THE EARTH’S ATMOSPHERE
The eyes and ears of a ship or shore station depend
on sophisticated, highly computerized electronic
systems. The one thing all of these systems have in
common is that they lead to and from antennas. Ship’s
operators who must communicate, navigate, and be
ready to fight the ship 24 hours a day depend on you
to keep these emitters and sensors operational.
We will review wave propagation.
When you have completed this chapter, you should be able to discuss the basic principles of wave propagation and the atmosphere’s effects on wave propagation.
While radio waves traveling in free space have
little outside influence to affect them, radio waves
traveling in the earth’s atmosphere have many
influences that affect them. We have all experienced
problems with radio waves, caused by certain
atmospheric conditions complicating what at first
seemed to be a relatively simple electronic problem.
These problem-causing conditions result from a lack
of uniformity in the earth’s atmosphere.
Many factors can affect atmospheric conditions,
either positively or negatively. Three of these are
variations in geographic height, differences in
geographic location, and changes in time (day, night,
To understand wave propagation, you must have
at least a basic understanding of the earth’s atmosphere.
The earth’s atmosphere is divided into three separate
regions, or layers. They are the troposphere, the
stratosphere, and the ionosphere. These layers are
illustrated in figure 1-1.
Almost all weather phenomena take place in the
troposphere. The temperature in this region decreases
rapidly with altitude. Clouds form, and there may be
a lot of turbulence because of variations in the
temperature, pressure, and density. These conditions
have a profound effect on the propagation of radio
waves, as we will explain later in this chapter.
The stratosphere is located between the troposphere
and the ionosphere. The temperature throughout this
region is almost constant and there is little water vapor
present. Because it is a relatively calm region with
little or no temperature change, the stratosphere has
almost no effect on radio waves.
This is the most important region of the earth’s
atmosphere for long distance, point-to-point communications.
Because the existence of the ionosphere is
directly related to radiation emitted from the sun, the
movement of the earth about the sun or changes in
the sun’s activity will result in variations in the
ionosphere. These variations are of two general types:
(1) those that more or less occur in cycles and,
therefore, can be predicted with reasonable accuracy;
and (2) those that are irregular as a result of abnormal
behavior of the sun and, therefore, cannot be predicted.
Both regular and irregular variations have important
effects on radio-wave propagation. Since irregular
variations cannot be predicted, we will concentrate
on regular variations.
The regular variations can be divided into four
main classes: daily, 27-day, seasonal, and 11-year.
We will concentrate our discussion on daily variations,
since they have the greatest effect on your job. Daily
variations in the ionosphere produce four cloud-like
layers of electrically-charged gas atoms called ions,
which enable radio waves to be propagated great
distances around the earth. Ions are formed by a
process called ionization.
In ionization, high-energy ultraviolet light waves
from the sun periodically enter the ionosphere, strike
neutral gas atoms, and knock one or more electrons
free from each atom. When the electrons are knocked
free, the atoms become positively charged (positive
ions) and remain in space, along with the negatively charged free electrons. The free electrons absorb some
of the ultraviolet energy that initially set them free
and form an ionized layer.
Since the atmosphere is bombarded by ultraviolet
waves of differing frequencies, several ionized layers
are formed at different altitudes. Ultraviolet waves
of higher frequencies penetrate the most, so they
produce ionized layers in the lower portion of the
ionosphere. Conversely, ultraviolet waves of lower
frequencies penetrate the least, so they form layers
in the upper regions of the ionosphere.
An important factor in determining the density
of these ionized layers is the elevation angle of the
sun. Since this angle changes frequently, the height
and thickness of the ionized layers vary, depending
on the time of day and the season of the year.
Another important factor in determining layer
density is known as recombination.
Recombination is the reverse process of
ionization. It occurs when free electrons and positive
ions collide, combine, and return the positive ions to
their original neutral state.
Like ionization, the recombination process
depends on the time of day. Between early morning
and late afternoon, the rate of ionization exceeds the
rate of recombination. During this period the ionized
layers reach their greatest density and exert
maximum influence on radio waves. However, during
the late afternoon and early evening, the rate of
recombination exceeds the rate of ionization, causing
the densities of the ionized layers to decrease.
Throughout the night, density continues to decrease,
reaching its lowest point just before sunrise. It is
important to understand that this ionization and
recombination process varies, depending on the
ionospheric layer and the time of day. The following
paragraphs provide an explanation of the four
The ionosphere is composed of three distinct
layers, designated from lowest level to highest level
(D, E, and F) as shown in figure 1-2. In addition, the
F layer is divided into two layers, designated F1 (the
lower level) and F2 (the higher level).
