As the FTDX-5000 is an expensive and heavy beast I designed and made a transportation/storage case to fit it. I’d looked at what you could buy and everything was huge and heavy, increasing the size of the 5000 by a considerable amount. Something simple, low profile and low weight was required.
Images are clickable for larger version.
Below is the resulting case. It’s powder coated aluminium, adorned with protective foam so the radio never gets scratched or dusty/wet (just care fitting the lid is all required) and has latches to quickly but securely lock the lid on. Once in the case it can be carried around without fear of accidental bumps, things falling on it, kids fiddling or rain (to and from car etc).
The box is designed to enable the radio to be operated whilst still in the base, and even offers a handy place to hang the standard microphone:
Rear connector access:
Base showing foam support strips, foam side protection, and rubber grommet foot protection:
Base strengthening and feet protection:
Video showing fitting the lid. (I am extra careful with everything!):
I’m no expert, but I have been VHF contesting since the 90s (with a break) and have made most of the mistakes one can, and won a decent share of contests too. So I thought I would pass on some of the things I feel are useful to do well in VHF and UHF contesting.
So, What do you do then?
In a nutshell nothing more than exchange some information with as many other contesters as possible over the duration of the contest. On VHF that is typically a signal report, a sequential number, one per QSO and your six figure QRA (Maidenhead) locator. Some also have postcodes or other information, stated in the rules. If you don’t know your QRA locator it’s easy to find from such sites as this one: http://k7fry.com/grid/?qth=IO82PA&t=n
How do I do it?
There are two main ways to operate, running and search and pounce. Running is sitting on a frequency and calling CQ hoping people will come to you. New starters often prefer to search and pounce. This is just tuning around the band until you find people calling CQ Contest. You then ‘pounce’ on them, which is just calling them. A good tip is to listen for a while to see what information they are exchanging. Usually these running stations are looking for an efficient QSO so another tip is to note the QRA locator they are giving ready so you only have to log (more on that below) the signal report and their serial number (which you should also be able to plan as it will be one more than the previous QSO). Also, make sure your RIT is off or at zero and use the main tuning dial to tune the station in if on SSB, so when you call you are readable to the station
So, they might say:
“CQ Contest golf one yankee bravo bravo CQ contest”
or if finished a QSO with someone:
“thanks, QRZ golf one yankee bravo bravo”
just call with your callsign once:
“mike nine alpha bravo charlie”
The running station will then send you his report and information and be looking for yours.
Here is a sample QSO:
Notice the station G3SMT checked he heard my sent serial correctly, but otherwise did not repeat back to me what I said. I don’t need to know that, I sent it! He also sent his information clearly and concisely just the once. If I’m a good signal his end, and I have just said he’s 59 then likely as not I can hear him very well and get it all in one go. I could be suffering bad QRM in which case I will request repeats.
OK, sounds easy enough, let’s do it…
To get started there are several considerations to make but all are dependant on what you want from VHF contesting. Some people just enjoy “giving points away” which is calling people like G3SMT did above and not sending an entry in at all. You don’t have to. It can be a great way to work good distance on a modest home station as often the running stations have a good station in a good location and can hear you better than most stations. Or you might decide to go all out and try to win contests. Or maybe take part in club/team based contests and be part of a whole. The choice is yours. So these considerations then….
Location, location, location
Your location and/or take-off can have a massive effect on VHF/UHF. Obviously if you are a fixed station without moving house (and some people do!) you have what you have. Try to get the antennas clear of any obstructions of course. If you really have a poor VHF site at home then maybe look at portable. Even a modest hill can transform the performance of the same station set-up. With a good spot with good take-off you don’t need massive masts at all. On 144MHz I use just a 4m high mast but from a VERY good location and I do really well. At other locations I use a 6m mast and also do well. Antenna
My ethos is big is beautiful! I want as long as possible on each band within reason. You want a decent gain and good performance, ideally an excellent match too. Pointless wasting permitted power by reflecting it back down the cable!
I’m a big fan of the DK7ZB designs and many of my antennas are home built to his designs. http://www.qsl.net/dk7zb/start1.htm
Other designs are of course available and many places are selling commercial yagis made to modern computer optimised designs on the internet.
