Air stripline

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Air stripline is a form of electrical planar transmission line whereby a conductor in the form of a thin metal strip is suspended between two ground planes. The idea is to make the dielectric essentially air. Mechanical support of the line may be a thin substrate, periodical insulated supports, or the device connectors and other electrical items.

Planar transmission line Transmission lines with flat ribbon-like conducting or dielectric lines

Planar transmission lines are transmission lines with conductors, or in some cases dielectric (insulating) strips, that are flat, ribbon-shaped lines. They are used to interconnect components on printed circuits and integrated circuits working at microwave frequencies because the planar type fits in well with the manufacturing methods for these components. Transmission lines are more than simple interconnections. With simple interconnections, the propagation of the electromagnetic wave along the wire is fast enough to be considered instantaneous, and the voltages at each end of the wire can be considered identical. If the wire is longer than a large fraction of a wavelength, these assumptions are no longer true and transmission line theory must be used instead. With transmission lines, the geometry of the line is precisely controlled so that its electrical behaviour is highly predictable. At lower frequencies, these considerations are only necessary for the cables connecting different pieces of equipment, but at microwave frequencies the distance at which transmission line theory becomes necessary is measured in millimetres. Hence, transmission lines are needed within circuits.

Ground plane

In electrical engineering, a ground plane is an electrically conductive surface, usually connected to electrical ground. The term has two different meanings in separate areas of electrical engineering. In antenna theory, a ground plane is a conducting surface large in comparison to the wavelength, such as the Earth, which is connected to the transmitter's ground wire and serves as a reflecting surface for radio waves. In printed circuit boards, a ground plane is a large area of copper foil on the board which is connected to the power supply ground terminal and serves as a return path for current from different components on the board.

Dielectric electrically poorly conducting or non-conducting, non-metallic substance of which charge carriers are generally not free to move

A dielectric is an electrical insulator that can be polarized by an applied electric field. When a dielectric is placed in an electric field, electric charges do not flow through the material as they do in an electrical conductor but only slightly shift from their average equilibrium positions causing dielectric polarization. Because of dielectric polarization, positive charges are displaced in the direction of the field and negative charges shift in the opposite direction. This creates an internal electric field that reduces the overall field within the dielectric itself. If a dielectric is composed of weakly bonded molecules, those molecules not only become polarized, but also reorient so that their symmetry axes align to the field.


Air stripline is most commonly used at microwave frequencies, especially in the C band. Its advantage over standard stripline and other planar technologies is that its air dielectric avoids dielectric loss. Many useful circuits can be constructed with air stripline and it is also easier to achieve strong coupling between components in this technology than with other planar formats. It was invented by Robert M. Barrett in the 1950s.

Microwave form of electromagnetic radiation

Microwaves are a form of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths ranging from about one meter to one millimeter; with frequencies between 300 MHz (1 m) and 300 GHz (1 mm). Different sources define different frequency ranges as microwaves; the above broad definition includes both UHF and EHF bands. A more common definition in radio engineering is the range between 1 and 100 GHz. In all cases, microwaves include the entire SHF band at minimum. Frequencies in the microwave range are often referred to by their IEEE radar band designations: S, C, X, Ku, K, or Ka band, or by similar NATO or EU designations.

C band (IEEE) 4-8GHz

The C band is a designation by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) for a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum in the microwave range of frequencies ranging from 4.0 to 8.0 gigahertz (GHz); however, this definition is the one used by radar manufacturers and users, not necessarily by microwave radio telecommunications users. The C band is used for many satellite communications transmissions, some Wi-Fi devices, some cordless telephones as well as some surveillance and weather radar systems.

Dielectric loss quantifies a dielectric material's inherent dissipation of electromagnetic energy. It can be parameterized in terms of either the loss angleδ or the corresponding loss tangent tan δ. Both refer to the phasor in the complex plane whose real and imaginary parts are the resistive (lossy) component of an electromagnetic field and its reactive (lossless) counterpart.


