April 21, 2011

Science & Engineering Week at Heron Corn Mill

Hello Folks,

I'm sorry for the delay in posting this blog but I hope you will find this blog as much fun to read as it was for members of Sands Contest Group to take part in.

During the autumn of 2010 Heron Corn Mill asked the group to consider putting a station on air during National Science and Engineering week. They felt it was an appropriate event for us to take part in because the topic this year was Communication.

Our first day started early at 8.30am with BBC Radio Cumbria's reporter John Bowness preparing few pupils from Archbishop Hutton Primary School with the type of questions they would be asked when interviewed live on air around 9am.

(All the BBC Radio Cumbria links in this blog are copyright to BBC Radio Cumbria which we have used with grateful thanks)

Ian Maude G0VGS explained to the pupils what Amateur Radio was and a little about what they would see in the exhibits when they returned later in the day with the rest of their class.

Ian was asked to send a little Morse code at the start of John's introduction to the first of four reports from Heron Corn Mill. Ian thought long and hard about what he would send, should he follow in Samuel Morse's foot steps and send "What God Has Wrought ?".... No he decided to send the immortal words "Hello Mum".

To listen to the broadcasts please click on the blue hyperlink

Ian's First Interview

Once the introduction was out of the way, the pupils were asked a little about what they had seen during their short tour of the exhibits.

Our First Group of the day from Archbishop Hutton Primary School

Each group that came to visit Heron Corn Mill was greeted by Ian who introduced the Sands Contest Group members and explained a little about the exhibits they would see during their visit.

The children were then split into groups who rotated around each of the exhibits and experienced aspects of radio communication both old and new. We were fortunate that each of the schools attending supplied enough teachers and helpers to allow us to split the pupils up into small groups

The pupils groups rotated around the exhibits which included:
  • A look around the different types of aerials we were using
  • A station using psk31
  • Single sideband voice communications
  • WWI and WWII radio's and Morse keys
Data Mode PSK31

Paul M6APB can be seen here operating PSK31 whilst Damien G0LLG explained to the pupils something about this data mode and what they could see on the computer screen as Paul made contacts world wide....

Paul was very happy when he worked an Australian Station.

Pupils Passing Greeting Messages on Single Sideband

The SSB station was operated by Damien G0LLG and most of the group members at one time or another during the event.
Pupils were encouraged to pass greetings messages to pupils of other schools who were taking part in National Science and Engineering Week.

Here we can see Andrew G0LWU with a pupil passing a greetings message.

Andrew is a local Scout leader in the village of Overton where he lives. Andrew tries to make time each year for the Jamboree On The Air (JOTA) which is an international event where Scouts around the world are introduced to Amateur Radio.

Andrew enjoys operating most modes on radio but has a passion for data.

Along with taking part in national and international contests throughout the year, Andrew also enjoys operating special event stations and going away on DXpeditions which normally means a lot of driving and a few ferries to some of the islands off the coast of Scotland.

This picture was taken on Thursday afternoon by Bob G1OCK and shows Linda G0YLM almost being mobbed on the SSB Station.

Paul 2E0EET making contacts with radio stations around the country on 40 meters. Damien is explaining to the pupils what they could see and hear on the radio.

Martin operating Data modes using a homemade interface

Martin M0ZIF ran our second data station and operated Olivia, PSK31 and a commercial mode called Hellschreiber that was invented in the 1920s.

Ian's Second Interview

Over the course of the morning there were a number of interviews. Ian was asked about the display of historic wartime radios and commented on the the equipment used at Bletchley Park and the Y stations. Pictures of the radios are seen below.

The National HRO Receiver. I have added a youtube link showing a HRO in use.

A Rare Halicrafters Sky Champion. This model was only in production 1938 - 1939. I have added a youtube link below showing its successor in use


An RCA AR-88 receiver. I have added a youtube link showing the AR-88 in use


The link below is quite good showing a modified R1155


We also had an 1154 transmitter and an 1155 receiver on display. Its my understanding that these sets were made by Marconi but due to the large number of sets needed for the war other companies were asked to manufacture them under licence.

