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Collins Radio

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Collins Radio

Rockwell Collins, Inc.
Traded as S&P 500 Component
Industry Aerospace, Defense
Founded 1933
Headquarters USA
Key people Kelly Ortberg: President and CEO. Clayton M. Jones: Chairman.
Products Avionics
Revenue $4.47 billion USD (Increase $594M FY 2009)
Employees 20,000 (2010)

Rockwell Collins, Inc. is a large United States-based international company headquartered in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, primarily providing avionics and information technology systems and services to governmental agencies and aircraft manufacturers.


Arthur Collins founded Collins Radio Company in 1933 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for the purpose of designing and producing both shortwave radio equipment and equipment for the burgeoning AM Broadcast industry. As the Collins reputation for fine quality and uncompromising construction grew, Collins was solicited by the military, the scientific community and by the larger AM radio stations for special equipment. The company captured worldwide attention when Collins supplied the equipment to establish a communications link with the South Pole expedition of Rear Admiral Richard Byrd in 1933.

Financial income increased steadily enabling Arthur Collins to continually change and enhance, broaden and diversify his equipment, which, in the end, became a dominant force in the radio equipment industry. By 1936 Collins had already begun production of their famous 12H audio console, 12X portable field announcers box and their 300E and 300F broadcast transmitters. The 300F design remained stable for over a decade with most remaining in service throughout the 1960s. They were replaced not because of equipment failure but because of relaxed rules permitting daytime only stations operating on clear channel frequencies to increase power and operate at night with 1000 Watts power and more. Throughout WW2, speech equipment also evolved dynamically as industry feedback influenced the designs at Collins. The 12H was quickly replaced with the stunning success of the 212A1 and 212B1 designs that remained in service for decades. It is important to note that during these initial decades of the Collins production of radio equipment, reliability and dependability characterized the demand for equipment. As an example, during the pre-WW2 years, the National Radio Company was the principal contractor for the US military. This changed with the US entrance into WW2 and Collins quickly became the principal supplier of radio and navigation equipment used in the military theater, where uncompromising performance was required. On December 20, 2000, Rockwell Collins expanded its services to commercial and executive aviation in Mercosur countries.[1] On April 28, 2000, Rockwell International Corp and its Rockwell Collins unit agreed to acquire Sony Corp's Sony Trans Com (Irvine, Calif) for undisclosed terms.[2]

In the post war years, particularly during the Cold War, the Collins Radio Company continued to expand its work in all phases of the communications field while broadening its technology thrust into numerous other disciplines. This moved Arthur Collins into a more active role as CEO guiding department leaders holding significant responsibilities. New developments such as flight control instruments, radio communication devices and satellite voice transmissions created great opportunities in the marketplace. Collins Radio Company provided communications for America's role in the Space Race, including equipment for astronauts to communicate with earth stations and equipment to track and communicate with spacecraft. Collins communications equipment was used for Projects Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, providing voice communication for every American astronaut traveling through space. In 1973, the U.S. Skylab Program used Collins equipment to provide communication from the astronauts to earth.

Rockwell Collins

After facing financial difficulties, the Collins Radio Company was purchased by Rockwell International in 1973. In 2001 the avionics division of Rockwell International was spun off to form the current Rockwell Collins, Inc., retaining its name. Rockwell Collins is highly concentrated in the defense and commercial avionics markets and no longer markets receivers to the public. The Collins mechanical filter is still in production and does, however, find consumer and commercial use.

The company has acquired several companies, including Hughes-Avicom's in-flight entertainment business, Sony's in-flight entertainment business (Sony Trans Com), Intertrade Ltd., Flight Dynamics, K Systems, Inc. (Kaiser companies), Communication Solutions, Inc., Airshow, Inc., NLX (Simulation Business) in 2003,[3] portions of Evans & Sutherland, TELDIX GmbH, IP Unwired, Anzus Inc., Datapath Inc., SEOS Displays Ltd. and Air Routing International.

The company is among the major suppliers of in-flight entertainment on board aircraft. Rockwell Collins' key competitors in this industry include Panasonic Avionics Corporation, Thales Group, and JetBlue's IFE subsidiary LiveTV.

As of 2010, the company employs over 20,000 people[4] and has an annual turnover of 4.665 billion US dollars. Its non-executive chairman is Clayton M. Jones.[5] On 24 September 2012, Kelly Ortberg, previous executive vice president and chief operating officer of Rockwell Collins Government Systems was appointed as president of the company.[6] On 1 August 2013, Kelly Ortberg was appointed CEO of Rockwell Collins.[7]


Broadcast transmitters

In the mid-1930s, the Collins Radio Company constructed and sold transmitters and audio mixing consoles to the broadcast industry. The model 12H, which appears to be the first manufactured broadcast console to integrate the amplifiers into the control surface case, was called a "speech input assembly". Due to the Great Depression, fewer than 100 were sold and only a handful remain today. Extant 12Hs show revision numbers as high as 12H-10, and some of the tube types were changed over the course of the revisions. One variant is known called the 12N, almost identical in appearance.

