Thursday, October 29, 2009

R-105A/ARR-15 Receiver

[Update (4 January 2010): Additional info on modifying the R-105A to improve selectivity can be found in my new blog posting here.]

I picked up this receiver, along with a companion ART-13 transmitter, a couple of years ago. Both are in "well-used" (beat-up) condition, but...what the heck. I'd been looking for an ART-13, and the ARR-15 intrigued me. And no, the tuning knob isn't original.

Here's a picture of them in the radio operating position of a military plane. (Photo is from this website: 51H-3.)

(Click on image to enlarge.)

Although I'm well familiar with the ART-13 transmitter (having disassembled one for parts back when I was in high-school), I've never seen (nor heard of) the R-105A receiver. It's the military version of Collins 51H-3 receiver, manufactured post-World War II (mine has a 1951 contract date). And, apparently, it was Collins first remotely-tunable receiver (tunable to 10 preset frequencies).

Although intended to be used on 10 preset frequencies, the receiver can also be tuned the "normal" way via a tuning-knob and band-switch on the front panel. Frequency coverage is 1.5 - 18 MHz in 6 bands, and modes are MCW (AM) and CW.

The R-105A is designed to be powered from 26.5 volts DC, and it uses an internal dynamotor (DY-34) to convert this voltage to 220 VDC for tube B+ voltage. If using the dynamotor, I believe an external power supply should be rated at 15 amps, 26.5 VDC.

My radio did not have the dynamotor installed. Instead, a previous owner had wired the B+ line to one of the spare pins on the back connector. My receiver's power requirements are:
  • 26.5 VDC (filaments/motor): 1.4A normally, 5A (or a bit more) when Autotuning.
  • 220VDC (B+): about 70 mA.

Here are some photos. Despite the relative shabbiness of the exterior, the interior is actually in nice shape.

(R105A, Top View)

(R105A, Bottom View)

(R105A, Right Side View)

(R105A, Left Side View)

Getting It Up and Running...

OK, the only documentation I had was a schematic that I downloaded from the web (see "Resource" section, below). The radio had no dynamotor, but the previous owner had brought B+ out to pin 18 of the rear connector. So I attached a 220 volt supply between pins 18 and 9 of the rear connector ("plus" to pin 18), and 26.5 volts between pins 17 and 9 ("plus" to pin 17). I attached a pair of headphones and an antenna, then switched on the power supplies, turned on the radio's front-panel switch, and...

Nothing. The dial-lights were lit, but I couldn't hear anything -- it was as if the receiver was dead.

I looked at the schematic again and noticed that the resistors in the cathodes of the RF Amplifier and the First IF Amplifier weren't grounded, but were instead going to pin 3 of the rear connector. Clearly they needed to be connected to something (such as ground), but what exactly should this be?

One of the websites I visited mentioned that, in CW mode, the front-panel Gain pot is used to control RF, rather than AF, gain. Hmmm...RF gain as in, perhaps, the cathode of the RF amplifier? Ah ha! A clue!

I noticed in the schematic that there was one section of the gain pot, R139C, that, when the radio was in CW mode, was connected to pin 20 of the rear connector. Could it be as simple as connecting pin 3 to pin 20 on the rear connector?

Yes! I connected these two pins together, applied power, and...signals!!!

There were still some issues, though. I could hear distortion on AM signals, and I could see that, for whatever reason, there was way too much gain -- so much so that the AF Amplifier was being driven into distortion for reasonable-level signals.

When I looked at the R-105A schematic that I had downloaded from the BAMA site, I quickly realized it did not match my receiver. In fact, that schematic is for the R-105 (non-A) version, and there are some significant differences, particularly in the Audio stages. So I traced out my receiver's circuit from the detector up to (but not including) the AF Amplifier. Here it is:

(Click on image to enlarge)

Regarding the distortion and gain issues, my primary suspects were the limiter and the AVC circuits. But I looked at my schematic and quickly realized there were some strange things in the design and that I had no idea how the limiter and AVC were really supposed to function. I poked around with a scope and DVM for a few days but didn't make any headway. What I needed was a good description of how these circuits were supposed to operate. Usually the military tech manuals contain some sort of theory-of-operation was time to try to round one up...

After a bit of searching, I found someone on the web that could sell me a manual reprint (see "Resources" below), and I ordered it. It proved to be quite useful...

