K3ES’ Eclipse Clean Sweep!

An Eclipse Clean Sweep

by Brian (K3ES)

Eclipse totality, as seen from US-8785, complete with corona.

My home QTH is located near Tionesta, PA, and the path of the 2024 eclipse put us near, but not in, the path for totality.  At home we would have more than 99.5% of the sun’s disc obscured.  I will confess that the distinction between 99.5% and totality was lost on me, but Becky was insistent that she wanted to be in the path of totality, because it gives a unique view when the sun’s disc is completely obscured by the moon.  At that point, only a halo of the sun’s corona remains visible.  Becky was right.  It was well worth the effort to get in the path of totality.

My contribution was to find a public area within the path of totality that would not be swarmed by traffic, cars, and people.

The Eclipse Plan

It turned out that we could be within the totality path by driving less than 20 miles from home.  We could also do this by driving away from population centers, rather than driving toward them.  Places like Erie, PA were expecting tens of thousands of people to visit.  I later heard stories of miles-long traffic jams, and hours of delay experienced by Erie pilgrims.  I hoped to, and thankfully managed to, avoid that fate.

After identifying that this section of PA State Game Land 086 was in the path for eclipse totality, a satellite view helped to identify open fields for viewing and activating.

I found that portions of Pennsylvania State Game Land 086 (coincidentally also POTA entity US-8785) lay within the totality zone.  Using a variety of on-line maps, I was able to find a parking area near the start of a gated Game Land road.

The road passed next to a series of small fields (satellite images are definitely helpful!).  Such fields are not uncommon at Game Lands, because it provides the opportunity for hunters to cross paths with rabbits and pheasants, both of which were out-of-season in April.  But, those same fields should have an unobstructed view of the sky.  So, we headed hopefully toward our selected parking lot, with plans to set up folding chairs (and a portable radio station) in one of the fields, as long as a parking space remained.

The POTA Plan

I had previously activated US-8785, making contacts on only the 40m band.  At that time, the goal had been a quick activation during a rove.  Lately, I have been working hard to accumulate contacts on 10 bands at multiple parks, inching my way closer to POTA’s N1CC award for making contacts on 10 bands from 10 different parks.

Prior to eclipse day, I had completed contacts on 10 bands from each of seven different parks.  While two or three of those contacts were made using VHF FM mode, my preferred method for achieving my goal at a park is to use CW mode and QRP power levels to make contacts on high frequency (HF) bands from 10m to 80m, and to also make CW QRP contacts on 160m (which is technically a medium frequency band).

The challenge with the 160m band (and the 80m band, to some extent) is that it generally works best after sunset.  Given that there would be an abnormal sunset occurring at 3:20 pm EDT, might it be possible to get a 160m contact during or near the period of totality?  That would be my quest.

So, I picked my equipment to give me the ability to rapidly move between bands.  I paired my KX3, with its excellent tuner and 160m to 6m coverage, with my VK160 homebrew 9:1 end-fed random wire (EFRW) antenna.  The story of VK160 design and construction and VK160 testing during Winter Field Day 2022 has previously been told in these pages (links provided), but suffice it to say that the radiating wire is 144 ft long.

If the crowds were sparse enough, I hoped to set it up as a shallow inverted V (I normally get a throw line up 30 to 40 ft, which is small in comparison to the antenna’s total length) along the wood line bordering the field.  I also brought two Bioenno LiFePO4 batteries that would normally be able to power my station for the large part of a day.  I chose battery redundancy, because there would be no opportunity for a re-do.

My operating plan was to make contacts on as many bands as possible.  I would start with 10m before the start of the eclipse, and work my way down in frequency, hopefully after making one or more contacts on each successive band.  I also needed to manage my time, so that I would get some time on each of the low bands – 60m, 80m, and 160m as the eclipse neared totality.  Since I already had contacts from a prior activation, I would not work 40m unless I had completed contacts on the other 9 bands.


