My KWS-1 and the Strategic Air Command SSB Tests

The Strategic Air Command, Gold Dust Twins and SSB in the 1950’s – Cold War Style . . .

I purchased my KWS-1 from an antique radio shop in Sacramento called Radio Expo:

The owner, Doug is a real nice guy, and even taught at Stanford for a while. He came across this transmitter just under a year ago when a ham who went SK’s family sold off the ham gear. I was told that that ham used the transmitter pretty much up until his final days. I have since had Howard, W3HM restore the RF Deck – and I have restored the power supply.

I was only interested in finding and restoring a National SW-3 “Thrill Box”, but when I put out a wanted message on the NCDXC email reflector, Bruce, AH0U responded with an offer I couldn’t refuse on a Collins 75A-4 receiver. It was stunningly beautiful. I think I drooled a bit! I listen to the ARRL CW Bulletin nightly on it – it is just amazing.

The SW-3 is no slacker – I listen to KPIG AM 1510 daily on my beloved old “Thrill Box”

Now – it just so happens that Tom, WY8K is a ham who also lives in Contra Costa County, (and quite close to me as the crow flies), had approached me a few years back about helping him with his antenna system. He attended an Alameda Ham Radio Club meeting where I was giving a presentation on Heard Island, VK0EK, and he and I became fast friends. Tom owns the Gold Dust Twins – also restored by Howard, W3HM. Between Bruce and Tom – they convinced me I needed to match my 75A-4 with the KWS-1 so I would be in the very exclusive club of proud owner of the “Gold Dust Twins”.

Literally a month or two after these guys gave me that idea – one came available . . . . .

It was rough looking on the outside, but clean on the inside and it powered up at Doug’s shop! I made a bet with the devil that I could restore the Power Supply myself and save a ton of money (shipping alone) by just having the RF Deck restored by Howard, W3HM . . . what a gamble . . .

Top – gorgeous KWS-1 RF Deck restore by Howard Mills, W3HM. Bottom – “Ugly Duck’ restore of the massive and super heavy power supply by me, KY6R. Note that ugly tan-ish paint splotch – it covers military “asset tag” number, and from the 1950’s . . .

The flightpath of the SAC SSB Tests

I have done some research and found that while only 1600 or so of the KWS-1’s were ever produced, many went to the USAF Strategic Air Command or SAC and other Military concerns. When you see San Francisco in that map above, it had to be either Travis or Mather AFB outside of Sacramento. The ham that went SK basically lived as close to Mather as you can get residential wise.

That paint covers some kind of asset tag number used to auction off this gear. I have been told that only 600 of these remain. The most interesting part of all of this from a technical perspective is that Collins moved into SSB with this rig. The Air Force needed a strategic communications circuit between those points on the map above – and between outfitted some B-29 Bombers and setting up land based stations, the KWS-1 was part of a very successful SSB test.

I found this slide, (c) 2017 by W3MY where he says Travis AFB was a participant in this SAC SSB Test

So, my pursuit of “living history” continues, and is an amazingly rich adventure. My family moved to California in the late 70’s because Lockheed had been courting my father to move out west since about 1966 or so – and we almost moved to Redlands when I was in the 4th grade. It would be 12 or 13 years later that we finally made it. But it was all due to the aerospace industry – and my father was one of those guys who got into the trade after WWII. So – all of this has a very personal aspect to it.

Lockheed made quite a few of the aircraft that would have been at Mather and Travis. I worked for Lockheed for 3 years coding COBOL, so yes, there is an I direct connection to all of this.

I have RF Output and will try to tune it up and get it into my antenna switching arrangement. The Tune mode still doesn’t show Grid current, so I do expect there is something wrong. I’ll continue to try to see if I can figure it out or if I get lucky, find an elmer to stop by and set me right. In any case – I signed onto this project for the long term, knowing it would be a learning experience. I have been learning how to use my oscilloscope and have enjoyed reading the (big!) schematic and debugging the problem. When I finally get it all nailed down (and I think I am really close now), it will feel like a big triumph.

One Comment on “My KWS-1 and the Strategic Air Command SSB Tests

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