Getting on 1296

by Dave W6OAL
The 23 cm band (1296 MHz), yes, it’s on a lot of today’s transceivers (rigs), e.g. Kenwood TS-2000X, Icom IC-9700 but how often is it ever selected or used by those having the band available to them? The argument I hear most often is; “Who’s on that band anyway and how far (DX) can I work, isn’t it line-of-sight (LOS) anyway?” The UHF bands (300 – 3000 MHz) were not meant to be DX bands, however; EME, MS, Sporatic “E” on CW or some digital modes, one can extend their range considerably, it just takes more time and money. If it’s already on your rig, add an antenna for the band and enjoy the local activity.
The coverage on the 23 cm band can be a lot further than the local 2 M or 70 cm repeater and working in the microwave bands can be a lot of fun, consider some conditions not ordinarily found on the lower VHF bands. How many of you younger hams have ever experienced using our mountains as reflectors in order to put a signal where you want it?
Microwaves bounce fairly well off of granite. Those of you that don’t have this band on your HF / VHF rigs don’t have to feel left out as “transverters” are not out of reach (monetarily) of the average ham operator that has an inquisitive mind and an interest in experimentation. So who is on the band locally? Around the Denver Area there are a few of the couple of dozen or so capable of getting on the band that fires up every Thursday evening at 8 PM (local) on 1296.1 MHz USB. We have some very interesting discussions from quantum mechanics to what we feed our pets. You’re free to bring any subject you care or want to the group other than politics, religion and women (a long standing requirement in ham radio). Our check-ins range from Colorado Springs to our south, to Como to the west (just about the western edge of grid DM79), 66 miles from me in DM79ql, to Cheyenne 110 miles to our north. I’m ‘south and east’ of I-25, 35 miles SE of downtown Denver in Parker Hylands, 10 miles east of Parker. I have, in the past during contests worked Larry – N0LL in Smith Center, KS (312 miles), Chad in Scott City, KS (212 miles). So, my DX may be a bit greater than most as I’m at 6535’ AMSL with a view of the Rockies from Pikes Peak to the Laramie Range.
My 23 cm operation encompasses an Icom IC-9700, a home brew 150 W linear and a pair of Directive Systems 55 element Loop Yagi’s at 60’. To start out on the higher bands one doesn’t have to drop a lot of money to get on 23 cm and have fun. “Q5 Signal, LLC” an off shot of Down East Microwave, Inc. offers medium power transverters and amplifiers in the
$500+ range, Kuhne Electronics in Germany has a good line of 23 cm equipment. Even cheaper, S&G Labs in Bulgaria offers transverters (902, 1296 and 2304 MHz) in the $200+… price range. Using a low power 2 M rig they will output on the order of 2 W which is fine to drive low power 10 to 30 W amplifiers in the $150 to $300 range. Antennas, conventional Yagi’s and Loop Yagi’s run the gamete in price from under $100 on up depending on how big an array you want and can afford (and your HOA and/or covenants will allow/tolerate). I reside in Elbert County and don’t have to be bothered with that liberal crap, however; one can come up with some covert, imaginative antenna configuration ideas. Myself, for antennas – uhf and above, I prefer the Loop Yagi’s as they provide twice the gain for half the boom length of conventional Yagi’s.
Just for grins and something to do, I put together a 1296 station consisting of a Yaesu FT-290RII transceiver, an S&G Labs (Bulgarian) 1296m transverter and a home brew 30 W power amplifier plus hardware (relays, cabling, etc) for under $500. BTW, it is available on “Wayne’s swap list” (http://www.n0ara.org/ ). Granted getting on the higher bands is not cheap, but what is in this day and age, but can be found very rewarding in experience and operation. If one would care to ‘home brew’ the transverter a bit of design and engineering is required. Essentially, all that is required is a local oscillator (L.O.), a mixer and some amplifiers plus various hardware. Thus, the L,O. For a 1296 transverter would be 1296.1 minus 144.1 or 1152 MHz. What we call ‘brick’ oscillators in this frequency range from Frequency West and others can be found on the surplus market, Internet (Ebay, Amazon, etc.) fairly cheap. Also, synthesizers have become quite inexpensive ($99, at DEMi) that can be used to replace the ‘brick’ oscillator.
Mixers: “MiniCircuits” to swap meet specials are the norm. Two meters is the most common intermediate frequency (I.F.) used to drive transverters. A couple of the more common I.F. rigs are Icom IC-202, Yaesu FT290RII, etc..) or any HF + VHF transceiver.
As for HB power amplifiers: “RF Parts” offers circuit boards (DEM 2330, etc.) and power modules, other parts to stuff the boards such as chip caps and resistors are easily scrounged up items. Heat sinks and enclosures, check ALLELECTRONICS.COM or just surfing the Internet can turn up most anything needed. Then there is always Radio Shack (if you can find one that hasn’t gone under) or in general hobby stores.
The upper bands can be a lot of fun and you will run into quite knowledgeable hams that are interested in more than a QSO that involves little more than ‘name’, ‘signal report’ and ‘grid square’.