Helical antenna

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Array of four axial-mode helical antennas used as a satellite tracking-acquisition antenna, Pleumeur-Bodou, France Traqueur acquisition.JPG
Array of four axial-mode helical antennas used as a satellite tracking-acquisition antenna, Pleumeur-Bodou, France
Helical antenna:
(B) Central support,
(C) Coaxial cable feedline,
(E) Insulating supports for the helix,
(R) Reflector ground plane,
(S) Helical radiating wire Helical antenna principle.png
Helical antenna:
(B) Central support,
(C) Coaxial cable feedline,
(E) Insulating supports for the helix,
(R) Reflector ground plane,
(S) Helical radiating wire

A helical antenna is an antenna consisting of one or more conducting wires wound in the form of a helix. A helical antenna made of one helical wire, the most common type, is called monofilar, while antennas with two or four wires in a helix are called bifilar, or quadrifilar, respectively.


In most cases, directional helical antennas are mounted over a ground plane, while omnidirectional designs may not be. The feed line is connected between the bottom of the helix and the ground plane. Helical antennas can operate in one of two principal modes — normal mode or axial mode.

In the normal mode or broadside helical antenna, the diameter and the pitch of the aerial are small compared with the wavelength. The antenna acts similarly to an electrically short dipole or monopole, equivalent to a 1/4 wave vertical and the radiation pattern,[ citation needed ] similar to these antennas is omnidirectional, with maximum radiation at right angles to the helix axis. For monofilar designs the radiation is linearly polarized parallel to the helix axis. These are used for compact antennas for portable hand held as well as mobile vehicle mount two-way radios, and in larger scale for UHF television broadcasting antennas. In bifilar or quadrifilar implementations, broadside circularly polarized radiation can be realized.

In the axial mode or end-fire helical antenna, the diameter and pitch of the helix are comparable to a wavelength. The antenna functions as a directional antenna radiating a beam off the ends of the helix, along the antenna's axis. It radiates circularly polarized radio waves. These are used for satellite communication. Axial mode operation was discovered by physicist John D. Kraus [1]

Normal-mode helical

Normal-mode helical UHF TV broadcasting antenna 1954 Helical UHF TV broadcast antenna.jpg
Normal-mode helical UHF TV broadcasting antenna 1954

If the circumference of the helix is significantly less than a wavelength and its pitch (axial distance between successive turns) is significantly less than a quarter wavelength, the antenna is called a normal-mode helix. The antenna acts similar to a monopole antenna, with an omnidirectional radiation pattern, radiating equal power in all directions perpendicular to the antenna's axis. However, because of the inductance added by the helical shape, the antenna acts like a inductively loaded monopole; at its resonant frequency it is shorter than a quarter-wavelength long. Therefore, normal-mode helices can be used as electrically short monopoles, an alternative to center- or base-loaded whip antennas, in applications where a full sized quarter-wave monopole would be too big. As with other electrically short antennas, the gain, and thus the communication range, of the helix will be less than that of a full sized antenna. Their compact size makes "helicals" useful as antennas for mobile and portable communications equipment on the HF, VHF, and UHF bands.[ citation needed ]

A common form of normal-mode helical antenna is the "rubber ducky antenna" used in portable radios. UHF CB with rubber ducky exposed.jpg
A common form of normal-mode helical antenna is the "rubber ducky antenna" used in portable radios.

[ citation needed ]The loading provided by the helix allows the antenna to be physically shorter than its electrical length of a quarter-wavelength. This means that for example a 1/4 wave antenna at 27 MHz is 2.7 m (108”) long and is physically quite unsuitable for mobile applications. The reduced size of a helical provides the same radiation pattern in a much more compact physical size with only a slight reduction in signal performance.

