Sunday, November 18, 2012


Klystron sounds like a term that might have come from an old Superman comic. Superman came from the planet Krypton, and has been recently located by scientists. This fact (really?) has no connection to today’s blog, but it sounds interesting, so it is included.

Back to Klystron, my L blog referred to my joining the army voluntarily with assurances of technical training (to avoid infantry service). It was during my Signal Corps training that I learned about the Klystron tube. What is a Klystron tube and why am I writing about it?

It was a marvel of technology when I learned about the Klystron in 1965; it had been first developed in 1937 and then utilized in radar equipment during World War II. Later it was the heart of the Distance Early Warning Line communications network. It enabled the military to reliably transmit messages from the Arctic and Greenland regions to the United States by bouncing radio signals off the stratosphere over the horizon. It was designed to alert the country of an imminent attack by the Russians. In case of attack school children were trained to “duck and cover,” which meant go under your desk. Millions of dollars spent on communications and $12 spent on desks.

Jumping forward the 1960’s the US military installed these radio systems in Southeast Asia during the war in Vietnam. I was fortunate to enough to work at one of those stations in Thailand; or as I like to say, “In the rear, with the gear.” Click here to see one of the largest communication sites of its day, my home for one year in Thailand.

All this may be interesting to me and a few of my fellow Signalmen who know about the Klystron tube and its mysterious operation. The tube is a resonant cavity that an electron beam enters, after that memory of the actual theory and operation is kind of fuzzy. All I can say is that it worked, and don’t mess with it. This type of communication systems became obsolete, just as all technology advances do) with the advent of satellite communications.

Still, why is this important? Today the same gear is used in many microwave radio towers that the dot the landscape today, mostly by telephone companies, pipeline companies and government agencies on the local level for short range communication needs. This may be important but not what the average consumer cares about.

The Klystron tube is the heart of the microwave oven; the Klystron tube and variations of it produce the energy to operate these fantastic gadgets. Finally billions in military spending has found a purpose that benefits society. No more wasted leftovers, the perfect device to heat up a cup of Ramen soup, defrost a bagel, and prepare tonight’s frozen fish dinner.

Excuse me, I hear the ding. My popcorn is ready.

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1 comment:

  1. You learned about the Klystron in 1965, the year I left school.No t sure I understand it, but it doesn't matter since I don't like popcorn! ;)