Robert D. Hunsucker (1930-2014)
Robert D. Hunsucker passed away peacefully on 9 January with family in Minnesota. He was 83 and was preceded in death by his first wife Judith. An authority on radio propagation, radio sensing of the ionosphere, and the effects of atmospheric gravity waves (AGWs) on the ionosphere, he authored over 150 research papers, a text on radio remote sensing, and coauthored a text on the high-latitude ionosphere. He served as associate editor for the journal Radio Science from 1992-1994 and was Editor-in-Chief from 1995-2002.
In addition to his devotion to ionospheric research, his many students and colleagues will remember Robert as a man of faith and humor, often inserting quips from Walt Kelly's Pogo into his informal talks. His love for radio and the far north never diminished, and he wrote numerous articles on these subjects for popular magazines and newsletters, remarking that even after decades of work in the field, "radio is still magic." He is survived by his wife Phyllis, daughters Edith, Jeanne, and Cynthia, fourteen grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.
Robert was buried with military honors at Willamette National Cemetery in Portland Oregon on February 14, 2014, followed by a memorial gathering at Hinson Baptist Church.
Complete obituaries may be found in AGU Space Weather; IEEE Antennas and Propagation Magazine; and IEEE Institute (5th entry).
Please send cards and condolences to:
308 Jewell Terrace
Klamath Falls, Oregon
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made in memory of Robert Hunsucker to the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Contributions may be made online at www.uaf.edu/giving/gift; please note "In Memory of Robert Hunsucker." Checks can also be mailed to:
c/o UA Foundation
P.O. Box 755080
Fairbanks, Alaska 99775
Please make checks payable to "UA Foundation" and include "In memory of Robert Hunsucker" in the note. If you have additional questions, please contact the UAF Development Office at 907-474-2619.
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The term, "Elmer" had not been invented during my development as a Ham, but I had some very helpful and colorful characters who shaped my neophyte years. Being born in 1930 defined my boyhood as a "Depression kid" and greatly limited my financial resources for hobbies, but my father, who worked for the traffic department of the city of Portland, Oregon often brought home discarded relays, transformers and other electrical components. Two of my first experiments involved the use of a Model-T Ford auto ignition coil, dry cell batteries, tin cans and traffic signal wire -- assembled using a 125 watt soldering iron and my first purchase of rosin core solder. A word about soldering irons as compared with modern miniature irons and soldering guns: soldering irons were BIG and HOT, producing frequent burns and copious amounts of pungent smoke! Other invaluable tools included a pair of tin-snips, a vice, a hand drill, a hacksaw, diagonal cutting and needle-nose pliers.
Anyway, my first creation was two metal plates (made from tin cans) on the ground outside my bedroom window where a large, vociferous tomcat howled almost every night. The plates were connected by wires to the Ford coil, knife switch and batteries in my room. A couple nights later, the tomcat appeared and, right in the middle of a particularly loud howl, I flipped the switch and was somewhat surprised by the increase in amplitude of his vocalizations! He was a pretty smart cat, because he never appeared outside my window again.
The second project involved the creation of a bogus "Lie Detector" for employment on some of my more gullible schoolmates. The trusty Ford coil was mounted inside, and a radio dial light and two electrodes were mounted on the exterior. Operation was relatively straightforward -- after talking a willing subject into holding on to the electrodes, I would ask a series of innocuous questions and close my hidden switch in position 1, lighting the dial light when certain replies were given. After the experimental subject relaxed, I would switch to "position 2" resulting in a humane shock and a sharp exclamation. This was a short-lived project.
After the electrical phase of experimentation, I moved into radio projects, occasioned by the kind contributions of "dead" radio receivers from neighbors and my first exposure to shortwave reception. The latter occurred at the home of my aunt and uncle, who owned a large Zenith multiband console radio. I will never forget hearing "Waltzing Matilda" from radio Australia, the chimes of "Big Ben" from London and a news broadcast from Prague -- sheer magic! Radio is still magic to me in spite of a 54 year career in radio propagation research and University teaching!!
Since I was about 8 years old, my best friend, Johnnie Ogden (later W7JTB) was my radio mentor and we cooperated in various RF projects. We built various SW and BC receivers, and when WWII silenced Ham radio, we experimented (unsuccessfully) with carrier current transmitters on the AC lines. My main memories about this experiment was using a Quaker oats box dipped in melted paraffin as a coil form and the failure of a coupling capacitor resulting in a bright flash and melting down of some key components. During the latter years of the war, I worked (very briefly) at a Radio Service shop on Hawthorne Street, but found that I wasn't suited to that life. I remember one of the repairmen who was a very nervous and rather absentminded character, who one time while concentrating on a repair job, stuck the hot soldering iron into his pocket. About 100 milliseconds later, he pulled it out with a loud howl and threw it across the room. The smell of singed hair and trousers permeated the shop for a while.