In 1939, as war in Europe broke out, the model 12 Speech Input Console as well as the 26C limiter amplifier was licensed to Canadian Marconi Co. as the C12H and C26C respectively for both sales in Canada (for the new Canadian Radio Network) and Her Majesties Service for the war effort. Collins success in constructing broadcast transmitters continued to grow, selling well over a thousand up to the start of World War II. During World War II Collins expertise grew in higher power transmitters producing designs which ran well over 15 kilowatts of RF power on a continuous basis. After the war a limited number of AM transmitters were produced called the 300G and remain the finest in low power AM transmitters (300W) ever produced. The 300G employed the lowest noise circuitry of the time using the 6A5G triode that was more than 10db quieter than its substitutes the 6B4G or 6AV5.

Collins remained an important manufacturer of AM and FM broadcast radio transmitters for the commercial market surviving the drastic cost cutting market of the 1960s and 1970s. The transmitter line was later sold to Continental Electronics, which continued to produce a number of Collins designs under its own nameplate before phasing them out in the 1980s. Many Collins transmitters remain in service, primarily as backups for more modern equipment. As history would have it, Continental destroyed all the imported Collins documentation in a random and unexpected warehouse clean-up. Very few original documents remain today and what survived is essentially in the hands of collectors. Some documentation was recently donated to the University of Iowa Library.[8]

Shortwave transmitters

Collins also produced several shortwave transmitters delivering what it learned in the production of amateur radio equipment to the commercial market. A "30" Series production catered to the growing need of state highway patrol agencies and Department of Commerce aviation needs. During World War II, Collins Radio combined both its broadcast experience and its shortwave expertise to produce high power transmitters capable of operating around the clock with minimum maintenance. Both their aircraft transmitter the ART-13 and their patrol boat radio equipment played fundamental roles in the Allied effort to defeat Germany and Japan. Collins Radio military equipment provided critical communications support when Allied operations needed it. This role was repeated in Korea and Vietnam.

After World War II, Collins continued to support both broadcast and the quickly growing post-war amateur radio market. The United States Coast Guard Cutter USCGC Courier was employed as seagoing relay station for Voice of America programming using two Collins 207B-1 transmitters.[9][10]

Amateur radio transmitters included the 32V-1, -2, and -3, KWS-1 and the rack mounted KW-1.[11] Today, the "S-Line" station is bought, sold, and restored by radio fans.


Around 1947, the company introduced their first amateur radio receiver, the 75A-1 (originally simply called the 75A). This set achieved excellent stability for the time due to high build quality and the use of a permeability tuned oscillator (PTO) in its second conversion stage. It was one of the few double conversion superheterodynes on the market and covered only the amateur bands.

With the experience gained in the design of the 75A-1, Collins released the 51J-1 receiver, a general coverage HF set covering .5 to 30 MHz. It would be produced in somewhat updated versions (51J-2, 51J-3, 51J-4) for about a decade. It found use in military and commercial settings but was too expensive for most enthusiasts. In the military it was known as the R-388 and was used in multiple receiver diversity RTTY installations.

The 75A amateur line was updated throughout the early 50s, finishing with the 75A-4, which was released in 1955. The Collins mechanical filter was introduced to consumers in the 75A-3, and the 75A-4 was one of the first receivers marketed specifically as a single sideband receiver.

Around 1950, Collins began designing the R-390 (.5–30 MHz) for the US military. This was intended to be a receiver of the highest performance available, with the ruggedness and serviceability required for military duty. It featured direct mechanical digital frequency readout. The set is composed of several modules for easy field repair—a bad module could simply be swapped out and repaired later, or junked. Sets built during the original 1951 contract cost the government about $2500 each and around 16,000 were produced.

Concurrently, Collins developed the R-389, a longwave version with fewer than 1000 made. The R-391, another variant of the R-390, allowed choice of 8 different autotuned channels. The three radios shared common power supplies, audio and intermediate frequency modules.

About three years later, Collins delivered the R-390A[12] to the military. While nominally a cost-reduced R-390 (savings of about $250 each), its design compromises were minimal, and it added mechanical filters for improved selectivity. The gear-driven tuning and band change mechanisms were simplified and the parts count reduced. About 54,000 were produced and the set was a military workhorse until the 1970s. Like the R-390, it can outperform many modern radios, to the point that it was designated top secret until the late 1960s.

In 1958 Collins replaced the 75A series with the much smaller 75S series, part of the S/Line, discussed in the next section. These featured mechanical filters, very accurate frequency readout, and excellent stability. At the request of the US government, Collins designed the 51S-1 general coverage set, which was essentially (in intended use) a physically smaller replacement for the 51J series. It was not intended as a replacement for the higher performance R-390A, and unlike the R-390A, it was extensively marketed for commercial use.

