Saturday, May 17, 2014

Hawaii EARC 6-40M End-Fed Antenna

A little while ago I picked up a 6 – 40M end-fed matchbox antenna from the Hawaii Emergency Amateur Radio Club, for field use. It operates using similar principals to the Ultimax 100 that I use at my QTH.

Both units consist of a single wire antenna with a matching unit at the feed point, however, the Ultimax is advertised as being usable from 6 to 80M. I haven’t had much luck with Tx on bands lower than 40M.

The matching unit on the HI EARC is much smaller than the one on the Ultimax, so it’s better suited for portable operations.

Today I got the chance to try out the HI EARC antenna and while this is hardly a comprehensive test, my first impressions are good. Rx during my daytime 20M test seems comparable to the Ultimax 100 as does my Tx propagation, according to

My quick and dirty test setup looked like this:


I used some electral tape to attach the end of the antenna wire to the tip of a Jackite 31-foot telescoping kite pole, then propped up the pole with the magnolia in my front yard. The pole wasn’t long enough to fully extend the wire so I put the matching unit with feed point on the plastic lawn chair to the left.

For a feed line I used a 25-foot piece of RG-8X coaxial cable coming from my LDG IT-100 tuner. With my Icom 7200 and this antenna setup I was able to get a QSO with a station in Windsor, Ontario, using 50W on 20M PSK-31. I can’t leave it up for long because the XYL threw a fit about me having this in the front yard. Future tests will be in the field.

I’ll post a follow up after I get the chance to use the antenna some more.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Hill People Gear Kit Bag Review

In my ongoing search to find a comfortable way to carry a gun while hiking, including when wearing a pack, I bought a Hill People Gear Kit Bag. I ordered it last Thursday and received it on Monday.

HPG is a small, family-run business located in Colorado. The Kit Bag is a chest pack with three compartments. Overall dimensions are 11.5” wide by 7.5” tall by 2” thick.

The outer zippered pocket is the smallest. I replaced the Slick Clips that come attached to the sewn-in loops with mini carabiners, which I find easier to use. One biner has a Fox whistle and an REI compass on it. The other has a Nitecore T0 flashlight on it, and I also use it to secure my keys. Other items I put in this pocket include some tarred bankline and some 550 cord, a ziploc bag with mixed nuts, and a Benchmade Griptilian folding knife.

The middle compartment opens up and has two pockets on the far side. The third and furthest from your body is a slash pocket again with two pockets, this time on the side closest to you. This pocket also has nylon webbing loops for dummy cording items.

In this compartment I keep a Cliff Bar, small first aid kit, an SOL Survival Blanket (space blanket), water purification tablets, an empty 0.5 liter Platypus water bottle, and a fire making kit with strike anywhere matches, Mini Bic, and three Esbit tablets, and a GI triangular bandage for use as a bandanna.

The pocket closest to your body is meant for the gun, and has a strip of the loop half of Velcro running vertically down the middle, so you can secure something like a Maxpedition universal holster to it. Here I have it packed with my Beretta M9 with a spare mag secured with just such a holster.

The gun compartment is plenty big to handle almost any full size pistol you’d want to carry.  E.g., I tried my S&W Model 625 N-Frame with a 5” barrel and it fits (But I don’t think a 6” N-Frame will fit.)

The Kit Bag comes with straps and fittings to enable you to “dock” the pack to your backpack straps, to better distribute the weight on your shoulders. I decided to remove these because (1) I don’t want to dock it, and (2) for me the Grimlocks attached to the bag got in my way when trying to open the gun compartment.

The suspension is a new take on chest pack design. Chest packs have been used at least since World War I, when some gas mask bags were carried in this fashion. The Kit Bag’s suspension consists of nylon shoulder straps about 1.5” wide in an H-harness arrangement. The straps attach to a mesh panel that rides on your back. The side strap that goes under your right arm has a quick-detach Fastex buckle near the bag.

It’s designed for use while wearing a backpack, but depending on how you adjust it to ride, I think you could use it in conjunction with a shoulder bag.

The Kit Bag is made for HPG in the USA by First Spear from 500 denier nylon, and the workmanship is outstanding. All seams are well done. There were no loose threads or ugly stitches. The zippers are high quality.

One should be careful not to overload the Kit Bag. It has enough space so that you could do so easily. I limit mine to what’s shown in the pictures above, but I may add a monocular, and might put my iPhone in it, depending on what else I’m wearing. Anything else will go in another bag or my pockets.

According to what I’ve read by HPG, the Kit Bag wasn’t designed as “tactical” gear. Rather, it’s for outdoorsman. That said, I’ve read of at least one US Army officer using one while deployed in Afghanistan.

Today I took the Kit Bag out for a hike in French Creek State Park. My walk covered only a few miles but it was over rough terrain, with a vertical rise of about 300 feet in the first half mile or so. I wore the Kit Bag for about 2.5 to 3 hours, in conjunction with my Maxpedition Baby Condor day pack, and I’m very pleased.

For me, the HPG Kit Bag is the most comfortable way I’ve ever worn a pistol. The H-harness with wide shoulder straps carries the load very well, and when adjusted properly the bag doesn’t move around. The temperature was in the 60s but due to exertion I was sweating, but my chest didn’t feel uncomfortably clammy under the bag. The back panel was very comfortable.

