About VK5ZM

Another Ham who was bitten by the Fox Hunting Bug in the early 90's. Participated in numerous National DF championships and likes nothing more than the challenge of finding *any* hidden radio transmitter. Has been involved in HAB experiments since 2010. Goal is to fill his Toyota Hilux so full of DF gear that he has to buy a Landcruiser.... Approximately half way there.

Marinised Ford 6-Cylinder Engine

There is surprisingly little about marinising car engines and putting them in boats.

Manufacturers like Mercuiser, OMC, Pleasurecraft and others have being doing this under their own brands for many years and it was quite common in the early 70’s through to the mid 90’s that various companies were doing it themselves in a workshop. My new boat is one of the later.

So after having owned my Nereus for a while now I thought I’d detail what I’ve learnt about it so far about the marinised Ford 6-cylinder engine that is in it;

  • Ford 250 pre-crossflow inline 6-cylinder (donor either Ford Falcon XA or XB)
  • Strongberg 1-bbl down draft carburettor
  • Delco Alternator (10SI body) with external regulator (RE55)
  • Bosch starter motor
  • Standard Kettering Ignition with Bosch GM573 points (!!!) and 12V coil
  • Borg Warner Velvet Drive Gearbox
  • Savage MK1 Compact Heat Exchanger
  • Fynspray 3/4″ Raw Water Pump
  • Marinised Wet Exhaust – Unknown

So the only unidentified part on this engine is the wet exhaust manifold, I’m hoping that at some point I’ll work out who made it. There may be a plate or a marking that I’ve not found yet that will give me a clue.

From the list above it is quite clear that this is a “car engine in a boat” which has not yet been completely marinised. Many of the accessories and ancillary parts are still automotive grade parts which are not intrinsically safe in a marine environment. To properly marinise any engine and make it safe one has to reduce the chance of a spark from igniting fuel vapour in the bilge and/or prevent fuel vapour from being released into the bilge in the first place.

With anything that I rely on to get me home safely the engine in this boat is certainly right up there on my list of things to pay attention too. So as I go through the boat doing my usual checks and maintenance I’ll be upgrading various parts to improve safety where necessary. Since this boat was made in the mid to late 1980’s there is no immediate need to rush out and replace the engine and all of it’s accessories, since it has lasted this long already without them.

More to come.

Changing the Oil in a boat

One of the more interesting jobs with an inboard boat is changing the oil. Unlike a car it’s a little challenging to get under the boat and drain the oil into a pan. When purchasing the boat one thing I noticed was someone had installed a manual oil pump, you should be able to see the shiny thing in the middle there with a handle.

So the first step was to get the engine oil warmed up before we pump it out. Since this was the first oil change I decided to use some engine flush to make sure it’s as clean as we can. Once the engine was good and hot the oil was a doddle to pump into a bucket and remove. Then it was a simple matter to replace the oil filter and re-fill.

I’ve so far been happy with the Penrite Oil I put in my Hilux, so once again I’ve gone with the same brand. Using the Penrite product selector it suggested a standard mineral oil with plenty of zinc, so 5L of Penrite HPR30 was purchased. I’m thankful these older engines only requrie 4 and a bit litres of oil, so only a 5L bottle is required.

I was happy to find that the oil filter used is the same as my old Hilux, that will save some confusion in the future.

Now to get in and start degreasing the engine and bilge.

The Nereus

For many years I’ve been wanting to purchase a Nereus inboard fishing boat. These boats were made in South Australia from the early 1970’s until the early Naughties. They are a very popular fishing boat that has a wide beam and is well known for it’s excellent handling in rough seas.

Finally after a 12 month search a Nereus came onto the market that ticked all my boxes. In a nutshell I wanted a boat 16-18′ in length, with a good hull, on a good trailer with an inboard engine and gearbox. If it came with a heat exchanger that was a bonus.

Well here’s a picture of our new purchase on the trailer at Port Wakefield on our way home from Yorke Penninsula. It certainly doesn’t look like a boat built in the mid 1980’s.

While the Nereus is common in SA that doesn’t mean they come up for sale often, it also means that when they do come up they hold their price. So to offset the cost and ensure it doesn’t sit on a trailer for extended periods I’ve gone halves with my Parents. Between my father and I we should able to get her in the water and out fishing as often as we can.

