In radio communication and avionics a conformal antenna or conformal array is a flat radio antenna which is designed to conform or follow some prescribed shape,for example a flat curving antenna which is mounted on or embedded in a curved surface. Conformal antennas were developed in the 1980s as avionics antennas integrated into the curving skin of military aircraft to reduce aerodynamic drag, replacing conventional antenna designs which project from the aircraft surface. Military aircraft and missiles are the largest application of conformal antennas, but they are also used in some civilian aircraft, military ships and land vehicles. As the cost of the required processing technology comes down, they are being considered for use in civilian applications such as train antennas, car radio antennas, and cellular base station antennas, to save space and also to make the antenna less visually intrusive by integrating it into existing objects.
Avionics are the electronic systems used on aircraft, artificial satellites, and spacecraft. Avionic systems include communications, navigation, the display and management of multiple systems, and the hundreds of systems that are fitted to aircraft to perform individual functions. These can be as simple as a searchlight for a police helicopter or as complicated as the tactical system for an airborne early warning platform. The term avionics is a portmanteau of the words aviation and electronics.
In radio engineering, an antenna is the interface between radio waves propagating through space and electric currents moving in metal conductors, used with a transmitter or receiver. In transmission, a radio transmitter supplies an electric current to the antenna's terminals, and the antenna radiates the energy from the current as electromagnetic waves. In reception, an antenna intercepts some of the power of a radio wave in order to produce an electric current at its terminals, that is applied to a receiver to be amplified. Antennas are essential components of all radio equipment.
Conformal antennas are a form of phased array antenna. They are composed of an array of many identical small flat antenna elements, such as dipole, horn, or patch antennas, covering the surface. At each antenna the current from the transmitter passes through a phase shifter device which are all controlled by a microprocessor (computer). By controlling the phase of the feed current, the nondirectional radio waves emitted by the individual antennas can be made to combine in front of the antenna by the process of interference, forming a strong beam (or beams) of radio waves pointed in any desired direction. In a receiving antenna the weak individual radio signals received by each antenna element are combined in the correct phase to enhance signals coming from a particular direction, so the antenna can be made sensitive to the signal from a particular station and reject interfering signals from other directions.
In antenna theory, a phased array usually means an electronically scanned array, a computer-controlled array of antennas which creates a beam of radio waves that can be electronically steered to point in different directions without moving the antennas. In an array antenna, the radio frequency current from the transmitter is fed to the individual antennas with the correct phase relationship so that the radio waves from the separate antennas add together to increase the radiation in a desired direction, while cancelling to suppress radiation in undesired directions. In a phased array, the power from the transmitter is fed to the antennas through devices called phase shifters, controlled by a computer system, which can alter the phase electronically, thus steering the beam of radio waves to a different direction. Since the array must consist of many small antennas to achieve high gain, phased arrays are mainly practical at the high frequency end of the radio spectrum, in the UHF and microwave bands, in which the antenna elements are conveniently small.
In radio and telecommunications a dipole antenna or doublet is the simplest and most widely used class of antenna. The dipole is any one of a class of antennas producing a radiation pattern approximating that of an elementary electric dipole with a radiating structure supporting a line current so energized that the current has only one node at each end. A dipole antenna commonly consists of two identical conductive elements such as metal wires or rods. The driving current from the transmitter is applied, or for receiving antennas the output signal to the receiver is taken, between the two halves of the antenna. Each side of the feedline to the transmitter or receiver is connected to one of the conductors. This contrasts with a monopole antenna, which consists of a single rod or conductor with one side of the feedline connected to it, and the other side connected to some type of ground. A common example of a dipole is the "rabbit ears" television antenna found on broadcast television sets.
A horn antenna or microwave horn is an antenna that consists of a flaring metal waveguide shaped like a horn to direct radio waves in a beam. Horns are widely used as antennas at UHF and microwave frequencies, above 300 MHz. They are used as feed antennas for larger antenna structures such as parabolic antennas, as standard calibration antennas to measure the gain of other antennas, and as directive antennas for such devices as radar guns, automatic door openers, and microwave radiometers. Their advantages are moderate directivity, low standing wave ratio (SWR), broad bandwidth, and simple construction and adjustment.
In a conventional phased array the individual antenna elements are mounted on a flat surface. In a conformal antenna, they are mounted on a curved surface, and the phase shifters also compensate for the different phase shifts caused by the varying path lengths of the radio waves due to the location of the individual antennas on the curved surface. Because the individual antenna elements must be small, conformal arrays are typically limited to high frequencies in the UHF or microwave range, where the wavelength of the waves is small enough that small antennas can be used.