If you’re into hiking and have been searching for a way to comfortably carry a sidearm and a few other supplies, while wearing a backpack with a waistbelt, the Hill People Gear Kit Bag is an excellent solution. Based on the quality and utility of the Kit Bag, I’m looking at making further purchases from Hill People Gear.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

DIY FLIR Camoflauge

An interesting article with discussion and stills from the video, here.

Full video:

Beretta M9 Pistol

One pistol that it’s taken me a long time to warm up to is the Beretta 92, AKA M9. Compared with more modern pistols like the Glock, Springfield XD, or S&W Military & Police, the traditional DA/SA trigger is obsolete. Further, the M9’s size is very large for the cartridge it fires. Many people with small hands have a difficult time comfortably gripping the piece due to the bulk of the grip. This last point had always soured me on the gun.

However, opinions chance over time. Back at the beginning of April I picked up a Beretta CX-4 Storm 9mm carbine which uses Beretta 92 magazines. I regard the CX-4 as a good choice for a defensive carbine and the idea of a pistol that would take the same magazines is something I find very attractive. So, I went over to my parents’ and took another look at my father’s M9. I wound up buying my own about a week later.

The pistol came in a blue plastic hard case with a manual, warranty card, lock, two 15 round magazines, and a Jello mold or shot glass.

(Actually, it’s there to help keep the case from getting crushed in transit.)

I’m a bit surprised that it doesn’t come with a basic magazine loader. Double column/single feed pistol mags are a bitch to fill to capacity without a loading tool. In any event, I highly recommend the Butler Creek LULA magazine loader. It makes loading double column pistol magazines a breeze.

Note that in the pics of the gun above, it has a Mec-Gar 20 round magazine in place. Mec-Gar has made mags for Beretta in the past and currently make a flush-fit 18 rounder. Their 20 rounder is the bod of an 18 round mag with a +2 extension on it. Were I carrying the gun in the military or as a police officer, the Mec-Gar 20 would be my preferred magazine, with the 18 rounder as my second choice.

I bought the M9 at Surplus City in Feasterville, PA for $599 + tax. I immediately took it to the range, field stripped, cleaned and lubed it, and fired it alongside my Springfield XD9.

On the initial outing I put 111 rounds through the M9, including some Brown Bear with lacquered steel cases, PMC, and Federal American Eagle. The Brown Bear and PMC were 115 grain FMJ, while the FAE was 147 grain FMJ-FP.

One of the things that impressed me was how easy it is to shoot the Beretta accurately in SA. In the picture below, the left hand target is 50 rounds through the M9 while the right target is 30 rounds through the XD9. Distance was 10 yards.

On the target I shot with the Beretta all the fliers were my fault.

The other thing that made a favorable impression upon me is how pleasant to shoot the M9 is. It’s not an especially heavy gun because the frame is made from aluminum, but it’s bulky and the grip spreads out the already mild 9mm recoil across your hand, rather than concentrating it in one spot.

The following weekend I brought it with me on a camping trip to Tioga County, PA, where my friends and I ran a couple hundred more rounds of CCI Blazer Brass 115 grain FMJ through it, shooting at steel plates.

As an aside, on this trip I also got the chance to do night firing for the first time. I used a Fenix LD20 flashlight held in my right hand while shooting the M9 with my left. The only ambient light was from a campfire. The hardest part about getting hits was acquiring the front sight, but when I was able to do so hitting a 10” gong at ~15 – 20 yards wasn’t too hard.

One of the valid criticisms (IMNSHO) of the M9 is the trigger pull. It’s flat-out heavy and long in DA. Combined with the weapon’s girth, this makes it hard for those of us with small hands to get off accurate DA shots. I’m not normally one to tinker with a gun until it’s got through a 500 round break-in period, but in this case there is an easy, cheap fix.

The factory hammer spring is rated for 20 lbs. This was specified so that the gun doesn’t have any problems firing ammo with even the hardest of primers, e.g., some SMG ammo. I don’t have to worry about that, so I replaced the OEM spring with a a Wolff hammer spring rated for 16 lbs. This drops the DA pull down several pounds and the SA pull a pound or two. The gun is now much easier to shoot, especially for the first shot in DA.

Last night I put another 110 rounds of CCI Blazer Brass through the gun. I’m now up to ~400 rounds down the pipe and it hasn’t had a single malfunction. My father shot his M9 last night, bringing the total in his gun up to 1100 rounds, and he has yet to experience any malfunctions.

Unfortunately, the M9 doesn’t have a rail under the dust cover, so for me to mount a light it will require an add-on. (If this is critical to you, the 92A1 or M9A1 come from the factory with a rail.) Brownell’s sells a rail section that can be affixed to the dust cover which I’m considering getting. Surefire also makes a no-gunsmithing rail that secures to the trigger guard.

The Beretta’s safety/decocker is mounted up on the slide and unless you have gorilla hands, it’s difficult to reach with your thumb, without radically changing your grip. There’s a simple solution to this: don’t use the safety. IMHO it’s superfluous on a DA autoloader anyway. If the gun is being carried in a proper holster the chances of an AD are pretty much zero. I use it strictly as a decocker.

I’ve done a total 180 on the Beretta M9. It’s a big, old fashioned DA/SA autoloader, but it’s accurate, pleasant to shoot, and reliable. If you’re in the market for a 9mm pistol it’s worth a serious look.