This is a mockup display of the radio operators station in a Lancaster Bomber. This display can be seen at the IWM Duxford (This image was found on their website and belongs to the IWM Duxford)

I have added a you tube link below showing an 1155R in use


The Morse key seen here is affectionately refereed to as a Bathtub Key. Being made out of Bakelite (an early form of plastic) the key is fireproof.

In the event of a plane being shot down or developing engine problems over enemy territory, the key would be pressed down and the metal clip seen to the left of the picture would be clipped over the flange to blow the transmitter's PA tubes rendering the transmitter useless to the enemy.

Also on display was a WWI MkIII Trench Set Receiver. Ian also explained a little about some of the more unusual morse keys on display.

WWI Trench Set Receiver

This set is in need of restoration

Ian's Morse Interview

Ian was asked if he felt Morse code was a thing of the past to which he replied "although it was not used on ships any more it was still used by many amateurs"
He also explained that Morse Code was an international language where operators could hold a conversation and understand each other even if they didn't speak the same language.

Radio Cumbria's reporter John Bowness described to the listeners an unusual morse key that was fixed behind the pilots yoke and was intended for communication with other aircraft using either the upper or lower lights on the aircraft's wings

Also on display was a replica of a morse key designed by Alfred Vail who had a background in engineering

Alfred Vail

One of the keys available for the pupils to use was a replica of a key designed by Alfred Vail who was a partner with Samuel Morse

Ian's wife Linda agreed to give an interview where she was asked about her experiences as a woman in amateur radio. She gave a positive reply saying that although there were not as many women in the hobby, there was a good number of active amateurs and on air clubs.

Linda's Interview

The display of WWI and WWII radio equipment

The largest display at the event covered WWI and WWII communications. Audrey from Heron Corn Mill told me that many of the schools had specifically requested this type of display with an emphasis on WWII and Morse Code. It was a subject currently being taught at the schools

Pupils looking at the codebreakers Y service radio exhibit

I was keen that the pupils should have a hands on experience with the RCA AR-88 and other radios so that they could see how the mechanics of the radios worked. None of the radios were powered up but they were not allowed to touch inside the radio, just look.

Some of the pupils tried on the WWII headset with the headset cups made from Bakelite. I asked them if they found the headsets comfortable to wear and was given an emphatic no! I then asked them to imagine what it must have felt like to wear them for 8 or more hours.

They really enjoyed the experience of exploring the radios and under guidance understanding a little of how the worked.

Each of the pupils was given a morse practice sheet which displayed letters and numbers and their Morse symbols.

The final part of the display included a working replica of the Alfred Vail Key along with keys that were used in WWII. Time was limited and I was expecting to have a couple of volunteers from each group to send a Morse character. However, to my surprise when I asked for volunteers just about all the pupils put their hands up.

Although it meant that we were going to overrun on time all the pupils had an opportunity to send Morse code.

A couple of Amateurs using the key some years ago

Along with the Alfred Vail replica key and some military keys we also had a wooden key that was originally made for a scarecrow festival for pupils to send Morse code with.

Clockwork Morse Databurst encoder and sender

If I had time I introduced the pupils to a clockwork databurst encoder that was in use in the 1960's with the SAS. The unit used magnetic tape and a tape recorder head. It was geared to move a set distance as each character was pressed.

Once the message was encoded it would be put onto the clockwork sending unit which would be attached to a radio. The unit would transmit Morse at 300 words per minute. A recording of the databurst would be slowed down and decoded by the receiving station.

The recorded tape cartridge was spring loaded and rewound itself ready for the next message once released from the sending unit.

This was an excellent event enjoyed both by the group members and the children but more importantly each of the pupils had an interactive experience of Amateur Radio and learned a little more about wartime communications.

Although there are plenty of pictures and information in this blog it was a team effort to put together and I would like to thank all who took part for the work they put in behind the scenes.

I hope you have enjoyed the blog as much as I have writing it.