My First True Boat Anchor: A Collins R-390A

April 5, 2012 | Amateur Radio | By: Mark VandeWettering

My boss is retiring, and as part of his downsizing made me an offer that I couldn’t refuse. I’m now the owner although have not yet taken delivery of) a vintage receiver: the Collins R-390A. Here’s a pic of it, in all it’s vintage glory:

Here’s the thing: I’m mostly completely out of my element with regards to these things. The only other piece of vintage tube gear I have is my trusty (not rusty) Drake 2B, and this thing appears to be in a completely different league. While searching around, I found this awesome resource manual, but I would feel better if I had a real genuine mentor to help me get this radio a) safe (some of the things in the manual scare me a teensy bit) and (b) operating well. Can anyone out there suggest any resources (either online or local to the Bay Area) for people who are crazy enough to try to fix/maintain/use this fine bit of vintage equipment?


Comment from Gary Mastenbrook N8DMT
Time 4/5/2012 at 6:31 pm

Congratulations on the nice “new” receiver! Saw many of these come out at Kelly AFB Property Surplus in San Antonio back in the mid-80’s, but they all were demilitarized (i.e., had the two meters removed). Guess that was about removing the radium hazard, but the receivers sure looked sad with 2 empty holes and clipped wires hanging out. Bring a friend to help load/unload it (heavy and maybe a few sharp edges/corners). Consider using a variac if it hasn’t been powered up recently. Enjoy your new post-EMP-capable emergency communications device!

Comment from wrm
Time 4/10/2012 at 4:46 am

Roberta X?

I’d love me one of those but they’re damn heavy.

Comment from Hi Mark
Time 4/13/2012 at 8:00 am

Hi Mark,
I know this Receiver very well. Was in the 60’s working in the Radio-Workshop in the Army in Europe. We are using only GRC-26D Radios. There in we have had 2x R390A receivers. In total we have had in service 26 GRC26D.
Yes the are very good receivers in that Day’s. Only a bit bulky. I ave rewinding many front-end-coils when the Boys putting to much RF in to the Rx Hi.
Mechanically it was a marvel.
One of the most important things was that the Rectifier-Tubes in good conditions. Otherwise the whole RX was not very good any more. At that days we have hat no Silicon-Diodes Hi. What he really need is a good product-detector.
Otherwise it is a good receiver. I think 47 Tubes Hi ? or was it the CV116 RTTY- Converter ?.

Regards Success with this good Collins-Receiver.

vy73 de DU1 MGA (W3WAZ)

Comment from Mike
Time 4/22/2012 at 4:55 pm

The R390A rocks. I used this machine in the 70s while aboard US Navy ships on active duty. It was used primarily for monitoring AFRTS, now defunct.

Comment from JFowler
Time 7/8/2016 at 11:47 am

Would you consider donating it to me? I used to spend hours as a radio operator tuning to various frequencies and listening to Ham operators

Comment from Lee
Time 7/12/2016 at 5:03 pm

Having been a 30454, Ground Radio Repair Tech in the USAF I remember these BA well. I even owned one briefly in the early 80’s. Briefly because the history of my radio was how you say iffy? I was acquainted with an industrious National Guard member don’t you know. Fast forward to today, I believe that a good SDR receiver can match or better the Collins 390 specs. But if you are in love with heavy duty swiss watch works mechanisms the R390 is your beast. By the way they were built under license by other company’s. So there are many non-Collins R390’s out there.