Thursday, November 12, 2015

Butternut vs GAP - a personal perspective - and something else.

NB: The purpose of this post is not to start a war between GAP users and Butternut users. It is simply a recollection of experiences and impressions from a Ham who has owned and used both products. I have probably mentioned these in past posts, but the subject recently came up with a person who had asked me for my thoughts on purchasing an HF vertical.

I purchased a GAP Challenger back in the early 90s when I was still living at my old East Brunswick, NJ QTH. Up until that point, I had strictly been a user of dipoles, doublets and long wires. My first antenna as a Novice was a Mor-Gain multi-band dipole. Remember those? That antenna worked very well for me for many years.


I wanted to buy a vertical as I thought the lower take off angle would garner me more DX. Back then, my operating style was very eclectic. I took full advantage of the Amateur radio smorgasbord.  I was into EVERYTHING (or so it seemed)! I was operating QRP, QRO, satellites, digital, DX - you name it. About the only thing I wasn't doing was phone. Not to cast aspersions on SSB or AM ops, it's just not my thing.  I've gone into that in detail previously, so I am not going to re-hash that here.

I thought, after reading many articles, that a vertical would help me towards that goal of earning DXCC. At about that time, GAP was a young company, not even 10 years old. They were making a name for themselves. GAP was the Wunderkind, the "new kid on the block", they were splashy, new, and they were being advertised all over Amateur Radio creation and always seemed to be featured in magazine articles.

GAP had several advantages in my mind:

1) It was a new company, and I like to try new things.
2) They had antennas that were priced right to fit my budget at the time.
3) The Challenger model advertised the need for only three radials.
4) The antennas were actually not dismissed as "junk" by Kurt N. Sterba, the antenna expert from WorldRadio. In my mind, this counted a lot!

So I bought a Challenger.

It assembled very easily and went up well. I was able to build it and deploy it by myself. And it performed VERY well with the factory supplied radial kit. And yes, it was only three radials. If memory serves me correctly (and it may not), they were three 25' (8 Meter) radials. The "secret" was that for the most part, the Challenger was a vertical dipole, which didn't really need radials.

I was getting DX at a better clip than I was getting it before.  In all honesty, I can't tell you for sure whether that was due to the fact that I was on a DX jag at the time, so I was concentrating on it more, or because of the antenna. I tend to think it was because of the antenna, but I have no scientific proof to back that up.

There were only two problems with it in my mind:

1) It wasn't stealthy. That's not GAP's fault. If I had had more trees in the backyard to "hide" it in, it would have been better. As it was, it stuck out like a sore thumb and boy, did my backyard neighbor-one-over take notice!  In his mind, I had totally eliminated his ability to watch television. In addition, all other electronic maladies that occurred in his house were my fault.  If there was a flickering of the lights, or a brownout, it was my fault.  If he blew a fuse in the fusebox, it was my fault. If someone called him on the telephone and hung up before he could answer, it was my fault. If a CB'er running power (we lived about a block away from a heavily used State Highway) came through his TV speaker, it was my fault. If a house fly passed gas too loudly, it was my fault. You can see where this is going, right?

2) The antenna was not as sturdy as I would have liked.  Again, this is totally a subjective thing. The few years that I owned that Challenger, coincided with some pretty horrific New Jersey winters. Ice storms, blizzards, the whole nine yards. In fact, in the Winter of '96 we had what was later called a "white hurricane" - cold enough weather in combination with a monster Nor'easter that resulted in a blizzard that dumped about 32 inches of snow with just under official hurricane force winds.

The GAP survived all of that (I had it guyed, which was an absolute necessity), but in the process I had so many bad cases of agita that I can't even count them all. At times, the Challenger was so bent over with ice that I thought it was permanently damaged. "How the heck can an antenna bend that far and not snap?", popped into my mind so many times. And in the summers, during thunderstorms, the Challenger swayed like a hula dancer stoked out on sugar, caffeine and methamphetamine (all at the same time!). To its credit, the antenna always survived. There were times that I felt that I wasn't going to survive while I watched its gyrations, but yet it always survived.

