Textmeter Tells Its Tale

One time-proven method to make a lesson memorable is to make it a story, but that is not easy if your core material is the repair log of a rotted out analog ammeter. Most folks don’t need a 300A meter on their drill press, so [Build Comics] converted it to a text display and describes the procedure like they are writing a comic book. He is using HDLO-3416 LED cluster arrays for that dated-but-legible industrial feel, and everything looks right at home in a box made from oak and steel. Even the USB cord even gets a facelift by running it inside a fabric shoelace. In our own lives, covering charging cables is a hack on its own because we don’t want to fumble with the wrong charger when it is time to sleep or drive. Glow-in-the-dark cord upgrades, anyone?

We don’t have a pre-operation picture of the subject, but the innards suggest that it comes from the bottom of an industrial scrap pile. There is a cross-hatch pattern on the front plate, which hinted at 3D printing, but if you look closely at the early images, you can see that it is original. There is a nodeMCU board to fetch the date information and control the four alphanumeric displays. Except for the red lights, all the new hardware hides behind wood or steel, so this old workhorse’s aesthetic lives on and has a story to share that is a delight to read.

If you enjoy reading [Build Comics] and their adventurous recollections, we forecast you’ll enjoy this weather display, or maybe it is time to check out their clock, but we want to plant the seed of literary build logs.

Restoring An Unusual Piece Of Computing History

Trawling classified ads or sites like Craigslist for interesting hardware is a pastime enjoyed by many a hacker. At a minimum, you can find good deals on used tools and equipment. But if you’re very lucky, you might just stumble upon something really special.

Which is exactly how [John] came into possession of the TRANSBINIAC. Included in a collection of gear that may have once belonged to a silent key, the device is a custom-built solid-state computer that appears to have been assembled in the early 1960s. Featuring a large see-through window not unlike what you might find on a modern gaming computer and a kickstand that tilts it back at a roughly 45° angle, it was obviously built to be shown off. Perhaps it was a teaching aid or even a science fair entry.

After some digging, it looks like the design of the TRANSBINIAC was based on plans published in the January 1960 issue of Electronics Illustrated. Though there are some significant differences. This computer uses eight bistable flip-flip modules instead of the original six, deletes the multiplication circuit, and employs somewhat simplified wiring. Whoever built this machine clearly knew what they were doing, which for the time, is really saying something. This truly unique machine may well have been one of the first privately owned digital computers in the world.

Which is why we’re glad to see [John] trying to restore the device to its former glory. Naturally it’s a little tricky since the computer came with no documentation and its design doesn’t exactly match anything out there. But with the help of other Hackaday.io users, he’s hoping to get everything figured out. It sounds like the first step is to try and diagnose the 2N554 germanium transistor flip-flop modules, as they appear to be behaving erratically. If you have experience with this sort of hardware, feel free to chime in.

We’re supremely proud of the fact that so many of these early computer examples (and the people that are fascinated by them) have recently found their way to Hackaday.io. They’re literally the building blocks on which so much of our modern technology is based on, and the knowledge of how they were designed and operated deserves to live on for future generations to learn from. If it wasn’t for 1960s machines like the TRANSBINIAC or the so-called “Paperclip Computer”, Hackaday might not even exist. It seems like the least we can do is return the favor and make sure they aren’t forgotten.

[Thanks to Yann for the tip.]

World’s Only Flying Twin Mustang Goes On Sale

Given the incredible success of the P-51 Mustang during the Second World War, it’s perhaps no surprise that the United States entertained the idea of combining two of the iconic fighters on the same wing to create a long-range fighter that could escort bombers into Japan. But the war ended before the F-82 “Twin Mustang” became operational, and the advent of jet fighters ultimately made the idea obsolete. Just five examples of this unique piece of history are known to exist, and the only one in airworthy condition can now be yours.

Assuming you’ve got $12 million laying around, anyway. Even for a flyable WWII fighter, that’s a record setting price tag. But on the other hand, you’d certainly be getting your money’s worth. It took over a decade for legendary restoration expert [Tom Reilly] and his team to piece the plane, which is actually a prototype XP-82 variant, together from junkyard finds. Even then, many of the parts necessary to get this one-of-a-kind aircraft back in the sky simply no longer existed. The team had to turn to modern techniques like CNC machining and additive manufacturing to produce the necessary components, in some cases literally mirroring the design in software so it could be produced in left and right hand versions.

Recovering half of the Twin Mustang in 2008.

We first covered this incredible restoration project back in 2018, before the reborn XP-82 had actually taken its first flight. Since then the plane has gone on to delight crowds with the sound of two counter-rotating Merlin V-12 engines and win several awards at the Oshkosh airshow. The listing for the aircraft indicates it only has 25 hours on the clock, but given its rarity, we can’t blame [Tom] and his crew for keeping the joyrides to a minimum.

As important as it is to make sure these incredible pieces of engineering aren’t lost to history, the recent crash of the B-17G Nine-O-Nine was a heartbreaking reminder that there’s an inherent element of risk to flying these 70+ year old aircraft. A world-class restoration and newly manufactured parts doesn’t remove the possibility of human error or freak weather. While we’d love to see and hear this beauty taxiing around our local airport, it’s a warbird that should probably stay safely in the roost. Hopefully the $12 million price tag will insure whoever takes ownership of the world’s only flying F-82 treats it with the respect it’s due.

