My portable, modular, antenna mast system

***Disclaimer: I am not a guru when it comes to this stuff. I am definitely a student, and this is just a record of what I have been using thus far. I don’t want to give the impression that this isĀ the way. All of this is likely to change if I learn a better way.***

 

I thought I would do a quick write up on what I use for an antenna mast. I needed a mast to help get my antennas in the air, because I don’t always have a standard issue tree around to help out with that. Not that there aren’t trees where I live, but it’s not exactly a jungle, and you never know where you might want to set up an antenna.

My criteria when I was trying to come up with something was:

  • It has to be lightweight and fairly compact, in order to be carried if need be.
  • I wanted something that could be quickly set up and taken down without the need for special tools or rigging.
  • I wanted something that was low profile when erected, so as to not be too obvious to prying eyes.
  • I wanted something cheap, if not free.

So this is what I came up with.

Radio
Mast system with homebrew buddistick, and ugly balun made from a plastic coffee container.

It is a “painter’s pole”. Fully extended it is about 12 feet long, and it is made up of 3 sections. So when it is collapsed, it is about 4 1/2 feet long.

Radio (13)

It originally had a plastic threaded section at the end that would allow the attachment of a paint roller, but I found that to be too flimsy, so I removed it. In it’s place I put a 1 foot section of 3/4 Schedule 80 PVC, that with the help of a few wraps of electrical tape, fit tightly over the pole for a nice tight slip fit. On the top of this I put a 3/4 male adapter to serve as a universal mount for my antennas.

Radio (14).jpg

Towards the top of the second section, I used a half inch hose clamp and 3 key rings to make attachments for guy lines. I keep these permanently attached with Uli knots, and double overhand knots with a loop tied at the other end so they are ready to go. I’ve got some steel tent stakes in my antenna kit for guying it down.

Depending on the situation, you may not need to guy it. When I run it on my back deck, I can use the hole in my table and the umbrella base as supports for the antenna.

Radio (2)
Let’s do some digital

So far the main antenna I use on it is my homebrew buddistick. This is a decent antenna, not as efficient as a dipole, but it works good in a tight area and is quick to set up and take down. With this antenna I’ve communicated with voice on 20 watts over 1900 miles, when set up on a good hill. I also recently checked into the AMRRON 40M voice net with the exact setup pictured on 10W without any issues. On 20, 30, and 40M I’ve also managed 5 watt CW contacts all over the US through the reverse beacon network. So it’s not a horrible antenna, just not as good as others.

I can also mount my homemade 2 meter antennas on there as well through the use of the 3/4 female adapters on the bottom of my antennas.

Radio (15)
Left- this is the bottom of the homebrew buddistick. Right- This is the handle/mount for my tape measure yagi.

I’ve also made an extension mast for this out of 10′ of 3/4″ schedule 80 PVC. I cut it into thirds and inserted some couplings and a female and male adapter to give me another 10′ of height. This is not very good though because it has some flex in it because of the couplings. I think it will work OK for a light antenna like a 2M roll up J pole, but it’s too flimsy for use with my buddistick.

Radio (9)
I keep the mast extensions tied to the main mast for storage.

Another mast system I’ve played with is just using sticks of 2″ schedule 80 pvc conduit. This worked good as well, and if you had enough pieces you could make a portable mast system with this as well. I didn’t have a guying system for this, although you could easily make one like I did for my other mast. I only used this a couple times, and I would just tie it off to a fence post. I put an eye bolt in the top of the top piece, and ran a rope through it so I could pull up the center of a dipole antenna.

Radio (6)
2″ conduit supporting a 20M inverted vee. The ends of the antenna legs were attached to insulators, that were tied off to the fence with 550 cord. I don’t think this was the best installation with a bunch of steel barb wire underneath.

Another mast I would like to get is a surplus military mast. It is made up of 4 foot aluminum poles that slide together. I found one on ebay recently for $40 that was an entire kit. This setup wouldn’t be as man portable (although not impossible by any means), but it is a good piece of gear to have available. I’ve also thought about getting a 20′ collapsible fishing pole.

Radio (4)
Another view of a buddistick in the field.

Now, there are a lot of antenna designs out there, so like I said in the beginning, don’t take this as the gospel for what to do. Getting wire antennas into trees is a pain in the butt in my area, and so I have to resort to what I can use. This portable mast system has allowed me to get out into the field and start training on HF. Where I would normally spend the first 30 minutes to an hour trying to get my antenna up into a tree and set up, I now am set up and operating in less than 10 minutes. To me, that is worth the lack of efficiency that the buddistick gives me. After all, the important thing is the deed. You can read and talk and plan all day, or you can run what you brung and get out and train.

Radio (8)
Just listening for awhile. This was with an inverted vee pulled up 20′ into a tree.

Now, as I said, this isn’t the only antenna I use. I also have a 6M to 40M matchbox for an end fed half wave antenna. I recently had this string up vertically with a 1/4 wave length counter poise hung on an electric fence post, and it performed quite well. I’ve also strung it up in a tree about 20 feet in a sloper configuration and it worked as good as the buddistick setup. I really like this antenna so far, it is about as compact as a dipole antenna, and you only need one support for it.

