When I got my Novice ticket in 1978, the Russian Woodpecker was at its peak. Developed to detect ICBM launches, the over-the-horizon radars known as Duga-1, Duga-2 and Duga-3 caused an incredible amount of QRM on the 20- and 40-meter ham bands. Even Radio Moscow was not immune.
The system became operational in 1976 amid much speculation as to its purpose and operated with an estimated transmitter power of 10 megawatts anywhere (and everywhere!) between 7 and 19 MHz. Transmit times were brief as radars go – typically 7 minutes at a time, then a QSY elsewhere.
Hams, irritated by the QRM, formed the Russian Woodpecker Hunting Club whose goal was to QRM the QRMer by sending properly timed pulses on the radar’s frequency. Reports of effectiveness vary but no doubt it felt good to fight back.
All three sites that made up the Russian Woodpecker were actually located in Ukraine with each transmitter and receiver site being located approximately 35 km apart.
The woodpecker’s antenna was a monster – 150m tall, 500m wide and weighing in at 14,000 tons. It still stands today in that post-modern wasteland known as the Chernoby Exclusion Zone. Call it a new kind of radio-activity where cesium-137 and strontium-90 have replaced good old-fashioned RF as the primary emission of note.
As of October 2013, Ukrainian officials now allow tourists to visit the site of Duga-3 within the Exclusion Zone. Base-jumping, anyone?!
Interestingly, the Chernobyl nuclear accident occurred in 1986 – Duga-3 didn’t go QRT until 1989. Hmm…
Check out the video of the antenna below. To see some amazing (and very melancholy) photos of many a DXer’s Cold War foe, click here.