect Wolf River Coils TIA antenna, made it all very simple and straight forward! I was very pleased with both the radio and the antenna. I just may be hooked. Great fun.
2019-07-13 I'm having way too much fun with my x5105! On Tuesday a friend helped me take down all my outside antenna as we are moving to a new address in a couple weeks. Rather than avoid HF for the duration I got out my portable 29 ft end fed wire antenna based on the "QRPGuys 40m-10m UnUnTenna". It uses "Sotabeams Antenna Wire - Lightweightsmall" wire. I just completed my twentieth contact with it! One on ten meters, ten were on 20 meters, four on fifteen meters and five on 40 meters. Most were with stations in the IARU HF Championship. And all were done at 5 watts CW. The main thing I like about contests is that there are lots of hungry hams out there to contact! Mind you, there not rag chews, but I know they heard my little signal from my little antenna!
One thing I'm learning about operating QRP is to be patient and persistent. Particularly in a contest, just keep calling. Eventually the other guy will hear you. When he sends "agn," that's your cue. Pounce on it. He's now listening carefully and likely, you'll get him! At first it is frustrating as you know you're getting stomped on by the higher power stations with fancy antennas. But if you turn it into a challenge, it becomes fun! And your log book just keeps filling up! :-) QRP really works. It's all about technique - and propagation!
2019-05-24 I hate ham radio, especially QRP! Just when you're ready to throw everything in the trash and take up ballroom dancing, you catch a good one! Sat down to the x5105 a few minutes ago just to have a listen before I take down my good-for-nothing 35' end fed failure and give up on taking a rig to the Boundary Waters. 20m was dead. 40 seemed dead too but as I tuned from 7.055 or so down I suddenly heard WB8ERJ at 7.044. He was calling CQ POTA at K-1946! I knew he wouldn't hear me but quickly hit the tune button and called him. HE HEARD ME! Logged a quick QSO! Now I can't throw the junk away! 😬 Thanks Mike for re-inspiring me! 😁K0BXB
2019-03-18 8:30am, X5105, G5RV, SSB, 5 watts, 618 miles, WA4THR, East Coast Amateur Radio Service, S6 report, he was 59+. That's the fun of QRP!
2019-03-05 Like many hams I've played on and off with QRP for many years. And much as I hate to admit it, for many of those years I thought QRP was sort of the "lesser" side of radio. For those who couldn't afford better, or something similar. But over the past couple of years and particularly from my experiences of the past six months or so, I've changed my tune. I've almost flip-flopped! QRP may just the "great" side of radio. It challenges and rewards in ways higher power simply cannot do. I haven't sold all my 100 watt rigs and don't plan to any time soon. But they get much less operating time now than in the past. Here are some of my current thoughts on why the change in my thinking and behavior? Here are some thoughts on the matter.
- QRP is not necessarily easy. You don't make a contact every time you pick up the mic or pound the key. It takes patience and persistence. My CW contact with a station in Puerto Rico recently with my x5105 and DIY magnetic loop probably took at least a half hour as he was pounded by stronger signals. But each time he ended a QSO I sent my call. And when he finally had a bit of a lull and sent out a CQ he heard me and came back immediately. I was surprised at his 579 report as my S meter showed him 559 here. But he was solid and we had a solid QSO. On the other hand the QSO with a station in Maryland that same time was easy to get initially but signals faded almost as soon as we made contact. It was a struggle but we got the essentials across.
Upper Left to Lower Right: FT-871nd in the back yard. 2018 Field Day. Xiegu x5105. 4-States QRP kits. Wolf River Coils Silver Bullet 1000 TIA antenna, QRPLabs QCX.
- QRP needs to be intentional. If I only have a short time to play radio, I'll usually fire up the base station, pick up the mic or key, tune around and answer a CQ or call CQ and within a fairly short time have a QSO. It's quick and easy which is what I want at those times. I have to make a conscious decision to use my QRP gear because I know it will be "more work." Especially if I want to use one of my portable antennas like the mag loop or trapped inverted vee, or even the Wolf River Coils vertical. They have to be set up so it takes some time up front. I also know that spending an hour or so with no contact is not uncommon. But I also know that snagging that contact with a station in Germany, France, Puerto Rico or even contacting a SOTA or POTA station (or sometimes with anyone!) will be worth the wait! In fact after such a contact, I often just put down the mic or key, go get a glass of water, eat a cookie and just savor the success! I don't need many QSOs to feel rewarded!
- QRP also lends itself to experimenting, especially with antennas. At QRP power levels everything can be light weight and easy to handle. I've gotten into "stealth" wire antennas. A link inverted vee can weigh almost nothing and take up very little space. Weighing even less and being more compact is a trap inverted vee. Push-up fishing poles can make deploying an end fed or inverted vee antenna very easy and quick. And you can put it up almost anywhere. You don't need to throw ropes and wires into trees and all that stuff. Coax feed line can be light. I like RG174. A 25 ft bundle takes up almost no space and weighs just 4 ounces yet does the job very well.
