The Science of Successful antenna design



As promised, James, Brad and Hughes, and anyone else interested, some info on turnstiles and the methods of antenna matching.

James made the following statement:

I came across this link  which explains how to build what they call a turn stile antenna.  Could anyone try and explain why this antenna would work as I had really poor performance with it.  I ended up using a simple cross dipole on the RX side with much better results.

I gave the start of an answer in a long reply which can be found in his post : 433 UHF LRS Antenna "Turn Stile"

Some further questions where asked regarding the methods of match the antenna, and the antenna tuning, so I will try to elaborate. 

First some fundamentals.

When I speak of antenna radiation it also includes the reverse, that is, the antenna 'collecting' radiated energy from the ether. 

Any piece of wire will radiate energy when connected to a source of RF ( Your transmitter or receiver). How WELL it radiates that applied energy  is dependent on only two factors-

  - That the antenna is resonant at the same frequency as the radio signal applied and

  - That the feedpoint of the antenna is matched to the impedance of the attached transmitter energy source.


Maximum energy tranfer between source and load ( the antenna) occurs ONLY when the load and source impedance's are equal.

How well the antenna radiates that energy in any or all directions, if the above conditions are met, is then only dependent on the antenna design, shape, or style. For example, a simple vertical 1/4 wave radiator will radiate a doughnut shaped pattern, in all direction of the compass, with low energy upwards and downwards, in the direction of the antenna element.

A yagi type antenna, on the other hand, ( such as your vhf or uhf TV antenna) focuses the energy in a single direction, as would a torch. Antenna do not have gain. They focus the energy to a greater or lesser extent, in a direction of design, but do this by robbing energy from other radiating directions - Your torch puts more light out the lens end, with nothing out the rear end. If you remove the reflector from behind the torch bulb, the light is radiated in all directions, omnidirectionally, but is much weaker at any distant point than the focused beam.


Antenna radiation is polarized; that is to say, the radiated electromagnetic wave has a net polarization plane. This is usually either linear or circular. Elliptical polarization is also found, but that is merely a mix of the two former types.

A 1/4wave vertical antenna will radiate linearly, with vertical polarization. Placed on its side it will radiate horizontal polarization.  A Helical antenna ( looks like a coil of wire wound in a screw fashion) wound clockwise when viewed from behind will radiate clockwise circular polarization, and vise versa.

For reception of maximum energy, the two antenna must be identically polarized. There is a massive loss of signal ( easily some 30dB, although the theoretical loss is infinite) if one attempts to receive a horizontally polarized signal with a vertically polarized antenna. Similarly, there are massive losses if trying to receive a circularly polarized signal with an antenna of the opposite circular sense.

The odd man out is that there is only a 3db loss between an antenna that is circularly polarized and one that is linear.

Why would one use circular polarization?

If the two antenna in question could not be made to maintain similar attitudes, such as one in a pitching , rolling aircraft, then there would be unacceptable signal losses as the aircraft banks and pitches. So you could use a vertical on the aircraft, and a helical or turnstile, or similar, on the ground segment. This way you would only ever experience a 3db maximum loss. ( all assuming good line of sight view). Or you could gain back the 3db loss by fitting a similar circularly polarized antenna on the aircraft, giving the best of both worlds. But you actually gain more than that with circular polarization at both ends.

Assume first that the two antenna are simple vertical monopoles, radiating vertically polarized signals. When you are flying, at the flying club, etc, you are probably near some metal structures, the 'hanger' , cars and other vehicles, etc. All these structures reflect the same energy you are trying to receive. In addition, when the aircraft is low and far, the RF transmitted by the A/C antenna follows two paths to your receiver - one directly, and one via a reflection from the ground, somewhat midway between you and the A/C.  What happens to the reflected wave is that the polarization is changed in unpredictable ways. Your receiver ( and antenna) does not know or care where the received energy comes from, so it receives this reflected energy as well. These multitude of received waves add constructively and destructively with the main received wave, causing large, short duration, signal drop-outs - a sort of 'flutter' in the signal.

