01/02/07

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If you've come here in the past, this page was somehow corrupted. I have revised it, so here is the new version.

A beginners guide to Collecting Military Radios

by Ralph Hogan W4XE

Revision A 1/2007

Index

  1. What is a military radio?
  2. Why do people collect them?
  3. Starting your own historical collection
  4. Military Radio Portraits
  5. Field & Technical Manuals
  6. Military Radio Museums
  7. Military Radio Collectors and Organizations
  8. The holy quest for the green beast.
  9. What do you mean trade only?
  10. Military Radio Databases
  11. Miscellaneous stuff not to be missed
  12. Every collector has a wish list
  13. Powering up your new beast
  14. Required Reading Material

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What is a military radio?

A military radio in it's general definition is one used by any branch of the armed forces by a nation. The radio can be specifically designed for military use, or a civilian model drafted into service for various wartime and peacetime uses. I like to use the categories laid out originally by the Signal Corps, a military group originally tasked with visual signaling, later wire-line field telephone communication and finally radio communication. The function of the radio can be broken down into down into three broad user groups. Ground: Field offices, mobile radios and squad level portables (green radios) Air: This involves both air to air and ground to air (black radios) Sea: This involves ship to ship and ship to shore radios fixed, mobile. (gray)

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Why do people collect them?

The are many reasons why people come to collect these radios. Below are a few.

Military Historical Collections

These persons often have fixed or traveling museums to present the militaries past history to the public.

Militeria Collecting

These persons collect all manner of historical military equipment including uniforms, insignia, field gear and weapons.

 

Military Vehicle Collectors

These persons restore military vehicles to their original condition. The vehicles often sported a communications radio as original equipment.

Amateur Radio Operators

A large percentage of avid collectors are Amateur Radio operators. The military radios often cover frequencies common with ham FCC authorized allocations. The radios may be legally operated on these frequencies by the hams. Surplus radios are often an inexpensive means for getting 'on the air' for a new ham.

Boat Anchor Collectors

A group of individuals who collect, refurbish and operate the yesteryear radios which contained vacuum tubes. The lure of operating a radio with 'glowing' tubes gives a warm fuzzy which can not be duplicated with today's techno solid-state toys. The term 'real radios glow in the dark' is a cry often heard. A sub-branch of these collectors are those who collect the older military tube equipment.

Military Pilot Equipment

A group of individuals who collect all forms of pilot equipment from helmets, flight suits, survival vest & contents to ejection seats.

Military Aircraft Restoration

A group of individuals dedicated to restoring aircraft for displays and active flights.

Naval Vessel Restoration

A group of individuals dedicated to restoring the Navies older water craft.

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Starting your own historical collection

I warn you once you embark down this road, there may be no hope for you. You might want to decide up front what type of collection you want before you start your quest. You may wish to collect in one of the three major categories of ground pounder gear, aircraft and naval equipment. You may want to target a certain historical era. For the US, these may be broken down into the major 'wars' the US has been involved in. World War I, II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm and up to the Present. You may only want to collect items used by downed pilots (SAR Sea Air Rescue) or perhaps radios only used by the Special Forces. Many items of eastern bloc and European origin are appearing on the market. Will your collect only cover US items or also foreign?

Ground Gear:

This takes in all the fixed position, mobile, backpack and hand held types of radios. You may want to start in only one of those areas.

Aircraft:

I don't collect in this area. The popular ARC 5's have been a long favorite for hams to modify into ham service. Finding an 'unmodified' one today is hard. In general you may be able to find the radio set and the pilots control box. The interconnect wiring is left for you to fabricate.

Naval:

The Naval forces in general had superior designed equipment in the earlier eras. They were usually not as size or weight constrained as the other armed forces, so hence the term 'boat anchor'.

World War I:

This very early equipment is not very prevalent in the surplus circles. Finding this equipment takes a lot of research, time and $$. I've recently seen prices soar into the thousands.

World War II:

This equipment is relatively easy to locate. Finding the various accessories may be a challenge. Prices range from $50 or less to thousands. It depends on what it is and how rare it is.

