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ALE Ham Antenna: Butternut HF9V Vertical All-Band Member Store

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The Global ALE High Frequency Network (HFN) is a system of ALE base stations with internet connectivity. Each HFN Pilot Station is rapidly scanning the ALE Primary DATA Channels of the ham bands 3.5MHz to 28MHz every 10 seconds, monitoring for calls, and sounding with station identification callsigns approximately once per hour.

Ham radio ALE operators anywhere within the coverage area, may link with an HFN Pilot Station on HF, and send or receive short text messages via email or phone texting SMS.

Access to HFN Pilot Stations for internet services is limited to ham radio operators, holding a valid license
of any country for HF operation. To use HFN services, first join HFLINK free, get your HF transceiver and computer set up with the latest free ALE software

ALE activity on the air, around the world, is automatically reported in real time by HFN stations on ALE CHANNEL ZERO.

Butternut HF9V Vertical as a Ham Radio ALE Antenna
Benefits to the ham radio ALE operator: No tuner needed. Provides low SWR on ALL the HF ham bands, good RF efficiency, durable construction, light weight, with convenient installation.
Butternut HF9V Vertical Antenna at VR2/KQ6XA
Click on any photo to zoom.
The Butternut HF9V Vertical
as a Ham Radio ALE Antenna

an article by Bonnie Crystal KQ6XA

After using this antenna for a short time, my initial impression is that I believe it has excellent potential for ham radio ALE station operators as an efficient vertical to cover the HF ham- bands- only. Here's the background story of my experiences selecting it, assembling it, putting it up, tuning the antenna, and how it performs on the air for 80m-10m ALE operation.

I Operate an  ALE HFN Pilot Station  at one of my QTHs in tropical East Asia. Typically, it is common for us to see severe weather and fierce gusts every year in this Pacific coastal zone. HF antennas here must be durable, or they simply will not survive.
Butternut HF9V Antenna Top
Prior to this, I've been using a stout dipole broadband coaxial antenna system of my own design... it has a low SWR from 3.5MHz to 60MHz... but trades off a little negative gain to achieve a DC to light match to 50 ohms. The receive performance on the broadband dipole is good, but the transmit effectiveness for low angle DX is somewhat less than optimum. Normally, this sort of workhorse antenna is great for ALE; but watching the dipole dance around like a crazed deadhead in the recent storms, made me a bit concerned that one of the trees that supports the end of it could be blown over in a typhoon while I'm away from the station on a business trip.

At first, I started to think about installing a back-up antenna --possibly a vertical-- that could be switched over to, if the broadband dipole came down Then, I became attracted to the idea that the station performance and coverage area could be increased at the same time. To cover this remote area of the world with a better transmit signal, more effective radiated power would be needed. The trick is to combine this with DX take-off angle high-efficiency on all the higher HF bands, a minimum of roof space, and survivability in the bad weather without constant maintenance.

The choices all pointed to an HF ham-band ground-plane vertical on top of the station building.  Given the fact that the season has had some particularly severe typhoons, and my work schedule left little time for antenna work, I decided to look for a commercial antenna rather than succumbing to my engineering gut instinct to redesign the wheel and build one from scratch. While shopping around on the internet to see what commercial antennas exist, I began reading reviews written by hams who had been using various brands of verticals. But, I found very few antennas out there that met the one key requirement for ALE... a resonant vertical with coverage of the 80-40-20-30-20-15-12-10 meter ham bands, without need for a tuner.

Then, after reading one review, I recalled my earlier experience years ago, in 1980, when I put up what was then a strange new multi-band vertical at a friend's QTH. It was called the Butternut Vertical.  I was really impressed back then with the elegant design and practical aspect of being able to change to any band and just start talking. That was way before ALE was widely used on HF, but the need for this basic principle of instantaneous all-band operation is the same. I found the recent satisfied reviews of the Butternut model HF9V, and realized that this line of antennas has been in production for almost 30 years, with the basic construction relatively unchanged. Tried and proven, I thought to myself.

After a friend picked up a Butternut HF9V antenna at an HRO store and sent it to me, I ordered the companion tripod roof mount with multiband radial kit. I received the antenna in the first shipment, but I'm still waiting for the tripod kit to arrive.
But in the mean time, I assembled the antenna in my workshop and hallway. It took about 4 hours to put together, following the instructions carefully, and matching the parts up to the description and drawings in the manual.

The aluminum coil resonator contraptions are added one by one to the aluminum tubing sections, and bolted in place. A few other rods and straps are carefully clamped.  The parts are well-machined, but special attention needs to be paid to the burrs and particularly handling of the fibreglass insulators, because these may cause tiny glass slivers to be embedded in one's fingers and hands...