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Eclipse Day

My cousin joined Becky and I for the outing to see the eclipse.  We all hoped that the afternoon would be memorable.  As we drove to our selected location, traffic was unexpectedly light, but the sky was overcast. There had been rain earlier in the morning, but the clouds seemed to be thinning as the day progressed, and we remained hopeful during the drive, particularly as glimpses of blue sky became apparent.

A final stretch on a dirt road brought us to the Game Land parking lot, a cleared patch of gravel, which was… empty!!!  It seemed that I had either planned well, or guessed right.  Either way, I was happy with the starting point!

We passed out the folding chairs from the back of the truck, shouldered our bags, and started the half-mile walk back the road to find our field.  We saw no vehicles and no people on the way in.  We did hear a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers drumming on branches near the side of the road, and we saw a Red-tailed Hawk and some Turkey Vultures soaring overhead.  It all made for an enjoyable walk, and the clouds continued to thin, with patches of blue emerging as the clouds continued their journey overhead.

Setting Up the Station

Here, I am preparing to throw a line to support the VK160.  I selected a tree somewhat distant from my planned operating location, so that apex would be located at about the midpoint of the radiating wire.
I used the K4SWL sling method of throwing the arborist line for this deployment.  While I am much more accurate using the “granny shot” throwing method, the sling method can get the line consistently higher.
I am deploying one of the three radial wires used with the VK160.  If you look closely, you can see the antenna feedpoint hanging behind me, level with my hat brim.  The cord holding the feedpoint can be seen just above my head.

When we arrived at the field, I scouted out a location for my antenna.  A tall tree at the woodline seemed to have a number of great branches high above the ground.  I broke out my arborist line, made my throw, and missed.  I repeated the process a couple more times, then snagged a light branch just a bit lower than I had hoped, but it would be sufficient.

Unwrapping the antenna (it takes a while to spool out 144 ft of wire) I found that it would stretch across the width of the field, and a bit further along one edge, so up it went in a bent inverted V.  A length of 550 cord secured it to a tree branch on the far side of the field, and a bit of light cord held the feed point to a tree branch near my chair.  This done, I connected and stretched out three counterpoise wires, connected the RG316 feed line, and started assembling the station.

On the Air

I am preparing for operation.  Station equipment is on the clipboard in my lap.  The antenna feedpoint can be seen at upper right.  The 15 ft RG316 feedline runs downward from the feedpoint, along the ground, and up to my operating position.
On the air with the KX3 set for 5 watts CW.
Working for a contact on 12m.
Continuing to work contacts as the light dims.  Chairs for Becky and my cousin are about 100 ft down the field from my operating position.
Between contacts I could quickly don my fashionable eclipse glasses to safely monitor progress, as the moon’s shadow progressed across the sun.

I was quickly ready to hit the air.  Having scheduled the activation in advance, I was not worried about cell service, but found that I had enough to verify my initial spot, as well as subsequent band changes.  As planned, I started on  the 10m band.  It took some time before my CQ call was returned.  After logging it, I called for a bit longer, then switched over to the 12m band, where things took a different turn.

European stations were coming in a pileup.  It took a while to sort out a complete call and respond to it, but the callers kept stepping all over me and all over each other.  Finally, I logged a station from Spain, but the pileup was so unruly that it did not take long before I gave up in exasperation.  On 15m I got a quick call from an Italian station that I recognized from the 12m pileup, and I was easily able to complete the contact.  A second call on 15 was in the log a few minutes later, and I moved on to 17m, which was more productive, yielding four contacts.  On moving to 20m, I logged three contacts, validating the activation, then moved to 30m.

After making four contacts on 30m, totality was approaching, and it was time to try the lower bands.  I set up on 60m, got one contact in 10 minutes, then moved on to 80m.  After three quick 80m contacts, I moved to 160m.  With 20 minutes until totality, I would spend the next half hour on 160m.

