Radar Jammers and Rocky Mountain Radar
Last updated: 2015
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For years we've been receiving inquiries about products from Rocky Mountain Radar. A typical inquiry, this one e-mailed from John Cassell, asked: "I was wondering if you've tested the new RMR-C212 Rocky Mountain Radar. Apparently, it's a scrambler of laser and radar. Do you know if it's better than the Escort Passport 8500?"
Another, from Paul Schultz: "I ran across an item on eBay for a radar detector called the Mini-D (RMR-D312) which they say blows away the Escort 8500. They claim that the 'Mini' was not included in your test but had a total score of '100?' Any comments to this claim? Thanks for your help."
Naturally we were curious how a unit that wasn't tested could claim top honors in one of our shootouts. And since the appearance of new products from Rocky Mountain Radar always merits a look, We decided to delve a bit deeper into the issue.
Our history with RMR dates from late 1992 when we began receiving inquiries both from consumers and law enforcement officials regarding RMR's first products, the Spirit and the Eclipse. These little boxes, according to the company, could jam every type of police radar on the planet. Ed Klump, a captain with the Topeka, Kansas Police Department and a radar instructor of some renown, even stopped by our offices with some sales literature on the jammers, urging us to investigate.
At first glance the claims looked tantalizing. Ads in auto-enthusiast and trucker magazines and Denver-area shopping want-ad periodicals read: "Radar Jammer, 'No More Tickets.' New technology makes cars invisible to radar, yet 100 percent legal."
Invisibility to police radar may sound terrific but historically, effective radar jammers have been nigh impossible to find. There are good reasons for this. For one, they're blatantly illegal in all fifty states, since jamming police radar requires broadcasting a powerful, modulated signal. And precious few engineers are sharp enough to outwit the sophisticated digital signal processing (DSP) universally employed by police radar. Not to mention, radar jammers are fiendishly expensive to construct.
In those pre-Internet days, making contact with RMR proved difficult since the ads were from a distributor, with no phone number listed for RMR itself. But in a stroke of fate, one night a local television station ran a feature on a fellow named Mike Churchman, proprietor of RMR and inventor of these radar jammers. According to the story, the Spirit and Eclipse were so effective in thwarting radar guns that it could only be a matter of time before authorities banned the devices. And two days later the Denver Post's auto columnist weighed in with a similarly breathless report that, fortuitously, included a phone number. We called Churchman and arranged a visit.
We arrived at a split-level home in Highlands Ranch, southwest of Denver. A woman greeted us at the door and ushered us past a baby stroller and into a basement workshop, then the corporate headquarters of Rocky Mountain Radar. There we met the inventor, mid-forties at the time, of moderate height and sporting a badly fitting, curly blonde toupee. Mike Churchman quickly listed his resume highlights: former electronic warfare design engineer for Texas Instruments, former radar detector designer, radar jammer inventor and holder of a master's degree in microwave/optics, an academic combination not offered by any university in the world, so far that we're aware of. Churchman hinted that he had even more impressive credentials in electronic warfare but bound by an oath of secrecy, he couldn't disclose any details.
Churchman showed us his Spirit jammer, roughly the size of a pack of cigarettes, only slightly fatter. Its plastic case had but a single red LED on the front. No knobs, switches, no signal strength meter, nothing else. Not much heft either: it weighed a feathery 2.5 ounces sans power cord. This seemed curious. Unlike most, at the time we owned a serious radar jammer. It weighed four pounds and had a control module the size of a Tom Clancy first-edition hardcover novel. Its antenna was so large it wouldn't fit on the dash of an average passenger car. And it worked only against X- and K-band radar. Adding Ka band would have required adding another antenna and even more bulk. In comparison, we could drop the Spirit into a shirt pocket with room to spare.
"This is a passive jammer," Churchman explained, "and it works against X-, K- and Ka-band radars. It doesn't transmit. An active jammer transmits a signal back at the police radar. That's illegal. What the Spirit does is take the incoming radar signal, mix some 'white noise' with it, and reflect it back to the radar." And the radar, confused, will simply remain blank, he assured us.
This statement is somewhat at odds with the entire body of scientific literature, not to mention our own experience. A one-square-inch antenna, no matter how efficient, is simply incapable of reflecting enough signal back to a powerful police radar to jam it. For that matter, we've tested $5,000 active radar jammers that pumped out 500 milliwatts of microwave energy--50 times the power transmitted by a modern police radar--that failed to jam anything. Yet here Churchman was offering legal, effective jamming for a mere $90 to $195, depending upon the model.
