Ham: VHF Antenna

Son With Slim Jim VHF Antenna

My son and I built this VHF (2m) antenna from copper pipe.

Why is my son posing with an object that resembles a trombone?  It is actually a homemade high-gain amateur radio antenna!

At my house we’ve been giving preparedness a higher priority, lately. Jack Spirco’s Survival Podcast puts it well, “Helping you live a better life, if times get tough or even if they don’t.”  I believe that Jack’s philosophy on what he calls “modern survival” is right on the spot, and his podcasts are excellent.

I’m concerned about SHTF scenarios, because I believe that an out-of-control government (whose extremes have been enabled by private banking cartel with the deceptive name of the Federal Reserve) has put this country in a precarious position. Both parties have taken us down a path that can easily lead to what Peter Schiff calls “The Real Crash.” Schiff believes that what happened in 2008 was only a blip compared to what is likely to come, and I agree with him.  Along with Austrian school economists, I believe that hard times are coming, and that no government decree will keep them at bay for much longer.

There are many things that families should be doing for preparedness. To name a few, these things include storing food, learning to grow food (including fruits, vegetables, and animals), learning to use and maintain firearms, stocking up on firearms and ammunition, figuring out how to get things done in a grid-down situation, and determining alternative means of communication.

I work 27 miles from my home in a county that appears on Mark Slavo’s SHTFplan.com article “Where You Don’t Want to Be When It Hits the Fan.” I work in Indianapolis in Marion County, the blue county appearing right at the center of the state of Indiana in that article’s map. 50% of the US population lives in the 146 counties that Slavo identifies. High population densities are a good thing to avoid.  I would avoid them, but a guy has to make a living!  Thankfully, my family doesn’t live in Marion County.

If “it” hits the fan, the chances are very good that I’ll be at work when it happens. The situation I worry about is one where roads are blocked, cellular communications aren’t functional, the grid is down, and I have no way of reaching my family. Walking 27 miles isn’t the worst part of these situations, it’s the fact that I’d have no way to communicate with my family so that I know they are OK and vice versa.

The solution to this is obvious in my view: ham radios. Some people mess around with CBs, GMRS, FRS, MURS, and a number of other systems for communication. Amateur radio is the best answer, though, primarily because FCC and ITU regs open up a wide variety of bands for hams to use legally worldwide, and the wavelengths / powers available may open up options for communications with people thousands of miles away. Like firearms, the use of ham equipment should be practiced in order to be effective. Like firearms, legal restrictions may make it difficult to practice the use of these bands, so it is worthwhile to get an FCC license.

My son and I used an online class from Ham Test Online to learn the basics and take practice tests. This tool was very useful, as we went to a local ham club to take our tests and both walked out knowing that we would be receiving our Technician licenses in a short while. When they came in, we found out that we have consecutive call signs, which is cool!

Currently, my son has a handheld Yaesu FT-270 2-meter transceiver that we gave him for his birthday last year (we are trying to give our kids gifts that are useful things rather than cute garbage). He was quite happy to get it, but the 5W output with a rubber duck antenna is pretty weak. He could step outside and go through a repeater ~7 miles away for long-distance communications, but we have to assume that the repeaters won’t be available if the grid is down. So, this year he is getting a 70W linear amplifier and the cabling, connectors, and power supply necessary to make it work. He still needed a good antenna, though, so we built one today.  We can run the amplifier from a car battery, and I’ll ensure he knows how to hook it up that way.

1/2 Inch Copper Components

The antenna was made from standard 1/2″ copper pipe intended for plumbing purposes.

We found the directions for making this antenna on Ham Universe, where it is called a “Slim Jim.” Apparently it has high gain in the horizontal plane, so this seemed like a great antenna to build. We measured off appropriate lengths of copper, cut them, polished the ends, sweated them together with flux and solder, and used PVC tubing to add some structure across the gaps.

I will follow this article up with another one soon.  When the equipment arrives for his birthday this week, we’ll take some photos showing how we set everything up.  We’ll be tuning this antenna to minimize his standing wave ratio (SWR) — ensuring that the power provided is actually be transmitted, rather than reflected back into the amplifier.  I’ll also let everybody know what kind of range we are able to get between my Suburban’s 50W unit and his boosted handheld transceiver (HT).

Son Cutting Tubing

My son had an opportunity to learn how to use a tubing cutter.

Son Sweating Pipe

My son had an opportunity to learn another valuable life skill: sweating copper pipe.

PVC and Zip Ties to Provide Support

We used some pieces of PVC pipe and zip ties to give the antenna more rigidity and ensure that the geometry wouldn’t changed, once tuned.

–Remember this: Preparation can and should be fun for the whole family!

Comments (2)

  1. Phil Hanman

    I have built something very similar from 15mm copper pipe. I live in Cornwall in the South West of England and in good conditions can access the repeater at Guingamp in France, a distance of about 110 miles. E-mail me for a picture. Regards, Phil

    • Mark-A-Billy

      Sorry, Phil, I haven’t been into the admin side of my site in some time. That’s excellent range! How much power are you using?

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