The presence or absence of these layers in the
ionosphere and their height above the earth vary
with the position of the sun. At high noon, radiation
in the ionosphere above a given point is greatest,
while at night it is minimum. When the radiation is
removed, many of the particles that were ionized
recombine. During the time between these two
conditions, the position and number of ionized layers
within the ionosphere change.
Since the position of the sun varies daily,
monthly, and yearly with respect to a specific point
on earth, the exact number of layers present is
extremely difficult to determine. However, the
following general statements about these layers can
D LAYER.— The D layer ranges from about 30
to 55 miles above the earth. Ionization in the D layer
is low because less ultraviolet light penetrates to this
level. At very low frequencies, the D layer and the
ground act as a huge waveguide, making communication possible only with large antennas and highpower transmitters. At low and medium frequencies, the D layer becomes highly absorptive, which limits the effective daytime communication range to about 200 miles. At frequencies above about 3 MHz, the D layer begins to lose its absorptive qualities.
Long-distance communication is possible at
frequencies as high as 30 MHz. Waves at frequencies
above this range pass through the D layer but are
attenuated. After sunset. the D layer disappears
because of the rapid recombination of ions.
Low frequency and medium-frequency long-distance
communication becomes possible. This is why AM
behaves so differently at night. Signals passing
through the D layer normally are not absorbed but
are propagated by the E and F layers.
E LAYER.— The E layer ranges from approximately
55 to 90 miles above the earth. The rate of
ionospheric recombination in this layer is rather
rapid after sunset, causing it to nearly disappear by
midnight. The E layer permits medium-range
communications on the low-frequency through very high-frequency bands. At frequencies above about 150
MHz, radio waves pass through the E layer.
Sometimes a solar flare will cause this layer to
ionize at night over specific areas. Propagation in this
layer during this time is called SPORADIC-E. The
range of communication in sporadic-E often exceeds
1000 miles, but the range is not as great as with F
F LAYER.— The F layer exists from about 90 to
240 miles above the earth. During daylight hours, the
F layer separates into two layers, F1 and F2. During
the night, the F1 layer usually disappears, The F
layer produces maximum ionization during the
afternoon hours, but the effects of the daily cycle are
not as pronounced as in the D and E layers. Atoms in
the F layer stay ionized for a longer time after sunset,
and during maximum sunspot activity, they can stay
ionized all night long.
Since the F layer is the highest of the
ionospheric layers, it also has the longest propagation capability.
For horizontal waves, the single-hop F2
distance can reach 3000 miles. For signals to
propagate over greater distances, multiple hops are
The F layer is responsible for most high frequency,
long-distance communications. The
maximum frequency that the F layer will return
depends on the degree of sunspot activity. During
maximum sunspot activity, the F layer can return
signals at frequencies as high as 100 MHz. During
minimum sunspot activity, the maximum usable
frequency can drop to as low as 10 MHz.
Within the atmosphere, radio waves can be
refracted, reflected, and diffracted. In the following
paragraphs, we will discuss these propagation
A radio wave transmitted into ionized layers is
always refracted, or bent. This bending of radio
waves is called refraction. Notice the radio wave
shown in figure 1-3, traveling through the earth’s
atmosphere at a constant speed. As the wave enters
the denser layer of charged ions, its upper portion
moves faster than its lower portion. The abrupt speed
increase of the upper part of the wave causes it to
bend back toward the earth. This bending is always
toward the propagation medium where the radio
wave’s velocity is the least.
The amount of refraction a radio wave undergoes
depends on three main factors.
1. The ionization density of the layer
2. The frequency of the radio wave
3. The angle at which the radio wave enters the
Figure 1-4 shows the relationship between
radio waves and ionization density. Each ionized
layer has a middle region of relatively dense
ionization with less intensity above and below. As
a radio wave enters a region of increasing
ionization, a velocity increase causes it to bend
back toward the earth. In the highly dense
middle region, refraction occurs more slowly
because the ionization density is uniform. As the
wave enters the upper less dense region, the
velocity of the upper part of the wave decreases
and the wave is bent away from the earth.
