Testing the Ionosphere: A 100 milliwatt to 1 watt POTA Activation During a CME? Why not!?

Sometimes, I like the odd “exercise in futility.”

I enjoy shaking up routine and since POTA and SOTA activations are my routine, they end up being the shakers.

On Monday, September 18, 2023, I found out that our planet was rotating into a large CME (Coronal Mass Ejection). This CME made all of the space weather news and we planned for either some potential radio blackouts or at least very unstable conditions.

As I’ve said many times before, I never let the potential for poor propagation stop me from hitting the field. Don’t let it stop you either.

Lake Norman State Park (K-2740)

I had a full afternoon to play radio, so I made my way to Lake Norman State Park.

En route, I tried to think of a way to shake up the activation a bit. I planned to activate at the same spot I had during my last visit because I knew the park’s main trail system was still closed and, frankly, I wanted to take advantage of the EV charger at the visitor’s center again!

I’d packed MW0SAW’s End-Fed Half-Wave (the gift that keeps on giving, Steve) and I did have one new radio toy (more on that later).

I also had a lot of time–at least, more than I normally do during a POTA activation–so I thought it might be fun taking my KX2 down to the lowest power setting it has: 100 milliwatts.

I’ve activated parks with 100mw before, but never intentionally on a day when I knew propagation would be poor.

I figured with enough time, maybe I would get the ten contacts needed for a valid POTA activation.

If not, it would be fun trying!

Why Milliwatting?

At the end of the day, I think taking our radios and antennas to their low-power extremes gives us a taste of what we can actually do with so little signal.

I remember shortly after I bought my first Elecraft KX1 in 2008, I was speaking with a local ham and he told me that a maximum output of three watts was pretty useless and that I really needed a minimum of five watts if I expected to make any contacts.

Part of me did feel like perhaps I’d bought something more akin to a toy–fun to look at and hold, but not terribly practical.

Then I started using that KX1 to make contacts and even carry on extended rag chews. Turns out, three watts gets a lot done!

Today, I’ll often run my MTR-3B with three watts or even less when activating a summit and the results are simply outstanding–fabulous DX and contacts galore.

I know 100mw is a proper compromise, but I like knowing what I can achieve with so little. Tinkering with it in the field and listening to signal reports (also reading RBN stats) gives me a good idea.

In an emergency situation? If I could only push 100mw into a decent antenna, I know it wouldn’t be ideal, but I know it wouldn’t be futile either.

Begali Adventure Dual

Another activation motivation was the opportunity to test my new-to-me Begali Adventure Dual paddles.

A friend and supporter of the channel sold this set to me for a well below market cost in September.

He made me a deal I couldn’t refuse.

So many readers have recommended the Adventure over the years, I knew I’d like it.

This activation would provide me an opportunity to put them on the air!


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On The Air

I turned on the KX2, tuned to 20 meters, then lowered the power to 0.1 watts.

I started calling CQ POTA with my fingers crossed!

Contacts started slowly rolling in–not quite the pace of a “normal” QRP activation, but I’ll admit I was impressed considering the flea power I was using and the fact that propagation was unstable.

I logged my first 10 contacts in 24 minutes, thus I validated the POTA activation in 24 minutes. That’s really pretty respectable!

I then worked one more contact and bumped the power output up to one watt.

I also eventually moved from 20 to 30, then 40 meters.

In 50 minutes, I worked a total of 30 more contacts at the one watt level! Woo hoo!

I walked away with 41 total contacts.

I averaged one contact every 2.4 minutes with 100 mw, and one contact per 1.6 minutes with 1 watt.

QSO Maps

Here’s what this QRPp activation looked like when plotted out on QSO Maps. Note that I broke up the activation into two maps: one for the 100mw portion of the activation and one for the 1 watt portion. The QSO Map doesn’t actually show all of the contacts (I’m not entirely sure why) but it does show most of them:

(Long) Activation Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life video of the entire activation–nearly two hours worth!

As with all of my videos, I don’t edit out any parts of the on-air activation time. In addition, I have monetization turned off on YouTube, although that doesn’t stop them from inserting ads before and after my videos.

Note that Patreon supporters can watch and even download this video 100% ad-free through Vimeo on my Patreon page:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Loving the Adventure!

I must admit that the Adventure paddle is a gem! I found that my keying was accurate and it was a pleasure to use.

Cool thing is I have the mount for my KX1 as well, so look for that pair in the near future!

And, I’ll admit that I get a special thrill out of doing milliwatt activations. I will never become a milliwatt-only guy–in truth, I like my signal to reach everyone who wants to work the park or summit I’m activating.

But from time to time, and especially at heavily activated parks like Lake Norman, it’s awfully fun to dabble in proper flea power.

Thank you!

Thank you for joining me on this activation!

I hope you enjoyed the field report and my activation video as much as I enjoyed creating them.

Of course, I’d also like to send a special thanks to those of you who have been supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement as my content will always be free, I really appreciate the support.

As I mentioned before, the Patreon platform connected to Vimeo make it possible for me to share videos that are not only 100% ad-free, but also downloadable for offline viewing. The Vimeo account also serves as a third backup for my video files.

Thanks for spending part of your day with me! Enjoy the rest of your week!

Cheers & 72,

Thomas (K4SWL)

6 thoughts on “Testing the Ionosphere: A 100 milliwatt to 1 watt POTA Activation During a CME? Why not!?”

  1. I’m drooling! That Begali Adventurer is a beautiful iambic paddle! Thomas, I’m convinced at one milliwatt, bouncing on a pogo stick blind-folded, you could complete an activation.

    72 de W7UDT

  2. Hi Thomas,

    Et voila a video that goes to show that Watts are not always the measure of success.

    I am always surprised that you get such good RF Outpout when you are very often surrounded by trees, don’t they generally have an impact ? How high do you usually get the EFHW up, I would guessing around 20m ..

    Great video , thanks

    Roy ( F4LBR)

  3. Thomas,

    When I ordered my Begali Adventure Duo two years ago, Bruna chuckled when I ordered the adapters for my KX1, KX2, KX3, and FT817. She had it all ready and wrapped up for me to pick up at Xenia.

    I have never looked back. It is my favorite key bar none, especially for portable use. I do have a heavy duty magnetic base for it that I use in the shack.

    Your 100 Milliwatt experiment has been proven over and over again. Back when I started out in QRP in the 70s with a series of TenTec Argonauts with two watts output I worked the world. The only problem I needed an amplifier for was mobile on 75 m getting into an evening drive home net in Michigan.

    What fun.

  4. Great activation, and I agree with everyone on this Begali, it’s a treat to use.

    Bruna is a gem to work with as well

  5. Excellent write up. I have the Adventure Duo and finally have a KX2 on the way. It’s a great little paddle. My wife said I could get the mount for paddle/KX2 for Christmas. Cheers.

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