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The original 1kw amplifier article was published in QST magazine (October 2012)
It's hard to beat a kilowatt for annoying your neighbors and some of your fellow contesters during those big events; I'm joking, of course, this one is very stable, clean, quiet in operation, yet compact and full-featured. It has a lot of gain, requiring only about 2w drive for 1kw out, is over 70% efficient at that level, and will go a bit more if need be; I was able to get a little over 1200w saturated output at higher drive levels, but 1kw is the practical limit for linear operation.
There are some handy features in this one:
It uses a single 50v LDMOS transistor made by Freescale Semiconductor, the MRFE6VP61K25H. The device is normally used in a push-pull configuration (it's a dual-device part), and the data sheet lists it as a 1.8 to 600 MHz unmatched device. In fact, this document shows component values and board layout for a 230 MHz amplifier, and that prompted me to try the device on the 222 MHz band as well; results were similar, though gain was a bit lower at saturation (24db); still, only 4w drive for a kw out on 222MHz isn't bad.
Changes since this article was written:
Since this article was originally written, I made a few enhancements; the amplifier now has a newer control board that combines additional features formerly provided by other assemblies, and the entire amp can be run with just 50v (the 12 and 28v are derived inside the cabinet from 50v). Now there is also a sequenced LNA power feed, and I've also constructed KW RF decks using the NXP BLF578XR LDMOS device, with the same results. Very minor changes in matching components and bias levels need to be made (info on one of these RF decks is here). Another more recent part, the NXP BLF188XR, can be substituted without any changes whatsoever.
The low pass filter, Narda coupler and dual detector pcb have also been replaced with a single assembly combining all of these parts; this combination assembly can be set up for 6m, 2m, 222 MHz or 70cm. This next photo shows the inside, the way I currently build them.
A complete Bill of Materials (BOM) for the
1kw turn-key amplifier, configured as I currently build them, is listed at the
end of this article.
The original work on the 2m amplifier core was developed and written up in Dubus magazine by F1JRD, and much information can be retrieved with an internet search on his call sign. Additional information on this is on F1JRD's web site. I built the amplifier sub-assembly as documented there (with a couple of minor changes), and it worked as published. However, I did make some improvements to the board in bias control and matching component durability (important for WSJT users), and I have kits available for the newest RF deck and other assemblies available on the parts page.
The photo on the right is the first prototype, and the one
featured in the magazine article.
The transistor has provisions for mounting with screws, but I chose to flow-solder it to the copper spreader for best thermal transfer. The original plans also recommended flow-soldering the board to the spreader, but because this is 2m, I didn't bother doing that; I just held it in place with screws, and there were no problems.
The 3 small coils at the output (next to the output antenna relay) are part of a low-pass filter, and not part of the kit. I built this on a small piece of tin sheet and held it in place with a couple of the board mounting screws. Details for making this filter are on the schematic shown later in this article.
As can be seen on the analyzer display to the right, the filter does a good job of keeping the output harmonics well within FCC regulations.
For this measurement, output was sampled at 1kw out, using a directional coupler and attenuators to keep from overloading the input of the spectrum analyzer.
Another small change was eliminating the ferrite
bead in the bias return; there were no reported stability problems by other
builders, but I've had trouble with using them in
input circuits before, so I decoupled with resistors and caps instead, just to
be safe. Other builders of the kit reported failure of the two 15pf ATC
capacitors in the output matching circuit (they caught on fire and burned like a
torch), so I used a 30pf metal mica there (type J601). Rf currents are high in
some areas, particularly the output matching network, and the metal micas are
better able to handle these conditions; the ATC types are OK for D.C. blocks.
After these photos were taken, I also replaced the 22k resistor in the bias
circuit with a 5k, and added a 5k thermistor in parallel with that. These parts
were added to control a rise in idle current as the transistor heated up on long
transmissions. The only other change I can think of right now was the
electrolytic bypass capacitor on the VDD supply line ( I used a single 220uf
Looking down from the top of the amp, at bottom center is a surplus Narda dual directional coupler, a 30db coupler normally used at 900 MHz, it is quite broadband, and has a coupling factor of about 42db at 144 MHz, just right for monitoring forward and reflected power at the kw level. The sampled signals are routed to a detector board shown later.
Note the use of ferrite beads and bypass capacitors on the power connector, and the ALC and PTT connectors. The ammeter and LED meters are also fed in this manner.
At the left of the copper spreader is the 50w 10db attenuator, used for higher power drivers. This attenuator is made using non-inductive (at 2m) TO-220 style resistors, and is jumpered in via rear panel bulkhead connectors. The attenuator is out of the bypass path, and is only in-circuit following the input antenna switch, and routed through the input jumpers to the amplifier board.
A setup table listing various attenuator values can be found here:
LMR-400 is used for all of the high power jumper connections (good to 1.5 KW continuous at 150 MHz). Though UHF connectors are common at this frequency, I used type N and SMA everywhere. Not important, I just happen to like them better, BNC and UHF connectors would have been fine.
