Radio Communication – Radio Transmitters and Receivers

in Communication and Navigation

Radio Transmitters and Receivers

Radio transmitters and receivers are electronic devices that manipulate electricity resulting in the transmission of useful information through the atmosphere or space.


A transmitter consists of a precise oscillating circuit or oscillator that creates an AC carrier wave frequency. This is combined with amplification circuits or amplifiers. The distance a carrier wave travels is directly related to the amplification of the signal sent to the antenna.

Other circuits are used in a transmitter to accept the input information signal and process it for loading onto the carrier wave. Modulator circuits modify the carrier wave with the processed information signal. Essentially, this is all there is to a radio transmitter.

NOTE: Modern transmitters are highly refined devices with extremely precise frequency oscillation and modulation. The circuitry for controlling, filtering, amplifying, modulating, and oscillating electronic signals can be complex.

A transmitter prepares and sends signals to an antenna that, in the process described above, radiates the waves out into the atmosphere. A transmitter with multiple channel (frequency) capability contains tuning circuitry that enables the user to select the frequency upon which to broadcast. This adjusts the oscillator output to the precise frequency desired. It is the oscillator frequency that is being tuned. [Figure 11-84] As shown in Figure 11-84, most radio transmitters generate a stable oscillating frequency and then use a frequency multiplier to raise the AC to the transmitting frequency. This allows oscillation to occur at frequencies that are controllable and within the physical working limits of the crystal in crystal-controlled oscillators.

Figure 11-84. Block diagram of a basic radio transmitter.

Figure 11-84. Block diagram of a basic radio transmitter.


Antennas are simply conductors of lengths proportional to the wavelength of the oscillated frequency put out by the transmitter. An antenna captures the desired carrier wave as well as many other radio waves that are present in the atmosphere. A receiver is needed to isolate the desired carrier wave with its information. The receiver also has circuitry to separate the information signal from the carrier wave. It prepares it for output to a device, such as speakers or a display screen. The output is the information signal originally introduced into the transmitter.

A common receiver is the super heterodyne receiver. As with any receiver, it must amplify the desired radio frequency captured by the antenna since it is weak from traveling through the atmosphere. An oscillator in the receiver is used to compare and select the desired frequency out of all of the frequencies picked up by the antenna. The undesired frequencies are sent to ground.

A local oscillator in the receiver produces a frequency that is different than the radio frequency of the carrier wave. These two frequencies are mixed in the mixer. Four frequencies result from this mixing. They are the radio frequency, the local oscillator frequency, and the sum and difference of these two frequencies. The sum and difference frequencies contain the information signal.

The frequency that is the difference between the local oscillator frequency and the radio frequency carrier wave frequency is used during the remaining processing. In VHF aircraft communication radios, this frequency is 10.8 MHz. Called the intermediate frequency, it is amplified before it is sent to the detector. The detector, or demodulator, is where the information signal is separated from the carrier wave portion of the signal. In AM, since both sidebands contain the useful information, the signal is rectified leaving just one sideband with a weak version of the original transmitter input signal. In FM receivers, the varying frequency is changed to a varying amplitude signal at this point. Finally, amplification occurs for the output device. [Figure 11-85]

Figure 11-85. The basic stages used in a receiver to produce an output from a radio wave.

Figure 11-85. The basic stages used in a receiver to produce an output from a radio wave.

Over the years, with the development of transistors, microtransistors, and integrated circuits, radio transmitters and receivers have become smaller. Electronic bays were established on older aircraft as remote locations to mount radio devices simply because they would not fit in the flight deck. Today, many avionics devices are small enough to be mounted in the instrument panel, which is customary on most light aircraft. Because of the number of communication and navigation aids, as well as the need to present an uncluttered interface to the pilot, most complicated aircraft retain an area away from the flight deck for the mounting of avionics. The control heads of these units remain on the flight deck.


A transceiver is a communication radio that transmits and receives. The same frequency is used for both. When transmitting, the receiver does not function. The push to talk (PTT) switch blocks the receiving circuitry and allows the transmitter circuitry to be active. In a transceiver, some of the circuitry is shared by the transmitting and receiving functions of the device. So is the antenna. This saves space and the number of components used. Transceivers are half duplex systems where communication can occur in both directions but only one party can speak while the other must listen. VHF aircraft communication radios are usually transceivers. [Figure 11-86]

Figure 11-86. VHF aircraft communication transceivers.

Figure 11-86. VHF aircraft communication transceivers.