Here’s a few pics of the inboard engine;

The engine in this Nereus is a Ford 250 cubic inch pre-crossflow log head inline six cylinder. Being the pre-cross flow engine this inline six is the American designed log head which was used in a heap of different vehicles. Of note you can find them in Mustangs and F100’s in the states, or Ford Falcon XA/XB/XW/XY and some Cortinas from the 1970’s. The block numbers suggest the doner car was a 1972 Ford XA Falcon This should make it fairly straight forward to get spare parts.

Anyway that’s the Nereus in a nutshell. I’ve already started making a list of the “jobs to do” and I’m looking forward to getting cracking.

The Windows 10 Conundrum

One of my son’s laptops recently suffered a hard drive failure. He’d been using his “roadkill” laptop for a year or so that came pre-installed with Windows 10. Until now I’ve avoided upgrading any of my machines past Windows 7 (why fix what isn’t broken) and I personally prefer Linux on my laptops for reasons.

The roadkill laptop I’d given my eldest son was a HP business machine so it wasn’t hard to slip a new WD Green SSD drive and give it a small boost in performance at the same time.

Reinstalling Window 10 was also rather simple, simply requiring creation of a USB media stick and following the bouncing ball with the license codes I had on paper.

So far so good.

However upon booting the machine I was horrified with the push to sign up for a Microsoft account to “simplify your user experience”. Ummm childs laptop, not a good idea to suck on the cool-aide and allow tracking of habits at a young age, there stills needs to be some privacy. So with the help of Google we managed to create a local account (not intuitive), which does not require internet access to login.

So now we have an account on the local machine I could see what the new UI looks like. Once again I wasn’t impressed with the standard apps installed, the bloat and blatant adverting gumph plastered on every screen. There was content waiting and ready to download as soon as you clicked on an icon, installed games and a host of stuff I wouldn’t let corporate users access too. So off they came too.

I’m going to be forever thankful to the writers at HowToGeek for there series of articles on how to disable the advertising and things like Cortana (also not what I want on my childs laptop). Below are the two articles I found most useful;

One day the likes of Lego may learn that Linux exists and the one App that forces me to use Windows 10 on his laptop will allow him to move to Linux on his laptop, fingers crossed.

I am not looking forward to when I must move my last Windows 7 machine to this new monster. At least now I’ve had some experience disabling the features that I personally don’t like.

Rubidium Reference – BITE

The Efratom LPRO-101 has a Built in Test Equipment (BITE) signal available on Pin 6. This pin is connected to the 5V logic within the module. When the BITE signal goes LOW (0V) then the physics engine has achieved lock within roughly +/-5×10-8 of it’s absolute frequency. Thankfully it can do this within 3-4 minutes of operation.

When I’m out in the field it is certainly useful to know what the reference is doing or if something has gone wrong without having to pull it apart and get out a multimeter. So on the front panel I’ve placed two LEDs one for power and the second to show lock.

The lock signal will be nothing more than the BITE signal inverted, which can be done with one transistor. I’ve seen some quite elaborate two and three transistor circuits, but we only really need one. The circuit I’ve draw below is straight out of my engineering log book, it’s so simple I couldn’t be bothered firing up Altium to draw it;

Basically we use one transistor to shunt the LED so that it is OFF while the BITE signal is HIGH. There is no rocket science here. With the heaters in the reference drawing 1.2A at startup throwing an additional 15mA through a transistor until it’s locked should be no big deal. The entire current drawn is approx 30mA, they are certainly bright enough in daylight, they might require turning down after using this at night, time will tell.

The circuit above is so simple I built it dead bug style on a piece of vero board. I did this so I could simply use double sided tape to hold it to the box and not short anything out.

One minor annoyance I’ve found is at the time power is applied the BITE output remains LOW for half a second or more before it goes HIGH. This means that the locked LED will light momentarily, then go out for 3-4 minutes as the reference warms before it lights again. The video below shows what I mean, for such a simple circuit I’m happy to put up with this feature;

You can hear the first click of the power supply, the Locked LED will light and go back out again. This was done when the reference was already warm so it takes less than 20s to regain lock again.

