Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Flex Radio SO2R is on the air!!!

Tonight I have a completed Flex 5000 SO2R radio on the air!!! To run SO2R requires the second receiver installed in the F5K

Here is a screen shot of my screen real estate:

What you see is PowerSDR, CW SKimmer, DX Lab, DDUTIL, and N1MM all interconnected.

I am running 5 antennas. The CQ (run) station is on 40M and is controlled by VFO B. When VFO B is active power is directed out of Antenna port 1, into my AL80B and then into my Johnson Matchbox to a 130Ft flat top at 55ft.

VFO A controls the Search and Pounce station. When VFO A is active power is directed out Ant port 2 on the F5K to my Ameritron ALS-1300 amp which then goes to an Ameritron RCS-4 antenna switch. To this antenna switch is connected 4 antennas that cover 5 bands 160, 80, 40, 30, and 20. I modified the controller for this switch such that it band follows to whatever band VFO A is on. The ALS-1300 also band follows via Ameritrons ARI-500. BCD data is taken off a LPT printer port to control the band following feature.

For a contest interface I am using the formidible N1MM contest software. N1MM allows VFO focus to be shifted between VFO A or VFO B either by clicking on the band map, or by a keyboard combination (CTL <--- or--->) Which makes it very convenient to change from CQing on 40M to search and pounce on any of the other 5 bands. I am able to CQ and Search and Pounce on 40M using both antennas on that band, but I can't transmit simultaneously, but then contest rules usually forbid simultaneous transmission in a single OP station anyway to this set up by its definition complies with the rules.

To get this to work I needed to add one $19 BCD decoder board from Unified Microsystems, and add some hardware to my RCD-4 to make it auto switching, using s few micro relays I had in the junk box, and a couple trips to Radio Shack to get a 25 pin and a 9 pin sub D. Basically the cost of building this therefore is the cost of the F5K plus receiver, plus $19 bux.

All of the programs interact via the magic of DDUTIL. Steve K5FR the author of DDUTIL and I have spent the past 4 weeks wringing this out. It has been an enjoyable collaboration. Here is a screen shot of the DDUTIL SO2R screen

The program allows up to two banks of 10 antennas to be independently addressed by VFO A and VFO B. In addition if you had 2 frequency agile amps, for example if you had 2 ALS-1300's and 2 freq agile antenna switches (like my modified RCS-4) both amps and antennas would be automatically and fully controlled by the setting of VFO A or VFO B.

My ALS-1300 will make 1200W with far less than the 100W of drive available from the F5K so DDUTIL will set the power automatically to what ever you want. As you can see I have variable drive levels set up under VFO A. 20M has a high SWR probably due to the cold snap so I have the drive reduced to keep the amp within its operating characteristic. I can turn on what ever bands I want for each VFO, using the check box. Bands not used even if they are accidently chosen form the radio have their power setting set to zero output if the box is not checked. I have the 3's and 4's in the boxes so I can watch the numbers change as I run through the band settings for testing. But even if I tried to transmit the radio would put out zero watts as a safety feature.

You can see that two LPT ports can be addressed and two band data cards can be addressed. In addition Steve has added a Foot Switch, that operates over a serial port. If you short pins 4 and 8 together with a switch on a DB9 the VFO's will switch focus no matter what windows program you have in focus.

The R1-TX R2-TX fields allow you to choose the antenna ports on the F5K you wish to use. In my case VFO A is connected to port 2 for both TX and RX and VFO B is connected to port 1. If I wanted to use a specific 160M RX antenna that was connected to antenna port 3 for example I would just substitute a 3 for the 2 in the VFO A 160 line of the program and my R1 antenna would then be port 3 and I would TX on port 2. All antenna ports on the F5K that are normally accessible (123 RX1 RX2 RXtap etc) are accessible from this matrix. There is also an AmpKey line choice available. The F5K allows for up to 3 amps to be independently switched via 3 jacks on the back of the radio. This field allows you to choose which amp keys with a given VFO.