An effect of using a helical conductor rather than a straight one is that the matching impedance is changed from the nominal 50 ohms to between 25 and 35 ohms base impedance. This does not seem to be adverse to operation or matching with a normal 50 ohm transmission line, provided the connecting feed is the electrical equivalent of a 1/2 wavelength at the frequency of operation.[ citation needed ]

Mobile HF helicals

Another example of the type as used in mobile communications is "spaced constant turn" in which one or more different linear windings are wound on a single former and spaced so as to provide an efficient balance between capacitance and inductance for the radiating element at a particular resonant frequency. Many examples of this type have been used extensively for 27 MHz CB radio with a wide variety of designs originating in the US and Australia in the late 1960s. To date many millions of these ‘helical antennas’ have been mass-produced for mainly mobile vehicle use and reached peak production during the CB Radio boom-times during the 1970s to late 1980s and used worldwide. Multi-frequency versions with manual plug-in taps have become the mainstay for multi-band single-sideband modulation (SSB) HF communications with frequency coverage over the whole HF spectrum from 1 MHz to 30 MHz with from 2 to 6 dedicated frequency tap points tuned at dedicated and allocated frequencies in the land mobile, marine and aircraft bands. Recently these antennas have been superseded by electronicly tuned antenna matching devices. [ citation needed ] Most examples were wound with copper wire using a fiberglass rod as a former. The usually flexible or ridged radiator is then covered with a PVC or polyolefin heat-shrink tubing which provides a resilient and rugged waterproof covering for the finished mobile antenna. The fibreglass rod was then usually glued and/or crimped to a brass fitting and screw mounted onto an insulated base affixed to a vehicle roof, guard or bull-bar mount. This mounting provided a ground plane or reflector (provided by the vehicle) for an effective vertical radiation pattern.[ citation needed ]

These popular designs are still in common use as of 2018 and the ‘constant turn’ design originating in Australia have been universally adapted as standard FM receiving antennas for many factory produced motor vehicles as well as the existing basic style of aftermarket HF and VHF mobile helical. Another common use for broadside helixes is in the "rubber ducky antenna" found on most portable VHF and UHF radios using a steel or copper conductor as the radiating element and usually terminated to a BNC / TNC style or screw on connector for quick removal. [ citation needed ]

Helical broadcasting antennas

Specialized normal-mode helical antennas are used as transmitting antennas for FM radio and television broadcasting stations on the VHF and UHF bands.[ citation needed ]

Axial-mode helical

End fire helical satellite communications antenna, Scott Air Force base, Illinois, USA. Satellite communication systems often use circularly polarized radio waves, because the satellite antenna may be oriented at any angle in space without affecting the transmission, and axial mode (end fire) helical antennas are often used as the ground antenna. Hammer Ace SATCOM Antenna.jpg
End fire helical satellite communications antenna, Scott Air Force base, Illinois, USA. Satellite communication systems often use circularly polarized radio waves, because the satellite antenna may be oriented at any angle in space without affecting the transmission, and axial mode (end fire) helical antennas are often used as the ground antenna.
Helical antenna for WLAN communication, working frequency app. 2.4 GHz Helical antenna.jpg
Helical antenna for WLAN communication, working frequency app. 2.4 GHz

When the helix circumference is near the wavelength of operation, the antenna operates in axial mode. This is a nonresonant traveling wave mode, in which instead of standing waves, the waves of current and voltage travel in one direction, up the helix. Instead of radiating linearly polarized waves normal to the antenna's axis, it radiates a beam of radio waves with circular polarisation along the axis, off the ends of the antenna. The main lobes of the radiation pattern are along the axis of the helix, off both ends. Since in a directional antenna only radiation in one direction is wanted, the other end of the helix is terminated in a flat metal sheet or screen reflector to reflect the waves forward.

In radio transmission, circular polarisation is often used where the relative orientation of the transmitting and receiving antennas cannot be easily controlled, such as in animal tracking and spacecraft communications, or where the polarisation of the signal may change, so end-fire helical antennas are frequently used for these applications. Since large helices are difficult to build and unwieldy to steer and aim, the design is commonly employed only at higher frequencies, ranging from VHF up to microwave.