Korea:

This equipment is fairly easy to find and some accessories are still available new in the box. Prices range from $20 up.

Vietnam:

This equipment is also very common. Due to its newer technology, the starting prices are often higher in the hundreds of dollars. Most equipment by the wars end were all solid state.

Desert Storm to Present:

This equipment is sometimes available, but the price is very high. A frequency hopping scrambled radio will cost you thousands.

 

What to buy?:

The first acquisition will be the radio itself. You will want a few accessories to complete the radio and/or make it usable. Sometimes finding the handset or speaker and microphone combination for the older radios is more of a challenge than finding the actual radio itself. Another item to find will be the antenna's that went with the radio. I suggest getting a TM technical manual or copy of one before or soon after you buy the radio. This will educate you about the radio and all the accessories you will be tracking down.

Okay so now you've got the radio and a few essential accessories. Are you done and ready to proceed with finding your next radio prize? Maybe, depends on how in-depth you want your collection. Some collectors only collect one type of radio. Many versions of the same radio were produced (such as the Navy TCS and BC-611). Collecting all the different versions and options can be a challenge.

In many cases a radio can be powered from more than one type of power source, requiring multiple power supplies for AC, DC, battery and hand cranked generators. You may want to get one of each. The GRC-9 comes to mind for having a large number of power sources. Some radios can be supported by remote control panels to run the radio from a distant location (GRC-9, BC-654). Many models of radio have a dedicated test set to enable diagnostics, repair and tuning in the field. In the case of a BC-611 handie-talkie, there is a test set, test case, test fixture and antenna meter. If it is a fixed radio, the radio was attached to the desk or jeep by a 'mount' (MT-297). You need the mounting plate. Many radios have carry/cover bags and bags (CW-186) for all the accessories. Some radios come inside a sealed metal box with all their accessories for easy deployment. (PRC-47). As you can see you can get very deep into collecting just one type of radio.

Some beginning collectors are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the different radios used by the armed forces. Deciding where to beginning is a difficult task.

Many new collectors ask "What should be my first radio?" This of course depends on what their goal is. Do you want to display the item or restore and operate it? To get off to an easy and inexpensive start, there are a few radios on the market today that are plentiful at the time of this writing.

bulletPRC-6 US Korean/Nam era tube handie-talkie. Israel imports from lend-lease program. VHF $25-$50 range.
bulletPRC-9 US Korean/Nam era tube back pack radio. (also PRC-10) $40-$100 range.
bulletPRR-9 US Nam Helmet Receiver VHF $20
bulletPRT-4 US Nam TX only (mate to PRR-9) VHF $20
bulletPRC-90 US SAR Downed Pilot Handheld UHF $100
bulletGRC-9 US Korean/Nam era tube radio HF AM/CW $200
bulletARC-5 This encompasses over a dozen models or receiver/transmitter $20-$100
bulletR-390 The ultimate AM HF receiver $400
bulletBC-348 An old aircraft receiver, popular to restore

 

What should I pay?:

Why a price range? What should I pay? The prices follow some common rules with other types of collectable items. The nicer the condition, the more it cost. The rarer the item the more it cost. The more common an item, the less it cost. The more complete the item (accessories) the more it cost. If it actually functions (30, 40, 50 years old...) the more it cost. If it is in original, unmodified condition the more it cost. If it has been repainted or has mechanical or electrical modifications, this makes it less desirable. Hams are know to tinker. There were a number of Surplus Digest books in the 60's and 70's that were published. A number of modification articles were also written for hams. In making a radio suitable for amateur radio use they've installed a built in power supply and added antenna coupling and connectors that are not standard. Make sure it was expertly done if modified. Finding an unmodified BC-348 or ARC-5 item could be a challenge. These were favorites of hams to 'improve'. Also the rules of haggle apply, if you want it real bad, the more you are probably willing to pay. I've paid over $100 just for the carry bag for a radio. Bid on a magazine for nearly $100. Sorry Peter. He and I ran the bidding war way overboard. He won the bid. We were and are good military radio friends after that.

