Radio wave propagation

Share on Google+Share on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TwitterShare on DiggShare on Stumble Upon
Custom Search



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

  • State what the electromagnetic field is and what components make up the electromagnetic field.
  • State the difference between the induction field and the radiation field.
  • State what radio waves are.
  • List the components of a radio wave and define the terms cycle, frequency, harmonics, period, wavelength, and velocity as applied to radio wave propagation.
  • Compute the wavelength of radio waves.
  • State how radio waves are polarized, vertically and horizontally.
  • State what reflection, refraction, and diffraction are as applied to radio waves.
  • State what influence the Earth's atmosphere has on radio waves and list the different layers of the Earth's atmosphere.
  • Identify a ground wave, a sky wave, and state the effects of the ionosphere on the sky wave.
  • Identify the structure of the ionosphere.
  • Define density of layer, frequency, angle of incidence, skip distance, and skip zone.
  • Describe propagation paths.
  • Describe fading, multipath fading, and selective fading. Describe propagation paths.
  • State how transmission losses affect radio wave propagation.
  • State how electromagnetic interference, man-made/natural interference, and ionospheric disturbances affect radio wave propagation. State how transmission losses affect radio wave propagation.
  • Identify variations in the ionosphere.
  • Identify the maximum, optimum, and lowest usable frequencies of radio waves.
  • State what temperature inversion is, how frequency predictions are made, and how weather affects frequency.
  • State what tropospheric scatter is and how it affects radio wave propagation.


The way energy is propagated into free space is a source of great dispute among people concerned with it. Although many theories have been proposed, the following theory adequately explains the phenomena and has been widely accepted. There are two basic fields associated with every antenna; an INDUCTION FIELD and a RADIATION FIELD. The field associated with the energy stored in the antenna is the induction field. This field is said to provide no part in the transmission of electromagnetic energy through free space. However, without the presence of the induction field, there would be no energy radiated.


Figure 2-1, a low-frequency generator connected to an antenna, will help you understand how the induction field is produced. Let's follow the generator through one cycle of operation.

Figure 2-1. - Induction field about an antenna.

NTX2-1.GIF (3570 bytes)

Initially, you can consider that the generator output is zero and that no fields exist about the antenna, as shown in view A. Now assume that the generator produces a slight potential and has the instantaneous polarity shown in view B. Because of this slight potential, the antenna capacitance acts as a short, allowing a large flow of current (I) through the antenna in the direction shown. This current flow, in turn, produces a large magnetic field about the antenna. Since the flow of current at each end of the antenna is minimum, the corresponding magnetic fields at each end of the antenna are also minimum. As time passes, charges, which oppose antenna current and produce an electrostatic field (E field), collect at each end of the antenna. Eventually, the antenna capacitance becomes fully charged and stops current flow through the antenna. Under this condition, the electrostatic field is maximum, and the magnetic field (H field) is fully collapsed, as shown in view C.

As the generator potential decreases back to zero, the potential of the antenna begins to discharge. During the discharging process, the electrostatic field collapses and the direction of current flow reverses, as shown in view D. When the current again begins to flow, an associated magnetic field is generated. Eventually, the electrostatic field completely collapses, the generator potential reverses, and current is maximum, as shown in view E. As charges collect at each end of the antenna, an electrostatic field is produced and current flow decreases. This causes the magnetic field to begin collapsing. The collapsing magnetic field produces more current flow, a greater accumulation of charge, and a greater electrostatic field. The antenna gradually reaches the condition shown in view F, where current is zero and the collected charges are maximum.

As the generator potential again decreases toward zero, the antenna begins to discharge and the electrostatic field begins to collapse. When the generator potential reaches zero, discharge current is maximum and the associated magnetic field is maximum. A brief time later, generator potential reverses, and the condition shown in view B recurs.

NOTE: The electric field (E field) and the electrostatic field (E field) are the same. They will be used interchangeably throughout this text.

The graph shown in figure 2-2 shows the relationship between the magnetic (H) field and the electric (E) field plotted against time. Note that the two fields are 90 degrees out of phase with each other. If you compare the graph in figure 2-2 with figure 2-1, you will notice that the two fields around the antenna are displaced 90 degrees from each other in space. (The H field exists in a plane perpendicular to the antenna. The E field exists in a plane parallel with the antenna, as shown in figure 2-1.)