Most of us use the radio we have that covers the band. But if you can look for one that has a good dynamic range, that can deal with big signals and receive weak ones. It’s a big ask and most of the top stations use a high spec transverter with a top HF radio driver. However, the other other end of the coax in the picture above has a little Yaesu FT-817 at the end! Be sure not to overdrive whatever radio you use, other contest stations will not appreciate it and some stations I have worked are so turned up to number 11 I can barely make out what they say.
Computer logging, while not essential, makes things so much easier and faster. Instant dupe checking and aids like headings for the beam based on QRA locators. Also the ability to export the entry files easily. These days of tablet PCs you can take PC logging with you anywhere.
My favourite free option for VHF is Minos: https://g1ybb.uk/entering-rsgb-vhf-contests-with-minos-logger/
Another free program that will do VHF and HF is N1MM+, though I will say it (for me) requires more setting up. But it is very powerful and will integrate with many other programs, like datamodes and CW readers etc. https://n1mm.hamdocs.com/tiki-index.php
That’s it, you’re ready to go contesting. Have fun!
Hints and Tips.
Contesting is competitive by nature so once you have caught the bug the natural progression is you will want to do better. I believe attention to detail is paramount.
Use the best coax you can afford to get every drop of signal in and out. Don’t have loads of spare feeder length if you aren’t going to need it.
Keep your yagis in good shape. Whilst the yagi below will work, I cannot believe it will work as well as it would if all the elements were dead straight and all in line in all planes. The difference might be a fraction of a dB but every fraction improvement added together can make a difference.
I keep my RF connections clean. Of more importance to a portable operator than a fixed station maybe, but personally I don’t think dirt, grass, spiders and other rubbish are very good RF conductors. It may not make a difference, but it definitely will not do harm. I also use adhesive lined heatshrink on my feeder connectors to both waterproof them and stop movement between the coax and connector which leads to faults.
Edit: This week for May 2019 50MHz UKAC it had been raining during the day and the sheep are out in the field I use. I was coiling up the feeder to pack away in the dark and when the end came into view I could see it had managed to completely submerse itself in fresh sheep poo! The entire black rubber cap was covered in it. That would have all been in the threads and centre pin and made a right mess. As it was I just wiped off in the wet grass and dried it off with a tissue.
This backs up the above and also reminds me that the over the outside cap is best option:
Practice makes perfect.
Operating is one of the areas that can really make a difference. Different operators with the exact same equipment at the exact same spot can achieve vastly different results. Contests have fixed duration so speed is of the essence. More is good. Faster is good. But not at the expense of accuracy. Pointless making a dozen QSOs in a few minutes if they are all discounted due to errors. Do double check the difference between 55 or 59 which can sound the same.
Make a call on the exchange style based on the caller.EG, here is a strong station who is a known good operator:
No repeating of information is required either end. Both of us know the other will get it first time, and both stations know the other will appreciate expedience.
Another QSO example with a weaker more distant station, and also right in the last throes of a contest so with some urgency too! Repeats given my end to try to ensure QSO completes before the clock runs out.
Don’t forget to enjoy contesting though:
Do use the technology available and permitted. ON4KST chat is permitted in many contests and is an extremely useful tool for attracting more QSOs. Not using it to be ‘old school’ is self imposing a handicap for no reason, in my opinion. I always use it if replies to my CQs are drying up. It is especially handy for seeking out new multipliers or bonus stations.
Later versions of Minos have features like memories where you can store the call and frequency of other run stations. Coupled with CAT control this can enable you to quickly and efficiently jump to other frequencies to work a new station and be back to your run frequency efficiently.
Use the other VFO if your radio has it. I have often called another run station, heard him take another caller, flipped back to my run freq, called, worked a station, and returned to the other station in time to hear him coming back to me. That’s an extra QSO for me. It needs practice and a feeling for how the other run station operates to not ‘miss your slot’ and be less efficient.
Look after the operator.
The operator wants to be fully focused on his/her game. They do not want to be battling with the weather, struggling with cold stiff fingers, or any other distractions. Ergo, apart from backpacking contests I always use a rotator, I have good lighting and if really cold, add heating. I don’t want to be opening windows into the cold and lashing rain or snow in order to turn my beam. I take a comfort break 5 minutes before the contest starts and usually do not move from the ‘hot seat’ until the contest ends, including backpacking 7 hour contests.
