Thursday 4 December 2014

BK Bustle

The AWA Builders Group has been buzzing with activity over the past few days as many '29ers get prepared for the upcoming Bruce Kelley QSO Party. If you've been following the blog of late, you'll already know that the BK is the year's premier operating event to celebrate radio as it was in 1929....only self-excited oscillators are allowed (no crystals!) and only tubes that were first introduced in 1929 or earlier. Party activities commence this Saturday afternoon at 2300Z and run for 24 hours....same for the following weekend, only add 160m to the action.

You may hear plenty of activity in the nights leading up to the Party as various stations burn the cobwebs out of their handmade creations around 3550-3570 in the next few might give them a call if you hear them as most will be delighted to know that they're getting out of their backyard.

A few weeks ago, in the same spirit of preparation, I began work on a small amplifier for my Hull Hartley transmitter. Ever since entering the BK Party, I have been held hostage by the monster winds which always seem to show up here during early December. Self-excited oscillators connected to blowing antennas create an unusual-sounding signal...somewhat musical....up to about 30km, but after that, somewhat dreadful, as shifts in frequency between keying elements can be measured in tens of Hertz or more and make it difficult to copy a weak signal.

I put the amp together in the original 'ugly construction' style of the 20's, which I'll call 'ugly breadboard'. For the most part, period-appropriate components were used, as it was to be a 'proof-of-concept' see if and how it would work and what changes might need to be implemented in a 'finished' version.

Amplifier stage followed by Hull Hartley exciter on far end.

The original circuit, shown below, was published in the February 1931 QST and penned by George Grammer (W1DF), the ARRL's Assistant Technical Editor. Since I already had the oscillator section, I built the amplifier only, making a few modifications.


My changes involved removing the B+ from the exposed plate tank coil by putting C7 between the plate and the tank circuit, grounding the coil tap point and shunt-feeding the B+ directly to the plate. As well, the operating bias was changed from the original combination of grid-leak and external fixed-bias (always a pain) to grid-leak bias only. Since I planned to let the oscillator run and key only the amplifier stage, no external (extra) bias was needed. The original system of feeding drive via capacitive coupling from the oscillator tank circuit was maintained as was the 'plate neutralizing' system. With the plate tank no longer carrying B+, a wide-spaced variable capacitor was no longer required for C3. These changes are illustrated below:


Testing went smoothly and with the help of a tuned RF-sniffing wavemeter (the actual one I built when I was a brand new 15 year old ham!), the amplifier neutralized beautifully. It was unconditionally stable, in spite of the numerous clip leads surrounding the board connecting to the separate Hartley oscillator in a somewhat haywire really was a mess. As one other '29 builder (KK7UV) so perfectly described his latest workbench project, it "looked like the transmitter was on life-support!"

Surprisingly little drive was required from the Hartley and it was run at just 200VDC. The amplifier efficiency was around 50% which could probably be improved upon with careful attention to biasing values, shorter leads and more efficient antenna coupling. On 80m, the only band that I wound a coil for, keying was clean and very nice (an advantage of being able to run the oscillator at low level). Without too much effort, 15 watts out was easily obtained...far too much for the BK Party.

Tapping down on the tank coil for 40m operation proved to be a different story as the note sounded like a buzz saw...very raspy and nasty. To really undertake a fair test, a dedicated 40m tank coil would have to be used as well as a  much 'cleaner build'.
The rat's nest of unwanted coupling of both RF and AC ripple was showing through on this higher frequency.

For multiband operating events, such as the BK, things have to be efficient enough to make band changing and tune-up procedures quick and simple and in its present haywire form, the amplifier would just not be 'contest-friendly'.

All in all it was a very valuable building exercise as a LOT was learned. I am now convinced that for a true MOPA (Master Oscillator Power Amplifier) combination to do what is needed will require an all-in-one style of construction....both oscillator and amplifier on the same board, with short leads and little chance for unwanted parasitic-coupling between stages. With separate coils for all bands and calibrated dials, tuning and changing bands would be very much easier than trying to couple two separate units together. I can see why the struggle to get the original '29ers away from their simple Hartley's and TNT's and over to MOPAS went on for several years.

So once again I am at the mercy of the wind-gods and hoping for two back-to-back Saturdays of quiet BK-friendly early December...on the west the ocean...yeh, right!


Mark, AB0CW said...

Steve, with the oscillator running continuously, and the open construction, how do you deal with the oscillator signal on receive ? I've always ended up keying the osc, or osc and PA at same time due to this.

Steve McDonald said...

Hi Mark - my HB antenna changeover relay-box (controlled by a footswitch) has an extra set of contacts which I use to key the oscillator 'on' when in tx mode only.

BTW...will be studying your MOPA design while researching possoble improvements.