Collins produced a few high performance solid state receivers in the 1970s, such as the 651S-1. Like their tube predecessors, these are coveted by collectors today.

Transceivers and systems

With the introduction of the S/Line in 1958, Collins moved from designing individual products that could be used together, to ones that were designed to integrate and operate together, in various combinations, as a system. They were the first equipment maker to take this approach. Collins was also the first to introduce a compact HF transceiver, the KWM-1, the year before. Together, these two innovations put Collins temporarily ahead of its competition and set the stage for other manufacturers and the next generation of amateur (and military) HF radio equipment.

The 75S-1 receiver and 32S-1 transmitter, comprising the heart of the S/Line, operated separately or together to transceive. The units included crystal bandpass filters and a new compact PTO design that provided stable, highly linear tuning across 200 kHz band segments. The S/Line tuning dial mechanism was unique when introduced. It used concentric dials and a gear mechanism that provided precise dial resolution, better than 1 kHz.

Within a few years Collins had introduced additional S/Line components, including the 30S-1 kilowatt power amplifier, the 30L-1 desktop power amplifier, and the 62S-1 transverter, which provided coverage of the 6 meter (50 MHz) and 2 meter (144 MHz) amateur bands. The KWM-2 transceiver replaced the KWM-1 using many of the S/Line’s design features and matching its styling. Other accessories included speakers, microphones and control consoles.

Illustrating the uniqueness of their new, smaller units in the market, Collins advertisements in the 1950s and early 1960s emphasized the S/Line’s physical styling and size as often as they did its performance.[13]

Collins continued to improve the S/Line, first introducing the S-2, then the S-3 units, the 75S-3 (and -3A, -3B and -3C) receiver, and the 32S-3 and -3A transmitters. The -3A and -3C units were identical to the -3 and -3B units, respectively, except they provided an extra set of heterodyne oscillator crystals enabling them to cover extra bands – useful for military, amateur and MARS operation, where operation just outside the regular amateur bands was necessary.

Among amateur radio operators, the S/Line established its reputation as perhaps the most solidly engineered equipment available – and the most costly. As a result, S/Line equipment, and the A-Line and other predecessors, are restored, prized, and operated on the air by collectors today.

Collins continued to produce the S/Line well into the late 1970s and after its acquisition by Rockwell.

In 1978, with the move to solid state design, the S/Line came to an end after a two decade production run. The KWM-380 transceiver was introduced the next year – a break with the past both in its use of transistors and digital technology, and its styling. It would be Collins’ final entry in the amateur radio market until it was discontinued in the mid-1980s.[14]


In the 1960s Arthur Collins became very interested in the application of computers to communication tasks. The company designed and sold C-System computerized message switching equipment, built an intranet, and began implementing computer storage of design data for circuit boards and assemblies. He had a goal of automating all functions from parts ordering and inventory to factory scheduling to generation of maintenance provisioning.

With products technically successful and far ahead of their time in many respects, Mr. Collins continued to invest in development at a rate that could not be supported by sales when a downturn occurred, and began to have financial problems.

Organizational structure

Rockwell Collins has three main divisions:

  • Commercial Systems (CS)
  • Government Systems (GS)
  • International and Service Solutions (I&SS)

The CS division services the commercial airline industry and business aircraft, providing navigation, communication, Synthetic vision, other cockpit products such as autoland autopilots, and cabin products such as In Flight Entertainment (IFE). The GS division services primarily the US government and military, but also provides some products and services to foreign governments with close ties to the United States. Notable government related projects that Rockwell Collins has involvement with are Common Avionics Architecture System (CAAS), Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS), Tactical Targeting Network Technology (TTNT), Defense Advanced GPS Receiver (DAGR), and Future Combat Systems. The I&SS division is an amalgamation of (IB) International Business organization whose responsibility is sales, engineering and human resource of personnel outside of North America and Service Solutions who provides support services such as customer support,simulation and training and technical publications. I&SS provide a common service to both CS and GS divisions and its formation was announced on the Rockwell Collins press release web page on February 19, 2010.[15]

Advanced Technology Center

The Advanced Technology Center is a large department inside of Rockwell Collins that focuses on research and development. It has several sub areas namely Embedded Information Systems, Advanced Radio Systems, as well as Communications and Navigation Systems. Other prominent divisions in the company include display systems, flight controls, aircraft simulation, and navigation systems.

Collector community

As with several other brands of vintage radio equipment, there is an active community of Collins radio enthusiasts, with clubs, web sites and on-line discussions dedicated to restoring and operating the equipment. The Collins Collectors Association (CCA)[16] and the Collins Radio Association (CRA)[17] are two examples of such organizations.

Groups of Collins users also organize meetings, gatherings at hamfests and regularly scheduled on-air discussions called “nets”.

See also


External links

  • Official site
  • Rockwell Collins customer portal
  • Rockwell Collins supplier portal
  • Rockwell Collins training site

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