For a very rough idea of home much to pay, try looking at BRY's bone yard price guide at: http://home.earthlink.net/~af4k/ham/boneyard.htm

I also look at the 'completed' section of ebay to see what the going prices are for some bidding that has gone on in the recent past.

 

Military & Radio Jargon:

Some radio technical terms:

HF High Frequency 2-30 MHz, long range regional and world-wide communication

VHF Very High Frequency 30-180 MHz, moderate to short range, local and line-of-sight

UHF Ultra High Frequency 200-512 MHz short range, line-of-sight

FM Frequency Modulation, a newer quiet mode of voice communication

AM Amplitude Modulation, an old mode of voice communication

SSB Single Side Band, a newer efficient mode of voice communication

CW Continuous Wave communication using Morse Code.

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Military Radio Portraits:

There are a growing number of web sites that have a good selection of military radio pictures. It helps to know what the radio you are questing for looks like. Some items are mis-represented on the internet due to uneducated owners like at an estate sale. This can be an advantage if you know what it really is.

http://www.greenradio.de/

http://www.armyradio.com/arsc/customer/home.php  Sales plus good photos and articles!

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Military Manuals:

The Field Manuals FM or Technical Manuals TM describe the radio, its installation, operation, accessories and theory of operation. You must be sure to buy the Maintenance Support Manual if you want a schematic and theory of electronics. Some manuals are available from Government Web sites for free. Some collectors have scanned in selected manuals and are also free for the downloading. Large groups of manuals are available from third parties on CD disk. Both new and used originals and copies are available from third party suppliers and individuals. You may also check the Government Printing office to see if they have one for sale.

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Military Radio Museums:

The government and a small number of enthusiast have opened public museums. If you are in the area, I highly recommend stopping by and supporting them. Usually they do not have much in the way of communication radios and are interested in displaying some.

Here is the local one that I have loaned equipment to:

Veterans Memorial Museum  2060A Airport Road  Huntsville, AL 35801      

See their website: http://www.alabamaveteransmuseum.com/huntsville_memorial.htm

 

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Military Radio Collector and Organizations:

There are a number of organizations world wide which cater to collecting military radios.

There are also number of individuals that have websites dedicated to military radios.

Below are a few:

Military and Aerospace Electronics

Richard Lacroix's Military Communications Home Page.

The Wireless Set No. 19

BC-611

Steve Hill's Military Radio Page

Dale's Military Radio & Computer Home Page

Bill's Ham Radio WWW Server

U.S. Military Portable Radios.

Military Radios

Dave's Page

Brooke's Military Information

US-Euro-NATO Radio Equipment Picture Gallery

Mark's Green Radio Page

Surplus Radio Society

http://www-users.kawo2.rwth-aachen.de/~banish/website/

http://www.fernblatt.net/

http://solo11.abac.com/zorroab1/

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What do you mean trade only?

It can be most frustrating for the new collector to try and obtain equipment. In some instances your hard earned cash is worthless when trying to wrangle free a piece of equipment from a serious collector. He only wants to trade it for another piece of collectable equipment. Why? Well you can't go down to the local radio store like Radio shack and buy this equipment off the shelf. If the owner of the equipment sells it, he only has the cash. He would rather hold onto the equipment and use it to entice another like minded collector into a trade where both of their 'wants' are satisfied.

So if they won't sell it to you, how do you get any equipment for later trades? An interesting chicken before the egg question. Don't fear, you'll get there. See my comments in the next section.

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Where to find the illusive green beast:

This has always been a problem. Fortunately this has become easier with the advent of the internet.

Below is an outline of the types of sources:

Mail order Dealer with Catalog

Fair Radio. By and far the best mail order dealer for decades.

http://www.fairradio.com

 

Localized Dealers with no catalog

You must call by phone for current stock.

Local owner

Contact local hams and collectors

Swap Meets

Hamfest-Contact your local ham club for local details

Gun Shows

Militeria Shows

Military Vehicle Shows

Ham publications

QST

73

Electric Radio

Ham swap/trader for sale internet pages

Internet collectable pages

The bidding sites like Ebay.com are a good source of radios. You either hate it or love it. Take it or leave it. I do utilize Ebay and Paypal the electronic payment method. Since paypal is sure has made life easier buying things on the web. I suggest you have some saved searches on Ebay. Use keywords like military radio, or PRC or GRC.  You'll learn to to hone your search web skills finding the elusive military radio.

