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The R390A General Coverage Receiver

The R390A is a general coverage receiver that was designed by Collins Radio in the early 50's and was first placed in military service in 1954.  It is arguably the best performing receiver ever built.  To quote Chuck Rippel: "The R390A is capable of copying AM and CW signals down to its -143db noise floor, close to the galactic limit. All this while maintaining the capability to operate in high overload, strong signal environments."  Evidently, there were at least 62,075 of them built by a total of 13 contractors (click here to see a summary of the production orders) - although this is a matter of some uncertainty.  At this time, during the summer of 2000, you can pick up one of these in poor condition for about $650 while one that has been thoroughly restored will run about $2000.

Collins designed the R-390A as a cost-reduced version of their R-390 military receiver.  They reduced the tube count from 32 to 26, changed the IF frequencies, and replaced the crystal filters with mechanical filters.  Many aficionados prefer the A version to the original.  The R390A was used by both the CIA, NSA, ASA and other US military agencies for eavesdropping.  It was classified Top Secret until the 1960's. Production of this radio started in the early 1950's and continued well into the mid 1980's.  It was also used in the NASA Apollo program in the form of the R-1247/GRC-129.

A couple of good places to go for more information about the R390A are: http://www.avslvb.com/R390A/ , and http://users.erols.com/eengineer/.

Introduction Date: 1955
Price: $1421 (in 1958)
Price of last one made:  $38,000 (by Fowler Industries of Long Island for Avondale Shipyards of New Orleans in 1984)
R-390A Tube List: 0A2 (1), 3TF7 (1), 5814 (7), 6AK5 (2), 6AK6 (3), 6BA6 (6), 6C4 (3), 6DC6 (1)

R390A made by the Capehart Corporation

Front view of the R390A that was made by the Capehart Corporation.  I know nothing about the Capehart Corporation except that they evidently won two production contracts to make R390As for 5,000 units each.  This one is serial number 2679 made under order 21582-PC-61, which means it was made in 1961.  This was the earlier of the two production runs that Capehart made.  (The brown tinge is an artifact of the digital photo, it is really a nice military gray.

A close up of the name tag on the Capehart unit

R390A manufactured by Collins Radio

Front view of the R390A that was manufactured by Collins Radio.  Out of more than 62,075 units that were made, Collins evidently manufactured 6500.  This one is serial number 3173 and was made for order no. 8719-P-55, which means it was most likely made in 1955.  The brownish tinge is an artifact of the digital photo, the unit is actually a nice and uniform military gray.  This one has been repainted and re-lettered.


A close up of the name tag on the Collins unit

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