Assembly of Butternut HF9V 80m-30m Resonator Sections
Part of the 4 hours of assembly time, was spent with tweezers removing the micro-fibres while looking closely under an illuminated magnifying glass!

As I found out, after assembling all the resonators and putting the last tubing tip in place... the antenna is too large to get out the door, around the hallway corners, and up the stairwell to the roof! So, I partially disassembled it temporarily into 3 sections at convenient points and carried it up one by one to the terrace, where the last 2 bolts were inserted to hold the middle sections together, and the 15 meter stub resonator wire was re-strung like a violin bow. 
Assembly of Butternut HF9V - Close up of 17 metre Resonator

I easily tilted up the lightweight antenna by myself without any problem. Then I attached it temporarily to a metal roof terrace railing, along the edge of the roof, to test it out. A large piece of plastic insulator sheet was first cut up and attached to the railing to prevent the base section from shorting out. Plastic cable ties were used liberally to lash everything in place for the test.

It is indeed unusual among commercial trapped verticals for the design to use most of the full length of the antenna vertiacl radiating element for all the different bands, but that is just what the Butternut HF9V does. It does it with an ingenious arrangement of aluminum coil resonators, rods, tubular sections, fibreglass insulators, a few heavy duty doorknob capacitors, and some stainless steel nuts and bolts.

Of course, this type of vertical antenna needs a good ground plane to perform well. The vertical part is only "half of a dipole".  I cut a quarterwave radial wire for each of the following bands: 80, 40, 30, 20, 15 metres. Then I attached all of them to the ground lug of the feedpoint, and suspended them above the roof terrace at a height of about 1 metre, all pointing in the same general direction, separated by a few meters fanned apart at a point about 3 meters out from the base of the antenna, and held in place by black dacron antenna cord. The 80 metre groundplane radial I made is shortened to about 10 metres long and I put a loading coil in it about 7 metres out toward the end. I don't have space on the roof for a full-size 20 metre length of wire.  I already had the coil from another project, and this seemed like a good use for it. Alternatively, I could have zig-zagged the wire or snaked it around the roof. 
There is a shunt coil at the feedpoint that matches the very low impedance of the antenna on the 80 metre band to 50 ohms, and also provides a path for DC grounding of the vertical radiator elements and static bleed off.

Perhaps this coil can be adjusted if needed to improve the match on 40 metres as well, but that is not indicated in the instructions, so I left it alone.

I plan to add more radials to it later. But, the next part is,  getting it tuned. I wanted to completely avoid having to use a tuner, so careful tuning of the resonators was found to be essential to achieving a low SWR at the right place in the bands.

Butternut HF9V Feedpoint
At this point I connected the supplied 75 ohm section of cable feedpoint matching section, and a 10m long section of 50 ohm RG-58/U cable to the radio rack downstairs. To measure the SWR curve, I used an AIM 4170 antenna analyzer. The results of my tuning in progress, are shown below, just before lowering the antenna to adjust the 15m and 10m resonators, which are the uppermost sections of the antenna and could be reached while the antenna was in place, with a step ladder. Despite the curve not being centred in these two bands, the SWR was low enough (below 1.7:1) on the ALE primary data frequencies to use it, so I went ahead and started on-the-air testing with it as is.  I will tune it up better after I get the tripod roof mount installed, and complete the installation with 2 radials for each band... except for 80metres, which I only want to use one radial, to get better high angle takeoff, and I don't have the space for a second radial. I feel confident that the SWR on 40 meters will improve somewhat with the additional radials, and I will be adjusting the other bands to tweak them to their best match at the desired points in the bands.

The on the air performance is as good or better than I expected. I've been able to regularly copy ALE signals from Europe and Australia stations that never before were seen on the log. Some DX signals are very loud on the vertical that I could barely hear on the dipole. Also, the first report came in today of my signal being heard in Australia. Hopefully, within the next few weeks, I will post more information about the performance as I'm able to compare it against other antennas at my QTH.

I hope this encourages other operators to try this antenna for ALE.

73--- Bonnie Crystal KQ6XA
Butternut HF9V Vertical SWR Curve at VR2/KQ6XA
Note: July 2009. After tuning the antenna and radials better, the SWR curve is very good on all ham bands. The 2:1 SWR bandwidth of the Butternut HF9V is now 50kHz on 80m, 200kHz on 40m, and the entire band on all other ham bands 30m-6m. See SWR curve above.
Note: December 2009 - After slight bending of the mounting pipe below the feedpoint of the antenna, during a typhoon with 60mph (100kph) winds, the antenna was taken down and insulated guy lines were added to provide better support for higher winds.
Butternut HF9V Vertical guy insulators at VR2/KQ6XA
Butternut HF9V vertical with guy lines at VR2/KQ6XA

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