The first thing that I discovered upon reading it is that pin 3 of the Limiter stage (V110), during normal operation, should be higher in voltage than pin 8 of the same tube (that is, both diodes are conducting). In my radio pin 3 was lower than pin 8 (despite the fact that the plate voltage of V105A was higher than V107A) and the diode of V110B wasn't conducting all of the time. Oh oh. Cap C133 looked fine -- must be a leaky 12H6. Unfortunately, I didn't have a spare tube in my tube-stash, so I made a solid-state replacement using an octal plug, two 1N4006 diodes, and an 80 ohm, 3 watt resistor (to mimic the tube's filament load -- I made this using 3 power resistors I found in my junkbox). The octal-plug was wired as follows:
  • 80 ohm resistor between pin 2 and 7
  • 1N4006 Anode to pin 3, Cathode to pin 4
  • 1N4006 Anode to pin 5, Cathode to pin 8
I plugged it in and...the voltages were now OK! (This mod should suffice until I can find another working 12H6 tube.)

But there was still a gain issue -- during modulation peaks, loud signals would flat-top at the output of the AF Amplifier. (Note: the front-panel gain control does not control the level of the signal fed to the AF amplifier, it actually controls the gain (via attenuation) right at the headphones. Thus it's reasonable to expect the AF amplifier to operate at a high level (to get the best dynamic range), should never go into clipping!)

I spent quite a bit of time exploring the AVC and audio stages...was there too much gain in the audio? Was there not enough gain (or leakage) in the AVC circuit? Or...?

Although there's quite a bit of gain in the audio stages, it looked to me, from the component values and from what I was measuring, that the gain I was seeing was reasonable (and I reduced the gain of the AF driver as much as I could by setting R156, an internal pot, to its max value). I checked the AVC line for leakage or loss (the AVC line drives the grids of the RF amplifier the 1st IF Amplifier) -- it looked fine. Finally, after much poking around, the only explanation I could come up with was that there simply wasn't enough AVC control-voltage being developed to keep loud, highly modulated signals from clipping.

How could I develop more negative AVC voltage?

Looking at the schematic for the AVC circuit, it is is unlike any I'd seen before. Although there is a diode detector (V106A), this is only used to change the signal-level threshold at which the AVC begins operating, rather than, as is typical, developing the AVC voltage itself.

Instead, it is the second section of V106 (V106B) that actually develops the AVC voltage.

It does this by acting as a variable load on the AC-coupled IF signal (coupled to the tube via C123). If there is no AGC action, this IF signal sees R121 (1 Meg) as its load, and R125/C129C low-pass filter the signal across this load.

With small signals, the cathode of V106B sits at about 17 volts (this level is set by the voltage divider formed by R132, R122, and R133). For signals whose amplitude, at the plate of V106B, is less than 17 volts, the tube is in cutoff and, effectively, out-of-circuit. Thus the IF signal only sees R121 as its load, and because the IF signal is AC-coupled and R121 is unchanging, the AVC voltage, after the IF signal has been low-pass filtered, is 0 volts. (That is, the low-pass filter is essentially an "averager", and the average of an AC signal that is symmetric and centered on 0 volts is...0 volts.)

If the signal amplitude on the plate of V106B exceeds the voltage of the cathode, V106B begins to conduct (the amount of conduction is determined in part by the cathode-grid voltage: note that the grid is tied to ground). When the tube conducts, it acts like a finite-valued resistor in parallel with R121, the 1 Meg load resistance, and thus the load resistance seen by the IF signal (coupled via C123) is lowered. Because the tube only conducts on postive peaks, the IF signal sees this smaller load (and thus more attenuation) only during its positive peaks, but not during the remaining part of this signal's cycle. Thus, there is more attenuation for positive peaks than for negative peaks.

Because the positive peaks are attenuated compared to the negative peaks, the "average" of the signal is no longer 0 volts, but instead it is a negative voltage. And this is the AVC voltage.

V106A is used to lower the cathode voltage for strong signals to drive the AVC voltage more negative -- if the cathode is lower than 17 volts, the tube will begin conducting at a lower positive signal amplitude, and thus more of the positive peaks of the IF signal will be attenuated compared to the negative peaks, and thus the AVC will become more negative.

Essentially, V106A acts as a diode detector, detecting the IF signal coupled to it via C132 and developing a negative voltage which, when fed to the cathode of the second stage of V106 (via R123), subtracts from the 17 volts that is normally there (fed to the cathode of V106B via R126). C186 filters out the high-frequency IF signal, leaving only its negative audio envelope.

