Heathkit’s first amateur transmitter – Heathkit AT-1

The Heathkit AT-1 represents the commercial embodiment of the simple Master Oscillator Power Amplifier (MOPA) transmitter using a crystal controlled 6AG7 oscillator plus a 6L6 final output tube.

Although it was possible to design and build a simpler transmitter, the goals of output power and stability could become mutually exclusive when trying to operate with only one tube. For a novice class license holder of 1951 the Heathkit AT-1 represented a solid performing rig that would be relatively easy to construct and operate.

The Novice remained the primary entry license until the Morse code requirement was eliminated for Technician licenses in 1990. On HF it permitted code transmissions only, with a maximum power of 75 watts, (input to the transmitter’s final amplifier stage) on limited segments of the 80, 40 and 15 meter bands.

For $29.50 and the loan of a few tools you could get some use out of that new novice license

The earlier MOPA circuit from the ARRL handbook of 1941 below shows a layout remarkably similar to the circuit of the AT-1 although it is designed for plug in coils rather than the band-switching arrangement of the later Heathkit transmitter.

MOPA transmitter using a 6L6 and an 807 as the power amplifier (ARRL Handbook 1941)

For a little added complexity MOPA transmitters generally offered better stability of frequency and keying waveform than single tube crystal controlled or self exited rigs. The straight forward design of the AT-1 should have looked familiar to novice class hams after studying the ARRL handbook or other radio publications.

Heathkit AT-1 Circuit diagram showing band-switching arrangement and link coupled output

Once the novice had upgraded his license the AT-1 could be expanded by the addition of the Heathkit VF-1 variable frequency oscillator to allow transmission on any frequency within the allowed band.

The Heathkit VF-1 Variable Frequency Oscillator

The VF-1 covered 160-80-40-20-15-11-10 meters and used an OA2 voltage regulator tube to provide a stable voltage for the oscillator. Ceramic coil forms, solid construction and high quality components were used to help increase stability.

It was recommended that to correctly couple an antenna to the AT-1 you would use an antenna coupler such as the Heathkit AC-1 which also included a low pass filter.
The Heathkit AC-1 Antenna Coupler. Designed to attach to a single wire by the insulated post on the front panel.
Heathkit AC-1 Antenna Coupler circuit diagram

Although Heathkit did not produce a AM modulator for the AC-1 there is provision for modulator connection on the rear panel. The earlier ARRL manuals have several suitable circuits for modulators that would work with the AC-1. Most functioned by driving a modulation transformer with the output from an audio power amplifier. The secondary of the modulation transformer would be carrying the DC plate supply for the power amplifier tube plus or minus the instantaneous voltage of the audio waveform. By changing the plate voltage to the final amplifier tube the radio frequency output would be controlled by the amplified audio frequency resulting in amplitude modulation.

Owen Morgan, KF5CZO, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Texas, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

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