After 10 minutes of calling CQ, Joe – N3XLS came through with a call.  The signal reports were 559 on my end, and 339 on his.  Nine bands were complete, but I kept trying for another contact on 160m.  It was not to be.

About 10 minutes on the back side of totality, I switched over to 40m to try for the clean sweep of 10 bands in an afternoon.  There was a lot of band noise (QRN) on 40m, but contacts came quickly.  As time progressed, the noise got worse.  For my final contact, I got every second character from a familiar call sign.  I was finally able to piece it together after several tries, but immediately decided it was time to move to a different band.  I switched back to 20m and finished the afternoon there.  The band was much less noisy, and just as productive as 40m had been.

The QSO Map showing 38 contacts from activating US-8785 during the 2024 Solar Eclipse.

POTA Results

Getting a total of 38 QRP CW contacts during a 2-1/2 hour activation is respectable, but does not tell the full story.  Intentionally spending much of the on-air time to make contacts on less-productive bands, yielded amazing results.  With the help of  a terrific group of POTA hunters, and the last local eclipse that I am likely to see in my lifetime, I was able to activate a park with QRP CW contacts on 10 bands in part of an afternoon.

Before I ever prepared my gear for the trip, I started with a question:  Is it possible to make contacts on lower frequency amateur radio bands during the period of time when an eclipse blocks solar radiation?

I have my answer:  “Absolutely!”

This answer is supported by success in making contacts on the 60m and 80m bands during the early part of the eclipse, and on the 160m band during the period of near-totality.  My unexpected bonus is that I also completed activation contacts on a total of 10 bands at an eighth park, so I am one step closer to my N1CC goal.

As the eclipse progressed, the light dimmed, and colors changed to a strange hue.  Becky took this picture from her viewing location.
Totality!  Even with a covering of thin clouds, the “ring of fire” from the sun’s corona was clearly visible.

Eclipse Final Analysis

While the amateur radio results did not depend at all on cloud conditions, our desire to directly see the sun’s progressive disappearance, and final totality, certainly did.  In our location, sky conditions could best be described as mostly cloudy.  With that said, breaks in the clouds of varying duration gave us a great opportunity for direct viewing with eclipse-rated eyewear.  At other times, cloud cover was thin enough to enable us to see the incomplete solar disc through the clouds.

The three of us were unanimous in concluding that the experience was amazing.  While our location at the edge of the totality zone made for a shorter period of totality than some other locations, our view of the solar corona was amazing.  Moreover, we had to contend with no traffic jams, no crowds, and I was able to set up a long wire antenna without inconveniencing anyone.

With totality complete, and solar conditions returning to normal, I am wrapping up the activation on 20m.  Contacts on 10 bands are in the logbook.  It was a great day for POTA!

Amateur radio, like life experiences in general, can create unexpected moments of awe and astonishment.  I wish each of you the opportunity to go out and do something amazing!

Best 73 de Brian – K3ES

19 thoughts on “K3ES’ Eclipse Clean Sweep!”

  1. Brian:

    This was the greatest POTA adventure I have ever read on this site! Well documented and written. You have to have a plan in order to execute your idea and that is the theme of your story. Plan and execute. Very FB OM!

    GL es 73 de KC1FUU

    1. Jon,

      Thanks for the kind comments. This activation felt like a last minute thing, because it was not fully planned until two days before the eclipse! Truthfully though, opportunity, combined with preparation (I have been working toward the N1CC Activator award for well over a year now), and a healthy dose of solar cooperation, made it possible.

      Best 73 de Brian – K3ES

  2. Brian:

    I concur with Jon’s comments. What a rare opportunity and you made great use of it! I love all the photos, especially of you in action. (It is nice when we have a designated photographer along for the activation.) Thanks for sharing this special experience with all of us.

    The POTA Babe

    1. Teri,

      Thanks. You are so right about how great it is to have a photographer along on the trip. When Becky is able to go along on an activation, her pictures make the story easy to tell. When I’m out on my own, I can get caught up in the radio fun, and forget to take pictures entirely.

