Collins Radio Company “Firsts”
Collins Radio Co. was renowned for cutting edge innovation in its products, systems, and corporate practices. On October 20, 1961 John Haerle, corporate head of Public Relations, circulated a memo to department heads and other key people asking for a list of "firsts" in their area of responsibility. The criteria were that the entry must either be first chronologically or first to be commercially available and successful. Entries included the first application of a new device (e.g. the then-new transistor), a new device, equipment or system designed and manufactured by Collins Radio.
We offer below a list taken from the original and subsequent responses, with links to sources of additional information.
Amateur Radio 1934 — First Ham Radio Station at the South Pole

On his second expedition to the South Pole, Admiral Richard E. Byrd provided the first amateur radio station at Little America, using Collins Radio equipment. This equipment was intended to link expedition reports to the CBS radio network for live broadcast - however, the ham radio operators on the team had to have a little fun first...
In the photo, Radio Operator, Guy Hutcheson, is tuning the 1KW 20B transmitter.

Read more about this subject.

Amateur Radio 1935 — First Multi-Band HF antenna for Amateur Radio Use

Described in the December 1935 issue of Collins Signal.

Read more about this subject.The article starts on page 3.

Miscellaneous 1935 — First Autotune® developed

The Autotune® permitted remote tuning through mechanical repositioning.
Any control with a shaft - a variable capacitor, a rotary switch, or a variable inductor - could be returned to a preset position.

Commercial Avionics 1937 — First Airline to use an Auto-Tuned Multi-Channel Radio

Braniff Airways was the first airline to install the Collins 17D transmitter on their fleet of Douglas DC-3s and other aircraft.
The 17D was a 100-watt, 10-channel transmitter featuring the Autotune® mechanism - allowing rapid adjustment of plane-to-plane, plane-to-ground and tower frequencies.

Military Radio 1943 — Collins Engineers built the First Multi-Channel Military-Use Transmitter

The ART-13 HF Transmitter, using the newly-developed Autotune®, could automatically retrieve ten preset channels at the flick of a switch.
During WW-II, Collins Radio Co. in Cedar Rapids, and its subcontractors, produced over 90,000 units, which were installed in a wide range of aircraft, including the B-29.

Miscellaneous 1943 — First Bridge Neutralization for Single-Ended Tetrode Stages


Miscellaneous 1947 — First Hermetically-Sealed Variable Frequecy Oscillator (VFO)

Not only was this VFO hermetically sealed, it was permeability-tuned and precisely linear by virtue of the Mechanical Corrector Mechanism.
Collins Radio Co. engineer Ted Hunter championed the development of this successful product.

Read more about this subject.

Miscellaneous 1947-1952 — First Commercial Cyclotron (Atom Smasher)

Under contract with the Atomic Energy Commission, Collins Radio Co. delivered the first commercially-built cyclotrons to Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, NY and to Argonne National Laboratory, Chicago, IL.

Read more about this subject.

Military Radio 1948 — First UHF Radio using Digital Frequency Selection and Crystal Oscillator Synthesis

The first product became the AN/ARC-27, capable of tuning 1,750 channels.
This radio was a military UHF transceiver that operated between 225.0-399.9 MHz and transmitted at 9 watts. It featured a second 'guard' receiver monitoring 243 MHz.

Commercial Avionics 1950 — First Aircraft Horizontal Situation Indicator (HSI)

Collins Radio Co. mechanical engineers successfully integrated three aircraft instruments into one unit.
The 331A contained a rotating Compass 'card', a mechanical Deviation Bar, a To/From Flag and a rotating Selected Heading Marker.
Fixed on the background are the Lateral Deviation 'dots', the Lubber Line, the Course Indication Arrow and a miniature Airplane on the glass.
Two control knobs provided Heading and Course Selection functions.
The HSI was patented by Arthur Collins and Horst Schweighofer and was based on an idea by Siegfried Knemeyer.

Miscellaneous 1950 — First Tropospheric Scatter Over the Horizon Communications

Collins developed a means of communicating "over the horizon" between far distant stations, using VHF or UHF beams focused with highly sensitive parabolic antennas. The greatest portion of such signals is lost to space, but Collins engineers discovered that a small portion is reflected by both the troposphere and ionosphere and could be detected with specially designed high gain antennas up to 1200 miles from the transmitting site.
This Tropospheric/Ionospheric Scatter system eventually led to a military system called DEW LINE, a part of a Distant Early Warning system to detect enemy missiles launched over the North Pole region.