Intrigued, we asked to peek inside a Spirit. Churchman handed us a unit without its cover and we found ourselves looking at a crude, hand-soldered circuit board with one integrated circuit, a couple of diodes, and a half-inch-by-two-inch strip of sheet metal at the front of the case, angled back 45 degrees from the vertical. "That's the antenna," Churchman said. "See, it reflects the signal right back at the radar."
How did he test his jammers? we inquired. "Well, I just shoot a Doppler source into the Spirit and then to the spectrum analyzer. Here, you can listen to the white noise yourself," he said, and he switched on the analyzer while powering-up a Spirit, then pointed them at each other. A faint screech was heard.
"I use tuning forks, too," he added. "And a lot of customers tell me that they drive right by police radar and nothing happens. Sometimes they even see the cop pounding on his radar, real mad because he didn't get their speed." Churchman also offered testimonials. Sort of. All appeared to have been written by the same hand and there were no last names, just initials. They all loved his jammers.
Surprisingly, later in the conversation Churchman volunteered an amazing analysis of the consumer's ability to tell a working radar jammer from a bogus box. "You could ship an empty box with a weight in the bottom and only get 22 to 24 percent back," he confided to us.
When we later conducted an extensive test of RMR's first jammers--the Spirit and Eclipse--they jammed absolutely nothing. None of the half-dozen radars was fazed in the slightest. We couldn't help but remember Churchman's observation about shipping empty boxes.
Soon after we broke the story on Rocky Mountain Radar in the national press [Automobile Magazine, "The Little Radar Jammer That Didn't", June 1993] we received a threatening letter from Churchman's attorneys. Lay off, it said, or we'll sue. Our attorneys responded: Be prepared to demonstrate the effectiveness of your products in open court--or get lost. And that was the last we heard from Churchman and company.
Over the years we've tested and reported on other RMR jammers and found a common denominator: none of them works. Meanwhile, Churchman has become wealthy from his ever-expanding line of magic boxes. And years later, here he is with a new product line. Not only do some of these promise to jam both radar and lasers, they're also touted as being high-performance detectors of both types of enforcement technology.
Curious to see if newer RMR products work better than those of old, we decided to run the latest models through a full test. And since Churchman's distributors claim that even their least expensive model, the RMR D-312, is superior to the winner of our last high-end detector shootout, the Escort Passport 8500, we tested that unit again for comparison purposes. Here's what we found. [Click here for the test results]
Apparently positioned as the company's entry-level model, the Eclipse is a very small package. A trio of top-mounted buttons operates the three-step dim/dark function, manual mute and city/highway controls, respectively.
Signal strength is indicated audibly by beep frequency, visually by three green LEDs. There are separate tones for band identification but like other RMR products, this artless collection of tweets, chirps and whistles is unintelligible even to dedicated bird fanciers. That's why it's especially unfortunate that there's only one LED for both K- and Ka-band ID.
The Eclipse has settings memory and dim/dark but no auto mute, voice alerts, text display or other features generally to be found on models in this price range. And although the box claims it has an X-band delete function, there's no mention of it in the manual and in the days we spent evaluating the Eclipse, no one could find it.
The Eclipse weighed in with decent X-band range and mediocre K- and Ka-band range. The last was so weak that in the difficult Curve Test site, the radar had already locked-in a speed before an alert was sounded.
As a laser detector the Eclipse was a non-starter. It was unable to spot the lasers at all, regardless of range. Considering the performance and features offered by the competition at this price level, we're unable to think of a single compelling reason to purchase this detector--although bird-call aficionados might find the audio alerts interesting.
As one of the pricier detectors this unit, aka Phantom III, promises to justify its high tariff by promising, according to the packaging blurb, to "scramble ALL radar bands (X, K Ka Superwide)" and "scramble ALL laser radar." We'll have to assume that whoever wrote the ad copy is clueless to the fact that there is no similarity at all between radar and laser. The former uses radio waves and Doppler shift to determine speed, the latter employs amplified light and time-of-flight calculations to achieve the same goal. But no matter.
The RMR-C212 has four buttons atop the case to control all functions. From the far left are the self-test, dim, manual mute and city/highway switches. On the left side of the case near the front is the power/volume thumbwheel switch.
The C212's case is of translucent plastic, allowing a blurry glimpse inside at its circuit board and waveguide antenna. Unfortunately, the status and alert LEDs concealed behind the front plastic simply disappear in sunlight, forcing total reliance on the audio alerts to identify threats. Worse, the audio band ID tones, an artless collection of bird whistles, chirps and tweets, are so indecipherable that we can guarantee that unless you can tune a piano by ear, there's no hope you'll be able to learn what this detector is trying to vocalize.