Diagram of the structure of dielectric supported air stripline Air stripline structure.svg
Diagram of the structure of dielectric supported air stripline

Air stripline is a form of stripline using air as the dielectric material between the central conductor and the ground planes. Using air as the dielectric has the advantage that it avoids the transmission losses usually associated with dielectric materials. [1]

Stripline transverse electromagnetic (TEM) transmission line

Stripline is a transverse electromagnetic (TEM) transmission line medium invented by Robert M. Barrett of the Air Force Cambridge Research Centre in the 1950s. Stripline is the earliest form of planar transmission line.

Transmission loss (TL) in general describes the accumulated decrease in intensity of a waveform energy as a wave propagates outwards from a source, or as it propagates through a certain area or through a certain type of structure.

There are two basic ways that air stripline is constructed. In dielectric supported stripline, also called suspended stripline or suspended substrate, the strip conductor is deposited on a thin solid dielectric substrate, sometimes on both sides and connected together to form a single conductor. [2] This substrate is then clamped in place between the walls supporting the two ground planes. In this method the strip can be manufactured by printed circuit techniques making it cheap and leading to the further advantage that other components can be printed on the dielectric in the same operation. The purpose of the solid dielectric is mechanical support for the conductor, [3] but it is made as thin as possible to minimise its electrical effect. The flimsy nature of the substrate means that it can easily be distorted. Because of this, the design needs to take account of thermal stability issues. [4] High end designs may use a crystalline substrate, such as boron nitride or sapphire, as the suspended substrate. [5]

Boron nitride chemical compound

Boron nitride is a heat and chemically resistant refractory compound of boron and nitrogen with the chemical formula BN. It exists in various crystalline forms that are isoelectronic to a similarly structured carbon lattice. The hexagonal form corresponding to graphite is the most stable and soft among BN polymorphs, and is therefore used as a lubricant and an additive to cosmetic products. The cubic variety analogous to diamond is called c-BN; it is softer than diamond, but its thermal and chemical stability is superior. The rare wurtzite BN modification is similar to lonsdaleite and may even be harder than the cubic form.

Sapphire gemstone, colored corundum variety (but red ones are named ruby, violet ones oriental amethyst)

Sapphire is a precious gemstone, a variety of the mineral corundum, consisting of aluminium oxide (α-Al2O3) with trace amounts of elements such as iron, titanium, chromium, copper, or magnesium. It is typically blue, but natural "fancy" sapphires also occur in yellow, purple, orange, and green colors; "parti sapphires" show two or more colors. The only color corundum stone that the term sapphire is not used for is red, which is called a ruby. Pink colored corundum may be either classified as ruby or sapphire depending on locale. Commonly, natural sapphires are cut and polished into gemstones and worn in jewelry. They also may be created synthetically in laboratories for industrial or decorative purposes in large crystal boules. Because of the remarkable hardness of sapphires – 9 on the Mohs scale (the third hardest mineral, after diamond at 10 and moissanite at 9.5) – sapphires are also used in some non-ornamental applications, such as infrared optical components, high-durability windows, wristwatch crystals and movement bearings, and very thin electronic wafers, which are used as the insulating substrates of very special-purpose solid-state electronics (especially integrated circuits and GaN-based LEDs).

The other method of construction uses a more substantial solid metal bar as the strip, supported on periodically spaced insulators. This method may be more suitable for high power applications. In such applications the corners of the conductor cross-section may be rounded to prevent high field intensities and arcing occurring at those points. [6] The insulators are electrically undesirable; they detract from the goal of having a purely air dielectric, add discontinuities to the line, and are potentially a point at which tracking can occur. In some components, there are points at which the lines need to be grounded, either directly or through a discrete component. In such circuits these grounding points can double as mechanical supports and the need for supporting insulators avoided. [7]

Electrical treeing

In electrical engineering, treeing is an electrical pre-breakdown phenomenon in solid insulation. It is a damaging process due to partial discharges and progresses through the stressed dielectric insulation, in a path resembling the branches of a tree. Treeing of solid high-voltage cable insulation is a common breakdown mechanism and source of electrical faults in underground power cables.


