Legendary R-390 Donated to Iowa Collins Museum

Eastern Iowa Business
by: Dave Dewitte/SourceMedia Group News
August 6, 2010 by

Legendary spy radio donated back to Rockwell Collins

This Collins R-390 HF reciever has been donated to the Rockwell Collins museum by Sentinal Chapter of the 101st Airborne Division Association

CEDAR RAPIDS  – An unheralded group of Vietnam War-era Army signals intelligence officers took a step into the daylight Friday to donate one of their favorite radios back to its manufacturer.

The 265th Radio Research Company used many radios in their service in Vietnam from 1967 to 1972, but the R-390A HF (high-frequency) receiver they donated to the Rockwell Collins museum was something special, they said.

“This has been a workhorse,” said Doug Bonnot of Jonesboro, Tenn., the president of the Radio Research Company Veteran Group .

Bonnot said he doubted that there was anyone who worked in uniform  for the Army Security Agency, Air Force Security Service, Naval Security group or Marine Radio Battalion who doesn’t remember the R-390 HF receiver fondly.

The receiver was so capable that it was considered top secret, the veterans said. It is now a favorite of amateur radio operators, who sometimes pay to buy and restore them.

President of the Sentinel Chapter of the 101st Airborne Division Association Doug Bonnot of Jonesborough, Tenn demostrates a hand or foot powered generator used to operate Chinese-made radio equipment captured during the Vietman War.

Bonnot said members of his unit worked long hours  at the radios day-in and day-out monitoring communications. Potentially valuable radio intelligence was recorded and passed off to other specialists who could decode and translate them, Bonnot said.

“You were in a battle every day,” Bonnot said. “Your weapon is a radio, and your stock and trade is information the enemy put out over the radio.”

Lawrence Robinson, who oversees Rockwell Collins’ corporate museum, said almost everything in the museum has been donated to the company. He thanked the group for the 1952-vintage radio, one  of the earlier models produced.

The radios were designed by Collins Radio, now Rockwell Collins, and many were manufactured by the company in Cedar Rapids. Many were made by other companies under defense contracts. About 20,000 of the 55,000-plus R-390 HF receivers made came from Collins.

“The stories about this radio are legendary,” Robinson said. “There are still urban legends circulating that there are old-timers deep in the bowels of these three-letter agencies  still using them.”

Robinson said the United States government shredded “literally thousands” of the radios, apparently to keep them out of the wrong hands when they were no longer needed.

Rockwell Collins has had a corporate museum since1983 for its clients and employees.

In an experiment, Lawrence said the company is opening the museum to limited public tours beginning this month. Because of security requirements, they are open only to United States citizens. A passport or driver’s license is needed to provide identification.

The volunteer-staffed museum includes such radio icons as a 1,000-watt transmitter used in the 1933 Antarctic expedition of Admiral Richard E. Byrd.

“The whole thing is a labor of love,” Robinson said.

The tours will be offered from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesdays, and will leave promptly from the south entrance of the company’s 120 building. Arrangements can be made by calling Robinson at [319] 295-1698.