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Airborne Antennas

Mike Brierley, Chelton Limited

1 Chelton Ltd. Commercial in Confidence


Introduction

Airborne antennas are a special case


Bandwidth is proportional to volume and conflicts
with aerodynamic requirements
Airframe acts as antenna groundplane and installed
performance is significantly affected by its size and
geometry
Other protrusions and apertures potentially impact
on performance
Extremely hostile operating environment
particularly for military aircraft

2 Chelton Ltd. Commercial in Confidence


Antenna Applications

Traditionally antennas were provided to fulfil Communication,


Navigation and Information requirements
Modern platforms tend to be multi-role and special mission radios are
being fitted
New requirements for office in the sky in civil environments require
additional antennas

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Traditional Solutions

HF antennas are wires, notches or ‘towel rails’


V/UHF antennas are typically blades
NAV Antennas (VOR/ILS) typically blades
L-band (DME, TACAN, XPDR, TCAS) usually blades/annular slots
RADALT (patches or slots)

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Limitations of traditional
approaches

Increased number of radios need increased number of antennas –


limited real estate
Blade solution while efficient imparts drag and directional stability,
additionally is susceptible to mechanical damage
Performance limiting in LO applications

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New Requirements

Multi-function antennas
Low profile/conformal
High performance
Design of antenna extending into local airframe design
Significantly increased EMC/environmental requirements
Environmental legislation restricting design choice

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Design Trends

Multifunction antenna combinations


VHF/UHF/L-Band
SATCOM/GPS
VHF/UHF/SATCOM
VHF/VOR
30MHz-1GHz intermediate solution
2MHz-2GHz long term goal

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Low Profile Antennas

Active antenna for receive only applications


Tunable structures eg pin diode
More efficient use of available volume

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Conformal Antennas

Embedded approach eg fin cap


Conformal structures eg Stabiliser fin
Inherently flush structures eg
patches, annular slots

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Active Antenna

Active element used to provide impedance transformation to match


antenna to 50 Ohm feeder
Disadvantages
Receive only
Bandwidth limitation
Dynamic range

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Tuned Antenna

Inductive or capacitive tuning elements electrically switched in or


out to match the antenna to 50 Ohms
Capable of transmit/receive operation
Very efficient operation can be achieved
Disadvantages
Increased complexity
Electronic tuning required
Requires frequency information

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Internal construction of a blade

Lightning Protection Shell/Top Tube

Radiating Element
Tuning Network
Matching Network

Multi-pin Connector
IFF and Guard
Elements RF Connector

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Logic Unit

Radio Interface

28 Vdc Power

Antenna Interface

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Internal Construction of LCU

Analog Driver Board

Digital and Radio


interface board

Power Supply and


transient protection

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UAVs – Special Case

Smaller airframe
High use of composites
Mass critical
High integrity datalinks required
Linear antenna performance
Tracking solutions
Space envelope constraints
Low observability
Mechanical susceptibility

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Evolving Requirements

Broadband SATCOM
2-way connectivity for office in the sky
TV receive only
Interior antennas
GSM PicoCells
Wi-Fi connectivity
Crew wireless headsets
GPS re-broadcast antennas
Gateway antennas

16 Chelton Ltd. Commercial in Confidence


Summary

Airborne antennas present special challenges


Evolving requirements need additional antennas increasing demands
on the available real estate
Higher degrees of integration are needed without compromising
Minimum Operational Performance requirements
Technical challenges are further impacted by the need for low profile
and conformal antennas
EM modelling now essential to predict and ensure installed
performance requirements are met
Close co-operation is required between the antenna designer and the
airframe manufacturer as the antenna is increasingly becoming part
of the airframe
The antenna can no longer be treated as an afterthought and in the
future the antenna designer will perform a valuable role interfacing
with both the radio manufacturer and the airframe designer

17 Chelton Ltd. Commercial in Confidence