Frequency is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit of time. It is also referred to as temporal frequency, which emphasizes the contrast to spatial frequency and angular frequency. The period is the duration of time of one cycle in a repeating event, so the period is the reciprocal of the frequency. For example: if a newborn baby's heart beats at a frequency of 120 times a minute, its period—the time interval between beats—is half a second. Frequency is an important parameter used in science and engineering to specify the rate of oscillatory and vibratory phenomena, such as mechanical vibrations, audio signals (sound), radio waves, and light.
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.
In physics, the wavelength is the spatial period of a periodic wave—the distance over which the wave's shape repeats. It is thus the inverse of the spatial frequency. Wavelength is usually determined by considering the distance between consecutive corresponding points of the same phase, such as crests, troughs, or zero crossings and is a characteristic of both traveling waves and standing waves, as well as other spatial wave patterns. Wavelength is commonly designated by the Greek letter lambda (λ). The term wavelength is also sometimes applied to modulated waves, and to the sinusoidal envelopes of modulated waves or waves formed by interference of several sinusoids.
Radar is a detection system that uses radio waves to determine the range, angle, or velocity of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. A radar system consists of a transmitter producing electromagnetic waves in the radio or microwaves domain, a transmitting antenna, a receiving antenna and a receiver and processor to determine properties of the object(s). Radio waves from the transmitter reflect off the object and return to the receiver, giving information about the object's location and speed.
In telecommunications and radar, a reflective array antenna is a class of directive antennas in which multiple driven elements are mounted in front of a flat surface designed to reflect the radio waves in a desired direction. They are a type of array antenna. They are often used in the VHF and UHF frequency bands. VHF examples are generally large and resemble a highway billboard, so they are sometimes called billboard antennas, or in Britain hoarding antennas. Other names are bedspring array and bowtie array depending on the type of elements making up the antenna. The curtain array is a larger version used by shortwave radio broadcasting stations.
A Yagi–Uda antenna, commonly known as a Yagi antenna, is a directional antenna consisting of multiple parallel elements in a line, usually half-wave dipoles made of metal rods. Yagi–Uda antennas consist of a single driven element connected to the transmitter or receiver with a transmission line, and additional "parasitic elements" which are not connected to the transmitter or receiver: a so-called reflector and one or more directors. It was invented in 1926 by Shintaro Uda of Tohoku Imperial University, Japan, and Hidetsugu Yagi.
Super high frequency (SHF) is the ITU designation for radio frequencies (RF) in the range between 3 and 30 gigahertz (GHz). This band of frequencies is also known as the centimetre band or centimetre wave as the wavelengths range from one to ten centimetres. These frequencies fall within the microwave band, so radio waves with these frequencies are called microwaves. The small wavelength of microwaves allows them to be directed in narrow beams by aperture antennas such as parabolic dishes and horn antennas, so they are used for point-to-point communication and data links and for radar. This frequency range is used for most radar transmitters, wireless LANs, satellite communication, microwave radio relay links, and numerous short range terrestrial data links. They are also used for heating in industrial microwave heating, medical diathermy, microwave hyperthermy to treat cancer, and to cook food in microwave ovens.
Direction finding (DF), or radio direction finding (RDF), is the measurement of the direction from which a received signal was transmitted. This can refer to radio or other forms of wireless communication, including radar signals detection and monitoring (ELINT/ESM). By combining the direction information from two or more suitably spaced receivers, the source of a transmission may be located via triangulation. Radio direction finding is used in the navigation of ships and aircraft, to locate emergency transmitters for search and rescue, for tracking wildlife, and to locate illegal or interfering transmitters. RDF was important in combating German threats during both the World War II Battle of Britain and the long running Battle of the Atlantic. In the former, the Air Ministry also used RDF to locate its own fighter groups and vector them to detected German raids.
An active electronically scanned array (AESA) is a type of phased array antenna, which is a computer-controlled array antenna in which the beam of radio waves can be electronically steered to point in different directions without moving the antenna. In the AESA, each antenna element is connected to a small solid-state transmit/receive module (TRM) under the control of a computer, which performs the functions of a transmitter and/or receiver for the antenna. This contrasts with a passive electronically scanned array (PESA), in which all the antenna elements are connected to a single transmitter and/or receiver through phase shifters under the control of the computer. AESA's main use is in radar, and these are known as active phased array radar (APAR).
Beamforming or spatial filtering is a signal processing technique used in sensor arrays for directional signal transmission or reception. This is achieved by combining elements in an antenna array in such a way that signals at particular angles experience constructive interference while others experience destructive interference. Beamforming can be used at both the transmitting and receiving ends in order to achieve spatial selectivity. The improvement compared with omnidirectional reception/transmission is known as the directivity of the array.