If both antenna are circularly polarized, however, the picture is quite different. When the circular polarized waveform is reflected , it REVERSES its polarization. When this reversed polarized signal arrives at your receiving antenna it is largely rejected and hugely attenuated, so interfering minimally with the main received signal.



On to Issues of resonance and matching.

To repeat a little in my post to James:

Most simple linear antenna are either of the monopole or dipole form. A single monopole ( 1/4 wave vertical for example) or a single dipole will only radiate linear polarization.

Any antenna is only resonant when it is exactly the correct length AT the frequency of operation.( this does not apply to the class of broadband antenna, such as helical antenna, etc. The helical will easily cover an ocatve with good performance).

At resonance the antenna will exhibit its characteristic feedpoint impedance. Feedpoint impedance is expressed with two terms, the pure resistive part, and the reactive ( j operator) part.

Most transmitters and receivers terminal impedance are made to be 50ohms resistive, or very close to that. So it stands to reason the antenna must also be 50ohm resistive to have max energy transfer.  However, none of the antenna are that obliging, so we have to do some feedpoint matching to meet the criteria.

A 1/4wave vertical monopole over a ground plane has a resistive feed point of around 75ohms. A half wave dipole is around 72ohms. As with resistors, placing two dipole in parallel as in the IBcrazy turnstile, will result in a feedpoint impedance of 35ohms.

A 75ohm feed connected to a 50ohm coax and transmitter will exhibit a 1.5:1 SWR ( the ratio of power going out to power reflected). A 1.5:1 SWR means that approx 3% of your transmitter power is not being radiated. ( 30milliwatts for a 1watt transmitter). That is not so bad, and we can live with an SWR of 1.5:1 in most cases.

The turnstile antenna is a pair of crossed dipoles, fed 90deg out of phase with each other, thereby generating circular polarisation. You CANNOT simply connect the dipole in parallel at the coax feedpoint though. Apart from the halving of impedance ( which we decided we can live with) the radiation pattern and polarization of the antenna will be totally destroyed by unwanted radiation from the coax cable. The RF energy, at the dipole connection point, 'leaks' out and currents then flow down the outer shield of the coax. As mentioned previously, any piece of wire will radiate RF energy, and so the coax radiates this energy, and the radiation again adds constructively and destructively with the main antenna radiation, causes complete distortion and signal nulls in the pattern. This radiation from the coax MUST be prevented.

This is done by means of a Balun transformer. - which is is an acronym for 'Balanced to Unbalanced transformer'.

A dipole is a balanced device - it is electrical equal along each element, outwards from the feedpoint. It therefore requires that the feedpoint be fed in a balanced fashion. Coax cable is an an balanced feeder - the shield is at ground potential, while the inner core carries the energy. This effectively ( oversimplifying a little) connects the one dipole half to the 'live' core, and the other half to 'ground' unbalancing the dipole. This causes currents to flow on the coax outer shield, and distortion of the dipole radiation pattern.

Baluns can be constructed from coax cable, but the accuracy required in coax cable length ( they are normally length multiples of 1/4 wavelength) is very critical, especially in the GHz range - 0.5mm can have a great effect.

The turnstile is not new - it is some 50 to 60 years old, and is well researched and published. Up to the VHF and lower UHF region , the coax balun, with embedded impedance match transmission line transformer, is used, along these lines:


For the higher microwave frequencies, a plumbing type version is more appropriate. This is called the spilt tube or split sheath balun, and looks like this when used as a feed for a pair of crossed dipoles.



The balun and feed match consists of an outer and an inner tube. The ration of diameters D/d is chosen to give the desired impedance:

D/d = 1.86 for 75ohms, and 1.5 for 50 ohms.

Typically the outer tube would be around 8mm for use at 2.4GHz.

In order to obtain circular polarisation, I mentioned that the two dipole have to be fed 90deg apart ( phase quadrature).