The lower the frequency of a radio wave, the
more rapidly the wave is refracted by a given
degree of ionization. Figure 1-5 shows three
separate waves of differing frequencies entering
the ionosphere at the same angle. You can see that
the 5-MHz wave is refracted quite sharply, while
the 20-MHz wave is refracted less sharply and
returns to earth at a greater distance than the 5-
MHz wave. Notice that the 100-MHz wave is lost
into space. For any given ionized layer, there is a
frequency, called the escape point, at which energy
transmitted directly upward will escape into
space. The maximum frequency just below the
escape point is called the critical frequency. In
this example, the 100-MHz wave’s frequency is
greater than the critical frequency for that ionized
The critical frequency of a layer depends upon
the layer’s density. If a wave passes through a
particular layer, it may still be refracted by a
higher layer if its frequency is lower than the
higher layer’s critical frequency.
Angle of Incidence and Critical Angle
When a radio wave encounters a layer of the
ionosphere, that wave is returned to earth at the
same angle (roughly) as its angle of incidence.
Figure 1-6 shows three radio waves of the same
frequency entering a layer at different incidence
angles. The angle at which wave A strikes the
layer is too nearly vertical for the wave to be
refracted to earth, However, wave B is refracted
back to earth. The angle between wave B and the
earth is called the critical angle. Any wave, at a
given frequency, that leaves the antenna at an
incidence angle greater than the critical angle will
be lost into space. This is why wave A was not
refracted. Wave C leaves the antenna at the
smallest angle that will allow it to be refracted and
still return to earth. The critical angle for radio
waves depends on the layer density and the
wavelength of the signal.
As the frequency of a radio wave is increased,
the critical angle must be reduced for refraction to
occur. Notice in figure 1-7 that the 2-MHz wave
strikes the ionosphere at the critical angle for that
frequency and is refracted. Although the 5-MHz
line (broken line) strikes the ionosphere at a less
critical angle, it still penetrates the layer and is
lost As the angle is lowered, a critical angle is
finally reached for the 5-MHz wave and it is
refracted back to earth.
SKIP DISTANCE AND ZONE
Recall from your previous studies that a
transmitted radio wave separates into two parts,
the sky wave and the ground wave. With those
two components in mind, we will now briefly
discuss skip distance and skip zone.
The skip zone is a zone of silence between the
point where the ground wave is too weak for
reception and the point where the sky wave is first
returned to earth. The outer limit of the skip zone
varies considerably, depending on the operating
frequency, the time of day, the season of the year,
sunspot activity, and the direction of transmission.
Look at the relationship between the sky wave
skip distance, skip zone, and ground wave
coverage shown in figure 1-8. The skip distance is
the distance from the transmitter to the point
where the sky wave first returns to the earth. The
skip distance depends on the wave’s frequency and
angle of incidence, and the degree of ionization.
At very-low, low, and medium frequencies, a
skip zone is never present. However, in the high frequency spectrum, a skip zone is often present.
As the operating frequency is increased, the skip
zone widens to a point where the outer limit of the
skip zone might be several thousand miles away.
At frequencies above a certain maximum, the
outer limit of the skip zone disappears completely,
and no F-layer propagation is possible.
Occasionally, the first sky wave will return to
earth within the range of the ground wave. In this
case, severe fading can result from the phase
difference between the two waves (the sky wave
has a longer path to follow).
Reflection occurs when radio waves are
“bounced” from a flat surface. There are basically
two types of reflection that occur in the
atmosphere: earth reflection and ionospheric
reflection. Figure 1-9 shows two
waves reflected from the earth’s surface. Waves A
and B bounce off the earth’s surface like light off of
a mirror. Notice that the positive and negative
alternations of radio waves A and B are in phase before
they strike the earth’s surface. However, after
reflection the radio waves are approximately 180
degrees out of phase. A phase shift has occurred.
The amount of phase shift that occurs is not
constant. It varies, depending on the wave polarization
and the angle at which the wave strikes the surface.
Because reflection is not constant, fading occurs.
Normally, radio waves reflected in phase produce
stronger signals, while those reflected out of phase
produce a weak or fading signal.
Ionospheric reflection occurs when certain radio
waves strike a thin, highly ionized layer in the
ionosphere. Although the radio waves are actually
refracted, some may be bent back so rapidly that they
appear to be reflected. For ionospheric reflection to
occur, the highly ionized layer can be approximately
no thicker than one wavelength of the wave. Since
the ionized layers are often several miles thick,
ionospheric reflection mostly occurs at long wavelengths ,(low frequencies).