I eventually sold the antenna.  Not because of the gyrations, or the antenna's performance (which was great), but because things got so bad with the neighbor that I had to do it to keep the peace. I know ..... the coward's way out, but you have to understand that at the time, I was still living at home in order to help support my elderly parents, and I didn't want to make life miserable for them. If it was MY house and MY property, I would have taken the vertical down .... and replaced it with a tower and a beam ...... but it was what it was.

When I moved to the current South Plainfield, NJ QTH, I decided to put up another vertical.  This time I chose the Butternut. I have had it up for over a fifteen years now and am quite happy with it.  The Butternut HF9V is a true vertical and because of that, it requires radials.  When I first installed it, I put down 26 radials.  I just placed them on the grass and installed a lawn staple every 3 feet or so to hold them down.  Within a few months, the grass grew over them, concealing them completely.  Two years ago, I put down another bunch, to bring the number up to 58 radials total. I've damaged three over the years with the lawn mower, so there are about 55 good radials in the system (and three very short ones!).


The antenna performs superbly, as far as I am concerned. I am as satisfied with it, performance-wise, as I was with the GAP. The one area where the Butternut exceeds the GAP, in my humble non-engineer's opinion, is in the area of sturdiness.  Since I moved to South Plainfield 17 years ago, I have experienced three major hurricanes (Floyd, Irene, Sandy) and the Butternut survived each without a whimper. Yes, the antenna did sway in the winds a bit - but compared to the GAP, it stood rock steady. And unlike the GAP, the Butternut is not guyed, nor does it need to be.  During blizzards, ice storms and summer thunderstorms, I can go to bed and not miss a wink of sleep. I don't have to give the Butternut a second thought, or swallow a bunch of antacids.  To me that peace of mind is worth a lot.

Now, that all being said ...... if the Butternut were to be disintegrated tomorrow by some kind of death ray from an alien spaceship, I would probably go back to being a GAP owner.  The price difference is the key reason - $369.95 for a Challenger - $604.95 for an HF9V. By they way, that is NOT what I paid for mine. I simply can't afford to replace it. With two kids rapidly approaching college age, I would definitely need to shell out fewer bucks. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.  As a result, I would guy the heck out of the antenna, and would then spend the almost $200 saved, slowly over the next years by investing in either Rolaids or Tums, or by buying myself a pair of horse blinders. Whichever works out cheapest.

In other breaking news - may a 60 Meter QRP band (not channel - but band) be in the offing?

Maybe - as per the ARRL:

"At World Radiocommunication Conference 2015 (WRC-15), in Geneva, consensus continues to shape up around a new 15 kHz-wide global secondary 60 meter Amateur Radio allocation at 5351.5-5366.5 kHz. On November 12, Conference Working Group 4B agreed to the global secondary allocation, with power limits designed to protect primary services from harmful interference. Sub Working Group (SWG) 4B1, chaired by Dale Hughes, VK1DSH, had presented its output document with two options, the other being no change — a position many administrations favored going into the conference. The current compromise making the allocation possible still must clear two more levels at the conference. This won’t happen until next week, and the issue is not final until it does. ARRL CEO David Sumner, K1ZZ, who attended the conference briefly on behalf of the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU), congratulated the IARU team and the national delegates who advocated for the Amateur Service."

“Assuming that the fragile agreement continues to hold, this will be the first entirely new HF allocation since 1979,” he said. “While we would have preferred more, anyone who understands what our proponents were up against will appreciate what they have accomplished.”

"SWG 4B1 held 15 meetings over the first 10 days of WRC-15. During week 1, the discussion focused on whether there would be an allocation at all. A number of administrations and the regional telecommunications organization (RTO) representing Russia and 10 of its neighboring countries (RCC) were bitterly opposed. As week 1 closed, it became clear that the widest achievable allocation was 15 kHz and that a power limit in the neighborhood of 15 W effective isotropic radiated power (EIRP) would have to be part of the package."

As they say, we shall have to wait and see!

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!



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