Anyway I’m certainly pleased with the simplicity. However now I’ve got ideas to use a micro a DAC and give this thing some intelligence. More notes in the log book for when I find time to come back to this again, for now it’s time to get out in the field and use it in anger !

Rubidium Reference – The Retest

It can take a GPS disciplined oscillator a while to stabilise and settle down. When I first tested my new free running rubidium reference the GPS disciplined rubidium reference had spent no more than an hour making it’s observations and corrections. So I left it running over night with the intention of measuring things again in the morning.

So after 16 hours the frequency error has reduced more than three decades, should be good to go. I also have a precision TXCO reference (SDI FEL-10A) so I thought I’d measure this first and see what sort of stability and accuracy this can achieve. Both the free running TXCO and Rubidium were switched on 30 minutes and left to stabilise before measurements were made;

So that is quite a respectable result, being within +0.318Hz of our 10MHz target. Then for the main event it was time to re-measure the free running rubidium;

So this is a little higher that what was measured last night, but +0.009Hz or +9mHz is still a great result. To put this into perspective if I were to use this reference to lock a series of transverters this is the final frequency accuracy I would expect;

F(carrier) | F(error)
[MHz] | [Hz]
50.195 | +0.45Hz
144.135 | +1.30Hz
432.070 | +3.88Hz
1296.070 | +11.66Hz

I think if I were to go higher than 70cm then a GPS disciplined oscillator is in order (there is a Trimble Thunderbolt in a box somewhere), at least I have some idea now what the upper workable limit is. One of these days I may yet get in and tweak the external C-Field input and see if I can tighten this frequency error up a little, that will have to wait for a 12-digit counter.

The free running TXCO also has a reference input so for a laugh I attached the free running Rubidium to the TXCO and waited to see what happened. The lock LED lit pretty much instantaneously and the result was;

Exactly the same as the Rubidium on it’s own. What I do like about the TXCO is the 6 channel output with >120dB of isolation between channels. At least now I have some idea how stable this oscillator is, so now I can start thinking about what I’ll do with it.

Rubidium Reference – Final Tests

Now the million dollar question is does it work ? Testing one of these rubidium references means you need a reference and counter that’s more accurate that the reference you’re trying to measure.

Fortunately one of my club members has a GPS disciplined Rubidium Oscillator that can attain some silly levels of stability and accuracy. Giving this device a few hours to watch satellites and let it discipline the internal oscillator is enough to then make some very accurate measurements. Even in the first 16 minutes this oscillator is able to achieve a frequency error less than what we need to make our measurements, after a further hour this number decreases yet another decade.

Once you have the uber accurate reference and accuracy you still need a counter with enough digits. This turns out to be something of a problem, all of the frequency counters I can find seem to stop at 8 digits. Which means you can only measure to the nearest hertz.

At work we have been cleaning up more than 25 years of Engineering mess and while we were cleaning we found a HP 5385A frequency counter stashed in a cupboard that no one knew was there, this particular counter can accept an external 10MHz reference. Combine this with a gate time of 10s it’s able to extend it’s display to a full 11 digits, meaning we can see down to the nearest milliHertz. So that just had to come home for the weekend to test it was working you see. They are actually reasonably priced on Ebay, so I can see a purchase coming on in the not too distant future.

So the measurement of my free running Rubidium reference is now rather simple. The GPS disciplined Rubidium drives the external reference of the HP 5385A counter, our test rubidium is then attached to the appropriate input. Then we need to give everything a good hour to reach thermal equilibrium and stablise. We can then make our final measurement.

I’ve not yet placed a thermocouple on the heat sink and made any measurements but it is certainly much cooler to the touch then when I ran it with just the enclosure.

So above is all of the test gear spread out on the kitchen table (shhh !) the GPS cable exits out a door so it can see the sky. The multimeter is reading the buffered Lamp Voltage, ideally this should be between 6-9 volts for a healthy Rubidium. Alas this rubidium probably has only a few years life left in it before it has to be refurbished.

