WWII Aircraft Radio Roars To Life: What It Takes To Restore A Piece Of History

I’ve been told all my life about old-timey Army/Navy surplus stores where you could buy buckets of FT-243 crystals, radio gear, gas masks, and even a Jeep boxed-up in a big wooden crate. Sadly this is no longer the case. Today surplus stores only have contemporary Chinese-made boots, camping gear, and flashlights. They are bitterly disappointing except for one surplus store that I found while on vacation in the Adirondacks: Patriot of Lake George.

There I found a unicorn of historical significance; an un-modified-since-WW2 surplus CBY-46104 receiver with dynamotor. The date of manufacture was early-war, February 1942. This thing was preserved as good as the day it was removed from its F4F Hellcat. No ham has ever laid a soldering iron or a drill bit to it. Could this unit have seen some action in the south Pacific? Imagine the stories it could tell!

My unconventional restoration of this radio followed strict rules so as to minimize the evidence of repair both inside and out yet make this radio perform again as though it came fresh off the assembly line. Let’s see how I did.

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Hacking Transmitters, 1920s Style

The origin of the term “breadboard” comes from an amusing past when wooden bread boards were swiped from kitchens and used as a canvas for radio hobbyists to roll homemade capacitors, inductors, and switches. At a period when commercial electronic components were limited, anything within reach was fair game.

[Andy Flowers], call sign K0SM, recently recreated some early transmitters using the same resources and techniques from the 1920s for the Bruce Kelley 1929 QSO Party. The style of the transmitters are based on [Ralph Hartley]’s oscillator circuit built for Bell Telephone in 1915. Most of the components he uses are from the time period, and one of the tubes he uses is even one of four tubes from the first Transatlantic contact in 1923.

Apart from vacuum tubes (which could be purchased) and meters (which could be scrounged from automobiles) [Flowers] recreated his own ferrite plate and outlet condensers for tuning the antennas. The spiderweb coils may not be as common today, but can be found in older Crosley receivers and use less wire than comparable cylindrical coils.

A number of others features of the transmitters also evoke period nostalgia. The coupling to the antenna can be changed using movable glass rods, although without shielding there are quite a number of factors to account for. A vertical panel in the 1920s style also shows measurements from the filament, plate current, and antenna coupling.

While amature radio has become increasingly high-tech over the last few years, it’s always good to see dedicated individuals keeping the old ways alive; no matter what kind of technology they’re interested in.

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