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Why Collins? Part 2: Pushing Boundaries

Contributed by: Jenny Panther - Communications

In his early 20s, Arthur was nurturing a budding business when he got a break few could ream of. Richard Byrd, by now a rear admiral, was planning a 1934 adventure to the Antarctic. He had not forgotten the technological wizardry of a boy genius in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who kept his Greenland expedition in touch with the outside world. So he employed Arthur Collins and his company to produce and supply all of this polar expedition's radio equipment. When Rear Adm. Byrd made the first formal radio broadcast from Antarctica on February 3, 1934, it was Collins Radio equipment that carried his voice. CBS broadcast a weekly program to listeners across the U.S., and NBC aired bi-weekly programs. A distant precursor to today's reality TV, the drama of real-life perils and adventure "at the bottom of the world" thrilled legions of fans from coast to coast. Hams got additional kicks because shortwave enthusiasts had the advantage of listening to special broadcasts after the network broadcasts.

With that notoriety, the Arthur Collins' company's success spread like wildfire, and its sales of transmitters and receivers soared.

But Arthur and his ingenuity weren't content with the limitations of shortwave radio technology. A licensed pilot in his 20s, he pushed his radio obsession into the air. In the years leading up to WWII, Arthur and an associate designed a device called the Autotune ® for commercial aviation. The Autotune allowed pilots to adjust a radio precisely, and switch between frequencies without tedious hand-tuning by a radio operator. In short, it offered an easy method of cockpit radio control. And this game-changing product catapulted CollinsRadio into avionics. When war blew into Pearl Harbor, Collins Radio supplied American ground, ship and aircraft forces with communications equipment - and the company swelled to about 3,700 employees.

In the wake of the war, the company shifted its focus to communication equipment for airlines and corporate fleets. With a special interest in piloting, Arthur led the development of the Horizontal Situation Indicator (HSI) and other integrated flight instruments to combine the pitch, roll, and yaw attitudes of the aircraft - as well as its compass heading - in one display.

The company mushroomed, over time opening centers in Los Angeles, Dallas and Newport Beach, California. International subsidiaries took up residence in Mexico, England and Canada,

As the Cold War kindled and blazed, Collins Radio Company's influence combusted in the realm of reconnaissance: U2 spy planes collecting intelligence behind the iron curtain flew with Collins receivers aboard. And when the Voice of America resounded through the airwaves in communist bloc countries, it was courtesy of you guessed it - Collins Radio equipment.

But Arthur's ambition surged far higher than the earth's atmosphere. On Nov. 8, 1951, the ultra-high frequency transmitter on a  high gain antenna designed and built by Collins Radio established two-way communications with a similar station at Sterling, Virginia, by reflecting a UHF signal of the moon. The stations exchanged the message "What hath God wrought?" several times in Morse code over the half-million mile path.

So, that's where we'll leave Arthur and his company today: bouncing radio signals off the moon. Tune in next time, when we'll learn more about his connection to our glowing night orb - and how he strengthened our connection to it, as well.