Commercial Telecommunications 1951 — First Commercial Automatic Antenna Tuner

The 180L Automatic Antenna Tuner would go on to spawn several versions: 180L-1 thorough 180L-3.

Military Telecommunications 1952 — First Automatically-Tuned, High Power, HF Transmitter

The OA-252 is a 5,000-watt HF (1.5 to 30Mhz) RF amplifier. The OA-252 could be manually tuned or provide 10 preset channels using the Autotune® mechanism.

Read more about this subject.

Space Telecommunications 1952 — First to Experiment with Long Distance Communication - using the Moon as a Reflector

First to use Ultra-High Frequency transmission, Collins Radio Engineers bounced signals off the moon to a National Bureau of Standards field station in Sterling Virginia.
To attain the necessary high power, a newly-developed UHF Resnatron tube was employed in the transmitter.

Read more about this subject.The article begins on page 14 of the Winter 1952 issue of Collins Signal.

Miscellaneous 1954 — First Celestial Navigation Using a Radio Sextant

By 1945 it was known that the sun emitted weak radio signals. In 1954 Collins Radio developed a radio receiver and tracking antenna to allow a ship at sea to accurately determine its position relative to the sun even in cloudy weather when optical means were ineffective. Eventually, the position of the moon could also be determined, based on the observation that the moon reflected a small portion of the sun's radio energy. This allowed navigation at night using the radio sextant. The U.S. Navy installed a Collins Radio Sextant aboard a ship in 1959.

Read more about this subject.Jump to page 8 of the Fall 1954 issue of Collins Signal.

Commercial Telecommunications 1955 — Kineplex Long Distance High Speed Data Transmission System

Collins Kineplex was the first practical long distance, high speed data transmission system, introduced in the mid-1950s. It incorporated pulse-code modulation and predicted wave signaling for superior signal / noise operation, and a 40:1 improvement of band width use compared to contemporary telephone circuitry. The first commercially successful modulator / demodulator (MODEM) was a key component of Kineplex.
This system was also the first application of a design theme Collins was to use widely in the ensuing years: modularity. Standardized planar circuit boards were mounted in standardized rack-mounted modules, the forerunner of the ATR "black box", which became the standard in avionics.

Amateur Radio 1957 — First SSB Transceiver for the Amateur Radio Market

The KWM-1 is the first ham radio (transmitter - receiver) that shared circuitry, making it a true transceiver.
As a mobile unit: first SSB, first VOX and speaker anti-trip circuits, first all-transistor power supply, first automatic load control, first precision tuned VFO, first to use a mechanical filter, first crystal-controlled BFO and receiver HF oscillator.
The 175 watt KWM-1 included a separate 12VDC power supply, making the unit ideal for automotive use. A 120VAC power supply was available for the ham shack.

Space Telecommunications 1959 — First Voice from the Edge of Space

Collins Radio Co. received a contract from North American Aviation to design the first communications and navigation system for use on their rocket-propelled X-15 aircraft.
The system included: 618A-1 Transmitter-Receiver, 714D-1 Control, 424D-1 ADF-Receiver-Power supply, and a 137D-1A Antenna.
These X-15 'manned rockets' could achieve altitudes of over 50 miles, qualifying the pilots to Astronaut status.

Space Telecommunications 1960 — First Live Communication Transmissions using a Passive Satellite

During Project ECHO, Collins Radio Co. engineers completed the first two-way voice communication between Cedar Rapids, Iowa and Richardson, Texas bouncing radio signals off the ECHO-I satellite. This was achieved on August 13th during the satellite's eleventh orbit.
Later, on the 19th, the first facsimile transmission was accomplished, a photo of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Read more about this subject.

Space Telecommunications 1961 — First American Voice from Space

Collins Radio equipment aboard the Mercury Freedom 7 Spacecraft linked Astronaut Alan Shepard's voice to ground during the historic May 5th sub-orbital flight.

Commercial Avionics 1966 — First Business Aircraft Certified for Catagory II Operations

Rockwell Standard's Jet Commander became the first business aircraft certified airworthy for Category II operations.
The aircraft, using Collins' All Weather Landing System, fulfilled the Federal Aviation Commission's stringent requirements.
The Spring 1966 issue of Collins Signal tells the story.

Read more about this subject.The article begins on page 20.
★★ Read even more.Jet Commander Avionics Brochure