      Best 73 de Brian – K3ES

  3. I agree with everyone else here. An excellent report!

    I really admire the clean sweeps you’re doing this year, Brian. That’s a proper challenge and certainly helps make your choice of antennas and radios for you! The KX3, in this case, is definitely your friend!

    Also, we’re wired the same way as you: we avoided the crowds in the path of totality. My family met up with Eric (WD8RIF) and his wife and dogs for a relaxed eclipse viewing at Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton. We had no traffic congestion and absolutely superb weather. You worked Eric on 40M (one of his first contacts on his KH1, actually) but you’d QSY’d by the time I grabbed my KHJ1 to hunt you. 🙂


    1. Thomas,

      Thanks for the comments. I am really sorry to have missed you on 40m. QRN was getting progressively worse on the back side of totality, and I had such a tough time getting Eric’s callsign, so I QSYed to 20m, where conditions proved to be much better. Any physicists out there able to post-totality noise conditions?

      Best 73 de Brian – K3ES

  4. Hi Brian.

    Greetings from Europe. I had the pleasure to attend the 1999 eclipse in France, when I did an internship in Paris. This was a great experience. You achieved to put ham radio in this, well done! Have fun with our hobby!

    Cheers, Chris, DL7CW

    1. Thanks Chris,

      It really is astounding how many things there are to learn and experience with amateur radio. For me, this definitely is one of the most memorable!

      Best 73 de Brian – K3ES

  5. Wonderful POTA/N1CC/Portable/Eclipse multi-adventure tale! We drove to near Niagara Falls, ON to see the eclipse and I felt that adding a radio and antenna to the plan was just too much to manage. I’ve waited my whole life to stand in the shadow of the moon and didn’t want any additional distractions. So pleased that your radio experiment was successful as was your activation! How fortunate that you had the area to yourselves too! Super!
    Rod VA3MZD

    1. Rod,

      Thanks for your kind words. The eclipse was definitely a memorable experience, and the activation was icing on the cake for me.

      Best 73 de Brian – K3ES

  6. My area (S Michigan) was to be 97-99% and many of my friends said that was enough. WRONG! As you stated, 100% is so much more than just 99 + 1. I and a ham friend drove to Indianapolis for totality and set up in a friend’s back yard. We were too awed by the sky to worry much about trying to make contacts, though. It was my first total eclipse of the sun; I have seen many lunar ones at 100% but they don’t hold a proverbial candle to solar. Should I be privileged enough to see another solar in my life (I’m 71 so don’t bet on it), I will try more ham activity. Congrats to your efforts and the special logbook you filled in and thanks for the report!

  7. Ken,

    Thanks. I will admit to being one of those who thought that 99.7% would be enough. Becky wanted totality, and I helped her find a low stress way to see it. SHE WAS RIGHT! Totality was amazing!

    Best 73 de Brian – K3ES

  8. Brian, nice report and POTA activation, a hat tip !!

    As for the (no so) “random” wire antenna, an easy way to pick a length is to use this simple online “calculator”


    the idea behind it, is always the same, stay away from 1/2 Lambda and even multiples on all bands you want to use, to avoid very high impedance, and try using a length which is “near” 1/4 Lambda at the lowest frequency to have a bit of radiation efficiency

    Add a well built 9:1 and a “Guanella” choke, a counterpoise or a ground stake and with the help of an antenna matching unit you’ll be on the air on all bands

    As for the AMU, if one is only interested into 80 to 10 meters (not 160), then this one will be a good pick


    for QRP it may even be built using a pair of “polyvaricons”, the nice thing is that it has no switching, plus it’s one of those units you can “pre” tune in RX just by turning the variables to achieve higher signal (or background noise), that’s a plus when going portable since that allows to spare battery power 🙂

    1. Andrew,

      Thanks for the hat-tip, and for your antenna insights. I have had success with my homebrew VK-160 EFRW antenna from 10m to 160m on the CW band segments. It does require a wide range tuner. The KX3’s internal tuner works well on all target bands, as does the LDG Z-11ProII. The ZM-2 manual tuner also works well down to 80m, but is not designed for the 160m band. I am sure other tuners are equally capable, but those are the ones I have tried.

