Radio Communication – Antenna Types

in Communication and Navigation

Antenna Types

There are three basic types of antennas used in aviation:


  1. Dipole antenna
  2. Marconi antenna
  3. Loop antenna.

Dipole Antenna

The dipole antenna is the type of antenna referred to in the discussion of how a radio wave is produced. It is a conductor, the length of which is approximately equal to half the wavelength of the transmission frequency. This sometimes is referred to as a Hertz antenna. The AC transmission current is fed to a dipole antenna in the center. As the current alternates, current flow is greatest in the middle of the antenna and gradually less as it approaches the ends. Then, it changes direction and flows the other way. The result is that the largest electromagnetic field is in the middle of the antenna and the strongest radio wave field is perpendicular to the length of the antenna. Most dipole antennas in aviation are horizontally polarized.

A common dipole antenna is the V-shaped VHF navigation antenna, known as a VOR antenna, found on numerous aircraft. Each arm of the V is one-fourth wavelength creating a half wave antenna which is fed in the center. This antenna is horizontally polarized. For a dipole receiving antenna, this means it is most sensitive to signals approaching the antenna from the sides rather than head-on in the direction of flight. [Figure 11-91]

Figure 11-91. The V-shaped VOR navigation antenna is a common dipole antenna.

Figure 11-91. The V-shaped VOR navigation antenna is a common dipole antenna.

Marconi Antenna

A Marconi antenna is a one-fourth wave antenna. It achieves the efficiency of a half wave antenna by using the mounting surface of the conductive aircraft skin to create the second one-fourth wavelength. Most aircraft VHF communications antennas are Marconi antennas. They are vertically polarized and create a field that is omnidirectional. On fabric skinned aircraft, the ground plane that makes up the second one-fourth wavelength of the antenna must be fashioned under the skin where the Marconi antenna is mounted. This can be done with thin aluminum or aluminum foil. Sometimes four or more wires are extended under the skin from the base of the vertical antenna that serve as the ground plane. This is enough to give the antenna the proper conductive length. The same practice is also utilized on ground based antennas. [Figure 11-92]

Figure 11-92. On a metal-skinned aircraft, a ¼ wavelength Marconi antenna is used. The skin is the ground plane that creates the 2nd quarter of the antenna required for resonance (left). On a nonmetallic- skinned aircraft, wires, conductive plates or strips equal in length to the antenna must be installed under the skin to create the ground plane (right).

Figure 11-92. On a metal-skinned aircraft, a ¼ wavelength Marconi antenna is used. The skin is the ground plane that creates the 2nd quarter of the antenna required for resonance (left). On a nonmetallic- skinned aircraft, wires, conductive plates or strips equal in length to the antenna must be installed under the skin to create the ground plane (right).

Loop Antenna

The third type of antenna commonly found on aircraft is the loop antenna. When the length of an antenna conductor is fashioned into a loop, its field characteristics are altered significantly from that of a straight-half wavelength antenna. It also makes the antenna more compact and less prone to damage.

Used as a receiving antenna, the loop antenna’s properties are highly direction-sensitive. A radio wave intercepting the loop directly broadside causes equal current flow in both sides of the loop. However, the polarity of the current flows is opposite each other. This causes them to cancel out and produce no signal. When a radio wave strikes the loop antenna in line with the plane of the loop, current is generated first in one side, and then in the other side. This causes the current flows to have different phases and the strongest signal can be generated from this angle. The phase difference (and strength) of the generated current varies proportionally to the angle at which the radio wave strikes the antenna loop. This is useful and is discussed further in the section on automatic direction finder (ADF) navigational aids. [Figure 11-93]

Figure 11-93. A loop antenna is highly direction-sensitive. A signal origin perpendicular or broadside to the loop creates a weak signal (A). A signal origin parallel or in the plain of the loop creates a strong signal (B).

Figure 11-93. A loop antenna is highly direction-sensitive. A signal origin perpendicular or broadside to the loop creates a weak signal (A). A signal origin parallel or in the plain of the loop creates a strong signal (B). [click image to enlarge]

Transmission Lines

Transmitters and receivers must be connected to their antenna(s) via conductive wire. These transmission lines are coaxial cable, also known as coax. Coax consists of a center wire conductor surrounded by a semirigid insulator. Surrounding the wire and insulator material is a conductive, braided cover that runs the length of the cable. Finally, a waterproof covering is set around the braided shield to protect the entire assembly from the elements. The braided cover in the coax shields the inner conductor from any external fields. It also prevents the fields generated by the internal conductor from radiating. For optimum performance, the impedance of the transmission line should be equal to the impedance of the antenna. In aviation antenna applications, this is often approximately 50 ohms. [Figure 11-94] Special connectors are used for coaxial cable. A variety can be seen in Advisory Circular 43.13-1b. The technician should follow all manufacturer’s instructions when installing transmission lines and antenna. Correct installation is critical to radio and antenna performance.

Figure 11-94. Coaxial cable is used as the transmission line between an antenna and its transmitters and/or receiver.

Figure 11-94. Coaxial cable is used as the transmission line between an antenna and its transmitters and/or receiver. [click image to enlarge]