However from this distance it’s a bit hard to read the counter, so here’s the closeup;

That is an awful amount of zeros, however it shows that my free running rubidium is running just +5.0 milliHz fast or +5.0×10^-9 Hz in scientific notation. Wow it works !

As you can see I’m now looking for that 12-digit frequency counter so that I can see just how good this rubidium is.

I’ve also read that it’s possible to trim the frequency of the 10MHz oscillator a little using the C-trim input pin (#7).. Hmm I guess that is how the GPS disciplined Rubidium does it !?! So with a multi-turn pot (10-20T) it may be possible to trim the frequency to be better than 1×10^-10 with luck and crossing of eye’s. However from what I’ve observed this may be pushing the limits of the thermal stability of these units and the error of the GPS disciplined oscillator will start to come into play.

Anyway I’m reasonably confident now that this Rubidium 10MHz reference will be able to keep my Elecraft K3 transceiver locked onto the right frequency for any EME experiments even in the dead of night.

Now I’ve just got to get the LEDs on the front panel working correctly and how I’m going to power this unit in the field. With a power supply requirement of 24V @ 0.45A this isn’t insignificant.

Rubidium Reference – Front Panel

Usually I don’t bother making intricate front panels for my projects, but this reference just didn’t look right. At the front are two LEDs one for power and the other displays when the module achieves the atomic lock. On the rear is a SMA connector for the output along with power.

So for this project I decided to make a front panel, this Rubidium has some bragging rights after all. I’ve read a few blogs recently that suggested using a printable sticky label covered by one half of those non-heated laminate pouches. So a quick trip to the office supplies shop saw me come home with some Avery labels that take up roughly half a (A4) page and some pouches that are also sticky.

Not having any vector/raster tools on this computer saw me install Inkscape for the first time. I’m impressed, it wasn’t hard for the first time to use many of the functions your looking for are easily found. So the label I knocked together is below;

So through the laser printer it went and then laminated. A scalpel made quick work of the holes for the LED bezels. Then using two drills through the holes for alignment the label was carefully lowered onto the front panel and then pressed firmly but slowly onto the surface to prevent air bubbles. For those that were forced to contact their books for school would be well training in the appropriate technique, otherwise hit the scrap booking blogs and websites.

So here’s the final result;

I’ve since shown this to one of my fellow club members and he’s suggested next time I put a 2D bar code that links you to either Wikipedia or YouTube that then explains what a rubidium reference is. I could even refer them back to this blog… Hmm… I’m going to have to try that one day !

For now however my Rubidium reference has a front panel that says it’s all mine and explains the LED’s. I’m certainly happy with the result.

Rubidium Reference – Thermal Management

These rubidium oscillators run hot, very hot. The Rubidium lamp chamber is heated to over +106°C before ignition occurs, the resonant cavity is kept at +70°C to maintain it’s thermal stability. This means that heat needs to go somewhere, usually to the ambient if we can.

So when I decided to mount my rubidium module to the bottom of my die-cast enclosure I’ve used silicon thermal transfer tape. This material is roughly 0.5mm thick, sticky on both sides and came in a 100x100mm sheet. This is thick enough so suck up any mechanical differences between the die-cast box and rubidium enclosure ensuring the thermal tapes makes contact. This material is typically available from Mouser, Digikey and Element14; however I purchased mine from our local electronics shop Jaycar (NM2790).

Would you believe in the rush I didn’t take any photo’s of this silicon thermal transfer tape being applied, maybe on the next unit I’ll remember !

A few back of the envelope calculations suggested that this material would achieve a worst case thermal resistance of 0.085°C/W, provided the mounting screws were done up tight. This then ensures the difference in temperature between the rubidium module and enclosure could be limited to less than 3°C (worst case).

So to satisfy my own curiosity I decided to mount the rubidium module to the die-cast enclosure without a heat sink and see how hot things got. After 30 minutes of continuous operation the enclosure over the top of the physics engine was found to be the hottest, reaching +40°C in an ambient of +25°C. In a home or lab this would probably be OK, but I’m intending to take this reference with me out into the field in ambient temperatures up to +50°C.

