Sunday, September 7, 2014

Some thoughts on MilCom gear

It's not a secret that I like, no, make that "love", military comm gear. Over the years I have had my share of ARC-5 sets, a really nice PRC-74B (thanks to Mark Francis, KI0PF), a BC-611 HT (thanks to Breck Smith) several GRC-109 Special Forces/CIA radio sets, and many others. All were working rigs. No "hanger queens" in my shack!!! Unfortunately as time marches onward one reaches a point where collecting and using all these radios becomes somewhat problematic.

First there is the space required to house some really big and heavy radios. Then there is the time spent trying to get them on the air using 70 year old schematics and books on surplus radio gear. Finally there is the availability and pricing of said gear. It seems over the last 30 years or so that Uncle Sam has gone to extremes to insure most of the outmoded/surplus radio and electronic equipment goes through some form of "rigorous" de-milling (the process whereby the gear is completely smashed, ground up under the treads of a tracked vehicle, melted down or thrown overboard). That is bad for two reasons. First it is equipment paid for by the American tax payers...why not let it revert back to serious military collectors and radio enthusiasts? Then there is the idea of preserving the history of military communications that has constantly allowed the armed forces of the United States to win wars and protect the country.

Unfortunately a lot of this historical comm gear has become very hard to find in an unmodified state. Take for instance the ARC-5 radio sets used in aircraft during WWII. Various manufacturers produced hundreds of thousands of these radio sets during the war. The surplus radio market was flooded with these rigs after VE and VJ day, much to the delight of the frugal ham radio operator. Over the intervening 70 years the supply has literally dried up and today it is almost impossible to obtain an ARC-5 receiver or transmitter in an unmodified condition. There are collectors out there in MilComm radio land that pay outrageous prices for pristine gear to add to their collections. Additionally there are military vehicle collectors that require the proper radio equipment to include in their jeeps, half tracks, tanks (yes....there are a lot of tanks in the hands of civilian collectors), and aircraft. This secondary market means that finding unmodified MilComm gear is even harder.

Recently I had the opportunity to purchase several pieces of MilComm gear from the estate of a deceased ham in the local area. At first I was elated that I could possible procure a working AN/GRC-109 spy rig along with a AN/PRC-47 HF SSB transmitter/receiver station. After a few hours and several e-mails to the  principals who were off-loading this gear I decided I didn't really need any more gear. As a matter of fact I have too much radio gear as it stands now. 

What I need to do is off-load a bunch of my stuff. After all, I ain't gonna live forever! I have thousands of pieces of electronic components loaded into several hundred plastic bins in the once-shack/workbench at our place in GA. I have no way to categorize these items, let alone figure out their actual worth. I am no longer building or modifying gear so these things need to find a new home, along with several rigs in various stages of modification/completion. (Anyone need an Elecraft K2, fully loaded, or a couple of Argonaut about a Heathkit HW-16??)

I guess what I am trying to say is that all this "stuff" is non-essential to my current status as a ham radio operator. I find very little time to get on the wonderful station I currently have, let alone jump into a long drawn out saga of getting more non-essential gear working that will just sit on the bench.

Don't get me wrong, I love electronics, ham radio, and building/modifying radio gear. But, truth be told, I no longer wish to actively engage in the workbench side of the hobby.

Sorry if I sound morose. That was not my intention. I am perfectly happy with my current level of participation in the ham radio hobby. Both Peppermint Patti (KB3MCT) and I are active with our local ARES unit and maintain our deployability standing within that group. I do not fancy myself a "real" DXer, although I do manage to work a new one once in a while. I am no speed demon on CW but I find that working CW DX contacts means more to me than SSB contacts. No, I still don't have the necessary QSL cards accrued to qualify for basic DXCC. However, I know in my heart-of-hearts I have made DXCC at least three separate times using three different call signs while overseas with the USAF. For some unknown reason the local DX club (of which I am an associate member) doesn't like to recognize me as a "real" DXer. It doesn't matter to me. Will I ever get DXCC confirmed via the ARRL? I seriously doubt it, as I just do not care whether I submit the necessary cards.

OK, time to go. I am writing this while sitting in a motel room in Wilkes-Barre, PA. We attended a family reunion this weekend and are now headed to Lake Carey then to Williamsport to meet with Dr. Paul Shuch, N6TX, head honcho of the SETI League. Finally, headed back home to Dacula, GA. I miss the dogs and my cats. I have to admit that I am no longer the road warrior that I was 10 years ago. The long (1800 mile) trips are better met with air fare rather than wear/tear and gasoline for the truck.

Don't forget the upcoming CQ VHF contest at the end of September. I plan on being on for part of that contest using my IC-202S feeding a 10W linear amp into a 13 element long boom Yagi and my TR-600 at 10W output into a Ringo Ranger for 6 meters. Certainly no "high speed-no drag" contest station but I like it!!

Vy 73

Rich K7SZ

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