Military radio surplus sites

I can't guarantee the sources below, there a alot more out there than their used to be.

http://www.armyradio.com/arsc/customer/home.php

http://www.milradio.com/

http://www.olive-drab.com/od_other_electronics.php3

Newsgroups

There are the rec newsgroups that cater to selling older radios:

rec.radio.swap

rec.radio.boatanchors

There are also a number of remailer website that deal with surplus radios:

This one I am the administrator for:

http://mailman.qth.net/mailman/listinfo/milsurplus 

Another one dealing with the newer equipment is:

 http://groups.yahoo.com/group/armyradios

And if you want to carry an HF military radio on your back you need to go here:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/milpack/

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Military Radio Databases:

There are some excellent databases available on the web. A great source are the military websites like Fort Gordon. They have a lot of older TM manuals free for downloading. However, sometimes if you try a link it won't work. The Military only opens public access at certain times of the day or week. So try back if it fails the first time.

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Miscellaneous:

You might remember radium and glow in the dark paints. The military coated many of their dials and knobs with these type materials. The TCS and TBY are two that are mentioned often. The material or any dust from sanding of these is toxic. If the radio does have glow in the dark indicators, do not breath in this material if you are restoring a radios finish.

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Wish list:

Once you start collecting I suggest you have a 'wish' list. Every collector has a want list. The military numbering systems will confuse you and even the best of them will get confused sometimes as to which accessory fits what. Keep a list of all the accessories you need. Be sure to include the correct nomenclature on the part. As you start to solidify your collections direction or focus, you will start to have a list of radios you want. Add them to your list. Collectors often exchange their want list. This promotes trading off excess items you have for needed items from other collectors. This list comes in handy as you walk around a hamfest or browse the latest ebay listings.

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Powering up your new beast:

Okay, you've just drug home your first huge green beast and want to plug it into the wall or install new 'D' cell batteries to 'fire' it up and enter the exciting world of military communications monitoring. You search everywhere and find there is no 110 VAC cord and no place for 'D' cell batteries. Welcome to the world of military radios. In most cases, the radio will have a number of weird large round connectors where power is supposed to be fed. If at all possible, obtain the proper power cords for the radio. If you can obtain the mating connector, a cable can be fabricated.

In general, US radios do not use AA, C or D batteries. Just live with it and you'll be a happy camper. It seems with each new radio, they reinvented the form factor of the battery just for fun. There is little commonality of batteries between radios. I love the radios, but wonder about the forethought.

Also, in general, military radios like 28 VDC. Some military vehicles run on 28 Volts. Don't ask me why, I'm not a vehicle collector. At some point you will be looking for a high current 30-50 amp 28 VDC supply. Find a switcher if possible. A linear supply will weigh a ton and require a tank to move it around. In a pinch I've used two 30A lead acid 13.6 VDC batteries in series. These can be charged off a car battery charger one at a time.

The older portable tube radios will all require one or more batteries that were last produced decades ago. Finding one with any life left will be impossible. Still, you will want a dead one just for the sake of rounding out your collection.

In the recent past, engineers have been designing switching supplies which can be run off 4-12 VDC battery packs and produce the typical +90, +45, +1.5 and negative bias voltages required. A few vendors are manufacturing these and selling them in the $30-$50 range. A word of warning. You are installing a noise generating switching power supply inside a radio. Unless the supply is well shielded, some perceived noise will be present on the receiver and/or transmitted audio. One last word of warning. Beyond the 12 VDC levels, these high voltages are dangerous. Exercise extreme care. If you are not qualified, be happy with the radio sitting on a shelf in your collection in a non-functional state.