Diffraction is the ability of radio waves to turn
sharp corners and bend around obstacles. Shown in
figure 1-10, diffraction results in a change of direction
of part of the radio-wave energy around the edges of
an obstacle. Radio waves with long wavelengths
compared to the diameter of an obstruction are easily
propagated around the obstruction. However, as the
wavelength decreases, the obstruction causes more
and more attenuation, until at very-high frequencies
a definite shadow zone develops. The shadow zone
is basically a blank area on the opposite side of an
obstruction in line-of-sight from the transmitter to the
Diffraction can extend the radio range beyond the
horizon. By using high power and low-frequencies,
radio waves can be made to encircle the earth by
ATMOSPHERIC EFFECTS ON PROPAGATION
As we stated earlier, changes in the ionosphere
can produce dramatic changes in the ability to
communicate. In some cases, communications
distances are greatly extended. In other cases,
communications distances are greatly reduced or
eliminated. The paragraphs below explain the major
problem of reduced communications because of the
phenomena of fading and selective fading.
The most troublesome and frustrating problem in
receiving radio signals is variations in signal strength,
most commonly known as FADING. Several
conditions 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. Most ionospheric absorption occurs
in the lower regions of the ionosphere where ionization
density is the greatest. As a radio wave passes into
the ionosphere, it loses some of its energy to the free
electrons and ions present there. Since the amount of
absorption of the radio-wave energy varies with the
density of the ionospheric layers, there is no fixed
relationship between distance and signal strength for
ionospheric propagation. Absorption fading occurs for
a longer period than other types of fading, since
absorption takes place slowly. Under certain
conditions, the absorption of energy is so great that
communication over any distance beyond the line of
sight becomes difficult.
Although fading because of absorption is the
most serious type of fading, fading on the ionospheric
circuits is mainly a result of multipath propagation.
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, and so on. Figure 1-11 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, XFZ, refracts the wave at the F layer
and passes it on to the receiver at point Z. 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. A similar situation may result
at point A. Another path, XFZFA, results from a
greater angle of incidence and two refractions from
the F layer. A wave traveling that path and one
traveling the XEA path may or may not arrive at
point A in phase. Radio waves that are received in
phase reinforce each other and produce a stronger
signal at the receiving site, while those that are
received out of phase produce a weak or fading
signal. Small alterations in the transmission path
may change the phase relationship of the two signals,
causing periodic fading.
Multipath fading may be minimized by practices
called SPACE DIVERSITY and FREQUENCY
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 produce a
Fading resulting from multipath propagation
varies 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
Frequency shifts and distance changes because
of daily variations of the different ionospheric layers
are summarize next.
Daily Ionospheric Communications
D LAYER: reflects vlf waves for long-range
communications; refracts lf and mf for
short-range communications; has little
effect on vhf and above; gone at night.
E LAYER: depends on the angle of the sun:
refracts hf waves during the day up to 20
MHz to distances of 1200 miles: greatly
reduced at night.
F LAYER: structure and density depend on
the time of day and the angle of the sun:
consists of one layer at night and splits
into two layers during daylight hours.
F1 LAYER: density depends on the angle of
the sun; its main effect is to absorb hf
waves passing through to the F2 layer.
F2 LAYER: provides long-range hf
communications; very variable; height and density
change with time of day, season, and sunspot
OTHER PHENOMENA THAT AFFECT
Although daily changes in the ionosphere have
the greatest effect on communications, other phenomena also affect communications, both positively and negatively. Those phenomena are discussed briefly
in the following paragraphs.
SEASONAL VARIATIONS IN THE
Seasonal variations are the result of the earth’s
revolving around the sun, because the relative position
of the sun moves from one hemisphere to the other
with the changes in seasons. Seasonal variations of
the D, E, and F1 layers are directly related to the
highest angle of the sun, meaning the ionization density
of these layers is greatest during the summer. The
F2 layer is just the opposite. Its ionization is greatest
during the winter, Therefore, operating frequencies
for F2 layer propagation are higher in the winter than
in the summer.
One of the most notable occurrences on the surface
of the sun is the appearance and disappearance of dark, irregularly shaped areas known as SUNSPOTS.
Sunspots are believed to be caused by violent eruptions
on the sun and are characterized by strong magnetic
fields. These sunspots cause variations in the
ionization level of the ionosphere.
Sunspots tend to appear in two cycles,
every 27 days and every 11 years.
Twenty-Seven Day Cycle
The number of sunspots present at any one time
is constantly changing as some disappear and new ones emerge. As the sun rotates on its own axis, these
sunspots are visible at 27-day intervals, which is the
approximate period for the sun to make one complete
revolution. During this time period, the fluctuations
in ionization are greatest in the F2 layer. For this
reason, calculating critical frequencies for long-distance communications for the F2 layer is not possible and
allowances for fluctuations must be made.