I needed to develop more negative AVC voltage during loud signals. After experimenting, I was able to get reasonable performance with this simple mod (which can be easily backed-out if one is a purist and wishes to keep their receiver in original condition) :
  • Parallel R123 (470K) with a 47K resistor.
  • Parallel C186 (470 pF) with a 4.7 nF capacitor.
This modification drives the cathode of V106B lower (on average) than occurs with the stock 470K resistor in R123 (because R123 is smaller, there is less voltage "lost" across it, due to the voltage-divider action that takes place with R126, and hence the cathode of V106B is driven lower (but never less than about 0 volts).

The change in the value of C186 matches the change in R123 and keeps unchanged the time constant of the filter formed by R123 and C186 (which filters out the IF frequency, leaving only the modulation envelope).

It seems to work well. In my listening tests (and measuring with a scope) there is certainly less distortion with the mod than without it.

That's it! Besides that, I haven't changed anything else in the receiver.

Other notes:

Althought the receiver really isn't designed for SSB use, it can be used in that mode, although tuning is a bit too fast.

The autotune is really very cool! (There are 10 channels you can preset.)

The IF is quite broad. It reminds me of using a Command Set receiver.

To Mute the receiver during transmit, add an SPST switch between pin 3 and pin 20 on the rear connector. This switch should be closed during receive and open during transmit.

With its octal-tube sockets and well laid-out design, the R-105A is a real pleasure to work on, especially when compared to typical ham boatanchors in which components are often buried under other components, making access difficult, if not impossible.


Schematics here (BAMA site). Yes, they are small and difficult to read. But...they're the only schematics I could find on-line, and they're better than nothing at all. IMPORTANT NOTE: Although the BAMA site lists these as being schematics for the R-105A, they are actually for the earlier R-105 (non-A) version! There's a crystal rectifier detector shown in the schematic in lieu of a detector implemented with 1/2 of V105 (as my R-105A has). And V107 is shown as a 12SJ7 instead of a 12SL7. (By the way -- there's a mistake, too, in the schematics: they incorrectly show R107 connected to the same line as R111 (First Mixer's Cathode resistor). Instead, R107 should connect to B+. And I've no doubt there are other differences...)

AN/ARR-15A feature summary.

51H-3 Good information and a great picture of an ARR-15 / ART-13 pair aboard a P2V anti-submarine patrol bomber.

More pictures here.

Tech Manual: AN 16-30ARR15-3. [You can purchase reprints of this manual (as of 30 Oct 09) from WA5CAB.]

Rear-Connector Pin Assignments (traced from the schematic: click on image to enlarge):
And finally, a reminder that my later post (on improving the R-105's selectivity) can be found here.

Standard Caveat -- take everything I've written with a grain of salt. I could have easily made a mistake.


- Jeff, K6JCA


Boeing377 said...

Thanks for the VERY useful info on the ARR 15 Jeff. I have one running, an RCAF veteran from a P2V-5 Neptune ASW plane. I also have the very hard to find shock mount.

It's so broad that its nearly useless on crowded ham bands but I LOVE watching the autotune function and marvel at the precision resetability. Channelized WWV comes back to withing a few cycles zero beat time after time. Just amazing for a motor, gears and cams and a PTO.

I am working on getting my ART 13 on the air. Would be a nice pairing.


Cliff said...

I enabled remote control of my ARR-15 by using the front panel "DIAL LAMP" switch to open the wiper lead to the "CHANNEL" switch. Terminals are easy to access. I bought a hundred feet of ten conductor cable from All Electronics and used this to connect to the big "P-101" at the rear of the chassis. I used a twelve pin CINCH JONES connector at the receiver for convenience and connected the corresponding wires to a twelve position rotary switch. The cable's bare shield wire returns the ground from the switch wiper. The cable's number 22 wire is perfectly adequate for this use, and 22 is specified in the manual.
I have bought three of the thirty dollar 24 volt switching power supplies from Amazon. I used one for the ART-13 (ATC), one for the ARR-15, and a misadventure with a screwdriver instantly ruined the third. As you may know, these power supplies are essentially nonreparable. My ARR-15 is extremely sensitive and its power supply required a multi-section Corcom filter on both in and out power leads to make it quiet.
I ordered another hundred feet of cable and will try to apply this to the ART-13 CHANNEL switch.

Cliff WB6BIH

Boeing377 said...

Great job Cliff. Thanks for sharing the detailed description of your remote channel selector project.


Cliff said...

I have both my ART-13 and ARR-15 now wired for remote control. I need to program more channels than just 3870, and decide how to switch antennas for band switching.
By the way, I bought another switching power supply off and it made sparks and dimmed shop lights when AC was applied. One of the filter capacitors was installed backwards.

Cliff WB6BIH