WDØM - Pagosa Springs, CO

Pagosa Springs, Colorado

The Legendary Alpha 87a Amplifier

Every ham wants one. Dick Erhorn created a legend with his ETO Alpha line of final amplifiers that continues to this day. The 87a became the stuff of legends, with its "brick on the key", no time limit, 1500 watts out, fully automated, fault protected operation.

It took a few decades as a ham before I had the opportunity to purchase one. Having retired from the USAF, moved to Alaska, and begun a second career as a purchasing manager of a regional hospital, a new Alpha 87a was mine. This one has the latest upgrades, including Alpha Remote and Alpha Max.

The operation of this amplifier is truly impressive. Once connected to your transceiver, it's like having a 10 through 160 meter full power rig. It changes bands automatically, tunes to your operating frequency at the first whisper of your voice or "dit" on the key. With the Alpha Max upgrade it will continually tune the amplifier to operate at peak output when changing frequencies.

The construction of the amplifier is wonderfully detailed and made from the highest quality materials and components. The photo at left shows the tube compartment and loading coils - you'll notice that the Peter Dahl transformer has not yet been installed - it fills up the huge hole at the top left of the image. It also adds an amazing amount of weight to the Alpha 87a! The company advises not picking up the case with the transformer installed because it can cause the case and chassis to flex, possibly damaging the printed circuit boards. The Alpha 87a weighs 75 pounds!

The photo to the right shows the other side of the Alpha 87a with the transformer installed. Also visible on the left side of the photo is the massive collection of blue high voltage capacitors, the low voltage power supply (vertical PC board to the right of the capacitor bank), and some of the control circuitry (located just behind the front panel) that gives the Alpha 87a its amazing auto-tune capability.

The back of the Alpha 87a shows the optional muffin fan to cool the power supply, when you plan long transmissions such as RTTY or other continuous duty transmissions. This was simply "extra insurance" in my case, since the amplifier is rated at full power by the manufacturer.

The front panel is clean in design, with no knobs. All controls are computer operated, with the push of a button. When the 87a tunes to a new band, you'll hear a deep whirring sound as the stepper motors turn the capacitors to achieve an optimal match. This also happens when the 87a is first turned on. For the uninitiated, it can be quite a surprise.

My experience with the 87a has been great. I don't always run it at full output - no need when less will do. I also work DX without it. The recent Ducie Island DX-pedition is a great example of when the amplifier comes in handy. I was fortunate to work all bands and modes that VP6DX was on, and already have them confirmed by the Logbook of the World. If only propagation conditions had allowed 6 meters to be open, and those two red squares in the image below were green with a check mark in them! Let's hear it for the next sunspot cycle!

On most bands, I was able to contact Ducie Island without the 87a on line. The lower bands were where the amp came in handy, as well as those times when the stations calling them were extremely loud - and the 87a helped me be just a little bit louder. I was amazed to find that I could work VP6DX on 160 meters with just 100 watts and the inverted "L" antenna. The 87a came in handy on both 80 and 40 meters, however.

The bottom line is that the Alpha 87a is a fantastic amplifier - a top of the line high performance piece of equipment that operates with a great transparency, giving you the feel of simply having a full-limit transceiver. It thinks for itself, makes instantaneous changes, and its fault protection system will protect you if (and when) errors should happen.

For those of you who are privileged to own an Alpha 87a, Walter, HB9ZS, has a fantastic software program that will automatically change bands on the 87a when your transceiver changes bands so the 87a is immediately ready to transmit. I worked with Walter as a beta tester on his program - he's made a fantastic contribution to our hobby! You can download Walter's free program at his web site. It's nice to have an on-screen display of the 87a when you're operating.

87a CAT

That said, even legends have problems - and I've had a few problems with my Alpha 87a. Click here to read more.....