The reference guide recommends using a heat sink with a thermal resistance better than 2.0°C/W in these situations which sounds like a good idea. So just a back of the napkin double check;

Rth(Si) = 0.09°C/W   [silicon pad]
Rth(Al) = 0.008°C/W [die-cast box]
Rth(JG)= 0.25°C/W [jump grease]
Rth(HS) = 2.0°C/W [heat sink]
Tambient = +50°C [typical Australian Summer !]

Rth(total) = Rth(Si) + Rth(Al) + Rth(JG) + Rth(HS)
= 2.438°C/W

Pdiss = 28.8W (peak) 9.6W (average)

Trise = Pdiss * Rth(total)
= 28.8 * 2.438
= 67°C

Tmax = Tambient + Trise
= 50 + 67
= 117°C

OK so this will just scrape in under the typical +125°C limit for silicon devices within this rubidium module. Ditto on the capacitors.

Placing thermal paste between the heat sink and enclosure will also ensure the thermal dissipation is kept low. I prefer to call thermal paste jump grease. Since from the moment you open the tin it will somehow jump on to your elbow and then get everywhere. It’s tricky stuff to master.

I didn’t see any point placing this grease towards the bottom of the box, since the majority of the heat comes from under the physics engine. Once this was done then the heat sink was married up to the die-case enclosure, it’s a good sign when you can see the paste squeeze out from under the heat sink slightly.

This then just requires a bit more cleanup with Turpentine, the odourless stuff is best ! Just watch this stuff, since it has a habit of squeezing out for a while if applied too thick.

Rubidium Reference – Machining

The Efratom LPRO-101 reference guide has the necessary drill pattern for mounting the reference oscillator within an enclosure. The one thing to watch, that caught me out, is the two screws in the middle are not on the centre line of the unit, it’s offset. It doesn’t look like it until it’s too late. So make sure you measure twice and drill once or you will write off a die-cast box or two.

This module is somewhat difficult to mount to a heat sink since the spacing of the mounting holes do not line up neatly with any heat sink profiles I could find. So instead I’ve mounted my module to the bottom of my die-cast enclosure with countersunk screws and will then mount the die-cast box to the heat sink. So the die-cast box is effectively sandwiched between the rubidium reference enclosure and heat sink.

As a graduate engineer I was once shown by a senior tech a great way of marking up and drilling die-cast boxes without marking the face. Basically you cover the areas where you want to drill holes with masking tape and use a pencil or drafting pen to mark the tape. You can then centre punch your holes, remove the tape and drill. Below is the bottom of my Hammond 1590D enclosure marked out with the holes for the Rubidium reference.

Here I’ve drilled the mounting holes for the Rubidium for a test just prior to making the decision to drill the heat sink holes. After drilling and tapping all necessary holes the box and lid received two coats of etch primer and then two coats of gloss black. There are times I just hate gloss black, it shows all the imperfections and it is so easy to mark. I’ve learnt that if you want a good finish, make sure you spray and bake the final coat in a small toaster oven set to 70-80°C for an hour. So after painting it looked like this;

Paint has a terrible thermal conductivity, so I’ve taken the time to mask off the top of the box so I can put thermal paste (white goo aka jump grease) between the heat sink and box at final assembly. Above you can see the black heads of the 1/2″ 4-40 UNC 2B screws required to pull the rubidium up against the lid. In the thermal management section I’ll talk a little more about how I’m going to get the heat out of this module. This is what it looks like when turned over;

If you look closely you’ll see it’s centred within the enclosure, which means I was paying attention to the two holes in the middle of the enclosure being offset (*grin*). There are also holes in either end of the enclosure for LED’s, SMA connector and power to be connected when final wiring takes place.

Once the body of the box had been done I could turn my attention to the heat sink that mounts on top. Again I used my tape mask trick to mark and drill the holes that went between the fins. Each of these holes was tapped with a M3 thread so that screws could be mounted without the aid of nuts and washers.

The heat sink unfortunately was a little large and had to be cut down. I am luck to have a workshop at work with an engineering band-saw fitted with a bi-metal blade. So it wasn’t difficult to cut the heat sink down to the right size and then repaint. One of these days I must learn how to do black anodising with dye. So dry assembled we get this effect;

Which looks rather snazzy. Now to finish off the thermal design.