Saturday, August 19, 2006

Force 12 Sigma-5 first impressions

My friends kid me that every time I get a new antenna the HF bands go dead. Well, true to form, my Force 12 Sigma-5 is now stuck into the umbrella stand for my patio table and the HF bands have gone to pot. (I promise not to get any new antennas for CQWW contest weekends! [grin])
The antenna boasts that assembly requires no tools. True enough for the main antenna unit, but you'll need small screwdriver to attach the controller cable wires to the switch box. I had assembled it in the office the day it arrived in about 10 minutes. I probably beat that time today.
I fashioned a power cord for the unit with a PowerPole connector and moved the switch from 20-17-15-12-10-20 and back again. I could hear the relays clicking as I moved the switch. So far so good!
The MFJ-259B analyzer showed a good match across all bands 17-10m and a very large chunk of 20m. The instructions show how I could alter the coils inside the unit to move that range on 20m, but there is no need. I've got auto tuners to smooth out everything anyway. So as not to let the major point be lost here: I have a 5 band antenna with instant band switching (largely) resonant across all bands. For a 7 pound antenna system that breaks down into two foot sections, that is very good news indeed!
One of my concerns was the current draw on the relays. Measurements show each of the four relays draw somewhere between 80-90mA when energized. Nobody is going to care about this small drain from an operation with wall power available, but portable operations with a 7Ah battery and a QRP radio, the drain a more serious problem. Still, I knew this when I bought the antenna and believe it is a reasonable tradeoff. (If Force 12 wants a product improvement idea, though, latching relays might be considered.)
I made my first QSO on it a few minutes ago to a special event station in Michigan. I received a 57 report for my 20m contact. I was also able to do an A/B comparison to my MFJ HiQ loop and the signal strengths are roughly equivalent. Not bad considering the MFJ loop is at 35 feet and the Sigma-5 is at ground level!
After some prompting from Sandy, I sent Force 12 a letter outlining the trouble I'd had from my two orders with them. I also made it a point (and will make it again here) that I like their stuff, I can recommend their stuff with a clear conscience, and I believe it is a good value. I'd just suggest folks hound them a bit to be sure your order gets shipped, credit card receipts are actually sent, etc.
The NAQP begins in about 30 minutes. Contests are a great way to break in a new antenna (with a target rich environment spread over a large area). But, if conditions aren't improved, I might wait a bit and make my 10 hour run (the limit for single operator entries) towards the end of the contest.
I had thought about taking it out to Georges Island tomorrow, but the weather forecast shows heavy rains are coming. So, I'll have to wait. I hate to wait!


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