We had to kludge the interface a bit to make N1MM work. We are using the K3 interface in N1MM which is sub optimal but it is the only one that we could get to work without doing a ton of programming gymnastics. I hope we can get a Flex specific interface for that program, which would cut down on the overhead and improve on the functionality.

Freq can be chosen in the following manner from PSDR You will note that when the red TX box is chosen below VFO A the correct antennas are chosen in R1 and TX

Switching to VFO B the correct antannas are once again chosen for R2 and TX

In N1MM you can chose the CQ freq in VFO B and be working a run on VFO B by choosing the little green RU icon on the far left upper data entry screen of N1MM

In this shot I am working K5FR on the 40M CQ freq and ready to log him. Note the log is visible just above the top data entry screen. The VFO focus is VFO B (note the red TX box under VFO B in PSDR) and I notice that VQ0LA is in the VFO A band map.

I log K5FR (note he is in the log for 40M) and I click VQ0LA in the VFO A band map. The VFO focus automatically changes the antennas change to the correct path and I am ready to work VQ0LA

Once he is in the log I switch back to the 40M run freq for the next contact. (Check the log and check the red TX box under VFO B, once again I am on 40M ready to rock and roll)

I can monitor SpotCollector and see there is one on 160 UY0ZG I could use

I double click that line in SpotCollector

and VFO A is changed to 160, my amp changes to 160, my 160M antenna is chosen, and UY0ZG is loaded into the data collector for VFO A in N1MM

I work him and he's in the log and I switch back to 40 M to continue the run

I notice WA3CKA on Skimmer and decide to work him Search and Pounce so I click skimmer and my VFO A switches to 40M my amp follows to 40M and my antenna switch selects my 40M vertical. Note my 40M run station has not changed I now have both the SnP AND the run station on 40M, but on different freqs

I enter WA3CKA in the data box for VFO A, work him and log him and switch back to VFO B ready to CQ once again

So there you have it!! This is not a robot. It is very skill driven. But instead of spending your time switching antennas and such you spend your time searching out QSO and multipliers.

The F5K has built in the requisite audio management so you can listen to R1 and R2 across the stereo spectrum

Using PAN and the two RX volume controls you can make thing show up in your ears the way you like it. There is also a mute control that will allow you to mute RX2 when working a SnP with RX1 if you find that aids in reducing confusion. The keyer and Mic automatically follows VFO focus as does any voice keyer you might be using.

So that's where we stand today. Of course this is the first iteration and like any system it bears honing. There are some things to add like better communication between N1MM and DDUTIL and perhaps some additional controls. For example N1MM allows XIT and RIT and some variation in filter selection, which we presently can not access given the way we have the interface set up. The K3 interface is a highly modified dialect of Kenwood, and Flex also has a highly modified dialect. The Kenwood CAT command set was developed 15 years ago and contains not that many commands where as PSDR has close to 150 CAT commands available, so it would be nice to integrate more completely with a native interface instead of a kludey hack.

There will be more to follow. We need to document better how to set these features up in DDUTIL, but if I can do it, it's not that difficult. We will try to get all that out there before the ARRL tests in Feb

Note you do NOT need to have frequency agile amps to run this setup. You can set this up for example for 2 bands lets say 40M run and 20M SnP with regular amps and it will work fine. You do not even need two amps, but you do need at least 2 antennas. The point is you can start small and this interface will allow you to grow your station over the years a little at a time, and allow you to hone your contest skills and make yourself into the best op you can be. Above all its all about radio fun. The interface is very versitile, and can be set up multiple ways. This is the way I decided to set it up for the equipment I own and my skill level.

I basically wrote this piece to show off the interface. I don't mean to get into the politics of contest purity at all. If you think a contest is all about a 75A4, a pair of 4-1000's and a Bug then have at it