On the "home front" at that time, many items were simply not available on the civilian market -- including octal-based vacuum tubes for home receivers, but "loctal" tubes were available -- which, however would not plug into the octal sockets. My friend Bob Howland and I decided that we could get rich by manufacturing adapters and selling them to Radio Shops, so we founded the "Ajax Adapter Company" and printed up business cards. Having convinced a couple shops to buy our products, we proceeded to start our production line by breaking the glass envelopes and removing the innards from octal tubes donated by the shops, cleaning out the bases and mounting a loctal wafer socket on top -- with suitable wiring to the pins. Our first couple batches were a success, at 75 cents apiece -- giving us a 50% profit -- not counting our considerable expenditures of labor. However, disaster struck when we mis-wired a batch of adapters, resulting in a few radios which self-destructed, so our contract was cancelled and we were "persona-non-grata" in one radio shop.
After the end of WWII, we increased the tempo of preparation into the realm of ham radio. This was aided and abetted with the return from Army duty of Ed Squier, W7HKT who became our inspiration. His Ham station was wondrous to behold, located in the damp basement of his mother's house. After entering through the sloping cellar door, we gained access to this holy place through another flimsy door. Ed's rig was all homebrew, except for the Hammarlund HQ-120 receiver. The transmitter consisted of a 6L6 Tri-tet crystal oscillator, followed by an 807 buffer, into 4 push-pull, parallel 304TLs -- all mounted on breadboards. The humungous power supply was located under the transmitter bench and the antenna tuning capacitors, inductors and RF ammeters were mounted on the wall ending in feed through insulators to the 6 inch spaced open wire feed line outside. The open wire line lead up to an end-fed Zepp antenna, which ran diagonally across our block. There was a unique ambience to Ed's shack: the only illumination was a small desk lamp and the cheery glow of the tubes -- yellow-white from the filaments, eerie blue from the mercury vapor rectifiers and cherry red from the 304TL's (Ed backed down the rheostat when the plates started to glow whitish). The smells were stale cigarette smoke, ozone, and hot insulation, and the sounds of transformers humming and muted 30 WPM CW suffused the shack.
When Ed keyed his xmtr at night, most of the neighborhood porch lights and the RF indicator in my 6L6 oscillator tank circuit would light up, and some BC rcvrs would behave erratically. Some suspected that he exceeded the legal limit, but we somehow doubted that. One of Ed's most impressive demonstrations of RF was to stand on a rubber mat on his cold concrete floor and use a lead pencil to draw long ugly arcs from the plate caps of the 304 TL's -- while saying "Bob, don't ever do this!" After adding a VFO and a 3-element Yagi to his ensemble, he went on to win several ARRL CW Northwest Division Sweepstake contests and accumulate an impressive pile of QSL cards.
Ed Squier was a "well-seasoned ham", having operated as 6AZC in California before WWII and serving in the US Army as a high speed CW operator in the south Pacific during the war. He possessed an uncanny ability to copy CW whilst engaged in other activities. This was demonstrated to me once when I was riding with him in his '34 Chevy equipped with a 20 m CW mobile rig and a TALL whip antenna. While driving the car, drinking a "canned beverage" and batting out ~ 35 WPM on the Bug strapped to his knee, he carried on a (sporadic) conversation with me on the subject of YL's!
When Ed acquired his Hammarlund rcvr, he lent me his National SW-3 TRF rcvr with coils for three bands, and I fondly remember the unique musical sound of a 40m CW signal when the regeneration control was properly set! It was, unfortunately, a schizophrenic and microphonic device and one could lose the signal abruptly by nudging the table where it sat. Another of the "loaners" which I temporarily used was an Echophone EC-1 rcvr, which was a technological advance over the TRF design of the SW-3, but a pretty crummy communications rcvr.
One of the great benefits I had was being able to attend Benson Polytechnic High School in Portland and major in the "Technical Radio" course. During my sophomore year I finally got up enough courage to take the FCC test for the Class B (General) ham license, and one Saturday, with great trepidation I entered the FCC office in the Main Post Office building in downtown Portland. I remember the stern inspector wearing a green eyeshade and black suspenders who administered my tests. First copying CW at 13 WPM, then sending with the key I brought with me, then taking the written test and waiting for a couple weeks to get the result of the written test. Finally, I became W7LOU on October 8, 1947 and cranked up my 6L6 crystal controlled xmtr into my center fed dipole and experienced my first QSO on 40m CW with W7LHL -- what a thrill!
