Thursday, February 28, 2019

Back on the Tower Again

During my December vacation, I started a rather ambitious project on the tower. Since its installation, my A3S/A743 has been about eight inches from the very top of the mast. My intent was to put the beam at the very top of the mast, in order to give more room to stack an A50-3 under it.

It had been a while since I climbed on the tower, and any work at the very top is always nerve-wracking. As I've written before, sometimes you get up there and decide you've had enough.

Anyway, back to the December project. I conscripted my daughter Lauren to be my ground crew. I ascended the tower, removed the rotator and hung it from a couple of nylon loops off the side of the tower. Then I lowered the mast into the tower, until the A3S/A743 bracket was right at the top of the tower. The mast and antenna are somewhat heavy, weighing about 50 lbs. I relied on a pulley at the top and bottom of the tower and a haul rope to get support from my ground crew.

The tricky part of this operation was going to be moving the antenna higher on the mast. I had two options. First, I could loosen the bracket U-bolts, lift the antenna higher, then retighten. This would only take me about five hands, and I was only born with two. Second, I could loosen the bracket U-bolts, then lower the mast into the tower. While this seems easier, I had visions of the mast going too low and the antenna falling off the tower. Plus, I was afraid that we'd drop the mast and it would fall some 40-some feet into the base of the tower. And then the antenna would fall off the tower.

Plus, my daughter was having a lot of trouble getting sufficient leverage on my pull rope, which was 1/4". After being at the top of the tower a little over and hour, I decided to continue the project later.

Little did I know that it would take two months before I could get back up there!

In the intervening time, I had purchased 120 feet of 9/16" braided black poly rope. Our first order of business was to replace the existing 1/4" rope with this much more substantial lanyard. Once again with my trusty ground crew, we set out to complete the project.

With the bigger haul rope installed, I surveyed the top of the mast. I had thought that perhaps the antenna had slid down the mast in the 18 years it has been up. But a close examination of the mast showed no evidence of that. It had always been at that level.

Standing there 40-some odd feet in the air, 20 feet above the edge of my roof, I wondered if loosening the antenna would get me into a whole new world of problems. I decided at that moment I wasn't going to mount the A50-3 under the larger beam. What we needed to do was hoist the mast back and up and put the rotator back in place.

This proved to be a problem. Despite all her hauling away on the rope, Lauren was unable to raise the mast any significant distance. It was only with me grabbing the mast with two hands and pushing we were able to move it at all. I ended up locking down the mast with a couple of bolts in the tower and climbing down to solve the problem.

I had a ratcheting come-along, but hauling it up and using it on the tower was problematic. I ended up tying the come-along to a support pole, then hooking it into the haul rope via a tied loop. This would allow Lauren to use the come-along to provide lift, and I could manage things at the top of the tower.

After climbing back up, things moved a little more quickly. The come-along provided plenty of tension, but I found that I had to move the mast with my hands to get it to budge -- there's just too much friction and too much stretch in the poly rope. In a few minutes, we had the mast nearly back up into position. I had to re-position the pulley to get the last few inches to make room for the rotator.

With the mast locked down again, I hauled the rotator back into position. Thereupon I discovered two problems. First, one of the four nuts on the U-bolt that clamps the rotator to the mast was missing. In the two months on the tower, it apparently shook loose and fell off. Second, the rotator connection at the base of the rotator were loose -- one of the forked lugs had fallen off the wire and would need to be replaced.

Not having the necessary hardware at the top of the tower, I finished as much of the assembly as I could and came down the tower knowing that this project would be finished on another day. Hopefully, it won't take a couple of months to get back up there.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Mark V.5 Shunt Feed Matching Network (75 & 80m)

Additional capacitor for 80m at lower
right, relay is black box just above.
Three years ago, I improved my shunt-feed matching network for 75m by upgrading to a T200A-2 core and a way more beefy variable capacitor. It tuned my shunt-fed tower quite nicely to a 1:1 match around 3800 kHz. And it could easily handle a little bit of power.

However, when using the antenna on the low end of 80m, the match isn't quite so nice, reaching nearly 3:1 at the bottom of the band. I needed to be able to re-adjust the network when operating there.

It occurred to me that additional capacitance would do the trick, along with a way to switch it in. I found good capacitor of about 25 pF and suitable plate spacing. Switching it was more of a problem.

I wanted to use a large, 12 volt, open-frame relay. Unfortunately, I didn't have anything in my junk box, and couldn't find anything I liked at a hamfest. Eventually, I settled on using a PC board style relay. I figured it had enough of a contact gap to avoid arcing.

Mounting it, however, was problematic. I ended up just having it floating in the box, suspended by the wiring connections.

Side of box showing the control voltage wiring, the 75m
tuning control (upper right) and the 80m tuning.
After re-wiring, the network tuned up nicely on 75m, but there wasn't quite enough capacitance to bring the match down in the CW portion of the band. I ended up putting to 33 pF 6 kV capacitors in series across the 25 pF variable, essentially adding 16.5 pF to the circuit.

That did the trick, and I got a 1.1:1 match around 3570 kHz. VSWR at the bottom edge of the band was under 2:1.

The existing four-wire bell cable control lines were re-purposed to drive two relay circuits. The existing frame relay selects between the 75/80m and the 160m matching networks. The additional relay is energized to bring the additional capacitance online for 80m.

This works so well, I'm surprised I didn't try it earlier. With a better match at the antenna, losses in the feed line and antenna tuner are reduced.