SDR Pan Adapter

Ham radio operators have a long history of using pan adapters to visualize an entire range of the radio spectrum. Traditionally, an adapter was essentially a spectrum analyzer that shows a trace where the X-axis is the frequency, and the Y-axis shows the signal strength at any particular frequency. You can quickly find either busy frequencies or empty frequencies at a glance.

Although the pan adapter has been around since the 1930’s, they aren’t as common as you’d think with regular analog radios. However, if you’ve used an SDR (Software Defined Radio), a spectrum display is par for the course. [Mehdi Asgari] did what a lot of hams have been doing lately: he married an SDR and his traditional receiver to provide a great pan adapter with very little effort.

Continue reading “SDR Pan Adapter”

Bouncing Radio Off of Airplanes

Amateur radio operators are always trying some new stunt or other. It’s like they’ve got something to prove. Take Aircraft scatter for instance: the idea is to extend your radio’s range by bouncing it directionally off of overhead airplanes.

Radio signals travel in straight lines, which is a bummer because the Earth (despite what you’ve heard) is round. Inevitably, if you want to talk to someone far enough away, they’re over a hill. We’ve covered various oddball propagation methods recently, so if you don’t know about moonbounce, you’ve got some background reading to do. But airplane scatter was new to us.

Actually pulling it off requires knowing where the airplanes are, of course. To do so, you could simply look up the aircraft in your target area on the web, using something like FlightRadar24, but where’s the fun in that? There’s also the possibility of tracking local aircraft yourself using RTL-SDR if you’re feeling hard core.

The rest is just details. Hams [Rex Moncur (VK7MO)] and [David Smith (VK3HZ)], for instance, got 10 GHz signals to skip off airplanes over 842 km (PDF). If you’re an old-school ham operator, you’re double-checking the “gigahertz”, but it’s not a mistake. It’s tremendously impressive that these guys got a link over such a long distance using only 10 watts — but note that they’re doing it with highly directive dishes, and telescopes to aim them.

Not to discourage you from trying this at home, but there are all sorts of difficulties that you’ll encounter when you do. Airplanes moving perpendicular to the path between sender and receiver will Doppler-shift the signal, and there’s still quite a chunk of atmosphere to get the signal through. Finally, although airplanes look pretty big when they’re on the ground, they’re actually tiny when they’re up in the sky at 35,000 ft and 500 miles away; you’re bouncing your signal off of a small target.

The good news? People like [W3SZ] are sharing their well-documented results, and at least it’s 20dB easier than bouncing signals off the moon!

Thanks [Martin] for the tip!

Alfred P. Morgan: A Generation’s Radio Hacker

I was surfing the web looking for interesting projects the other day when I ran into [SkyKing’s] exquisite transistor demodulator radio builds. He mentioned that they were “Alfred P. Morgan-style” and that brought back a flood of memories about a man who introduced a whole generation to electronics and radio.

[Morgan] was born in 1889 and in the early part of the twentieth century, he was excited to build and fly an airplane. Apparently, there wasn’t a successful flight. However, he eventually succeeded and wrote his first book: “How to Build a 20-foot Bi-Plane Glider.” In 1910, he and a partner formed the Adams Morgan company to distribute radio construction kits. We probably wouldn’t remember [Morgan] for his airplanes, but we do recognize him for his work with radio.

By 1913, he published a book “The Boy Electrician” which covered the fundamentals of electricity and magnetism (at a time when these subjects were far more mysterious than they are today). [Morgan] predicted the hacker in the preface to the 1947 edition. After describing how a boy was frustrated that his model train automated to the point that he had nothing actually to do, [Morgan] observed:

The prime instinct of almost any boy at play is to make and to create. He will make things of such materials as he has at hand, and use the whole force of dream and fancy to create something out of nothing.

Of course, we know this applies to girls too, but [Morgan] wrote this in 1913, so you have to fill in the blanks. I think we can all identify with that sentiment, though.