Never quit early! Very often even when it seems as if there is no one left to work you can work new stations and multipliers right at the end. It happens all the time. The last UKAC I did was hard work in the last half hour but in literally the last 2 minutes I worked 2 new French squares for 866 QSO points and 1000 bonus points with one of the QSOs being my ODX for the contest. That was 8% of my total score in the last 90 seconds or so! My last QSO was nearly 10 minutes before. I could easily have thought sod it and let’s go home.
Enjoy it! If you do all the contests in the calendar it can seem like a full time job! Especially doing 6 UKAC events a month plus weekend contests. Add in HF and you have divorce grounds right there!
But whilst I like to take it seriously and do my very best to win, you can still have fun doing so. One QSO from a backpackers contest:
For 2018 there was lots to do, both on a personal level and club level. personally I wanted to do well again in the Backpackers series, PW 144MHz QRP and the UKAC series. Busy busy busy! Club wise we ended 2017 with strong results so we wanted a good push in the local club section of the RSGB UKAC series.
144MHz PW QRP. As ever this is the one I want to win more than any other as it was my first ever contest in 1990. This year Paul G1YFC couldn’t make it so I was single op. And single carry… The weather this year was fantastic, sunny, warm, and calm. The downside of that was by the time I reached the summit of my portable site in the Black Mountains I was practically done for! Sweltering and exhausted. But a short rest and back to business setting up the station.
This year I had made a new single piece 4m mast specifically for backpackers to not take any extra waste, but more importantly, enable me to set it up in high wind easier on my own. It took two of use 2 hours to erect my telescopic mast last year, so didn’t want to be trying that on my own. Luckily it was nice and easy with next to no breeze. In fact my biggest problems were heat and flies!
Activity was great with 85 QSOs in the first hour and over 200 QSOs in all, the highest since 2009. ODX was over 700km with DL6YBF who was really strong with me.
My efforts were rewarded with a 3rd successive win which I am dead chuffed with.
70MHz PW Contest. As I now have 70MHz capability I thought I should have a bash at the PW 70MHz contest for the first time. This contest was a couple of days after the September 70MHz UKAC which saw the some serious wind and rain from storm Bronagh. The forecast for the Sunday was also pretty dire so I decided to operate from a lower spot below the summit which is more sheltered but loses me my clear 360° take off. This is OK for me in the RSGB UKAC as I get great PPK due to the great take off East and North but with PW only 1 point per QSO would be a bit of a restriction. As it turned out the forecast was pessimistic and it wasn’t a bad day after, but I’d already committed to not going to the top.
As it turned out I managed to roust up a good number of QSOs which is ‘my thing’ and also luckily a decent square count, enought to take my first ever win in the PW 70MHz Low power section.
RSGB 144MHz Backpackers. Loving the low power mountain top contests as I do I was keen to try and retain the backpackers Trophy for a 3rd year.This year Paul G1YFC couldn’t make any of the events so I was single op for all which meant being the armstrong rotator as well as logging and operating. However I managed to win the first 3 sessions which was enough to seal the win, which I needed to do as I had other plans for the last two sessions.
RSGB 70MHz Cumulatives.
As with PW 70MHz I figured why not have a crack at this series too as I am now QRV. I’d already missed two sessions of the 5 so it was all to play for with 3 session scores needed! Fortunately this series relies on PPK scoring only which suits my non summit Welsh site I decided to use. Also the early afternoon start is rather civilised meaning I could even have breakfast before setting out! I managed to win the last three sessions to win the series.
RSGB 144MHz Trophy.
This year some of our keener UKAC entrants wanted to enter the largest 144MHz contest probably in the world as the Hereford ARS. We assembled a good selection of antennas and operators and had a great support team. This was the most luxurious 24 hour VHF contest I’ve ever done. We operated from the top of Clee Hill which has a great take off.
Unfortunately our receive system was not ideal and we expected it to be not perfect but it was a little worse than we hoped. Transmit was very good however which was good. Improvements for next time!