Also visible here are the 4 small cooling fans behind the
screened vent holes. Cool air is drawn in here, forced through the heat sink
fins inside, and then expelled out the top of the cabinet through additional
screened vents (just visible here in the cabinet cover). These fans run at
reduced speed (to keep them quiet) during the transmit cycle, and will also run
continuously if the heat sink temperature rises above 115F. Should the
temperature rise above 130F, the fans will run at full speed, and the amplifier
will lock itself into bypass mode until it cools down to about 120F; then it
will unlock itself again and operate normally. I haven't been able to get it
that hot yet, but the protection is there just in case.
Brackets for holding the directional coupler are made from .060 Aluminum, and held to the cabinet floor with screws.
There is a small bracket holding the LED bar graph meters in place on the front panel, mounted in a way that avoids having to drill mounting holes into the panel. It's held in place to the top and bottom lips of the panel with counter-sunk 2-56 screws. A better view of this is shown in the inset below:
Even though the LDMOS transistor will handle 65 to 1 VSWR without failing (it's very tough), many of the other components, including the antenna switches and coax, can't survive the extreme voltages this would place on the transmission lines; so I set the SWR lockout adjustment at 100w reflected power, or about 2 to 1 VSWR at 1kw out. When tripped, this feature will lock the amplifier in bypass mode until manually reset (main power must be turned off for several seconds to reset it).
I'm sure glad I put that SWR lockout on there; while doing some offline testing, I forgot to hook up the output coax. I really didn't intend to test it at 1kw without a load, but it happened, and it locked out the amp just like it was supposed to do. No damage, even after I managed to do it again about an hour later.
The small PC board on the heat sink above and to the right of the control board is the high-temp lockout switch.
A set of schematics, as well as front/rear panel sketches can be seen by clicking here.
The block diagram for the most current version of the turn-key amp can be seen here.
If you are building the RF deck from a kit I supplied, the assembly instructions are here.
For kits shipped after Sept. 10th, 2018, your instructions are here.
For kits shipped after September
2020, your instructions are here.
Rack-mounting the amp is another way to go if you like your equipment set up that way.
This one was built with an engraved front panel and dual
meters of a slightly different style..
The cabinet consists of the front and rear panels and a floor plate I have
made by Front Panel Express (FPE,
they have design software you can download for free, which allows you to design
custom panels and order them through their system. Their CNC machining process
does all the hole cutting and engraving of those parts, and the panels can be
ordered in a powder-coat or anodized finish.
If you want to go the Front Panel Express way, a block diagram of the amplifier, and my design files for the panels mentioned above can be found in this folder.
This first photo shows two different versions of this amplifier in a couple of the more popular color schemes. The gray one on the left uses a 50v 1500w device, and will produce sustained 1.5kw in SSB/CW modes but must be limited to about 1200w for JT65 EME and other digital modes. This limitation is due to the matching transformers having an upper limit on how much power they can handle without getting so hot as to melt the solder holding them in place. Since SSB and CW duty cycles are no more than about 50% max, 1.5kw is no problem...but sustained digital modes will cause them to overheat.
The second amplifier on the right uses two 1kw RF decks with a combiner, a larger heat sink and a more ruggedized LPF. This one is capable of 1500w in all modes, including the more demanding digital modes (JT65 and others) used for EME. Absolute maximum output on this one, measured at 51v and max drive was 2.5KW. Of course, this was into a dummy load, and not for very long (about as long as my nerves could stand it).
For this 2-deck amp, 44v produced the best efficiency while preserving excellent linearity at legal limit; as you can see in the graph, at 1500w we are not even at P1db...there is still "headroom".
Even at 1650w we remain just below P1db, and linearity is still very good.
Naturally, with each RF deck producing less than 1kw, the rf transformers are not stressed at all. The combiner handles the high power work, and is rated well beyond 2kw.
The input power listed in these graphs was applied through a 13db transmit-side
attenuator, as the driving radio was a 100w model. This reduced the maximum 100w
drive level to 5w at the input of the two rf decks (2.5w each)
At 50v, linearity is preserved all the way to 2kw, but at the cost of a few % points of efficiency.
These amplifiers are most efficient when they are close to saturation, and that
is the reason for backing down VDD on this 2-deck model to the reduced level of
44v as shown in the previous graph.
Here's a snapshot of the interior, showing the placement of many of the major
And a more detailed view of the front panel. The rear panel layout is similar to the single-deck model below, but this one has four high-volume fans for cooling, a total of 240 cfm.
The cabinet size is 15w by 15d by 7h.
The cabinet size, construction method, and almost all of the supporting components are the same; some of the parts did need to be more robust, so here are the changes I made in order to build a very reliable amplifier:
The following are some of the photos of the interior and panels
And how it fits into the station amplifier stack:
However, as in the MRF1K50 model, a single-deck amplifier like this one cannot sustain more than 1200w continuous in digital modes without overheating the coax transformers used in the output matching network.