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The design of the Racal RA17 came about when a number of circumstances fortuitously came together at the right time. The story of the RA17 and its impact on the history of Racal itself is fascinating.
Racal had pinned its hopes on one opportunity and when this did not come about all seemed lost, but as it happened an even better opportunity presented itself and this meant that not only the Racal RA17, but Racal itself took off in a major way.
Had things turned out the way they had originally been envisaged, the RA17 would not have been designed, and Racal would probably have remained a small company for very much longer.
The very start of the RA17 story begins with the formation of Racal. The company started as a two man consultancy set up by Ray Brown and Calder Cunningham.
The company was formally incorporated in 1950, and it initially undertook small contract development projects and some refurbishment of military communications equipment.
The company spawned a new company called Racal Engineering Ltd and moved to Isleworth, close to London Heathrow Airport in 1951 as more people joined the company and the work grew.
Story of the beginnings of the RA17
The engineers at Racal took on a major project to develop a receiver for single sideband reception. At the time SSB was new and very few people were using it. The development considerably overspent its budget, but this lead them on to consider other receiver projects.
In 1953 the company landed a contract to supply the UK Royal Navy 200 receivers, and Racal hoped to be able to build the US based Collins 51-J.
Unfortunately the agreement between Racal and Collins did not materialise and this left Racal in a difficult position.
Although the situation seemed very bad, by chance Racal and Dr Trevor Wadley got together. Wadley had developed a scheme for frequency drift cancelling scheme that could be used in signal generators, and of course within radio receivers. Nobody else had been interested, but after some meetings with Racal, and also with the Royal Navy it was agreed that development of a new receiver would commence.
The development of the RA17 actually started in 1954. By this time, Racal had outgrown their premises in Isleworth and had moved to Bracknell in Berkshire, UK where they had much larger premises.
Design work progressed apace and the first early prototype radios were available in 1955.