We came 6th in the Open section which isn’t too bad against some of the bigger and more practised teams in this event.
RSGB 144MHz December AFS.
At fairly short notice HARS decided we would make an effort in this weekend event which needs 4 stations (at least ideally) to enter to make a full team of 4 stations. I went to my Welsh portable site but only had one yagi as my plans to use a pair were thwarted by the intended pole (my backpacking mast) to add to my normal portable mast was not man enough. However it was still an enjoyable contest not least for not suffering people moving in on my frequency or 500Hz away all the time (the normal perils of low power!). I did however manage the highest QSO count of all entrants, but not the big PPK of the G7RAU big station in Cornwall.
RSGB 144MHz UKAC.
This year’s 144MHz UKAC was a lot more challenging than 2017. After a good start with a win in January’s event the winter had other ideas for my progress. February and March I was defeated by snow trying to access my portable site. This meant I spent 2018 playing catch up. Mix in some favourable lifts for the East and North East coast, and South, meant some stiff opposition from Tony G8DMU and Andy G6DOD. It took me until October to get 8 ‘proper’ scores in and build a points lead to head the AL section. However two wins in November and December enabled me to pip Mark G6DOD for top spot!
RSGB 50MHz UKAC.
Like 144MHz the snow played a big part in this year’s 50MHz UKAC series for me. Also I started the season running in AR section. However I decided the club would benefit twofold from my entering the AL section, because I could hopefully get higher scores and also rob a few points from the competing guys at the top of that section. I failed to make the portable site in January and March and was away for October which meant I needed November and December to get the minimum 8 portable sessions in to be competitive. I did well in the events I was portable for, once the bedlam creating Es season had cleared off and brought us some nice flat band normality. It’s a nightmare being low power and in the path of most of the country beaming at the Es. You either try for the Es yourself and have multiple people start CQing on your run freq all night as they can’t hear you off the back or you beam inland and hope for the activity. But no-one is interested in IO82 when the Es are going.
RSGB 432MHz UKAC.
Only missed January’s session due to that pesky snow so this bad was a little more positive. I was still using the loaned yagi from Craig M0BUL which meant when using it I had a large chunk of metal in the radiation path. It finally dawned on me so I altered how I mounted the beam and then changed the mast itself to minimise the degradation to my signal. This helped me fight off very strong competition from G8DMU and M0GAV.
RSGB 70MHz UKAC.
This is the only band unaffected by snow access this year. However, not to be outdone, another hindrance was introduced. January was OK but since that event something was installed near my portable site that caused a solid S9 blanket of noise on all headings but 6°. It made my receive an embarrassing joke. People were still hearing me but the only people I could receive had to be genuine 59+ or readable when beaming near North. I gave it 3 months hoping it was temporary but had to accept defeat and move elsewhere. After much head scratching I decided to head to my GW site despite it being a longer and harder site to get to. There isn’t time in the week to reach the summit so I had to settle for a decent spot for North round to East. Takeoff there is fantastic so I can make up points with good PPK. Another downside is zero mobile internet coverage so no KST skeds. However, the fantastic takeoff and (usually) zero noise floor means I can usually hear everyone and anyone. That helped me get enough scores to do well on this band.
RSGB 1296MHz UKAC.
Managed to get to the contest site OK apart from March when I set up lower down where I could get to in the car. Hard work with only 2W against the 10W stations but I did manage a 2nd place which was pretty cool. However I started to take the transverter box apart in order to add a little gain block to get 10W out but time on other projects and part lead times kept me off air for a long time. I actually managed to beat Denis G3UVR and Bob M1MHZ in the December session, and with no Tony G8DMU I snatched a win with 2W. I think this helped me scrape a 3rd position on this band which I am fairly happy with as 2W is damn hard work on this band! RSGB Overall UKAC Standings 2018.
Out of the 732 total entrants in the RSGB UKAC series in 2018 I managed to come 4th, pipping fellow club member Dave G4ASR into 5th place! I was however the top station only operating on 5 out of the 6 possible bands.
RSGB Local Club section UKAC.
