Tuesday, May 28, 2013

160m / 80m Inverted L

Just left and below center you can see the trap hung up on
a branch at around 42 feet.
From the minute I put up the 160m Inverted L, I had planned to add a trap for 80m. First, however, came more radials. With the original four 125 foot radials, the antenna seemed rather quiet, and that should have been a sure sign it was too lossy.

Adding four more 125 foot radials made a big difference. Noise level went up, along with the performance. Eight more 62.5 foot radials followed, for a total of sixteen - eight long and eight short ones. For any antenna with ground-mounted radials, sixteen should be considered the minimal number of radials. At least, for any antenna not mounted near salt-water.

I used this antenna to work and confirm two new countries on 80m phone in the WPX Phone contest. 

OK, so radials are easy. Not cheap, since a 500 foot spool goes for $45 these days. The next step was to add an 80m trap. The easy way to do this is to simply create a resonant trap on the operating frequency and stick it into the antenna by trial and error.

80m trap wound and set up for
trimming, Note the temporary solder
connections with the capacitors.
However, that's not the most efficient. W8JI wrote an excellent article about making efficient trap antennas. Two important lessons from this article: traps work best when they are made from very high-Q components, traps should never be resonant at the operating frequency. 

With my previous 80/40m trap antenna, I had followed half of this advice -- but still used coaxial traps. W8JI found that these traps are much more lossy than those made with discrete components.

And since wire is so expensive, trial and error isn't the best way either. The tricky part about using traps that are not resonant at the operating frequency is that some antenna current flows in all parts of the antenna at all frequencies. This means adjusting one part of the antenna affects the resonance at all frequencies. And while a trap at resonance offers an effectively infinite impedance regardless of the actual values of capacitance or inductance -- off-resonance impedance is definitely affected by the choice of capacitance and inductance.

So, how does one figure out all these variables? Antenna modeling! I used CocoaNEC, developed by Kok Chen W7AY. While it is pretty easy to use the spreadsheet model for very simple wire antennas, I ran into some bugs trying to model trap antennas. After e-mailing Chen, I discovered that Chen recommends the NC interface (a C-like programming language) for modeling, rather than the spreadsheet.

Once I figured out the NC interface, I started to get better results. Then the virtual trial and error part began. Lots of programming, running and bug-fixing later, I had a pretty good idea what was needed to build this antenna.

I found some 100 pF 15 kV ceramic disc caps from Mouser, and used two of them for 200 pF. I used a piece of 3 inch schedule 20 PVC for the coil form. I computed that it would take about eleven and a half turns on this form of close-wound 14 gauge THHN wire. THHN is really designed for house wiring inside a conduit, but it is relatively cheap and easily obtained at your local home improvement store. The wire is secured to the form by drilling 1/8 inch holes through the PVC.

Proper technique for measuring trap
resonant frequency. Note wooden work
surface and nothing metallic nearby.
Unless you have a vector impedance analyzer (and who does?), the easiest way to see if you trap is even close to the right frequency is to use a Grid/Gate/Emitter dip oscillator. Mine is a Heathkit HD-1250. I found it at a hamfest years ago for about $30 including all the coils and carry case. It was modified to add a switch to test the battery condition on the meter, and whoever did the mod did a great job. Only two things wrong with this unit: the lettering around the meter has completely rubbed away, and the foam inside the case to hold the coils down completely disintegrated. (I have never seen a HD-1250 carry case where the foam has held up)

Once you have your trap built, careful technique is necessary to measure the frequency. The coil end of the dip oscillator couples to the trap. Couple too closely, and the trap will pull the oscillator, and it will be difficult to find the exactly frequency. Couple too loosely, and you won't find the dip at all.

I set my trap on a wooden workbench and cleared away everything metal for at least 12 inches around. First, couple the coils very closely to be sure you can find a dip in the meter indications somewhere close to what is expected. Then slowly move the meter away for less and less coupling. The best spot is where you get a good meter indication, but it doesn't pull the oscillator too much -- which you can see as you tune across the dip. From the photo, you can see that the best spot was found with the dip oscillator coil just outside the trap form.

Great -- so you've got a good dip on the meter with the right amount of coupling. What frequency are you on? Good question. Unless your dip oscillator has an output for a frequency counter (another useful mod), the easiest is just to spot the oscillator frequency in a nearby receiver. In reality, the exact frequency of the trap doesn't matter so much, so the dip oscillator dial is probably good enough.

Completed trap ready to install.
I modelled my traps at 3450 kHz, but the trap I built was resonant at around 3350 kHz, which I deemed close enough. I drilled a four more 1/8 inch holes for securing the antenna wire to the trap.

With the trap ready, it's time to install the trap into the antenna. My model told me that the trap should go around 47 and 1/3 feet above the feedpoint. I started at 48 feet and used an MFJ-259 antenna analyzer to spot lowest SWR. About three trims later, I have 44 feet to the trap bringing the low SWR just below 3800 kHz.

Completed trap temporary installed for trimming. No solder
used on the connections yet, just twisted together. Note
how the antenna wire (black) is looped up and back down
the trap. This will hold it securely in place.
The modeling work told me that the 80m frequency wasn't affected terribly by changes to length of the upper portion of the antenna. I did a couple of quick calculations on my phone and cut the upper portion to 67 feet. Low SWR came right in at 1830 kHz. Perfect. 

Using the analyzer, the actual antenna measurements don't exactly match the model. For one thing, the NEC 2 model software assumes perfect grounds, and the actual ground is a bit more lossy. The model shows very sharp resonances, but the antenna measures more broadly -- indicating expected ground losses. 

Using NEC 4 would allow more realistic ground models, but I didn't feel like it was worth the $300 to get a license to it. In any case, the modeling did exactly what I expected -- it guided me to produce a workable antenna design in the field.

How does it play? Works pretty well on 160m still, and I used it in the WPX CW to work another new country on 80m with 100 watts. Of course, it's not the right season for low band work right now, but I think this antenna has promise for next fall.

Of course, I could slip in another trap for 40m. Hmm. Let's fire up that antenna modeling software....

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