On my web site you will find an article and schematics which details building one such supply which may be adapted to fit a number of military portable radios. The article is for instructional purposes only.

bullet http://www.qsl.net/w4xe
bullet(note schematic fix: C62 (-) should be tied to ground, not +45V line)

For those that want a simpler way to overcome the battery problem, I can recommend a book widely available called:

 "Power Up" by Dave Strom "How to make your battery adapters for portable and military radios and other non-military electronics" ISBN # 0-939780-22-4. This book is now available to download for free off the web.

His technique is to rebuild the old dead battery pack with new cells. (Remember I said having a dead battery is desirable?). If not, in most cases you can still fabricate up something that will work. In general you use 1.5 V A,C and D cells along with 9 VDC batteries joined in series and parallel to 'build up' to the required levels. For +90 volts DC you will need ten 9 VDC batteries and so on. The battery holders are available from your local Radio Shack.

Some of the smaller hand held radios will accept one battery of a weird form factor. This makes substitution more difficult, but not impossible. Sometimes an off-the-shelf battery will provide the necessary voltage but it is too short. I've heard a good tip, to use a wood dowel or other object covered in aluminum foil to act as the spacer to make up the length.

In some cases, the military built a mobile adapter for a backpack radio. For example, the widely available PRC-9 and PRC-10 radios can be mounted on an AM-598 mobile power supply which can then be run off 28 VDC. It will defeat the portability of humping the radio on your back, but it will get the radio operational.

As I pointed out earlier, some radios can be powered from 220VAC, 110VAC, 28 VDC, 12 VDC, 6 VDC, and if all else fails a hand cranked generator. It just requires the appropriate power supply. For example, the GRC-109 has a single supply which will accept 110,220 VAC and 6 VDC. A very versatile Special Forces/CIA HF radio made to operate all over the world from just about any power source in the world.

On my web site, I have an excellent collection of messages from one collector group on coming up with alternate power supply sources and fabricating the funky connectors the radios require.

For the BC-611 it needs 90 VDC and 1.5 VDC for the tubes. I strung 10  9 VDC batteries together and a couple of D cells for the heater voltage. Shoe horned this all back into the case and fired it up. It worked after being dormant since 1945, that's amazing!  I suggest you find a source like the dollar store discount chain. They often sell two 9 VDC for a dollar. That beats the $4.00 at Walmart. They might not last as long, but for a short trip to Dayton hamfest, these work fine and won't break your wallet.

 

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Using your new Military Radio:


Reception:

Anyone is allowed to use the reception capabilities of their new radio under the 1934 Freedom of the Airways Act. Although, with the advent of scanners and unsecured analog cellular phones, some of these 'rights' have been legislated away. The HF or Shortwave band, 2-30 MHz is a host to a number of users around the globe. The localized VHF, or Low-band, 30-80 MHz is used by a number of land mobile commercial users from Police to the Red Cross. The avid group of listeners (Milcomm@qth.net) specialize in the hobby of monitoring government military communications.

Transmission:

You must be licensed to transmit on any frequency. In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission http://www.fcc.gov is the governmental agency in control of the airwaves. I suggest you get an Amateur Radio License from the FCC if you are interested in transmitting with your new radio. You may find out more about becoming a 'Ham' Amateur Radio operator at http://www.arrl.org. If you are not a ham, don't transmit. Just that simple. You are violating FCC federal laws and subject to severe monetary fines and/or imprisonment. This is especially true if you have a SAR type radio. By all means don't transmit on the 243 MHz distress frequency. Satellites are monitoring 24 hours a day and triangulating your position. Having an armed group of guys with M16's storming my house looking for a downed jet in my back yard is not my idea of fun. DO NOT DO IT! With that said, most military radios will cover parts of the 6 meter and 2-30 MHz ranges. Be warned most older military FM radios are wideband 50 KHz deviation and not 100% compatible with today's 5 KHz narrow band Japanese import radios. You can he them, but you'd better talk softly or you'll warp out of their pass band. The older HF radios are mostly AM and CW. With the renewed AM interest on the ham bands, you'll soon find a whole new group of friends to talk with. Most likely a few will be talking back to you on their military radio as well. While the older HF rigs aren't state of the art with DSP tunable filters and such, they will be fun rigs to operate and allow portable excursions as well. The GRC-9 is a great little rig for carrying to the field for some AM or CW work. The GRC-109 also is a fun set to operate. The older military radios which support Single Side Band are usually USB Upper side band only. While this is fine for 10, 15 and 20 meters (If they go that high), the 40 and 80 meter bands present some problems since hams use the LSB convention on those bands. While you can use USB, there won't be many folks to talk to. Many hams will switch an oscillator/synthesizer crystal or switch in an optional filter to enable both USB/LSB operation. I know this is possible on the PRC-47, PRC-74 and PRC-106 sets. Here are some known Military and BA nets you may find interesting: Here are some agreed frequencies to use on VHF FM:

