transmitter to the point where the sky wave is first returned to Earth. The size of the skip distance depends on the frequency of the wave, the angle of incidence, and the degree of ionization present. ">

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Skip Distance/Skip Zone

In figure 2-19, note the relationship between the sky wave skip distance, the skip zone, and the ground wave coverage. The SKIP DISTANCE is the distance from the transmitter to the point where the sky wave is first returned to Earth. The size of the skip distance depends on the frequency of the wave, the angle of incidence, and the degree of ionization present.

Figure 2-19. - Relationship between skip zone, skip distance, and ground wave.

The SKIP ZONE is a zone of silence between the point where the ground wave becomes too weak for reception and the point where the sky wave is first returned to Earth. The size of the skip zone depends on the extent of the ground wave coverage and the skip distance. When the ground wave coverage is great enough or the skip distance is short enough that no zone of silence occurs, there is no skip zone.

Occasionally, the first sky wave will return to Earth within the range of the ground wave. If the sky wave and ground wave are nearly of equal intensity, the sky wave alternately reinforces and cancels the ground wave, causing severe fading. This is caused by the phase difference between the two waves, a result of the longer path traveled by the sky wave.


The path that a refracted wave follows to the receiver depends on the angle at which the wave strikes the ionosphere. You should remember, however, that the rf energy radiated by a transmitting antenna spreads out with distance. The energy therefore strikes the ionosphere at many different angles rather than a single angle.

After the rf energy of a given frequency enters an ionospheric region, the paths that this energy might follow are many. It may reach the receiving antenna via two or more paths through a single layer. It may also, reach the receiving antenna over a path involving more than one layer, by multiple hops between the ionosphere and Earth, or by any combination of these paths.

Figure 2-20 shows how radio waves may reach a receiver via several paths through one layer. The various angles at which rf energy strikes the layer are represented by dark lines and designated as rays 1 through 6.

Figure 2-20. - Ray paths for a fixed frequency with varying angles of incidence.

When the angle is relatively low with respect to the horizon (ray 1), there is only slight penetration of the layer and the propagation path is long. When the angle of incidence is increased (rays 2 and 3), the rays penetrate deeper into the layer but the range of these rays decreases. When a certain angle is reached (ray 3), the penetration of the layer and rate of refraction are such that the ray is first returned to Earth at a minimal distance from the transmitter. Notice, however, that ray 3 still manages to reach the receiving site on its second refraction (called a hop) from the ionospheric layer.

As the angle is increased still more (rays 4 and 5), the rf energy penetrates the central area of maximum ionization of the layer. These rays are refracted rather slowly and are eventually returned to Earth at great distances. As the angle approaches vertical incidence (ray 6), the ray is not returned at all, but passes on through the layer.


Many factors affect a radio wave in its path between the transmitting and receiving sites. The factor that has the greatest adverse effect on radio waves is ABSORPTION. Absorption results in the loss of energy of a radio wave and has a pronounced effect on both the strength of received signals and the ability to communicate over long distances.

You learned earlier in the section on ground waves that surface waves suffer most of their absorption losses because of ground-induced voltage. Sky waves, on the other hand, suffer most of their absorption losses because of conditions in the ionosphere. Note that some absorption of sky waves may also occur at lower atmospheric levels because of the presence of water and water vapor. However, this becomes important only at frequencies above 10,000 megahertz.

Most ionospheric absorption occurs in the lower regions of the ionosphere where ionization density is greatest. As a radio wave passes into the ionosphere, it loses some of its energy to the free electrons and ions. If these high-energy free electrons and ions do not collide with gas molecules of low energy, most of the energy lost by the radio wave is reconverted into electromagnetic energy, and the wave continues to be propagated with little change in intensity. However, if the high-energy free electrons and ions do collide with other particles, much of this energy is lost, resulting in absorption of the energy from the wave. Since absorption of energy depends on collision of the particles, the greater the density of the ionized layer, the greater the probability of collisions; therefore, the greater the absorption. The highly dense D and E layers provide the greatest absorption of radio waves.

Because the amount of absorption of the sky wave depends on the density of the ionosphere, which varies with seasonal and daily conditions, it is impossible to express a fixed relationship between distance and signal strength for ionospheric propagation. Under certain conditions, the absorption of energy is so great that communicating over any distance beyond the line of sight is difficult.


The most troublesome and frustrating problem in receiving radio signals is variations in signal strength, most commonly known as FADING. There are several conditions that can produce fading. When a radio wave is refracted by the ionosphere or reflected from the Earth's surface, random changes in the polarization of the wave may occur. Vertically and horizontally mounted receiving antennas are designed to receive vertically and horizontally polarized waves, respectively. Therefore, changes in polarization cause changes in the received signal level because of the inability of the antenna to receive polarization changes.

Fading also results from absorption of the rf energy in the ionosphere. Absorption fading occurs for a longer period than other types of fading, since absorption takes place slowly.

Usually, however, fading on ionospheric circuits is mainly a result of multipath propagation.

Multipath Fading

MULTIPATH is simply a term used to describe the multiple paths a radio wave may follow between transmitter and receiver. Such propagation paths include the ground wave, ionospheric refraction, reradiation by the ionospheric layers, reflection from the Earth's surface or from more than one ionospheric layer, etc. Figure 2-21 shows a few of the paths that a signal can travel between two sites in a typical circuit. One path, XYZ, is the basic ground wave. Another path, XEA, refracts the wave at the E layer and passes it on to the receiver at A. Still another path, XFZFA, results from a greater angle of incidence and two refractions from the F layer. At point Z, the received signal is a combination of the ground wave and the sky wave. These two signals having traveled different paths arrive at point Z at different times. Thus, the arriving waves may or may not be in phase with each other. Radio waves that are received in phase reinforce each other and produce a stronger signal at the receiving site. Conversely, those that are received out of phase produce a weak or fading signal. Small alternations in the transmission path may change the phase relationship of the two signals, causing periodic fading. This condition occurs at point A. At this point, the double-hop F layer signal may be in or out of phase with the signal arriving from the E layer.

Figure 2-21. - Multipath transmission.

Multipath fading may be minimized by practices called SPACE DIVERSITY and FREQUENCY DIVERSITY. In space diversity, two or more receiving antennas are spaced some distance apart. Fading does not occur simultaneously at both antennas; therefore, enough output is almost always available from one of the antennas to provide a useful signal. In frequency diversity, two transmitters and two receivers are used, each pair tuned to a different frequency, with the same information being transmitted simultaneously over both frequencies. One of the two receivers will almost always provide a useful signal.

Selective Fading

Fading resulting from multipath propagation is variable with frequency since each frequency arrives at the receiving point via a different radio path. When a wide band of frequencies is transmitted simultaneously, each frequency will vary in the amount of fading. This variation is called SELECTIVE FADING. When selective fading occurs, all frequencies of the transmitted signal do not retain their original phases and relative amplitudes. This fading causes severe distortion of the signal and limits the total signal transmitted.

Q.23 What is the skip zone of a radio wave? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.24 Where does the greatest amount of ionospheric absorption occur in the ionosphere? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.25 What is meant by the term "multipath"?answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.26 When a wide band of frequencies is transmitted simultaneously, each frequency will vary in the amount of fading. What is this variable fading called? answer.gif (214 bytes)

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