      Antenna theory, design, and construction is fascinating to me, and I know it is a passion of yours, too, Andrew. For those who have not experienced it, homebrewing antennas is achievable and relatively inexpensive. Give it a try!

      Best 73 de Brian – K3ES

  9. Awesome effort – Awesome Result.

    I am really impressed that the KX3 did so well on 160. It’s not an easy band to work (for me) even at home. I tried 160 once on a camping trip to Yosemite once and totally failed. Glad this was successful.

    — 73 de NI1Q

  10. Emily,

    Thank you. Yosemite is one of my favorite places! I would love to do field radio there at some point.

    I have found 3 things to be necessary for success with 160m QRP from a field station…

    1. An antenna system that will tune on 160m. I use wire antennas, and it takes a LONG wire, even for an EFRW that is shorter than resonant. A wide range tuner also helps me greatly.
    2. A park where you can work close to, and hopefully after sunset. This is not always easy, because many parks in my area are restricted to day use.
    3. Hunters in your propagation footprint who can/will work on 160m. I am happy to have Joe – N3XLS in my area, along with some members of my club, who will hunt me when I am on 160m.

    Even then, it can take a lot of CQ calls to get a contact in the log!

    Best 73 de Brian – K3ES

  11. Emily, Brian… for “at home” setup, try a random laid out as an inverted L with as much wire as you can in vertical and the remaining one tied to a rope and sloping, add some radials on ground or a ground stake (or more than one) and try it, you may have a nice surprise on the lower bands and up to 20 meters (going highere the takeoff angle will raise too much)

  12. Brian,

    Thank you for posting about your activity during the eclipse. You are such a great storyteller. The description of the wildlife was wonderful, and I even pictured the woodpeckers, tapping out their version of code alongside you! Your photos are great.
    I’m Glad that Becky insisted on traveling to the path of totality. I experienced it in 2017 when we had a solar eclipse out in the west but didn’t even think to take the radio with me. I was busy photographing it and couldn’t have handled anything else going on at the same time.

    I also wanted to thank you for the reference to your article about the VK160 antenna. This past weekend, I started planning to make an 80m EFRW about 71 feet long with a 9:1 UnUn, and to make a disconnect point where it will work for 40m and above so I can keep it short for most deployments. Now I’m wondering if I should try also adding a segment for 160m since it is just a little more wire, and I’m using very light 26-gage wire for portable operations. Thanks for giving me more to think about. 73

    1. Hi Mark,

      Thanks for the kind words.

      Regarding antennas… When using my KX3 or KX2, I almost always pair them with end-fed random wire (EFRW) antennas. I have a Tufteln EFRW with 35 ft radiator and 17 ft counterpoise that will tune from 80m to 10m, but I have not had much success with it on 80m (too short to be efficient). I have a Packtenna EFRW that I switched over to a 71 ft radiator, and I use it with only the feedline for a counterpoise. It will tune and make contacts from 80m to 10m. I built the VK160 specifically for use on the 160m band, but it tunes and makes contacts on all bands from 160m to 10m.

      Radiating and counterpoise wires on all are made of 26 ga polystealth wire (seven-strand copper clad steel, coated with PVC insulation). I have been really pleased with the wire performance. It is strong enough to resist damage during real field deployments. The wire does have a memory for its original coil, so it can tangle if allowed to do so. I use a winder with figure-8 wraps, and that has prevented tangling.

      I think you will do well with a 71 ft EFRW, and I think you will also be pleased with the performance if you build an extension for it. Just use a wide-range tuner for best results.

      Best 73 de Brian – K3ES

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