A pulse-Doppler radar is a radar system that determines the range to a target using pulse-timing techniques, and uses the Doppler effect of the returned signal to determine the target object's velocity. It combines the features of pulse radars and continuous-wave radars, which were formerly separate due to the complexity of the electronics.
In telecommunication, a microstrip antenna usually means an antenna fabriciated using microstrip techniques on a printed circuit board (PCB). It is a kind of internal antenna. They are mostly used at microwave frequencies. An individual microstrip antenna consists of a patch of metal foil of various shapes on the surface of a PCB, with a metal foil ground plane on the other side of the board. Most microstrip antennas consist of multiple patches in a two-dimensional array. The antenna is usually connected to the transmitter or receiver through foil microstrip transmission lines. The radio frequency current is applied between the antenna and ground plane. Microstrip antennas have become very popular in recent decades due to their thin planar profile which can be incorporated into the surfaces of consumer products, aircraft and missiles; their ease of fabrication using printed circuit techniques; the ease of integrating the antenna on the same board with the rest of the circuit, and the possibility of adding active devices such as microwave integrated circuits to the antenna itself to make active antennas.
Monopulse radar is a radar system that uses additional encoding of the radio signal to provide accurate directional information. The name refers to its ability to extract range and direction from a single signal pulse.
A passive electronically scanned array (PESA), also known as passive phased array, is a phased array antenna, that is an antenna in which the beam of radio waves can be electronically steered to point in different directions, in which all the antenna elements are connected to a single transmitter and/or receiver. This contrasts with an active electronically scanned array (AESA) antenna, which has a separate transmitter and/or receiver unit for each antenna element, all controlled by a computer. AESA is a more advanced, sophisticated versatile second-generation version of the original PESA phased array technology.
Phased array optics also known as the optical phased array (OPA) is the technology of controlling the phase and amplitude of light waves transmitting, reflecting, or captured (received) by a two-dimensional surface using adjustable surface elements. It is the optical analog of phased array radar. By dynamically controlling the optical properties of a surface on a microscopic scale, it is possible to steer the direction of light beams, or the view direction of sensors, without any moving parts. Hardware associated with beam steering applications is commonly called an optical phased array (OPA). Phased array beam steering is used for optical switching and multiplexing in optoelectronic devices, and for aiming laser beams on a macroscopic scale.
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.
An antenna array is a set of multiple connected antennas which work together as a single antenna, to transmit or receive radio waves. The individual antennas are usually connected to a single receiver or transmitter by feedlines that feed the power to the elements in a specific phase relationship. The radio waves radiated by each individual antenna combine and superpose, adding together to enhance the power radiated in desired directions, and cancelling to reduce the power radiated in other directions. Similarly, when used for receiving, the separate radio frequency currents from the individual antennas combine in the receiver with the correct phase relationship to enhance signals received from the desired directions and cancel signals from undesired directions. More sophisticated array antennas may have multiple transmitter or receiver modules, each connected to a separate antenna element or group of elements.
Fresnel zone antennas are reflector antennas that focus the signal by using the phase shifting property of the antenna surface, rather than its shape. There are three type of Fresnel zone antennas, namely, Fresnel zone plate, offset Fresnel zone plate antennas and phase correcting reflective array or "Reflectarray" antennas. They are a class of diffractive antennas and have been used from radio frequencies to X rays.
Curtain arrays are a class of large multielement directional wire radio transmitting antennas, used in the shortwave radio bands. They are a type of reflective array antenna, consisting of multiple wire dipole antennas, suspended in a vertical plane, often in front of a "curtain" reflector made of a flat vertical screen of many long parallel wires. These are suspended by support wires strung between pairs of tall steel towers, up to 300 ft (90 m) high. They are used for long-distance skywave transmission; they transmit a beam of radio waves at a shallow angle into the sky just above the horizon, which is reflected by the ionosphere back to Earth beyond the horizon. Curtain antennas are mostly used by international short wave radio stations to broadcast to large areas at transcontinental distances.
In radio systems, many different antenna types are used with specialized properties for particular applications. Antennas can be classified in various ways. The list below groups together antennas under common operating principles, following the way antennas are classified in many engineering textbooks.
A Butler matrix is a beamforming network used to feed a phased array of antenna elements. Its purpose is to control the direction of a beam, or beams, of radio transmission. It consists of an matrix of hybrid couplers and fixed-value phase shifters where is some power of 2. The device has input ports to which power is applied, and output ports to which antenna elements are connected. The Butler matrix feeds power to the elements with a progressive phase difference between elements such that the beam of radio transmission is in the desired direction. The beam direction is controlled by switching power to the desired beam port. More than one beam, or even all of them can be activated simultaneously.