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USSR spy radio set - wanted item

P-57, codenamed RION, was an agent communication device, or spy radio set, developed in the former Soviet Union (USSR) around 1957. The device was intended for clandestine operations in foreign countries and was generally operated from within its unobtrusive brown leather suitcase.
The image on the right was probably taken from the original instruction manual, and shows the complete RION P-57 (П-57) radio station tightly mounted inside a standard travel suitcase of the era, much like the British B2 spy set of WWII [3].

The device consists of a PR-56A receiver at the top left, a RION transmitter at the top right, and a mains power supply unit (PSU) at the bottom left. The rest of the space is filled with a spares box and a cable storage box. In the image on the right, a small morse key, connected to the RION transmitter, is fitted on top of the spares box.
Complete P-57 (RION) spy radio station. Photograph via scAvenger [1].

The transmitter is suitable for the 2.5 to 10 MHz frequency range and delivers an output power of approx. 10 Watts in CW (morse). It can be crystal operated, but is also freely adjustable by means of a built-in VFO. The receiver is suitable for the reception of CW signals between 2 and 12 MHz. The set could be used in simplex or in half-duplex mode. In the latter case, separate RX and TX antennas had to be used, with sufficient distance between them. In the former case, a single wire antenna was connected to the transmitter, which was then forwarded (switched) to the receiver.

Complete RION radio stations as shown here, are extremely rare and none of them are believed to be in private hands at the moment, although individual components of the set do turn up every now and then. It is believed that the black-and-white photographs shown on this page were taken from the original manual [1][3]. Crypto Museum are still looking for a complete RION set, to complement the PR-65A in our collection. If you have one available, please contact us.
RION spy radio set Complete RION set with external power pack Inside the suitcase Transmitter (top) and receiver (bottom) Interior of transmitter (bottom) and receiver (top)

Complete set
A complete RION spy radio station consisted of two leather suitcases. One with the radio station as shown above, and a smaller one with a set of dry cell batteries and a power inverter (vibrator). The extra suitcase was intended for use in remote areas where no mains AC power was available. It will be obvious from the picture below that RION was not a lightweight radio station. The weight of the two cases together was approx. 40 kg, which must have required a quite strong operative.

The set was built to sustain extreme conditions, such as an operational temperature range from -40°C to +50°C and a relative humidity of 85%. The diagram below provides a rough overview of the various controls and features of the complete RION set, based on the only available colour photograph that has surfaced so far [3]. Any additions and/or corrections are most welcome.

Overview of controls on RION. Image based on photograph by [1].

Receiver   PR-56A
The receiver of the RION radio station was designated PR-56 or PR-56A. It was developed a year earlier than RION (1956) and was also supplied separately, possibly for use with other spy radio sets, which is why it has its own model number. The initial PR-56 has a 3-digit serial number, whereas on units supplied as part of a RION station, the serial number the format 'P570xxx'.
The image on the right shows the bare PR-56A receiver, which is currently the only part of the RION P-57 set that we have in our collection.

The receiver covers a frequency range from 2 to 12 MHz, divided over four bands, each of which is identified with a colour. Audio is delivered to standard USSR headphones. The antenna signal is usually supplied via the transmitter.

 More about the PR-56A
PR-56A receiver
Transmitter   RION - P-57
The transmitter has the same form factor as the receiver and does not have a model number. Its serial number is in the format P570xxx, which indicates that it was developed especially for the RION radio set and that, unlike the receiver, it was not not used as part of another radio set. The transmitter is often identified as P-57 (П-57), but according to the manual it is called RION [A].
The transmitter has a frequency range from 2.5 to 10 MHz, which is slightly smaller than that of the receiver. The frequency can be determined either by a crystal, operating in the 2nd or 3rd overtone, or by the built-in Variable Frequency Oscillator (VFO), selectable by a slide-switch. The crystal socket is located at the front right.

The frequency range is divided over four bands, that cover 2.5-3.5 MHz, 3.5-5 MHz, 5-7 MHz and 7-10 MHz respectively. A suitably long wire antenna should be connected to the banana-type socket at the upper edge, with a counterpoise connected to the banana socket at the left edge.

When the set is used in simplex mode (i.e. same RX and TX frequency), the antenna socket of the receiver should be connected to the antenna output of the transmitter in the upper left corner. The wire antenna can be optimised, or tuned for the selected frequency, with the large black knob at the top left. When properly matched to the antenna, the transmitter should deliver an output power of approx. 5-10 Watts. A morse key can be connected to the socket at the bottom centre.

Power pack
In order to use the RION station in remote areas without an AC mains, for an extended period of time, an external power pack was supplied in a separate suitcase. This case was slightly smaller than the suitcase that housed the radio, and contained a battery array and a power inverter.
The image on the right shows the contents of the smaller suitcase. The large unit at the bottom is the actual battery pack, which contains an array of dry batteries with different voltages.

The smaller unit on top of the battery pack is the power inverter, which converts the DC battery voltages into the AC voltages required to drive the radio. It is believed that the images below were taken from the original manual [1][3].
Extra suitcase with battery pack and power inverter

Extra suitcase with battery pack and power inverter Dry cell battery pack Power inverter - top view Power inverter - bottom view Power inverter - interior (top) Power inverter - interior (bottom)

According to the original parts list, the following items should be present:
  1. Receiver type 'PR-56'
  2. Transmitter type 'RION'
  3. Cassette with set of dry cell batteries
  4. Vibrator (power inverter)
  5. Rectifier (mains PSU)
  6. Fibreboard suitcase No 5 for fitting equipment
  7. Fibreboard suitcase No 3 for vibrator and batteries
The diagrams below show the pinout of the power sockets on the PR-56A receiver and the RION transmitter, when looking into the socket from the front of the device. Note that the metal shell is connected to the chassis (i.e. ground or GND). It is used as the ground for the HT voltage.
Receiver power
  1. LT in (2.2V)
  2. LT out (switched)
  3. LT 0V
  4. HT (450V?)
Transmitter power
  1. LT in (2.2V)
  2. not connected
  3. LT 0V
  4. HT (450V)
  1. RION Manual (partly)
    A.08 TO. 1957. Serial number 123. 8 pages.
    Retrieved from anonymous contributor.

  2. PR-56, Receiver Circuit Diagram
    A138. Date unknown. Retrieved October 2009 from [1].

  3. PR-56, Receiver Components List
    Date unknown. Retrieved October 2009 from [1].

  4. PR-56, Receiver, table of valves (tubes)
    1957. Retrieved October 2009 from [1].

  5. P-57, Transmitter Circuit Diagram
    A145. 1956. Retrieved October 2009 from [1].

  6. P-57, Transmitter Component List
    A145. 1956. Retrieved October 2009 from [1].

  7. P-57, Transmitter, table of valves (tubes)
    1957. Retrieved October 2009 from [1].

  1. scAvenger, Technical description of the RION spy set
    Website with many photographs. Riga, Latvia. 21 January 2005. Retrieved October 2009. 1

  2. Louis Meulstee, Wireless for the Warrior, volume 4 2
    ISBN 0952063-36-0, September 2004.

  3. Radio Scanner, Radio Station 'RION'
    Website (Russian). Retrieved May 2016.

  1. Website no longer available in 2016.
  2. In this book the receiver is erroneously called GR-56A.

Further information

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Crypto Museum. Created: Thursday 01 October 2009. Last changed: Wednesday, 18 May 2016 - 08:37 CET.
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