Hereford ARS won the first 144MHz UKAC of the year putting us on the top of the Local Club section. We followed that up with wins in January’s 432MHz, 70MHz & 1296MHz and a 2nd on 50MHz. That meant HARS remained at the top of the table for the entire 2018 season despite some somewhat flexible interpretations of the rules to bump up scores. However, we raised our game with genuine numbers on the air and got some great scores. A fantastic achievement for a sleepy farming city in the boondocks.
As a keen fan of the PW 144MHz QRP Contest I have taken it upon myself to enter all the historical results that pre-date those available on the official site, in order to pass that information over to Colin at PW.
So the below PDFs are the results as I have entered them into a spreadsheet from the best records I could find. Most of from old copies of the magazines, some are scans (like 1990 and one or two). What I am looking for is ANYONE who was active in these contests to take a look and let me know any cock ups and typos, also any extra info they might have.
You can see the content varies often. This is mostly due to the content published in the magazine being different often. Usually there is a list of all callsigns and points, and tables with top 10 this and top ten that etc.
Please contact me using my email which is my name in the 1st line of this page @ my callsign in the 1st line of this page with .uk on the end. (not .co.uk)
I have nothing at all to do with Practical Wireless magazine or its parent company/companies. I merely have a fond affinity with this contest (most likely due to the fact it was my first ever contest in 1990) and an OCD nature that requires the records to be complete. 73.
I planned to build more 144MHz & 432MHz DK7ZB yagis for contesting to use in arrays so I wanted to ensure I could make them accurately and repeatedly and also without taking forever doing it! Thus I needed to come up with an efficient cutting jig.
I would use some threaded bar to adjust and set the length and steel angle for the supporting the aluminium tube and cutting the length. First I calculated the range of length between the longest reflector and the shortest director then a quick knock up in Solidworks gave me the length of stud required and ideal places to weld the angle to do the cutting. The studding is M12 because a nut for M12 will take a 10mm ali tube with a little clearance. The long M12 barrel nut (Screwfix, few pence) is locktighted in place. From the left the angle brackets have the following holes: 12.5, M12 tapped, 10.5, 10.5, 10.5:
Some cutting, drilling and tapping later and I have this (the observant will note it’s not exactly the same as the intended design-more on that accidental stroke of luck later!):
Usage is very straightforward. First I G-clamp it to the bench then I used one piece of spare element tube as the setting piece, doing all elements in sequence, longest to shortest. So I set the jig and adjust, cutting and filing the setting piece until spot on then do all elements that length then onto the next element size using the same setting piece. Simple, but more importantly, very accurate and repeatable. I did try calculating the distance a fraction of a turn would give based on the thread pitch but with a simple tapped hole the thread backlash made it too unpredictable so found it easier to measure the amount the cutting piece protruded when setting for the next size down with the small vernier in the photos above and start from that point and fine tune on the thread and lock nuts.
To actually cut the elements (after using the jig to prepare one end of all elements to ensure it was nice and square and deburred) I just slide it through the 10.5 clearance holes into the long nut and hold it pressed against the long nut with one hand. With the hacksaw tilted slightly to start a cut just away from the steel angle to prevent sawing the face of the steel angle I start cutting then as soon as the cut is started square up the hacksaw. Cutting takes a few seconds:
Then it takes a few seconds more to file the element down flush to the steel angle. Over MANY elements the steel angle will gradually file down in thickness but such a large area and so much harder than the aluminium it will not affect the length between a batch (I checked):
Next to just finish off the end. In the picture above you will notice the countersink bit in the screwdriver handle and a pencil sharpener. Both employed very quickly to deburr inside and outside edges:
The only thing left to do is check the length! I am lucky that my place of work happens to have a very large digital vernier. These will do, close enough for G1YBB…
Obviously most people won’t have such a measuring tool but it shows the jig can enable accurate results, more accurate than we can normally measure. I belive working as accurately as possible to follow the simulated design will enable the best possible results to be achieved. I have had fantastic results with my first 9 element DK7ZB working to that ethos.
About that lucky error in placement of the angles with the holes…
One thing I forgot to allow for when designing the jig was the driven dipole halves! But by a stroke of good luck (MOST unusual for me) fitting the middle guide hole angle in the reversed place turned out it was perfectly positioned for the dipole half:
I’ll be able make the 432MHz element cutting jig to cater for dipole halves and full elements easily because the threaded bar covers enough length with the 70cms elements being so small.