Vintage Gauges Turned Classy Weather Display

It’s always good to see old hardware saved from the junk pile, especially when the end result is as impressive as this analog gauge weather display put together by [Build Comics]. It ended up being a truly multidisciplinary project, combing not only restoration work and modern microcontroller trickery, but a dash of woodworking for good measure.

Naturally, the gauges themselves are the real stars of the show. They started out with rusted internals and broken glass, but parts from a sacrificial donor and some TLC from [Build Comics] got them back in working order. We especially like the effort that was put into making the scale markings look authentic, with scans of the originals modified in GIMP to indicate temperature and humidity while retaining the period appropriate details.

To drive the 1940s era indicators, [Build Comics] is using an Arduino Nano and a DHT22 sensor that can detect temperature and humidity. A couple of trimmer pots are included for fine tuning the gauges, and everything is mounted to a small scrap of perfboard hidden inside of the custom-made pine enclosure.

This is hardly the first time we’ve seen analog gauges hooked up to modern electronics, but most of the projects are just that: modern. While the end look might be somewhat polarizing, we think maintaining the hardware’s classic style was the right call.

Reliving Heathkit’s Glory Days Through A Teardown And Rebuild

In its heyday, the experience offered by the Heath Company was second to none. Every step of the way, from picking something out of the Heathkit catalog to unpacking all the parts to final assembly and testing, putting together a Heathkit project was as good as it got.

Sadly, those days are gone, and the few remaining unbuilt kits are firmly in the unobtanium realm. But that doesn’t mean you can’t tear down and completely rebuild a Heathkit project to get a little taste of what the original experience was like. [Paul Carbone] chose a T-3 Visual-Aural signal tracer, a common enough piece that’s easy to find on eBay at a price mere mortals can afford. His unit was in pretty good shape, especially for something that was probably built in the early 1960s. [Paul] decided that instead of the usual recapping, he’d go all the way and replace every component with fresh ones. That proved easier said than done; things have changed a lot in five decades, and resistors are a lot smaller than they used to be. Finding hookup wire to match the original was also challenging, as was disemboweling some of the electrolytic cans so they could be recapped. The finished product is beautiful, though — even the Magic Eye tube works — and [Paul] reports that the noise level is so low he wasn’t sure if turned it on at first.

We’ve covered the rise and fall of Heathkit, as well as their many attempted comebacks, including an inexplicable solder-free radio and the “world’s most reliable” clock. Looking at these offerings, we think [Paul] may be onto something here.

Antique Army Surplus Receiver Restored

If you’ve ever been to a hamfest in the United States, you probably have at least seen an ARC 5 Command set. These were very rugged receivers and there were a ton of them made. Hams have been reworking them for years. In a recent video [Tom N3LLL] shared some of his tips for restoring them.

You might think these are just like a regular old radio, but there are some unique challenges, including capacitors filled with beeswax and strange threaded screws. [Tom] made several custom boards to replace the dynamotor with a solid-state inverter, replace odd capacitors, and provided a faceplate. He also 3D printed some replacement studs to replace the often decayed anti-vibration studs for the dynamotor.

The teardown at the end shows how rugged these things are. Tom’s restoration philosophy is to modernize the set while keeping the outward aesthetics. The receivers perform well, and as you might expect are built like tanks.

If you want to try your hand at restoration, these are not very expensive because there were so many of them made. Often the shipping is about the same price as the radio, but one in good shape can cost a bit more. We think the real fun is getting one that is not in such good shape and making it better.

Everyone has their own style and we know some restorers are more purists, but as a practical matter, [Tom’s] restorations look great, sound great, and preserve these great old radios so that someone might still be using them in another 75 years.

We’ve covered the ARC 5 before, unsurprisingly, and that restoration was a bit more traditional if you prefer it that way. If you need something to listen to on the AM band, try a matching transmitter.

Continue reading “Antique Army Surplus Receiver Restored”

Hacking Apollo Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, April 22 at noon Pacific for the Hacking Apollo Hack Chat with “CuriousMarc” VerdiellKen ShirriffMike Stewart, and Carl Claunch!

When President Kennedy laid down the gauntlet to a generation of scientists and engineers to land a man on the Moon before the close of the 1960s, he likely had little idea what he was putting in motion. The mission was dauntingly complex, the science was untested, and the engineering was largely untried. Almost everything had to be built from scratch, and entire industries were born just from the technologies that had to be invented to make the dream come true.

Chief among these new fields was computer science, which was barely in its infancy when the 1960s started. By the end of the decade and the close of the Space Race, computers had gone from room-filling, power-guzzling machines to something compact and capable enough to fly men to the Moon and back. The computers that followed all built on the innovations that came about as a result of Apollo, and investigating the computers of the era and finding out what made them tick is an important part of our technological culture.

That’s where this retrocomputing dream team came into play. Together, they’ve poked and prodded at every bit of hardware from the Space Race era they could find, including a genuine Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) that was rescued from the trash. What’s more, they actually managed to restore it to working condition with a series of epic hacks and sheer force of will.

Marc, Ken, Mike, and Carl will stop by the Hack Chat to talk about everything that went into getting the AGC working again, along with anything else that pops up. Come ready to have your Apollo-era hardware itches scratched by the people who’ve been inside a lot of it, and who have seen first-hand what it took to make it to the Moon and back.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, April 22 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Continue reading “Hacking Apollo Hack Chat”