Figure 2-2. - Phase relationship of induction field components.

All the energy supplied to the induction field is returned to the antenna by the collapsing E and H fields. No energy from the induction field is radiated from the antenna. Therefore, the induction field is considered a local field and plays no part in the transmission of electromagnetic energy. The induction field represents only the stored energy in the antenna and is responsible only for the resonant effects that the antenna reflects to the generator.


The E and H fields that are set up in the transfer of energy through space are known collectively as the radiation field. This radiation field is responsible for electromagnetic radiation from the antenna. The radiation field decreases as the distance from the antenna is increased. Because the decrease is linear, the radiation field reaches great distances from the antenna.

Let's look at a half-wave antenna to illustrate how this radiation actually takes place. Simply stated, a half-wave antenna is one that has an electrical length equal to half the wavelength of the signal being transmitted. Assume, for example, that a transmitter is operating at 30 megahertz. If a half-wave antenna is used with the transmitter, the antenna's electrical length would have to be at least 16 feet long. (The formula used to compute the electrical length of an antenna will be explained in chapter 4.) When power is delivered to the half-wave antenna, both an induction field and a radiation field are set up by the fluctuating energy. At the antenna, the intensities of these fields are proportional to the amount of power delivered to the antenna from a source such as a transmitter. At a short distance from the antenna and beyond, only the radiation field exists. This radiation field is made up of an electric component and a magnetic component at right angles to each other in space and varying together in intensity.

With a high-frequency generator (a transmitter) connected to the antenna, the induction field is produced as described in the previous section. However, the generator potential reverses before the electrostatic field has had time to collapse completely. The reversed generator potential neutralizes the remaining antenna charges, leaving a resultant E field in space.

Figure 2-3 is a simple picture of an E field detaching itself from an antenna. (The H field will not be considered, although it is present.) In view A the voltage is maximum and the electric field has maximum intensity. The lines of force begin at the end of the antenna that is positively charged and extend to the end of the antenna that is negatively charged. Note that the outer E lines are stretched away from the inner lines. This is because of the repelling force that takes place between lines of force in the same direction. As the voltage drops (view B), the separated charges come together, and the ends of the lines move toward the center of the antenna. But, since lines of force in the same direction repel each other, the centers of the lines are still being held out.

Figure 2-3. - Radiation from an antenna.

As the voltage approaches zero (view B), some of the lines collapse back into the antenna. At the same time, the ends of other lines begin to come together to form a complete loop. Notice the direction of these lines of force next to the antenna in view C. At this point the voltage on the antenna is zero. As the charge starts to build up in the opposite direction (view D), electric lines of force again begin at the positive end of the antenna and stretch to the negative end of the antenna. These lines of force, being in the same direction as the sides of the closed loops next to the antenna, repel the closed loops and force them out into space at the speed of light. As these loops travel through space, they generate a magnetic field in phase with them.

Since each successive E field is generated with a polarity that is opposite the preceding E field (that is, the lines of force are opposite), an oscillating electric field is produced along the path of travel. When an electric field oscillates, a magnetic field having an intensity that varies directly with that of the E field is produced. The variations in magnetic field intensity, in turn, produce another E field. Thus, the two varying fields sustain each other, resulting in electromagnetic wave propagation.

During this radiation process, the E and H fields are in phase in time but physically displaced 90 degrees in space. Thus, the varying magnetic field produces a varying electric field; and the varying electric field, in turn, sustains the varying magnetic field. Each field supports the other, and neither can be propagated by itself. Figure 2-4 shows a comparison between the induction field and the radiation field.

Figure 2-4. - E and H components of induction and radiation fields.

Q.1 Which two composite fields (composed of E and H fields) are associated with every antenna? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.2 What composite field (composed of E and H fields) is found stored in the antenna? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.3 What composite field (composed of E and H fields) is propagated into free space? answer.gif (214 bytes)

Privacy Statement - Copyright Information. - Contact Us

comments powered by Disqus

Integrated Publishing, Inc.
9438 US Hwy 19N #311 Port Richey, FL 34668

Phone For Parts Inquiries: (727) 755-3260
Google +