The helix of the antenna can twist in two possible directions: right-handed or left-handed, the former having the same form as that of a common corkscrew. The 4-helix array in the first illustration uses left-handed helices, while all other illustrations show right-handed helices. In an axial-mode helical antenna the direction of twist of the helix determines the polarisation of the emitted wave. Two mutually incompatible conventions are in use for describing waves with circular polarisation, so the relationship between the handedness (left or right) of a helical antenna, and the type of circularly-polarized radiation it emits is often described in ways that appear to be ambiguous. However, Kraus (the inventor of the helical antenna) states "The left-handed helix responds to left-circular polarisation, and the right handed helix to right-circular polarisation (IEEE definition)". [2] The IEEE defines the sense of polarisation as "the sense of polarization, or handedness ... is called right handed (left handed) if the direction of rotation is clockwise (anti-clockwise) for an observer looking in the direction of propagation" [3] Thus a right-handed helix radiates a wave which is right-handed, the electric field vector rotating clockwise looking in the direction of propagation.

Helical antennas can receive signals with any type of linear polarisation, such as horizontal or vertical polarisation, but when receiving circularly polarized signals the handedness of the receiving antenna must be the same as the transmitting antenna; left-hand polarized antennas suffer a severe loss of gain when receiving right-circularly-polarized signals, and vice versa.

The dimensions of the helix are determined by the wavelength λ of the radio waves used, which depends on the frequency. In order to operate in axial-mode, the circumference should be equal to the wavelength. [4] The pitch angle should be 13 degrees, which is a pitch distance (distance between each turn) of 0.23 times the circumference, which means the spacing between the coils should be approximately one-quarter of the wavelength (λ/4).[ citation needed ] The number of turns in the helix determines how directional the antenna is: more turns improves the gain in the direction of its axis at both ends (or at 1 end when a ground plate is used), at a cost of gain in the other directions. When C<λ it operates more in normal mode where the gain direction is a donut shape to the sides instead of out the ends.

Terminal impedance in axial mode ranges between 100 and 200 ohms, approximately[ citation needed ]

where C is the circumference of the helix, and λ is the wavelength. Impedance matching (when C=λ) to standard 50 or 75 ohm coaxial cable is often done by a quarter wave stripline section acting as an impedance transformer between the helix and the ground plate.

The maximum directive gain is approximately:


where N is the number of turns and S is the spacing between turns. Most designs use C=λ and S=0.23*C, so the gain is typically G=3.45*N. In decibels, the gain is .

The half-power beamwidth is:


The beamwidth between nulls is:

The gain of the helical antenna strongly depends on the reflector. [6] The above classical formulas assume that the reflector has the form of a circular resonator (a circular plate with a rim) and the pitch angle is optimal for this type of reflector. Nevertheless, these formulas overestimate the gain for several dB. [7] The optimal pitch that maximizes the gain for a flat ground plane is in the range from 3° to 10° and it depends on the wire radius and antenna length. [7]

See also

Related Research Articles

Circular polarization Polarization state

In electrodynamics, circular polarization of an electromagnetic wave is a polarization state in which, at each point, the electromagnetic field of the wave has a constant magnitude and is rotating at a constant rate in a plane perpendicular to the direction of the wave.

Polarization (waves) Property of waves that can oscillate with more than one orientation

Polarization is a property applying to transverse waves that specifies the geometrical orientation of the oscillations. In a transverse wave, the direction of the oscillation is perpendicular to the direction of motion of the wave. A simple example of a polarized transverse wave is vibrations traveling along a taut string (see image); for example, in a musical instrument like a guitar string. Depending on how the string is plucked, the vibrations can be in a vertical direction, horizontal direction, or at any angle perpendicular to the string. In contrast, in longitudinal waves, such as sound waves in a liquid or gas, the displacement of the particles in the oscillation is always in the direction of propagation, so these waves do not exhibit polarization. Transverse waves that exhibit polarization include electromagnetic waves such as light and radio waves, gravitational waves, and transverse sound waves in solids.

Radiation pattern

In the field of antenna design the term radiation pattern refers to the directional (angular) dependence of the strength of the radio waves from the antenna or other source.

Antenna (radio) Electrical device

In radio engineering, an antenna or aerial 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.

