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Aircraft Radio Labs
February 1942 Radio News

February 1942 Radio News
February 1942 Radio News Cover - RF Cafe[Table of Contents]

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Radio & Television News, published 1919-1959. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

For those of us (most of us, actually) who were born during or after World War II, mention of "the world war" can be ambiguous since we have two to choose from. Chances are WWII is the one being addressed, but it could also be WWI. When this "Aircraft Radio Labs" article appeared in the February 1942 issue of Radio News magazine, Americans had only been formally drawn into WWII two months earlier in December 1941, so the stories and layout had already been formatted. Hence, when author Lt. Col. Gardner wrote about "the World War," he was referring to WWI. The Army's primary research and development facility was located at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. Although the personnel there engaged in their own projects, they were also responsible for generating specifications for private electronics companies to bid on, and then to test those systems for conformance and performance once delivered; it's really not that much different than how today's DoD facilities operate.

Aircraft Radio Labs.

Home of the famous Aircraft Radio Laboratory located at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio - RF Cafe

Present home of the famous Aircraft Radio Laboratory located at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio.

By Lieut. Col. John H. Gardner

The Aircraft Radio Laboratory is responsible for the research, development, engineering, and inspection of equipment required in the field by the Army Air Corps.

The Aircraft Radio Laboratory is located at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio. Wright Field is the home of the Materiel Division of the Army Air Corps, and there are concentrated all of the experimental laboratories which are making such tremendous advances in the development of aircraft and aircraft accessories.

Originally established at McCook Field in Dayton shortly after the World War with one officer and a few civilian engineers, the Aircraft Radio Laboratory was moved to Wright Field when McCook Field was abandoned and has grown steadily as the radio art has progressed until now there are more than a score of officers and hundreds of radio engineers, physicists, mechanics, machinists, draftsmen and other specialists so necessary in any research laboratory, working continuously on the research and development of new and improved applications of radio to military aircraft.

Lieut. Col. Gardner - RF Cafe

Lieut. Col. Gardner

From a small brick and wood structure some forty feet square, the physical facilities have grown to include a construction program which will shortly provide tens of thousands of square feet of laboratories, shops and hangars, provided with the latest and most up to date laboratory apparatus.

The Signal Corps is the agency of the War Department charged with the development, design, procurement and supply of all radio equipment for the United States Army, including radio for the Air Corps. The Aircraft Radio Laboratory is the agency of the Chief Signal Officer responsible for research, development, engineering, and inspection required in the radio field incident to design, supply, and installation of radio equipment on aircraft for communication and navigation. For this reason the Director of the Aircraft Radio Laboratory is a Signal Corps officer who carries out the directives of the Chief Signal Officer as laid down in the development program for new and improved aircraft radio equipment. The majority of the officers on duty at the Laboratory are Signal Corps officers with special training and experience in aircraft radio communication equipment. All funds for both personnel and development work are supplied by the Chief Signal Officer.

It is obvious that to develop aircraft radio equipment suitable for military use consideration must be given in its design to the conditions under which it must operate, such as space limitations, power supply, variations in temperature encountered in operations in any climate from the equator to Point Barrow in Alaska, and in pressure from sea level to the stratosphere. Finally, it must be so designed and installed that the pilot or radio operator can use it with the maximum of ease and the minimum of discomfort and fatigue.

Radio antennae placed above and below the fuselage - RF Cafe

Medium Bomber in flight. Note the radio antennae placed above and below the fuselage.

View of the Flying Radio Laboratory - RF Cafe

View of the Flying Radio Laboratory, used by the Aircraft Radio Lab.

Interior of the Flying Radio Laboratory - RF Cafe

Interior of the Flying Radio Laboratory. Note the PA System speakers.

In order to assist in meeting these requirements, the staff of the Aircraft Radio Laboratory includes a number of Air Corps officers who have had years of experience in flying all types of military aircraft and who have specialized in communications. Certain airplanes are permanently assigned to the Laboratory for preliminary flight testing of models of equipment in varying states of development, and in addition, the newest types of airplanes are assigned to the Laboratory as needed to flight test production models, and determine final requirements for wiring, antenna and all the other myriad details required to insure a trouble free installation.

The closest coordination is maintained with the other experimental laboratories of the Materiel Division to insure that the development of radio equipment fits in with the development of new types of airplanes and new types of aircraft accessories and miscellaneous equipment such as oxygen masks, helmets, etc.

The development program of the Laboratory in broad terms is divided into research projects and development projects. An example of a research project is that covering the work currently being done on the elimination of precipitation static, while a development project might, for example, involve the development of a pilot operated, multi-channel command radio set with definite limitations as to size, space, weight, power drain, and frequency coverage, but involving no fundamentally new basic radio principles that have been used.

The radio industry is well aware of the basic policy laid down by the Chief Signal Officer that wherever possible the facilities of commercial development laboratories shall be used to the fullest in carrying out the development program of the Laboratory.

As a result, the major portion of the development funds allotted to the Laboratory are expended on contracts with commercial radio manufacturing companies and laboratories based on specifications drawn up by the Aircraft Radio Laboratory engineering personnel. The fundamental reason for this policy was to reduce to a minimum the amount of engineering necessary to pass from the development model stage to quantity production. In these times of "all out" production no one laboratory could possibly cover the maze-like network of radio facilities so necessary to the Air Force in modern military operations. Even if the concentration of complete development facilities for the entire program in one laboratory were economically feasible, there would still be the problem of providing sufficient highly specialized engineers. Therefore, it is not only desirable but absolutely necessary that the facilities of commercial radio concerns, large and small, be utilized to the utmost.

In addition to its responsibility for the development of aircraft radio equipment, the Aircraft Radio Laboratory is responsible for the final inspection of the finished equipment as it comes off the production line of the radio manufacturer in quantity. At the present time when single types of aircraft radio sets are being manufactured literally by the tens of thou-sands, this inspection service requires the employment and training of hundreds of inspectors and their administration and supervision in factories from coast to coast.

The close cooperation which is maintained between the development engineers at the Laboratory and the field inspection forces has resulted in a quality of product which has the complete confidence of the users-the Army Air Forces.

Research and development, in its broadest sense the sole mission of the Laboratory, is divided into two sections; that dealing with problems of air navigation, and that dealing with communications problems. Although important in themselves, the other units of the Laboratory, which include administration, contracting and sup-ply, shop and installation, are subsidiary to these two.

So we find the Signal Corps Lab-oratory at Wright Field is an all out effort to supply, and if possible anticipate, the needs of the Air Corps. insofar as radio equipment is concerned, doing original research with its own able staff when necessary, and coordinating and encouraging the efforts of private industry wherever possible.



Posted February 1, 2022

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    Kirt Blattenberger,


RF Cafe began life in 1996 as "RF Tools" in an AOL screen name web space totaling 2 MB. Its primary purpose was to provide me with ready access to commonly needed formulas and reference material while performing my work as an RF system and circuit design engineer. The World Wide Web (Internet) was largely an unknown entity at the time and bandwidth was a scarce commodity. Dial-up modems blazed along at 14.4 kbps while tying up your telephone line, and a nice lady's voice announced "You've Got Mail" when a new message arrived...

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