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Learning objectives are stated at the beginning of each chapter. These learning objectives serve as a preview of the information you are expected to learn in the chapter. The comprehensive check questions are based on the objectives. By successfully completing the NRTC, you indicate that you have met the objectives and have learned the information. The learning objectives are listed below.

Upon completion of this chapter, you should be able to:

  • State what wave motion is, define the terms reflection, refraction, and diffraction, and describe the Doppler effect.
  • State what sound waves are and define a propagating medium.
  • List and define terms as applied to sound waves, such as cycle, frequency, wavelength, and velocity.
  • List the three requirements for sound.
  • Define pitch, intensity, loudness, and quality and their application to sound waves.
  • State the acoustical effects that echoes, reverberation, resonance, and noise have on sound waves.
  • Define light waves and list their characteristics.
  • List the various colors of light and define the terms reflection, refraction, diffusion, and absorption as applied to light waves.
  • State the difference between sound waves and light waves.
  • State the electromagnetic wave theory and list the components of the electromagnetic wave.


Of the many technical subjects that naval personnel are expected to know, probably the one least susceptible to change is the theory of wave propagation. The basic principles that enable waves to be propagated (transmitted) through space are the same today as they were 70 years ago. One would think, then, that a thorough understanding of these principles is a relatively simple task. For the electrical engineer or the individual with a natural curiosity for the unknown, it is indeed a simple task. Most technicians, however, tend to view wave propagation as something complex and confusing, and would just as soon see this chapter completely disappear from training manuals. This attitude undoubtedly stems from the fact that wave propagation is an invisible force that cannot be detected by the sense of sight or touch. Understanding wave propagation requires the use of the imagination to visualize the associated concepts and how they are used in practical application. This manual was developed to help you visualize and understand those concepts. Through ample use of illustrations and a step-by-step transition from the simple to the complex, we will help you develop a better understanding of wave propagation. In this chapter, we will discuss propagation theory on an introductory level, without going into the technical details that concern the engineer. However, you must still use thought and imagination to understand the new ideas and concepts as they are presented.

To understand radio wave propagation, you must first learn what wave propagation is and some of the basic physics or properties that affect propagation. Many of these properties are common everyday occurrences, with which you are already familiar.


Early man was quick to recognize the need to communicate beyond the range of the human voice. To satisfy this need, he developed alternate methods of communication, such as hand gestures, beating on a hollow log, and smoke signals. Although these methods were effective, they were still greatly limited in range. Eventually, the range limitations were overcome by the development of courier and postal systems; but there was then a problem of speed. For centuries the time required for the delivery of a message depended on the speed of a horse.

During the latter part of the 19th century, both distance and time limitations were largely overcome. The invention of the telegraph made possible instantaneous communication over long wires. Then a short time later, man discovered how to transmit messages in the form of RADIO WAVES.

As you will learn in this chapter, radio waves are propagated. PROPAGATION means "movement through a medium." This is most easily illustrated by light rays. When a light is turned on in a darkened room, light rays travel from the light bulb throughout the room. When a flashlight is turned on, light rays also radiate from its bulb, but are focused into a narrow beam. You can use these examples to picture how radio waves propagate. Like the light in the room, radio waves may spread out in all directions. They can also be focused (concentrated) like the flashlight, depending upon the need. Radio waves are a form of radiant energy, similar to light and heat. Although they can neither be seen nor felt, their presence can be detected through the use of sensitive measuring devices. The speed at which both forms of waves travel is the same; they both travel at the speed of light.

You may wonder why you can see light but not radio waves, which consist of the same form of energy as light. The reason is that you can only "see" what your eyes can detect. Your eyes can detect radiant energy only within a fixed range of frequencies. Since the frequencies of radio waves are below the frequencies your eyes can detect, you cannot see radio waves.

The theory of wave propagation that we discuss in this module applies to Navy electronic equipment, such as radar, navigation, detection, and communication equipment. We will not discuss these individual systems in this module, but we will explain them in future modules.

Q.1 What is propagation? answer.gif (214 bytes)


All things on the earth - on the land, or in the water - are showered continually with waves of energy. Some of these waves stimulate our senses and can be seen, felt, or heard. For instance, we can see light, hear sound, and feel heat. However, there are some waves that do not stimulate our senses. For example, radio waves, such as those received by our portable radio or television sets, cannot be seen, heard, or felt. A device must be used to convert radio waves into light (TV pictures) and sound (audio) for us to sense them.

A WAVE can be defined as a DISTURBANCE (sound, light, radio waves) that moves through a MEDIUM (air, water, vacuum). To help you understand what is meant by "a disturbance which moves through a medium," picture the following illustration. You are standing in the middle of a wheat field. As the wind blows across the field toward you, you can see the wheat stalks bending and rising as the force of the wind moves into and across them. The wheat appears to be moving toward you, but it isn't. Instead, the stalks are actually moving back and forth. We can then say that the "medium "in this illustration is the wheat and the "disturbance " is the wind moving the stalks of wheat.

WAVE MOTION can be defined as a recurring disturbance advancing through space with or without the use of a physical medium. Wave motion, therefore, is a means of moving or transferring energy from one point to another point. For example, when sound waves strike a microphone, sound energy is converted into electrical energy. When light waves strike a phototransistor or radio waves strike an antenna, they are likewise converted into electrical energy. Therefore, sound, light, and radio waves are all forms of energy that are moved by wave motion. We will discuss sound waves, light waves, and radio waves later.

Q.2 How is a wave defined as it applies to wave propagation? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.3 What is wave motion? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.4 What are some examples of wave motion? answer.gif (214 bytes)


A type of wave motion familiar to almost everyone is the movement of waves in water. We will explain these waves first to help you understand wave motion and the terms used to describe it.

Basic wave motion can be shown by dropping a stone into a pool of water (see figure 1-1). As the stone enters the water, a surface disturbance is created, resulting in an expanding series of circular waves. Figure 1-2 is a diagram of this action. View A shows the falling stone just an instant before it strikes the water. View B shows the action taking place at the instant the stone strikes the surface, pushing the water that is around it upward and outward. In view C, the stone has sunk deeper into the water, which has closed violently over it causing some spray, while the leading wave has moved outward. An instant later, the stone has sunk out of sight, leaving the water disturbed as shown in view D. Here the leading wave has continued to move outward and is followed by a series of waves gradually diminishing in amplitude. Meanwhile, the disturbance at the original point of contact has gradually subsided.

Figure 1-1. - Formation of waves in water.

NTX1-1.GIF (10650 bytes)

Figure 1-2. - How a falling stone creates wave motion to the surface of water.

In this example, the water is not actually being moved outward by the motion of the waves, but up and down as the waves move outward. The up and down motion is transverse, or at right angles, to the outward motion of the waves. This type of wave motion is called TRANSVERSE WAVE MOTION.

Q.5 What type of wave motion is represented by the motion of water? answer.gif (214 bytes)

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