Seen these before?
At a glance they appear to be common, inexpensive Kraft equipment from the 1970s. But look closer. These radios may well be prototypes, or one-of-a-kind examples. One of them isn’t even a radio at all.
These transmitters were donated by Joe Martin. After working at MicroAvionics, Joe started his own company to manufacture connectors and other equipment for radio control.
His products advanced the state of the art, but financial difficulties led him to sell a majority interest to Kraft Systems around 1970 and go to work for Kraft. Some of the story of Joe’s days at Kraft can be gleaned from these pages in the 1972 and 1974 catalogs:
Joe then started his own company, Sherline Products, which to this day makes lathes and other miniature machine tools. Sherline propelled Joe Martin to great success as symbolized by his gleaming factory and office with commanding views of the Pacific ocean.
A master modeler himself, Joe “gave back” a portion of his mounting wealth to found The Craftsmanship Museum, which has become the best in the world.
The uniqueness of Joe’s 3 Channel can be appreciated by this comparison. We flank it here with a production Bicentennial 3 Channel and an earlier 3 channel, similarly configured. Externally, Joe’s prototype shows many differences, even the size of its case.
The most prominent distinction is the production model’s left hand control stick. This replaced the conventional slide lever and was designed to be rotated for vertical or horizontal use, with or without centering springs.
Internally, the same Bicentennial Board is unmistakeable—only with a collapsible antennae hole in it.
Here are the Three Channel pages from Kraft’s Bicentennial Catalog. And this is the famous, two full page Bicentennial Concept ad Kraft used to introduce and explain this groundbreaking series.
This is how a production 3 channel system would look when first purchased:
Plastic 2 Channel
In 1972, Phil Kraft sold his company to Carlisle Corporation but stayed on to run the company. By the mid 70s friction grew and his relationship with Carlisle had become quite troubled. One issue was his resistance to “cheaper” Kraft radios, partly because they all carried his name. Eventually, in August, 1979, Phil Kraft resigned.
This series of advertisements from 1978 and 1979 sheds some light on the “cheap Kraft” issue and documents the emergence of the plastic- cased transmitters.
A Step Too Far In Cheapness
In this August, 1978 RCM ad you see the original configuration of the Plastic 2 Channel. These were so “cheap” they omitted the voltage meter. Presumably, many modelers lost planes when their batteries were low but there was no meter to warn them. Kraft quickly added meters to the line as seen in this 1979 ad (Jul 79 MAN).
Here’s a comparison of the meterless and metered versions. And this is how a new Plastic 2 Channel system looked when purchased:
More Than Empty
What sets Joe’s Plastic 2 Channel Kraft apart from the others is its insides—or lack thereof. That’s Joe’s on the right. At first you might say “so what, someone just removed the electronics.” But look closer. All the clean soldering lugs reveal that this transmitter never had electronics.
And there’s more. This wasn’t merely an empty transmitter case taken from a parts bin or off the line before electronics were installed. Its physically different.
Even the injection molded case is not identical to the production model. See, for example, the area to the right of, and below, the antenna. Hello, what’s that?
Could this have also been a prototype preceding not only production but even the finalization of the mass-produced plastic case design? If so, it would symbolize the beginning of the end of the historic Kraft line of RC radios, much as our First Kraft Proportional Exhibit marks the end of the beginning.
But that’s mere speculation. No proof yet. So this remains another of……