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The Kettering Group

Tyneside, UK
2024 Jul 24
Wednesday, Day 206

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Dave Hawkins

When Bob Clark and I were loaned a very old Eddystone 840C valve radio by the Royal Society in recognition of our visual observing work we were singularly unsuccessful at tracking anything Russian.... unsuccessful that is until the expertise of Geoff Perry came along.

Dave HawkinsGeoff came to my new house in Stevenage in early 1973 and quickly assessed the situation. He helped me drill through the window frame (gasps from her indoors !!!), set up a long wire antenna (still used for snooping on military HF) and set up and calibrate a log scale on the radio, after allowing for the very significant "warm-up". As he said with a smile at the time "Never mind...if you don't get signals at least you can boil your egg for breakfast!"

Well, I did get signals - the first two-tone was Cosmos 554 on Rev 175 on 30th April at 06:45. Luckily everyone was awake because if they hadn't been they soon would have! The 840C was near "boiling" and I turned the volume up to full...... An "army surplus" pair of headphones quickly followed!

This was no fluke because I got a total of thirteen passes in all and this proved to be very unlucky for Cosmos 554 because it was then blown up when a recovery attempt failed!

Further success soon followed, with another two-tone (Cosmos 556) about a week later and then, following an excited call from Geoff, came Cosmos 557 with its 15 word PDM telemetry. I was hooked!!!

In fact I never looked back and, like other members of the group, went on to get the morse recoverables, TK beacons, TG beacons, TL beacons, Soyuz telemetry, Salyut telemetry, etc. etc.

Dick Flagg in his "Members' Tales" writes about the lost pleasure of getting satellite signals from a glowing valve radio. I can heartily endorse that feeling - especially if, as Dick implies, the predicted pass has been manually derived using your own grid- type track map with tracing paper overlay, as it often was.

For me personally the icing on the cake would often be to use a very large scale planisphere (made from the Daily Telegraph Sky at Night Map) to accurately predict a visual twilight pass and then track it in 11x80 binoculars at the same time as listening to it. This was particularly enjoyable with the early Salyuts and was also useful to monitor any change that might occur in signal strength as a satellite entered eclipse.

Having started off as a visual observer I was always looking for ways to use visual observations to augment the radio work of the group and had great fun looking for the "bits" ejected from recon satellites before recovery and noting their brightness. I also tried comparing the flash rates of the tumbling final rocket stages of the different types of recon satellites. Most of this work came to nothing I might add!

Now of course it's very much a high tech pastime with computers and high performance scanners the norm. That's probably why I've been left behind on the hard shoulder of the IT motorway and it's only when I thumb a lift from the passing rally drivers like Bob Christy that I manage a further hop along the M1.

Does no harm to reminisce though and January 18th 2010 seems an appropriate date to do just that and of course, thanks to first class tutoring, I've always got my original logs to help me do that.

"Always log your work, lad!"
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