Collector Frequencies:

The frequencies listed below have been agreed upon informally by a large group of Ham military radio collectors.

51.00 MHz for special events and local comms,

51.6 MHz for DX

50.6 MHz alternate for miscellaneous usage

Spread the word!

 

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Required Bookshelf material:

There a some books and magazines you will want to add to your shelves.

Janes Military

Radio News 1942

Radio News 1943

Radio News 1944

Surplus Conversion Manuals 1&2

Surplus 73 magazines

Signal Corps 3 volume set

PRC Radio compendium by Dennis Starks Available from W7FG

Power Up by David Strom

The development of the squad radio

SAR survival book

WWII CD DISK

Fair radio catalog

TM11-487,2 Oct 1944,Electronic Communications System Equipment.

#2.TM11-487A,Aug 1950,Directory of Signal Corps Radio Communication Equipment

#3.TM11-487A,1958,MIL-HDBK-161,Military Handbook Electronic Communication Equipment.

#3A.TM11-487A-2,1964,MIL-HDBK-161A,Military Standardization Handbook, Electronic Communications Equipment.

#4.TME11-227,June 1944,Signal Communication Equipment Directory, German Radio Communication Equipment.

#5.TME11-227A,Dec 1944,Signal Communication Equipment Directory, Japanese Radio Communication Equipment.

#6.TM11-227,10 Apr 1944,Signal Communication Equipment Directory, Radio Communication Equipment.

#7.SIG 3,Oct 1953,List of Current Issue Items.

#8.SHIPS 275,1 Aug 1944,Catalogue of Naval Radio Equipment.

#9.FM24-24,20 May 1977,Radio & Radar Reference Data.

#9A.FM24-24,Dec 1983.

#10.Janes Military Communication (any year) 1979/80, 81, or newer

#13.FAIR RADIO catalogue WS-( ).*

#14.ECOM 4451,Nov 1976,History of the Squad Radio.

#18.Military Communications, A TEST FOR TECHNOLOGY, The US Army in Vietnam by John D.Bergen, CMH Pub 91-12.

#19.U.S.Army in WW-II, the Signal Corps.

A. The Emergency, by Dulany Terrett.

B. The Test, by George Raynor Thompson, Dixie R.Harris,Pauline M.Oaks, Dulany Terrett.

C. The Outcome, by George Raynor Thompson,Dixie Harris,CMH Pub 10-18.

#20.OSS Special Weapons and Equipment, by Keith Melton.

#21.CIA Special Weapons and Equipment, by Keith Melton.

#22.Command Sets, a series of articles written by Gorden Eliot circa 1964-65 for CQ Magazine

#23.Item contained in my personal collection of equipment.

Communications Receivers 3rd edition by Raymond S Moore.

#28.Federal Logistics Data (Fed Log)

Shortwave Receivers Past & Present(1942-1997). by Fred Osterman.

#36 Radios by Hallicrafters, by Chuck Dachis.

#37 Wireless for the Warrior, Vol. I. by Louis Meulstee

#38 Navships 94200.1(approx 1962) Communications Equipment Directory*

#39 T.O.31R-1-8, Ground Communications Electronic and Meteorological Equipment Directory, Radio Equipment. 1961

#40 FM24-19, 1991, Radio Operator's Handbook.

#41 TC24-24, 1988, Signal Data References: Communications-Electronics Equipment.

 

 

 

 

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This site was last updated 01/02/07