Examples of structures possible with air stripline: directional coupler (top left), branch-line coupler (top right), coupled-line bandpass filter (bottom left), and hybrid ring power splitter (bottom right) Air stripline examples.svg
Examples of structures possible with air stripline: directional coupler (top left), branch-line coupler (top right), coupled-line bandpass filter (bottom left), and hybrid ring power splitter (bottom right)

Air stripline finds its greatest use at microwave frequencies in the C band (4–8 GHz). At these frequencies and below [8] it has the advantage of compactness over waveguide. Air stripline can be used outside the C band, but at the higher Ku band (12–18 GHz) waveguide tends to dominate because of its lower loss. [9]

Waveguide structure that guides waves, typically electromagnetic waves

A waveguide is a structure that guides waves, such as electromagnetic waves or sound, with minimal loss of energy by restricting expansion to one dimension or two. There is a similar effect in water waves constrained within a canal, or guns that have barrels which restrict hot gas expansion to maximize energy transfer to their bullets. Without the physical constraint of a waveguide, wave amplitudes decrease according to the inverse square law as they expand into three dimensional space.

The Ku band is the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum in the microwave range of frequencies from 12 to 18 gigahertz (GHz). The symbol is short for "K-under", because it is the lower part of the original NATO K band, which was split into three bands because of the presence of the atmospheric water vapor resonance peak at 22.24 GHz, (1.35 cm) which made the center unusable for long range transmission. In radar applications, it ranges from 12-18 GHz according to the formal definition of radar frequency band nomenclature in IEEE Standard 521-2002.

At microwave frequencies, passive circuits such as filters, power dividers and directional couplers tend to be constructed as distributed element circuits. These circuits can be constructed using any transmission line format. The coaxial line format commonly used for interconnecting devices has been used for this kind of device construction but is not the most convenient format for manufacturing. Stripline was developed as a better solution for circuit construction and air stripline too fills this role. [10] Air stripline is particularly useful in the C band for creating beam forming networks from these components. [11]

Air stripline can achieve strong indirect coupling in these components more easily than other planar formats. In standard stripline, coupling is usually achieved by running the lines side-by-side for a distance. Coupling between the edges of the lines in this way is relatively weak and is limited by the closest distance the lines can be set together. This limit is governed by the maximum resolution of the printing process and, in power applications, by the electric field strength between the lines. For this reason, stripline parallel coupled lines are used in directional couplers with a coupling factor no more than −10 dB. Power splitters, with their coupling factor −3 dB, use a direct coupling technique. Air stripline makes use of an alternative arrangement, with lines stacked one atop of the other. This broadside coupling is much stronger than edge coupling so the lines do not need to be so close to achieve the same coupling factor. In dielectric supported stripline, this can be achieved by printing the two lines on opposite sides of the dielectric. Broadside coupling can, of course, be achieved in solid dielectric filled stripline as well with buried line techniques, but that requires additional dielectric layers and additional manufacturing processes. Another technique available to air stripline to increase coupling is the use of thick rectangular strips to increase side coupling. This also makes mechanical support easier because the lines are more rigid. [12]


Stripline was invented by Robert M Barrett of the US Air Force Cambridge Research Center in the early 1950s. Air stripline under the registered mark Stripline was first manufactured commercially by Airborne Instruments Laboratory (AIL) in the form of suspended stripline. However, stripline has since become a generic term for that structure with any dielectric. The unadorned term stripline would now likely be assumed to mean stripline with a solid dielectric. Early on, stripline was the planar technology of choice, but has now been superseded by microstrip for most general purpose applications, especially mass-produced items. [13]

Related Research Articles

Transmission line specialized cable or other structure designed to carry alternating current of radio frequency

In radio-frequency engineering, a transmission line is a specialized cable or other structure designed to conduct alternating current of radio frequency, that is, currents with a frequency high enough that their wave nature must be taken into account. Transmission lines are used for purposes such as connecting radio transmitters and receivers with their antennas, distributing cable television signals, trunklines routing calls between telephone switching centres, computer network connections and high speed computer data buses.