Sunspots can occur unexpectedly, and the life span
variable. is sunspots of individual The
ELEVEN-YEAR SUN SPOT CYCLE is a regular
cycle of sunspot activity that has a minimum and
maximum level of activity that occurs every 11 years.
During periods of maximum activity, the ionization
density of all the layers increases. Because of this,
the absorption in the D layer increases and the critical
frequencies for the E, F1, and F2 layers are higher.
During these times, higher operating frequencies must
be used for long-range communications.
Irregular variations are just that, unpredictable
changes in the ionosphere that can drastically affect
our ability to communicate. The more common
variations are sporadic E, ionospheric disturbances,
and ionospheric storms.
Irregular cloud-like patches of unusually high
ionization, called the sporadic E, often format heights
near the normal E layer. Their exact cause is not
known and their occurrence cannot be predicted.
However, sporadic E is known to vary significantly
with latitude. In the northern latitudes, it appears to
be closely related to the aurora borealis or northern
The sporadic E layer can be so thin that radio
waves penetrate it easily and are returned to earth by
the upper layers, or it can be heavily ionized and
extend up to several hundred miles into the ionosphere.
This condition may be either harmful or helpful to
On the harmful side, sporadic E may blank out
the use of higher more favorable layers or cause
additional absorption of radio waves at some frequencies.
It can also cause additional multipath problems
and delay the arrival times of the rays of RF energy.
On the helpful side, the critical frequency of the
sporadic E can be greater than double the critical
frequency of the normal ionospheric layers. This may
permit long-distance communications with unusually
high frequencies. It may also permit short-distance
communications to locations that would normally be
in the skip zone.
Sporadic E can appear and disappear in a short
time during the day or night and usually does not occur
at same time for all transmitting or receiving stations.
Sudden Ionospheric Disturbances
Commonly known as SID, these disturbances may
occur without warning and may last for a few minutes
to several hours. When SID occurs, long-range hf
communications are almost totally blanked out. The
radio operator listening during this time will believe
his or her receiver has gone dead.
The occurrence of SID is caused by a bright solar
eruption producing an unusually intense burst of
ultraviolet light that is not absorbed by the F1, F2,
or E layers. Instead, it causes the D-layer ionization
density to greatly increase. As a result, frequencies
above 1 or 2 megahertz are unable to penetrate the
D layer and are completely absorbed.
Ionospheric storms are caused by disturbances in
the earth’s magnetic field. They are associated with
both solar eruptions and the 27-day cycle, meaning
they are related to the rotation of the sun. The effects
of ionospheric storms are a turbulent ionosphere and
very erratic sky-wave propagation. The storms affect
mostly the F2 layer, reducing its ion density and
causing the critical frequencies to be lower than
normal. What this means for communication purposes
is that the range of frequencies on a given circuit is
smaller than normal and that communications are
possible only at lower working frequencies.
Wind, air temperature, and water content of the
atmosphere can combine either to extend radio
communications or to greatly attenuate wave propagation making normal communications extremely difficult. Precipitation in the atmosphere has its
greatest effect on the higher frequency ranges.
Frequencies in the hf range and below show little effect from this condition.
RAIN.— Attenuation because of raindrops is greater
than attenuation for any other form of precipitation.
Raindrop attenuation may be caused either by
absorption, where the raindrop acts as a poor dielectric, absorbs power from the radio wave and dissipates the
power by heat loss; or by scattering (fig. 1-13).
Raindrops cause greater attenuation by scattering than
by absorption at frequencies above 100 megahertz.
At frequencies above 6 gigahertz, attenuation by
raindrop scatter is even greater.
FOG.— Since fog remains suspended in the
atmosphere, the attenuation is determined by the
quantity of water per unit volume (density of the fog)
and by the size of the droplets. Attenuation because
of fog has little effect on frequencies lower than 2
gigahertz, but can cause serious attenuation by
absorption at frequencies above 2 gigahertz.
SNOW.— Since snow has about 1/8 the density
of rain, and because of the irregular shape of the
snowflake, the scattering and absorption losses are
difficult to compute, but will be less than those caused
HAIL.— Attenuation by hail is determined by the
size of the stones and their density. Attenuation of
radio waves by scattering because of hailstones is
considerably less than by rain.