We might be inclined to overlook some of the RMR-C212's shortcomings if it were a standout performer. Unfortunately, it's critically deficient in several areas. At the easy Straightaway/hills Test site it delivered adequate X- and K-band detection range but failed to notice the Ka-band radar until some 400 feet after the radar had locked-in our speed.
We also tested the RMR-C212's jamming ability, running it against six different laser models and five types of radar on all three radar bands.
The final score was radar and lasers: 11, Rocky Mountain Radar: 0. In no case did the unit have the slightest effect on any of the radar or lasers. Its performance mirrored that of another RMR product we tested, the Black Widow, a $239 (retail price) laser jammer. (For a look at what real laser jammers can do, see our most recent laser jammer test.)
In jamming effectiveness the RMR-C212 ranks up there with the original Spirit jammer, about which we said in one magazine story: "You stand a better chance of jamming radar with a box of Kleenex on the dash."
Somewhat more conventional in appearance than its sibling, the RMR-C212, the Rocky Mountain Radar C302 has a slate-colored plastic housing that sports a trio of buttons across the top for dim, mute and city/highway. A thumbwheel switch on the left side of the case controls power and volume.
Radar and laser band ID are denoted by differently colored LEDs--there is faint lettering etched on each--X, K and Ka--that can be read when they're lit, although you'll need to hold it up to your eyes to decipher them, and there are three more for signal strength. Like the RMR-C212, this model offers a hopelessly confusing medley of audio alerts which, coupled with its unreadable band ID and lack of tutorial mode, makes it a challenge to interpret what information the detector is trying to convey.
Same as the RMR-C212, this model has fewer features than the typical $79 K-Mart Special. And we them to be similar in performance--decent X-band Highway mode and K band range--but there were holes in the performance envelope large enough to drive a Caterpillar D8 dozer through. If you're looking for advance warning of radar traps you'd do better to invest in a pair of prescription eyeglasses.
Like the RMR-C212, this model promises to jam all radar and lasers. And like its stable mate, it does neither. Barring a major rewrite of some of the basic laws of physics, there's no way these devices will ever jam radar or lasers. Priced at $19 we might consider buying one if it were the only detector available; as a $319 detector/jammer it's an industry joke.
Dubbed the Mini-D, no doubt because of its diminutive size, the bite-sized RMR-D312 model has three buttons atop the case to control all functions. From the far left are the dim, manual mute and city/highway switches. On the left side of the case near the front is the power/volume thumbwheel switch.
Its list of standard features is brief: city mode, dim/dark mode, manual mute and settings memory. Although the box claims it has "7-User Selectable Features" [sic] and "15 Band Detection", we counted only two selectable features: VG-2 on/off and an alternate set of audio tones. Forget about 15-band detection, well.p>
Features absent are auto mute, tutorial mode, text display, voice alerts, digital compass, external speaker jack, user-programmable options and other items usually found on detectors in this price range. (We purchased ours from 007radardetectors.com for $169.95 plus shipping.)
Unlike most other RMR products, the RMR-D312 doesn't claim to jam radar and laser, just detect them. And according to some of the retailers selling it, the Mini-D is the equal of the Escort Passport 8500 in sensitivity. So we concentrated on examining that claim.
What we found was predictable, given the tiny packaging and commensurately tiny antenna. At the Straightaway/Hills Test site it delivered 7,002 feet of range in X-band Highway mode (Escort: 26,916 feet), 221 feet in X-band City mode (Escort: 5,750 feet) and 5,647 feet on K band (Escort: 40,013 feet). By the time it belatedly issued an alert at 3,358 feet on Ka-band (Escort: 40,020 feet) the target vehicle was already well within radar range.
While it was able to sniff out lasers at 3,385 feet (Escort: 5,284 feet), at our standard test-measurement range of 1,000 feet its field of view averaged a paltry 6 inches (Escort: 83 inches). In the real world, the Mini-D's near-blindness to lasers means only a direct hit will set it off, making it useless as a detection device.
The disappointing test results demonstrate the risk in unfairly comparing a mediocre product to an industry-leading model: experts may actually run a side-by-side comparison test. And to Radartest.com readers and RMR dealers poised to bombard us with e-mails doubting the veracity of this test we'd say fine: Bring your own test samples, drop by for four days and we'll be happy run it again. Just be sure to bring along some cash; we ran this test on our nickel but when the heavily-hyped Mini-D turns in similar test scores next time, we'll be asking you to pick up the five-grand tab for the test.