Parabolic antenna

A parabolic antenna is an antenna that uses a parabolic reflector, a curved surface with the cross-sectional shape of a parabola, to direct the radio waves. The most common form is shaped like a dish and is popularly called a dish antenna or parabolic dish. The main advantage of a parabolic antenna is that it has high directivity. It functions similarly to a searchlight or flashlight reflector to direct the radio waves in a narrow beam, or receive radio waves from one particular direction only. Parabolic antennas have some of the highest gains, meaning that they can produce the narrowest beamwidths, of any antenna type. In order to achieve narrow beamwidths, the parabolic reflector must be much larger than the wavelength of the radio waves used, so parabolic antennas are used in the high frequency part of the radio spectrum, at UHF and microwave (SHF) frequencies, at which the wavelengths are small enough that conveniently-sized reflectors can be used.

Radiation resistance is that part of an antenna's feedpoint electrical resistance that is caused by the radiation of electromagnetic waves from the antenna. In radio transmission, a radio transmitter is connected to an antenna. The transmitter generates a radio frequency alternating current which is applied to the antenna, and the antenna radiates the energy in the alternating current as radio waves. Because the antenna is absorbing the energy it is radiating from the transmitter, the antenna's input terminals present a resistance to the current from the transmitter. Unlike other resistances found in electrical circuits, radiation resistance is not due to the opposition (resistivity) of the material of the antenna conductors to electric current; it is a virtual resistance due to the antenna's loss of energy as radio waves. The radiation resistance can be defined as the value of resistance that would dissipate the same amount of power as radiated as radio waves by the antenna with the antenna input current passing through it. From Joule's law, it is equal to the total power radiated as radio waves by the antenna divided by the square of the rms current into the antenna terminals: .

Dipole antenna Antenna consisting of two rod shaped conductors

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.

Whip antenna type of radio antenna

A whip antenna is an antenna consisting of a straight flexible wire or rod. The bottom end of the whip is connected to the radio receiver or transmitter. The antenna is designed to be flexible so that it does not break easily, and the name is derived from the whip-like motion that it exhibits when disturbed. Whip antennas for portable radios are often made of a series of interlocking telescoping metal tubes, so they can be retracted when not in use. Longer ones, made for mounting on vehicles and structures, are made of a flexible fiberglass rod around a wire core and can be up to 35 ft long. The length of the whip antenna is determined by the wavelength of the radio waves it is used with. The most common type is the quarter-wave whip, which is approximately one-quarter of a wavelength long. Whips are the most common type of monopole antenna, and are used in the higher frequency HF, VHF and UHF radio bands. They are widely used as the antennas for hand-held radios, cordless phones, walkie-talkies, FM radios, boom boxes, and Wi-Fi enabled devices, and are attached to vehicles as the antennas for car radios and two-way radios for wheeled vehicles and for aircraft. Larger versions mounted on roofs, balconies and radio masts are used as base station antennas for amateur radio and police, fire, ambulance, taxi, and other vehicle dispatchers.

Horn antenna

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.

Mast radiator Radio antenna consisting of a vertical mast in which the mast structure is energized and functions as the antenna

A mast radiator is a radio mast or tower in which the metal structure itself is energized and functions as an antenna. This design, first used widely in the 1930s, is commonly used for transmitting antennas operating at low frequencies, in the LF and MF bands, in particular those used for AM radio broadcasting stations. The conductive steel mast is electrically connected to the transmitter. Its base is usually mounted on a nonconductive support to insulate it from the ground. A mast radiator is a form of monopole antenna.


A T-antenna, T-aerial, flat-top antenna, top-hat antenna, or (capacitively) top-loaded antenna is a monopole radio antenna with transverse capacitive loading wires attached to its top. T-antennas are typically used in the VLF, LF, MF, and shortwave bands, and are widely used as transmitting antennas for amateur radio stations, and long wave and medium wave AM broadcasting stations. They can also be used as receiving antennas for shortwave listening.