Microstrip electrical transmission line for microwave-frequency signals on printed circuit board

Microstrip is a type of electrical transmission line which can be fabricated using printed circuit board technology, and is used to convey microwave-frequency signals. It consists of a conducting strip separated from a ground plane by a dielectric layer known as the substrate. Microwave components such as antennas, couplers, filters, power dividers etc. can be formed from microstrip, with the entire device existing as the pattern of metallization on the substrate. Microstrip is thus much less expensive than traditional waveguide technology, as well as being far lighter and more compact. Microstrip was developed by ITT laboratories as a competitor to stripline.

Stub (electronics) short electrical transmission line

In microwave and radio-frequency engineering, a stub or resonant stub is a length of transmission line or waveguide that is connected at one end only. The free end of the stub is either left open-circuit or short-circuited. Neglecting transmission line losses, the input impedance of the stub is purely reactive; either capacitive or inductive, depending on the electrical length of the stub, and on whether it is open or short circuit. Stubs may thus function as capacitors, inductors and resonant circuits at radio frequencies.

Unbalanced line

In electrical engineering, an unbalanced line is a transmission line, often coaxial cable, whose conductors have unequal impedances with respect to ground; as opposed to a balanced line. Microstrip and single-wire lines are also unbalanced lines.

Waveguide (electromagnetism) waveguide for the transmission of electromagnetic waves; linear structure that conveys electromagnetic waves between its endpoints

In electromagnetics and communications engineering, the term waveguide may refer to any linear structure that conveys electromagnetic waves between its endpoints. However, the original and most common meaning is a hollow metal pipe used to carry radio waves. This type of waveguide is used as a transmission line mostly at microwave frequencies, for such purposes as connecting microwave transmitters and receivers to their antennas, in equipment such as microwave ovens, radar sets, satellite communications, and microwave radio links.

The spurline is a type of radio-frequency and microwave distributed element filter with band-stop (notch) characteristics, most commonly used with microstrip transmission lines. Spurlines usually exhibit moderate to narrow-band rejection, at about 10% around the central frequency.

Power dividers and directional couplers

Power dividers and directional couplers are passive devices used mostly in the field of radio technology. They couple a defined amount of the electromagnetic power in a transmission line to a port enabling the signal to be used in another circuit. An essential feature of directional couplers is that they only couple power flowing in one direction. Power entering the output port is coupled to the isolated port but not to the coupled port. A directional coupler designed to split power equally between two ports is called a hybrid coupler.

Radio frequency (RF) and microwave filters represent a class of electronic filter, designed to operate on signals in the megahertz to gigahertz frequency ranges. This frequency range is the range used by most broadcast radio, television, wireless communication, and thus most RF and microwave devices will include some kind of filtering on the signals transmitted or received. Such filters are commonly used as building blocks for duplexers and diplexers to combine or separate multiple frequency bands.

A dielectric resonator antenna (DRA) is a radio antenna mostly used at microwave frequencies and higher, that consists of a block of ceramic material of various shapes, the dielectric resonator, mounted on a metal surface, a ground plane. Radio waves are introduced into the inside of the resonator material from the transmitter circuit and bounce back and forth between the resonator walls, forming standing waves. The walls of the resonator are partially transparent to radio waves, allowing the radio power to radiate into space.

Phase shift module

A phase shift module is a microwave network module which provides a controllable phase shift of the RF signal. Phase shifters are used in phased arrays.

A quarter-wave impedance transformer, often written as λ/4 impedance transformer, is a transmission line or waveguide used in electrical engineering of length one-quarter wavelength (λ), terminated with some known impedance. It presents at its input the dual of the impedance with which it is terminated.