Next year I got my "Class-A" Ham ticket, which gave some phone privileges (although I only had a CW rig). I was finally able to get a 2nd hand Hallicrafters SX-25 rcvr and upgraded my xmtr to a 6AG7 oscillator into a 6L6 final, then using a surplus "ARC-5" xmtr and adding a 813 final. Another homebrew rig in the late 1940s and early 1950s included a 6AG7 oscillator into push-pull 3C24/24G triodes -- appropriately neutralized. One of my power supplies was located on a shelf under the table with 450 volt D.C. terminals on the front panel and one warm night I lazily used my bare toe to turn off the B+, which propelled me backwards in my chair to the floor -- thus adding to my education on electric shock! Another close friend and fellow Ham was Al Schwartz, W7LAH, who taught me more of the finer points of Ham radio SSB operating technique.
My next 4 or 5 years were well occupied by college at Portland State and Oregon State Colleges, majoring in EE and Physics and working part-time as a transmitter engineer at KBPS in Portland and KRUL and KOAC in Corvallis -- made possible by having my FCC 2nd and 1st Class Radiotelephone tickets. Unfortunately, this didn't leave much time for Ham activities -- just enough operating at club stations to maintain my license. After graduating from OSC in 1954 in Physics, I served on an LST and an AKA in the "WestPac" in the US Navy -- squeezing in a few hours operation aboard ship and at various Navy Ham stations in the Pacific area. From September 1956 -- June 1958 I attended OSC and got my MS degree in Physics and EE, then moved to Alaska in September 1958.
The years in Fairbanks, Alaska (as KL7CYS) were the high point in my Ham experience. Since Alaska counted as both a State and a Country, working DX was easy and calling "CQ DX" usually caused a pileup of juicy calls. My rig was a Heathkit VF-1 VFO into a Viking Challenger xmtr, into a homebrew antenna tuner, thence to a center-fed antenna and the "inhaler" was an RME-6900. I won the ARRL Alaska Section CW DX contest twice (once with no-one else entered and another time with only two other stations competing)! During 1960-1962 we lived about 15 miles out of town on a sporadically useful road and during one "cold-snap" (-60 F) we were stuck at home with no phone, so I fired up the Challenger on 75m phone and we got instructions from a physician in Fairbanks how to take care of our sick child. Also, during the Cuban missile crisis and the USSR atom bomb tests, we participated in local emergency CD communication on 75m. So the Alaskan experience was unique.
Ionosondes were a big part of my science work in Fairbanks. About 1960 Judy and I considered accepting the NBS offer to operate the Pt. Barrow ionosonde for one year. A salary of $40K, plus housing and some food was included. The facilities and weather were so daunting (there was a large hole in the floor in one room and a 55 gal drum under the house -- which the 'honey-dipper' hauled off every so often). Also 6 months of darkness plus howling winds and below -40F temps most of the winter. We had two very small toddlers at the time -- so we declined earning enough dough to buy a house.
I later ran into Harry Petrie and his wife, who ran the Pt.Barrow ionosonde for one year. He spent several days in a "Weasel" vehicle servicing several sites in the area. When he returned to his job at Boulder he applied for back pay and allowances from Mr. Alan Shapely who handled those matters. Alan said that he was getting tired of paying extra fees to NBS people who worked at high latitudes. Harry leaned down to Shipley's desk and said, "Mr.Shapely, have you ever had to take a 'poop' out the side door of a Weasel traveling at 30 MPH while it was -40F outside?" Harry collected for his claim, but Shapely had a difficult time describing why the claim should be paid.
We moved to Boulder, Colorado in 1964 (WA0LCO) where I worked at the Central Radio Propagation Labs (CRPL) of the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) and its successors and pursued (part-time) my Ph.D. in EE at the University of Colorado. In addition to the foregoing activities, I was involved in the raising of my three daughters and in Naval Reserve activities -- and operated on 15m sideband. Another move (back to Fairbanks, Alaska) in 1971 and I got my Alaska call back (KL7CYS) and sporadically operated on 20m SSB using a TH-4 antenna and an FT-101, then a Kenwood TS-930TS. I was fortunate in my career to be employed at the Geophysical Institute and the EE Department at the University of Alaska teaching and doing research in high latitude ionospheric propagation and then "Ham" on the side!
In 1995, we moved to Klamath Falls, Oregon and I got my Extra Class license (AB7VP) and I have remained "sporadically active" on the HF bands and 2m. Although "semi-retired", I maintain a consulting business in Radio Propagation and since 1995 I have been Editor-in-Chief of the international journal, "Radio Science". I have found that several of the authors of papers in that journal are radio Hams. So, although my Ham radio participation has been sporadic through the years, it has been a thoroughly enjoyable and valuable hobby.
Bob Hunsucker using a software-defined radio for propagation studies in Klamath Falls, 2006.
Bob explaining the system operation to Radio Dog Aubrey.