Monopole antenna type of radio antenna

A monopole antenna is a class of radio antenna consisting of a straight rod-shaped conductor, often mounted perpendicularly over some type of conductive surface, called a ground plane. The driving signal from the transmitter is applied, or for receiving antennas the output signal to the receiver is taken, between the lower end of the monopole and the ground plane. One side of the antenna feedline is attached to the lower end of the monopole, and the other side is attached to the ground plane, which is often the Earth. This contrasts with a dipole antenna which consists of two identical rod conductors, with the signal from the transmitter applied between the two halves of the antenna.

Antenna measurement techniques refers to the testing of antennas to ensure that the antenna meets specifications or simply to characterize it. Typical parameters of antennas are gain, bandwidth, radiation pattern, beamwidth, polarization, and impedance.

Rubber ducky antenna type of radio antenna

The rubber ducky antenna is an electrically short monopole antenna that functions somewhat like a base-loaded whip antenna. It consists of a springy wire in the shape of a narrow helix, sealed in a rubber or plastic jacket to protect the antenna. Rubber ducky antenna is a form of normal-mode helical antenna.

Turnstile antenna

A turnstile antenna, or crossed-dipole antenna, is a radio antenna consisting of a set of two identical dipole antennas mounted at right angles to each other and fed in phase quadrature; the two currents applied to the dipoles are 90° out of phase. The name reflects the notion the antenna looks like a turnstile when mounted horizontally. The antenna can be used in two possible modes. In normal mode the antenna radiates horizontally polarized radio waves perpendicular to its axis. In axial mode the antenna radiates circularly polarized radiation along its axis.

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.

Dual-band blade antenna

A dual-band blade antenna, is a type of blade antenna, a monopole whip antenna mounted on the outside of an aircraft in the form of a blade-shaped aerodynamic fairing to reduce its air drag. It is used by avionics radio communication systems. The dual band type uses a "plane and slot" design to get efficient omni-directional coverage so that it can operate on two different radio bands.

In electrical engineering and telecommunications the Chu–Harrington limit or Chu limit sets a lower limit on the Q factor for a small radio antenna. The theorem was developed in several papers between 1948 and 1960 by Lan Jen Chu, Harold Wheeler, and later by Roger F. Harrington. The definition of a small antenna is one that can fit inside a sphere whose diameter is – a little smaller than 13 wavelength in its widest dimension. For a small antenna the Q is proportional to the reciprocal of the volume of a sphere that encloses it. In practice this means that there is a limit to the bandwidth of data that can be sent to and received from small antennas such as are used in mobile phones.

An electrically small or electrically short antenna is an antenna much shorter than the wavelength of the signal it is intended to transmit or receive. Electrically short antennas are generally less efficient and more challenging to design than longer antennas such as quarter- and half-wave antennas, but are nonetheless common due to their compact size and low cost.

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.


  1. Proceedings of the I.R.E., March 1949, P.263
  2. Kraus, J.D. Antennas 2nd Ed, MacGraw Hill, 1988
  3. IEEE Std 149-1979 (R2008), "IEEE Standard Test Procedures for Antennas". Reaffirmed December 10, 2008, Approved December 15, 1977, IEEE-SA Standards Board. Approved October 9, 2003, American National Standards Institute. ISBN   0-471-08032-2. doi : 10.1109/IEEESTD.1979.120310, sec. 11.1, p. 61.
  4. https://www.cv.nrao.edu/~demerson/helixgain/helix.htm
  5. 1 2 Tomasi, Wayne (2004). Electronic Communication Systems - Fundamentals Through Advanced. Jurong, Singapore: Pearson Education SE Asia Ltd. ISBN   981-247-093-X.
  6. Djordjević, A.R., Zajić, A.G., and Ilić, M.M., “Enhancing the gain of helical antennas by shaping the ground conductor”, IEEE Antennas and Wireless Propagation Letters, Vol. 5, 2006, pp. 138-140
  7. 1 2 Djordjević, A.R., Zajić, A.G., Ilić, M.M., and Stueber, G.L., “Optimization of helical antennas“, IEEE Antennas and Propagation Magazine, vol. 48, no. 6, December 2006, pp. 107-115