- QRP makes portable operating simple and fun. For years I had a Yaesu FT-817nd. I didn't use it out doors much apart from Field Day each Spring. In August I got a xiego X5105 HF-6meters QRP radio. It has had me in the back yard a lot this past late Summer and Fall. Its internal high capacity battery, auto tuner and antenna analyzer function make it perfect for portable use. In fact it inspired me to spend weeks building and improving portable antennas. Once the weather warms up I plan to take the x5105, along with one or more of my portable antennas and head to parks and woods in our area and just play radio! The whole package will fit into one or two small bags weighing just a few pounds. Can't wait!
- And, by the way, portable doesn't mean ONLY out in the wild, by a lake or in the woods or at a park. When the weather is bad, take your QRP gear to a room in your house where you don't normally operate, set up a portable antenna, use your battery power and give it a try. From our living room here in Wisconsin I recently enjoyed a 20 meter, 850 mile CW QSO with a station in Mississippi! We were both 559. I was using my x5105 with internal battery and DIY magnetic loop. It was 02/09/19 about 9:00am. Same setup I might have used outside, had it not been near zero F with snow and ice all around.
So, my encouragement is, turn off the higher power rig now an then. Turn on your QRP rig and commit to sticking with it for a while. When I got the x5105 I decided to use it exclusively for a while. That "while" lasted nearly three months! Seventy percent of my QSOs during August, September and October this past year were with that x5105! I not only enjoyed it but enjoyed "bragging" about it to my QRO friends! In fun, of course! It was fun and rewarding and I now understand that rig front-to-back as well as a lot more about QRP operating as a result. So Go For IT. You'll be glad you did.
A great resource for operating QRP is the book Minimum QRP by vk3ye. He takes a very practical approach to many of the issues one must deal with to operate QRP.
2019-03-02 Yesterday evening I had a few minutes so I fired up the x5105, tuned up my G5RV and tuned around. I had two objectives, first was to get out of the SKCC portion of 40 meters (around 7.055) and have a QSO using my little Whiterook Products Model MK-44 mini iambic paddle. Since I almost exclusively use my straight key, I need to get more comfortable using a paddle so I won't get all tangled up and send garbage! The second objective was just to have a QSO!
After tuning around I couldn't find anyone calling CQ or ending a QSO in a timely fashion so I decided to call CQ. In his book Minimum QRP, Peter Parker, vk3ye, states, "Getting non-arranged contacts... especially if they're answers to CQ calls, is a good sign of success." I wanted success!
After five or six calls KK4GEE near Atlanta came back. He was solid but not strong so I wondered how the QSO might go. It went well. We were both 559 and were both QRP! Our ten minute rag chew QSO was really fun and ended my day successfully! And my little mini paddle and I got along pretty well with only a few garbled seconds!
Oh, and a third objective is to see how long my new Bioenno Power 4.5 Ah battery will last! My excuse for getting it is preparation for the upcoming Field Day in June. You can see partially in the above photo, the bright blue thing in the upper left corner of the photo. I'm not working it very hard so not sure I'm learning much, but it is an excuse! Since the internal battery of the x5105 is about 3.9 Ah this slightly more than doubles my battery capacity.
2019-02-12 I just can't quit playing with my QRP radio, the x5105. Oh, I use my QRO rig too, usually at about 25 watts, but it's not the same. The thrill of a QRP contact is addictive. Yesterday I tuned up my G5RV on the x5105 and very quickly had a QSO with WB2DHY 650 miles away in Virginia on 40 meters, mid day. He gave me a 559 and he was 579 in here. In the course of the QSO I learned he was running 1kw into a vertical! Granted it was an easy to copy signal but I was more than proud of my 5w and G5RV!
Then about a half hour later, on 20 meters I heard VA7JC 1700 miles west in British Colombia calling CQ so I answered him. He gave me a 529 and he was 569 in here. We chatted for just under ten minutes and were solid copy both ways! Thanks Jon for hanging in there with my S2 signal. You made my day!
I ended the day with two other QSOs, one on 20 meters and the other on 30 meters, 800 and 600 miles respectively with solid copy on both. That's why I keep coming back to QRP. I could probably have had twice that many contacts in the same time frame on my main rig with 25 watts. But in comparison to these four, it would have felt kind of "utilitarian" instead of invigorating! Of course it would have been even more fun had I been using my magnetic loop or the Wolf River Coils Silver Bullet 1000 TIA! So I compromised a bit! Maybe today, though the 7 inches of new snow will probably rule the Silver Bullet out!
2019-01-31 I just completed five QSOs with stations in Puerto Rico (2140 miles), Colorado (900 miles), West Virginia (530 miles) and Maryland (630 miles). The Puerto Rico and Colorado contacts were between 2:00pm and 3:00pm on 20 meters. The other three were between 5:00pm and 6:30pm on 40 meters. All were CW and all were made using my DIY magnet loop sitting on my camera tripod in the middle of the living room! I used my Xiego X5105 for all of them.
Looking through my log I see that I logged 173 five watt QRP QSOs since January 1st of 2018. For antennas I used a DIY trap inverted vee (58), my home G5RV (53), a 35 ft end fed wire (50), a link inverted vee (11) and one on a fan inverted vee. The most distant contact was with DJ5MW in Germany (4400 miles) using my G5RV antenna. Twenty four of them were distances of greater than 1000 miles.
I've since had several QRP QSOs using my newly acquired Wolf River Coils Silver Bullet 1000 TIA portable vertical antenna Pictured above set up on our front side walk,