Distributed element filter

A distributed element filter is an electronic filter in which capacitance, inductance and resistance are not localised in discrete capacitors, inductors and resistors as they are in conventional filters. Its purpose is to allow a range of signal frequencies to pass, but to block others. Conventional filters are constructed from inductors and capacitors, and the circuits so built are described by the lumped element model, which considers each element to be "lumped together" at one place. That model is conceptually simple, but it becomes increasingly unreliable as the frequency of the signal increases, or equivalently as the wavelength decreases. The distributed element model applies at all frequencies, and is used in transmission line theory; many distributed element components are made of short lengths of transmission line. In the distributed view of circuits, the elements are distributed along the length of conductors and are inextricably mixed together. The filter design is usually concerned only with inductance and capacitance, but because of this mixing of elements they cannot be treated as separate "lumped" capacitors and inductors. There is no precise frequency above which distributed element filters must be used but they are especially associated with the microwave band.

Metamaterial antenna

Metamaterial antennas are a class of antennas which use metamaterials to increase performance of miniaturized antenna systems. Their purpose, as with any electromagnetic antenna, is to launch energy into free space. However, this class of antenna incorporates metamaterials, which are materials engineered with novel, often microscopic, structures to produce unusual physical properties. Antenna designs incorporating metamaterials can step-up the antenna's radiated power.

Waveguide filter electronic filter that is constructed with waveguide technology

A waveguide filter is an electronic filter that is constructed with waveguide technology. Waveguides are hollow metal tubes inside which an electromagnetic wave may be transmitted. Filters are devices used to allow signals at some frequencies to pass, while others are rejected. Filters are a basic component of electronic engineering designs and have numerous applications. These include selection of signals and limitation of noise. Waveguide filters are most useful in the microwave band of frequencies, where they are a convenient size and have low loss. Examples of microwave filter use are found in satellite communications, telephone networks, and television broadcasting.

A via fence, also called a picket fence, is a structure used in planar electronic circuit technologies to improve isolation between components which would otherwise be coupled by electromagnetic fields. It consists of a row of via holes which, if spaced close enough together, form a barrier to electromagnetic wave propagation of slab modes in the substrate. Additionally if radiation in the air above the board is also to be suppressed, then a strip pad with via fence allows a shielding can to be electrically attached to the top side, but electrically behave as if it continued through the PCB.

Coplanar waveguide

Coplanar waveguide is a type of electrical planar transmission line which can be fabricated using printed circuit board technology, and is used to convey microwave-frequency signals. On a smaller scale, coplanar waveguide transmission lines are also built into monolithic microwave integrated circuits. Conventional coplanar waveguide (CPW) consists of a single conducting track printed onto a dielectric substrate, together with a pair of return conductors, one to either side of the track. All three conductors are on the same side of the substrate, and hence are coplanar. The return conductors are separated from the central track by a small gap, which has an unvarying width along the length of the line. Away from the cental conductor, the return conductors usually extend to an indefinite but large distance, so that each is notionally a semi-infinite plane.

Distributed element circuit

Distributed element circuits are electrical circuits composed of lengths of transmission lines or other distributed components. These circuits perform the same functions as conventional circuits composed of passive components, such as capacitors, inductors, and transformers. They are used mostly at microwave frequencies, where conventional components are difficult to implement.


  1. Maichen, pp. 87–88
  2. Oliner, p. 557–558
  3. Rosloniec, p. 253
  4. Han & Hwang, p. 21-60
  5. Bhat & Koul, p. 302
  6. Han & Hwang, p. 21-60
    • Matthaei et al., p. 172–173
  7. Matthaei et al., pp. 422–423
  8. Pradhan & Barrow, 1977 for instance
  9. Han & Hwang, pp. 21–7, 21–50
  10. Besser & Gilmore, pp. 49-50
  11. Han & Hwang, p. 21-50
  12. Bhat & Koul, pp. 212, 280–287, 302–311
  13. Oliner, pp. 557–558