When layers of warm air form above layers of
cold air, the condition known as temperature inversion
develops. This phenomenon causes ducts or channels
to be formed, by sandwiching cool air either between
the surface of the earth and a layer of warm air, or
between two layers of warm air. If a transmitting
antenna extends into such a duct, or if the radio wave
enters the duct at a very low angle of incidence, vhf
and uhf transmissions may be propagated far beyond
normal line-of-sight distances. These long distances
are possible because of the different densities and
refractive qualities of warm and cool air. The sudden
change in densities when a radio wave enters the warm air above the duct causes the wave to be refracted back toward earth. When the wave strikes the earth or a
warm layer below the duct, it is again reflected or
refracted upward and proceeds on through the duct
with a multiple-hop type of action. An example of
radio-wave propagation by ducting is shown
in figure 1-14.
All radio waves propagated over the ionosphere
undergo energy losses before arriving at the receiving
site. As we discussed earlier, absorption and lower
atmospheric levels in the ionosphere account for a
large part of these energy losses. There are two other
types of losses that also significantly affect
propagation. These losses are known as ground
reflection losses and freespace loss. The combined
effect of absorption ground reflection loss, and
freespace loss account for most of the losses of radio
transmissions propagated in the ionosphere.
GROUND REFLECTION LOSS
When propagation is accomplished via multihop
refraction, rf energy is lost each time the radio wave
is reflected from the earth’s surface. The amount of
energy lost depends on the frequency of the wave, the
angle of incidence, ground irregularities, and the
electrical conductivity of the point of reflection.
Normally, the major loss of energy is because of
the spreading out of the wavefront as it travels from
the transmitter. As distance increases, the area of the
wavefront spreads out, much like the beam of a
flashlight. This means the amount of energy
contained within any unit of area on the wavefront
decreases as distance increases. By the time the
energy arrives at the receiving antenna, the
wavefront is so spread out that the receiving antenna
extends into only a small portion of the wavefront.
This is illustrated in figure 1-15.
You must have a thorough knowledge of radiowave
propagation to exercise good judgment when
selecting transmitting and receiving antennas and
operating frequencies. Selecting a usable operating
frequency within your given allocations and
availability is of prime importance to maintaining
For successful communication between any two
specified locations at any given time of the day, there
is a maximum frequency, a lowest frequency and an
optimum frequency that can be used.
MAXIMUM USABLE FREQUENCY
The higher the frequency of a radio wave, the
lower the rate of refraction by the ionosphere.
Therefore, for a given angle of incidence and time of
day, there is a maximum frequency that can be used
for communications between two given locations.
This frequency is known as the
MAXIMUM USABLE FREQUENCY (muf).
Waves at frequencies above the muf are
normally refracted so slowly that they return to earth
beyond the desired location or pass on through the
ionosphere and are lost. Variations in the ionosphere
that can raise or lower a predetermined muf may
occur at anytime. his is especially true for the highly
variable F2 layer.
LOWEST USABLE FREQUENCY
Just as there is a muf that can be used for
communications between two points, there is also a
minimum operating frequency that can be used
known as the LOWEST USABLE FREQUENCY (luf).
As the frequency of a radio wave is lowered, the rate
of refraction increases. So a wave whose frequency is
below the established luf is refracted back to earth at
a shorter distance than desired,
as shown in figure 1- 16.
As a frequency is lowered, absorption of the radio
wave increases. A wave whose frequency is too low is
absorbed to such an extent that it is too weak for
reception. Atmospheric noise is also greater at lower
frequencies. A combination of higher absorption and
atmospheric noise could result in an unacceptable
For a given angle ionospheric conditions, of
incidence and set of the luf depends on the refraction
properties of the ionosphere, absorption
considerations, and the amount of noise present.
OPTIMUM WORKING FREQUENCY
The most practical operating frequency is one
that you can rely onto have the least number of
problems. It should be high enough to avoid the
problems of multipath fading, absorption, and noise
encountered at the lower frequencies; but not so high
as to be affected by the adverse effects of rapid
changes in the ionosphere.
A frequency that meets the above criteria is
known as the OPTIMUM WORKING FREQUENCY
It is abbreviated “fot” from the initial letters of the
French words for optimum working frequency,
“frequence optimum de travail.” The fot is roughly
about 85% of the muf, but the actual percentage
varies and may be considerably more or less than 85
In this chapter, we discussed the basics of radiowave
propagation and how atmospheric conditions
determine the operating parameters needed to ensure
successful communications. In chapter 2, we will
discuss basic antenna operation and design to
complete your understanding of radio-wave
The U.S Navy Antenna theory training material
used for a better understanding of
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