Continue reading “Alfred P. Morgan: A Generation’s Radio Hacker”

Radio Receiver Build Log and More

At Hackaday, we like to see build logs, and over on Hackaday.io, you can find plenty of them. Sometimes, though, a builder really outdoes themselves with a lot of great detail on a project, and [N6QW’s] Simple-Ceiver project certainly falls into that category. The project logs document many different stages of completeness, and we linked the first one for you as a starting point, but you’ll definitely want to read up to the present. (There were 16 parts, some spanning multiple posts, last time we checked).

It is definitely worth the effort though. The project started out as a direct conversion receiver, but the design goes through and converts it into a superheterodyne receiver. Along the way, [N6QW] shares construction techniques, design advice, and even simulation plots (backed up with actual scope measurements). The local oscillator, of course, uses an Arduino and an AD9850 synthesizer.

Continue reading “Radio Receiver Build Log and More”

Transmitting Tee Vee From A Pi

Want to set up your own television station? This hack might help: [Jan Panteltje] has worked out how to turn a Raspberry Pi into a DVB-S transmitter. DVB-S is a TV transmission standard originally created for satellite broadcasts, but Hams also use it to send video on the amateur bands. What [Jan] did was to use software on the Pi to encode the video into the transport stream, which is then fed out to the home-made transmitter that modulates the data into a DVB-S signal. [Jan] has successfully tested the system with a direct connection, feeding the output of the transmitter into a DVB-S decoder card that could read the data and decode the video signal. To create a real broadcast signal, the next step would be to feed the output of the signal into an amplifier and larger transmitter that broadcast the signal.

Continue reading “Transmitting Tee Vee From A Pi”

APRS Repeaters Get the Signal Out of Mammoth Cave

APRS Cave-Link uses the amateur radio’s Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) inside caves to get their position data (and other messages) out.

Imagine that you’re coordinating a large scale search-and-rescue mission in a cave. You need to know where all your groups are, and whether or not they’ve found anything. But how do they all communicate to the command center?

You’d guess radio, but you’d guess wrong. Radio doesn’t propagate well at all in a maze of twisty passages, all alike; rocks absorb radio waves, especially in the VHF/UHF range that’s best suited for most small radios. In the past, you’d run wire and transmit along it. This article runs through the options in detail. But adding miles of wire to your already heavy caving and climbing gear is a nuisance or worse.

Continue reading “APRS Repeaters Get the Signal Out of Mammoth Cave”

Swans, Pigs, and the CIA: An Unlikely Radio Story

Shortwave radio is boring, right? Maybe not. You never know what intrigue and excitement you might intercept. We recently covered secret number stations, and while no one knows for sure exactly what their purpose is, it is almost surely involving cloaks and daggers. However, there’s been some more obvious espionage radio, like Radio Swan.

The swan didn’t refer to the animal, but rather an island just off of Honduras that, until 1972, was disputed between Honduras and the United States. The island got its name–reportedly–because it was used as a base for a pirate named Swan in the 17th century. This island also had a long history of use by the United States government. The Department of Agriculture used it to quarantine imported beef and a variety of government departments had weather stations there.

You might wonder why the United States claimed a tiny island so far away from its shores. It turns out, it was all about guano. The Guano Islands Act of 1856 allowed the president to designate otherwise unclaimed territory as part of the United States for the purpose of collecting guano which, in addition to being bird excrement, is also important because it contains phosphates used in fertilizer and gunpowder. (Honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried.)

However, the most famous occupant of Swan Island was Radio Swan which broadcast on the AM radio band and shortwave. The station was owned by the Gibraltar Steamship Company with offices on Fifth Avenue in New York. Oddly, though, the company didn’t actually have any steamships. What it did have was some radio transmitters that had been used by Radio Free Europe and brought to the island by the United States Navy. Did I mention that the Gibraltar Steamship Company was actually a front for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)?

Continue reading “Swans, Pigs, and the CIA: An Unlikely Radio Story”