Radio (10)
End Fed 20M Half Wave antenna

I still intend to build a dipole antenna for field use per the instructions from Danmorgan76. I had a 20 meter dipole until it got snagged in a tree and the little speaker wire I was using snapped. For my next one I will use hot rope from the wire man, per Dan’s suggestions. I also plan on building a homebrew buddipole as well.

Radio (3)
It’s amazing what you can accomplish with a lawn mower battery, some wire, and a cheap mast. Oh yeah, and an HF radio.

 

Advertisements
My portable, modular, antenna mast system

A quick day hike to recover some gongs…

Hiking. Humping. Road Marching. Hell. There’s a lot of ways people have described it. And they are all accurate. But either way, you should be including it in your training. If you aren’t, your just bs’ING yourself.

hike

Hiking, with a heavy load, is not an easy task to under take. It takes a lot of physical endurance, but even more mental endurance. When you are hiking, you become acutely aware of every ounce of weight you are carrying as your shoulder straps pull down on your shoulders, then chest, causing your lung capacity to decrease right when you need it most. And every step becomes a calculation, not just on where to step so you don’t roll an ankle, but also on whether or not just to quit and take a break. So therefore, each step turns into a conscious choice to continue. And this is why hiking is important in your training. This one reason, where you are faced with a difficult task, and are given the chance to quit every step of the way. There are not many other things you can do in life, that will give you that opportunity to quit.

The physical aspect is like other demanding physical exercise, it sucks. When you are running long distance, assuming you are in good shape, your body gets into a rhythm, and if you are pacing yourself you can run a long time. When I was at my peak, I ran 3 miles in 18:45. Granted, I think I nearly died, and I damn near blacked out, but I did it. But that 18:45 run, paled in comparison to the mental demands of the “heavy hikes” I did in Infantry School.

A heavy hike was a hike with everything but the kitchen sink. Rifle, LBE, water, chow, support weapons. And eventually, other guys’ gear too. For a comparison, load up a large pack with everything you would need to live in the field indefinitely, then if you have a spare M2 machine gun receiver lying around, strap that to the top (or any other 50 pound object).

BH
I feel bad for that guys feet, not sure why hes the only one in a flak with plates.

I quickly learned that the pack list said a “red lens flashlight”, not “military issue angle head flashlight with D cell batteries”. Hence, I picked myself up a red LED key chain light at the PX. A quick formula to remember: ounces = pounds = pain. I got a sideways glance from one of the staff NCO’s inspecting our gear before the hike, but he let me keep it, and you can bet your ass he had one next time.

So, in the spirit of this, I decided I needed to get out and do some hiking myself. It had been awhile, and after re-configuring my LBE multiple times, I wanted to see how it fit with a pack. Now this hike wasn’t going to be a “heavy hike”. My main goal was to hike in and get the gongs, and hike back out in the time frame I had available. No, this wasn’t going to be one of the hardest hikes I had ever done, and I was ok with that.

You see, heavy hikes usually take place on a Friday, so that the guys have enough time to recover over the weekend. I was going out on a Sunday, and I couldn’t afford to be broke down for 3 or 4 days, or longer if I got hurt. I still have to provide for a family, so my training can’t put that at risk.

My other objective was to test out an antenna I had built. It is a 2 meter Yagi built off this design. I modified the original design and used an old fishing pole so I could put the antenna elements inside of it to store them.

map

So I started off in the late morning. The terrain was pretty hilly, and I chose a route that hand railed a ridge line heading towards the valley where my gongs were set up. The wind was blowing pretty hard that day, and it was a humid and cold day to begin with. I quickly decided after about 10 minutes of wind in my face to cross the ridgeline in a saddle behind a hill to get on the backside and out of the wind.

Hike (10)

Once I got to the other side the view was awesome. The sun was starting to come out of the clouds and it was turning out to be a pretty nice day. The wind was still there and I was really enjoying the “windproof”ness of my surplus British windproof smock.

Hike (9)

I stopped to check my position in relation to some tall hills to my east, and continued on hand railing the ridge-line towards the valley. Soon I spotted some white in the trees below me and there were two mule deer hanging out in the brush. Given the wind direction, they had no idea I was above them until I was about 50 yards away.

Hike (14)
This is the draw the deer ran into

I continued on after I crossed the top of the draw the deer had been in, and was starting to get to the end of the ridge-line. I came around a large scoria boulder and then decided to cross back over the ridge-line. If I would have continued going forward, I would have been brought way out of my way before I got to the valley I was headed to.

Hike (7)

 

Once I crossed over the ridge-line I was at the head of the valley I needed to go into to get to my gongs. I stopped here and checked my gear to make sure everything was still attached before I started the steep descent through the trees. It is amazing how easily branches can hook into gear and cause you to lose something. That is why so many people believe in “dummy cording” important items. Nobody intends to lose something, but when it happens in the field, it really sucks. I’ve had magazines taken out of my rifle when crashing through thick brush. I’ve also seen an entire battalion online looking for a lost night vision device. IT can happen. Dummy cords. Use them.