2017 was was first full year back into VHF contesting (and some HF contesting too) since the 1990s. In 2016 I did the RSGB Backpackers series with Paul G1YFC and we achieved great success winning the series and I started doing the 144MHz UKAC series, initially as practice runs for the backpackers then it becomes kind of addictive.
Over December 2016 we tried to rally our local club Hereford Amateur Radio Society into joining us on the bands in the UKAC contests. Take up was encouraging and several members said they would come on the air for the club. Additionally the rules for the UKACs were changed to divide the ‘clubs’ into National and Local. So HARS would be in the section for ‘real’ radio clubs with members only eligible within a 35km radius of a designated central point. During our plans we thought it would be feasible and great if HARS could get into the top 10 of the local club category.
December was busy for me as I had decided to take part in the 50MHz UKAC series along with the 144MHz UKAC series. But to do so I needed a 50MHz beam! So I was busy buying aluminium and building. I finished the main build and tested it literally the evening before the January 50MHz UKAC contest!
144MHz PW QRP.
This is the one I really hope to win and this year we were hoping to repeat our success of 2016. The weather on top of the Black Mountains was evil. Wet and VERY VERY windy all day. It took us 2 hours just to set up the mast and antenna, then we bent my tent poles in the wind so I had to prop up the corner of the tent with my head and shoulders for over 7 hours. However we did well and managed to take the win again.
On 144MHz I hit the ground running as I used to do a lot of contesting on 144MHz years ago and of course had been active in the UKAC and Backpackers in 2016. After initially entering some 2016 UKACs with the FT-817 I started using the old FT-225RD as it is still the best receiver of the radios I own.
I started 2017 the way I ended 2016, with a winning streak. Competition is fierce on 144MHz but working hard I managed to win all but one of the 12 session, which I am well pleased with. 144MHz Backpackers.
Myself and Paul G1YFC also took part in the 144MHz Backpackers series. We only managed 3 sessions of the possible 5 due to other commitments, but we managed to win those 3 sessions and retain the trophy we won in 2016.
I was pleased to be invited to the Isle of Sheppey to join the Blacksheep Contest Group to help operate their open section station in one of the biggest 144MHz contests in the calendar. I have done this in the past with Kevin G1VDF but it’s hard work running a 24 hour station. Blacksheep run a multi mast multi op station which was good fun to see and operate. Despite our best efforts though we were beaten into 2nd place by Parallel Lines CG. 50MHz UKAC.
This was almost a new band for me as we only did a few 50MHz contests in the 90s. I had to build a yagi for the band and literally finished (to a point it was usable) the night before the first contest! I had two inches of snow in that first contest but managed to win, which is a decent achievement being up against G4CLA who is rather good and successful. I lead my section for a while but finally succumbed and was beaten to second place by 65 points only! 432MHz UKAC.
I hadn’t planned to do this band this year but as the club take up was very good I decided I should help out! So I borrowed a beam from Craig M0BUL and started in March. I was much more enthusiastic after winning my first one! I didn’t win the next few but got the hang of the band towards the end of the year. Just enough to scrape winning the section by just THREE points. 70MHz UKAC.
This was another band I hadn’t planned to do but I borrowed a transverter and beam from Matt G8XYJ and started on the band in February, the first time ever on the band for me. I then bought my own Ukranian transverter (which are brilliant for the price) and built my own long yagi twice the length of the borrowed one. This helped me get great results and although I was only able to do 9 of the 12 sessions I managed to win the last few sessions and gain enough points to take the AL section win. 1296MHz UKAC.
I had no intention at all of taking part on this band but as we went on through the year and were challenging Sheffield for 1st lace overall I decided to try and help us get more points on one of our weaker bands. I had no kit at all but first shared a station with Stuart G3WRA and later borrowed his kit when he wasn’t able to take part. Stuart’s transverter only generates 2W RF so taking part in the AL 10W section was quite hard work. I did manage a 4th place though in December!
I managed 37th place overall from 4 sessions.
Hereford Amateur Radio Society had an amazing first year in the local club section of the UKACs. We came 2nd overall and also won the 144MHz and 50MHz bands outright.