Life Imitates ART (ART-13, That Is)

[Mr. Carlson] has been restoring vintage military radios, and as part of his quest, he received an ART-13 transmitter. Before he opened the shipping box, he turned on the camera, and we get to watch from the very start in the video below. These transmitters were originally made by Collins for the Navy with an Army Air Corps variant made by Stewart-Warner. Even the Russians made a copy, presumably by studying salvaged units from crashed B-29s.

The transmitter puts out 100 watts at frequencies up to 18.1 MHz. The tubes needed a plate supply, and so, like many radios of the era, this one used a dynamotor. Think of it as a motor running at one voltage and turning a generator that produces a (usually) higher voltage. If you ever used a radio with one, you know you didn’t need an “on the air” sign — the whine of the thing spinning would let everyone know you had the key or microphone button pushed down. It’s an interesting piece of bygone tech that we’ve looked into previously.

The transmitter wasn’t in perfect shape, but we’ve seen worse. When the lid comes off, you can practically smell the old radio odor. There are tubes, coils, and even a vacuum relay, presumably for transmit/receive switching of the antenna. [Carlson] also tears open the dynamotor which is something you don’t see every day.

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Hackaday Links: August 27, 2023

We mentioned last week how robotaxi provider Cruise was having a no-good, very bad week, after one of their driverless taxis picked a fight with a semi, and it was revealed that amorous San Franciscans were taking advantage of the privacy afforded by not having a driver in the front seat. It appears that we weren’t the only ones to notice all the bad news, since California’s Department of Motor Vehicles issued an order to the company to cut its robotaxi fleet in half. The regulatory move comes after a recent Cruise collision with a fire truck, which injured a passenger in the taxi. Curiously, the DMV order stipulates that Cruise can only operate 50 vehicles during the day, while allowing 150 vehicles at night. We’d have thought the opposite would make more sense, since driving at night is generally more difficult than during daylight hours. But perhaps the logic is that the streets are less crowded at night, whereas daytime is a more target-rich environment.

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Radio Apocalypse: Hardening AM Radio Against Disasters

If you’ve been car shopping lately, or even if you’ve just been paying attention to the news, you’ll probably be at least somewhat familiar with the kerfuffle over AM radio. The idea is that in these days of podcasts and streaming music, plain-old amplitude modulated radio is becoming increasingly irrelevant as a medium of mass communication, to the point that automakers are dropping support for it¬†from their infotainment systems.

The threat of federal legislation seems to have tapped the brakes on the anti-AM bandwagon, at least for now. One can debate the pros and cons, but the most interesting tidbit to fall out of this whole thing is one of the strongest arguments for keeping the ability to receive AM in cars: emergency communications. It turns out that about 75 stations, most of them in the AM band, cover about 90% of the US population. This makes AM such a vital tool during times of emergency that the federal government has embarked on a serious program to ensure its survivability in the face of disaster.

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Not A Pot, Not An Encoder: Exploring Synchros For Rotational Sensing

We’re all familiar with getting feedback from a rotating shaft, for which we usually employ a potentiometer or encoder. But there’s another device that, while less well-known, has some advantages that just might make it worth figuring out how to include it in hobbyist projects: the synchro.

If you’ve never heard of a synchro, don’t feel bad; as [Glen Akins] explains, it’s an expensive bit of kit most commonly found in avionics gear. It’s in effect a set of coaxial transformers with a three-phase stator coil and a single-phase rotor. When excited by an AC reference voltage, the voltage induced on the rotor coil is proportional to the cosine of the angle between the rotor and stator. It seems simple enough, but the reality is that synchros present some interfacing challenges.

[Glen] chose a surplus altitude alert indicator for his experiments, a formidable-looking piece of avionics. Also formidable was the bench full of electronics needed to drive and decode the synchro inside it — a 26-volt 400-Hz AC reference voltage generator, an industrial data acquisition module to digitize the synchro output, and an ESP32 dev board with a little OLED display to show the results. And those are impressive; as seen in the video below, the whole setup is capable of detecting tenth-of-a-degree differences in rotation.

The blog post has a wealth of detail on using synchros, as does this Retrotechtacular piece from our own [Al Williams]. Are they practical for general hobbyist use? Probably not, but it’s still cool to see them put to use.

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S15351 tube transmitter

Retro And New Tech Combine In This Hybrid Ham Transmitter

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: the best part about holding an amateur radio license is that it lets you build and use your own transmitting equipment. Hams have been doing this for more than a century — indeed, it was once the only way to get on the air — using whatever technology was available. But the mix of technologies in this low-power transmitter for the 80-meter band is something you don’t see every day.

As ham [Helge Fykse (LA6NCA)] describes in the video below, the project began when he came into possession of a bonanza of vacuum tubes — 12A6 tetrodes, specifically. The new-old-stock tubes were perfect for an RF power amplifier, but that left the problem of what to use for an oscillator. [Helge] chose to meld the old with the new and used oscillator board that he designed. The board has an ATmega88 microcontroller and an Si5351 oscillator, along with a 3V3 regulator to let the module run on 12 volts. And for a nice retro touch, [Helge] put the board in a 3D printed case that looks like an old-fashioned quartz crystal.

There are some other nice design touches here too. A low-pass filter cleans up the harmonics of the oscillator’s 3.5-MHz square wave output before feeding it to the amplifier, in a nod to proper spectrum hygiene. The primary for the amp’s air-core output transformer is hand-wound, with 3D printed spacers to keep the winding neat and even. The tuning process shown below is interesting, and the transmitter was used to make a solid contact with another ham about 100 km away. And we really liked the look of [Helge]’s shack, stuffed as it is with gear both old and new.

We’ve personally tried the Si5351 for QRP transmitters before, but this blend of the old and new really makes us want to find some tubes and get to playing.

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Work The World On A 555

Over the years the humble 555 timer has been used in so many unexpected places, but there’s a project from [Frank Latos] which we think may be a first. On a piece of stripboard sit a pair of 555s, and instead of the usual passives there are a set of LC circuits. This is no timer, instead it’s a CW (Morse) transmitter for the 80 metre amateur radio band.

One 555 is configured as a feedback oscillator through a toroidal transformer with a tuned circuit to set the frequency of oscillation. The other takes an inverted input from the oscillator to produce complimentary push-pull outputs from both 555s, which are fed to another transformer that in turn feeds a low-pass filter and thus the antenna.

Free-running squarewave oscillators of this type are not unusual for the lower HF bands, but we think this is the first 555 design we’ve seen. As shown it doesn’t produce much in the way of RF power, but remembering half-decent motor drivers using a 556 dual timer we think that selection of one of the more powerful 555 variants might deliver some more punch. We commend his creativity though, and hope he can get that all-important entry in the log to prove it works.

If you’re curious about low-power radio operation, it’s something we’ve explored before.

This Ham Radio Is Unsafe At Any Frequency

When we were kids we rode bicycles without pads and helmets. We drank sugary drinks. We played with chemistry sets and power tools. We also built things that directly used AC line current. [Mike] remembers and built one, presumably more to discuss the safety precautions around things that can shock you and not entice you to duplicate it. He calls it The Retro QRP Widowmaker, if that’s any kind of a hint. (Video of this unsafe transmitter also embedded below.)

The design showed up from time to time in old electronic magazines. Built on an open board and with no ground wire, the radio didn’t need a complex power supply. This wasn’t limited to transmitters, either. Some TVs and radios had a “hot chassis.” That’s why we were taught to touch an unknown chassis with the back of your hand first. A shock will contract your muscles and that will pull your arm away instead of making you grab the electrically active part.

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