Hike (21)

Once I started down into the valley I was weaving through the trees when I heard the distinct sound of a helicopter in the distance. The guy I was with thought it might have been a 4 wheeler, and it did sound like one, but as I pointed out to him you could hear the whine of the blades. He was skeptical, but I decided to use this as an impromptu training moment, and we did a hasty ambush to our right and got into some thick overhead cover.

canyon

About 30 seconds after first hearing the helicopter we were bedded down under some thick brush awaiting a visual of the helicopter. We could tell it was coming closer, but with the sound echoing off the valley walls, we weren’t exactly sure where it would appear. I was pretty certain it was flying along the same ridge-line we had been traveling just awhile before. Soon the helicopter appeared through a saddle in the ridge. It lined up perfectly with the sun, but not before I was able to get a good look at the outline of it. I immediately recognized it, it looked very much like an OH-58 Kiowa, but with red and white coloring. I tried to see the tail number but by the time it got out from in front of the sun it went back behind the ridge and kept on going.

Heli
Not the actual helicopter, but one similar.

This was the second time I’ve seen this helicopter in the area while out training, so I will be definitely interested in finding out who is using it and for what. Also, considering it does not operate out of the local airport, that I have seen, I will be interested in learning where it comes from too.

We then did a little after action review and decided that had we needed to actually hide from the helicopter we would have stood a good chance, especially if we used something to conceal our thermal signature. Now, if the helicopter was actively looking for us in the trees where we were, it may not have been as good for us. There was no leaves on the trees, so we were fairly exposed from directly above.

After a few minutes, we got back up and started back to the location where my gongs were. We got there and found them and loaded them into our packs. They were pretty shot up from previous training, but I figured we could still use them. At this point I forgot to take any pictures, but the gongs are 16×18 inches, and a half inch thick mild steel. They weigh roughly 20 pounds a piece, and took up all the space in my medium alice pack.

I know everyone says you should use AR-500 plates, but these were free. And we were shooting them from 150 yards+ practicing fire and movement drills, so I didn’t think we would be at too much of a risk. I plan on picking up some AR-500 plates for closer range shooting.

Once we got them loaded, we set out back up the valley where we had just came down. The climb up was a lot more difficult, but not impossible. As I was commenting to my partner, it would be an excellent “gut check” hike to see how dedicated a person is. Start where we had been with the gongs, and hike up and over the ridge. Any time you want to quit, go ahead and drop your pack and walk back to the start. If that hike is too hard for you, unless you are literally about to have a heart attack, I probably don’t want to rely on you anyways.

Once we had climbed up and out of the valley we hand railed the ridge line again, this time on the opposite side of it. We continued on for awhile until we got to a large rock outcrop on top of the ridge. I decided that it would be a good spot to set up out of the wind and test the antenna, and have some chow.

outcrop.jpg

I got out my little butane stove and my canteen cup and fired up some water. After this got to boiling I added a small can of chicken breast chunks, and tried to fit my noodles from my ramen in there. I had put way too much water in to begin with so I had to dump out some of my water. Not a big deal, just a learning mistake.

Hike (22)
Delicious

After I got done eating and put all my stuff away, I got my antenna out. The design is good and it works really well. I was hitting repeaters over 50 miles away on 1 watt with it. This is way more than I think I will need with this 5 watt hand held, but it’s still fun. One thing I learned from this is that my fishing pole idea sucks. It was a pain in the butt maneuvering through trees with it when we were trying to “hide” from the helicopter. And also taking my pack on and off was more difficult as well.

Because of this I decided to build a different antenna. I still wanted a directional antenna that could be packed, so I decided on a tape measure yagi. Here is the original plans. I changed my design slightly, mainly so that I can break it down into to sections. One section has the reflector and radiator, the other has the director. I modified it so it will have a removable turn down handle at the back so you can hold it, and on is a female adapter so I can mount it on my portable mast system.

TM Yagi
Before paint
TM yagi2 (2).jpg
After paint, and with the removable handle.

So far I am very happy with it, I can hit those same repeaters I tested earlier, but from a less advantageous location. Both halves collapsed for storage measure about 15 x 6 x 4 inches. So it should fit into a pouch or bag about that size. And, come to find out, a Molle II waist pack fits the bill perfectly. With the antenna collapsed inside of it there is easily enough room for another feedline, the radio, extra batteries, and a notebook, if you wanted all that in there.

TM yagi2.jpg
Molle II waist pack with antenna inside. ACU gear is dirt cheap these days.

After our lunch and antenna experiment, we loaded back up and hiked the last bit in to our pick up point. We were tired, but not exhausted. And we felt good, because we had got out, tested our equipment and ourselves, and were happy with the knowledge learned. I am currently planning a second hike, this one with more weight and more distance.

A quick day hike to recover some gongs…