15 August 2021

Schlepping It All Around

 Well it's Sunday, and it's turned into '705 Sunday' at the QTH. And why not... can't do much else, it's so damned hot and humid here in the Peach State, as we sit and await the potentially possible arrival of Hurricane Fred.

For a few weeks now I've been contemplating better ways to carry the IC-705 to the field. So far I've been using Pelican cases (real Pelican cases, not the cheapo Harbor Freight knock-offs). They work great and provide unparalleled protection. But if I just want to grab a radio and accessories for a quick trip to a park the Pelican case(s) are bulky and gobble up too much space. Plus, it's hard to walk down a trail lugging a Pelican case. So I thought I'd give a backpack a try.

I took a pass on the Icom LC-192 backpack. It's over-priced, not sized well for (ahem...) 'larger' Americans, and I don't plan on talking on the 705 while I walk, so I don't need all the antenna brackets and pass-thru ports. I just need a backpack that provides good protection and enough space for the radio and accessories I want to take to the field.

Too expensive & too small

So, having some experience in the photography world, I figured a good camera backpack might do the trick. These backpacks are designed with two goals in mind. First, to protect the somewhat fragile and very expensive camera gear inside. Second, to provide ease of access. Perfect requirements for my IC-705 deployment project. 

There's plenty of camera backpack options out there (just Google 'DSLR backpack'), with some low-end examples selling for around $30 and some pro models selling for over $300. Three hundred bucks may sound like a lot, but when you are carrying around $10,000 of professional camera gear, paying $300 for best-in-class protection makes sense.

I'm trying to proof a concept - can I put an entire HF/VHF/UHF station into a backpack? Radio, antennas, tuner, laptop, battery, cabling, everything I'd need for several hours of off-grid operation. But I didn't want to spend a hundred bucks or more on a 'concept' backpack, so I went searching. I found what I was looking for on Amazon - one of their 'Basics' line of products that got very good reviews. Even better, the cost was just a smidge under fifty bucks.

The backpack arrived a few days ago, and I have to say I'm pretty impressed. While it's not Mystery Ranch quality (if you know Mystery Ranch you know what I'm talking about), but for $50 it's surprisingly well designed and put together. Stiff and heavily padded compartments using dense foam, lots of accessory pockets and an overall good layout. The backpack isn't wateproof, but to my surprise Amazon includes a rain cover as part of the purchase, a nice touch. Just in case though, I plan on bringing along a few standard issue M1-A1 Hefty trash bags.

What's in the backpack?

This afternoon I decided to do a test load-out, to see if it would hold all the items I need for a few hours in the park. I was delighted to find that not only would it hold what I need, there's actually space left over for some non-essentials (like a cold Diet Coke).

So what fits? Let's look at the list:
  • IC-705 with the Windcamp 'cage'
  • AH-705 tuner with cables
  • 4.5 amp hour LiFePo battery (Bioenno)
  • Speaker-mic
  • 25' of lightweight RG-316 coax
  • Par EndFedz Trail Friendly 10 - 40 meters wire antenna
  • Comet HFJ-350 multi-band HF vertical ('Toy Box')
  • 23' random wire antenna with counterpoise
  • UHF/VHF/50 mHz 'rubber duck
  • Small bag of connectors and jumper cables
  • Fully rugged Windows 10 tablet/laptop with detachable keyboard and mouse
  • Notebook & pen
  • IC-705 documentation

I'll be adding about 30' of lightweight braided nylon cord and a throw weight to get wires up over tree limbs, and a Diet Coke.

This setup should allow me to operate voice and digital for at least 4 hours completely off-grid, and provide ease of carry and good protection. 

If you are interested in the backpack you can view it here on Amazon:

Is this backpack the be-all and end-all for this project? No. If I find the concept works as I expect it will I plan on investing in a more expensive camera backpack with some better exterior lash point options for things like carbon fiber poles as antenna supports. But for now, this looks like a crackerjack setup.

Stay tuned and I'll keep you updated.

W8BYH out

08 August 2021

Going Wireless

Back in June I put up a post where I outlined the USB RFI issues I've had with my IC-705 and stated that I no longer recommend it.

Recently a fellow ham asked me if I still feel the same. Yes, but...

In the interim I've had the chance to test the Icom RS-BA1 version 2 rig control and interface software, and I can say unequivocally that the Remote Utility portion of the RS-BA1 suite is the savior of the IC-705. It is well written, robust, stable, well documented and is easy to install, configure and get working. When set up, I have been able to run Winlink, JS8CALL, Fldigi and WSJT-X over wi-fi. By switching to wi-fi, all the rig's RFI issues go away. This, more than anything else, proves that the issue really does lie with the USB cable and connection.

The only drawback with the RS-BA1 software, and it's a biggie, is price. You have to shell out an extra $150 for a copy of the software. My position is that IC-705 owners shouldn't have to shell out anything extra just to get their radios to work as advertised. Icom needs to provide the RS-BA1 software free of charge to all IC-705 owners. Really, all they need to provide is the Remote Utility package. It would take a smart programmer at Icom about a day to develop an IC-705-only version - just strip out the support for all the other Icom radios and make it a free download on the Icom website.

But Icom doesn't seem to think there's a problem. Actually, they've acknowledged the problem, and have admitted there's no fix, but they don't seem too bothered by it. They continue to state in their product literature that the radio can be run on digital modes via USB. So, the radio stays on my 'not recommended' list unless the potential buyer is interested in running it voice-only, or is willing to shell out an extra $150 to get the radio to run like it should. Or until Icom provides the RS-BA1 software for free.

But it's not all grim, and we'll be talking more about the IC-705 - the good points - in later posts.

And for those of you reading this and shouting "Hey, what about wfview?", we'll talk about that down the line, too.

W8BYH out