This can be done as in the coax balun version above ( inserting an extra 1/4wave length of coax in the leg to one dipole gives an extra electrical wavelegnth of 90 degerees). 

Or, this can be achieved by slightly lengthening the one element ( becomes more inductive) and shortening the other( becomes more capacitive) - this also introduces the required phase difference between the elements.

This can be seen in the images above - the one element is typically around 0.21 wavelength per half, while the other is around 0.25 wavelength. One short and one long element penetrate the outer tube and are connected to the inner tube, while the opposite pair of elements are connected only to the outer tube. The outer tube is split or slotted ( 0.5mm width slot). The slot is approx 0.23 wavelength long.



The relationship in length between the two dipoles is critical, typically this would be measured on a network analyser and the feed impedance of each element set to say R+j45 ohms ( longer dipole) and the other to R-j45 ohms. This will give the correct phase relationship between elements. A half mm variation can have a great effect, turning a good antenna into a mediocre one..

The last image above shows a teflon tube - this is inserted in the tube from below, and fits snugly inside the outer tube, and over the inner tube. This is then slid up and down to adjust the 'R' part of R+-jX, till the match is a good 50ohms. This does not affect the antenna radiation pattern or characteristics. Obtaining a 50ohm impedance match can be done by trimming the element lengths as well, at the same time destroying the antenna radiation pattern and circularity.

And that is why it is not so simple to do at home, and why the 'Hobby King'  et al variants sold everywhere are mostly trash..You will probably achieve a few km range with those- remember, any old piece of wire will radiate -  I easily  achieve 15km with 500milliwats at 2.4GHz using two split sheath balun , properly matched and trimmed, crossed dipoles..

For those interested:

References are - RSGB VHF/UHF Manual - page 8.45

Modern Antenna Design - Page 255

Here are some images of my split sheath balun crossed dipoles..




The Nampilot.

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  • Also... I'm curious why the phase extension coax is labeled as 75-ohm after you've already added in a 50-ohm matching cable?

  • What an elegantly simple solution! I am using the same combination of frequencies in my X8,so have been following your comments to Iskess closely. I will model a couple of options in EZNEC and test them in real life, and post my findings as well.

    Joe,once again I want to thank you for your invaluable insight here.
  • Typo: Coax cable is an an unbalanced feeder

  • @ iskess:

    Sorry, somehow my image was dumped - I will try to post it here again...


  • Hi Iskess,

    Since the 433MHz signal appears to be the strongets on your setup, we can afford to compromise more on that antenna than the others.

    In the crude image below I have just added some rough graphics to show the relevant antenna and there positions relevant to each other. They are sufficiently unrelated harmonically to interfere with each other and if you try to space them as far from each other as the stab will allow, you should do OK.

    The blue is a 5/8 vertical, with the ground plane on the horizontal stab. Its ground plane is a layer of copper foil on the Hstab, connected to the coax outer shield.

    The Lilac is the 1280MHz dipole, with ferrites at the connection, and the coax leads away at 90deg, and bisects the V of the 433 side-verted V antenna.

    The Yellow is the 433MHz antenna, in a side ways 'inverted V' ie, just a bent dipole. I believe this will work, but I am not sure of the stab dimensions, so could not indicate absolute sizes and positions. 

    You will however need to be able to measure SWR of the elements in open air and then when fitted, to see if the proximity to other elements is affecting antenna match. Are you able to do that/loan instruments to do that?


  • Hi Gary,

    Lets not be too critical of Thomas. I feel for his frustration - All my post talks of is how things should be done, measured and evaluated - yes it gives technical insight into  the pitfalls lurking, but it is not an antenna cookbook, and it does not place better products on the shelf for users to buy, so users are stuck with what is out there. And that is frustrating. Whether IBcrazy's products are good, bad or indifferent is not relevant; He has had the balls to put his products on the market. I cannot do that, because I would want to provide some sort of guarantee to the user, based on a measured and proven specification, that the product works and will give added value when used according to the specs. To do that means that each design will have to be fully qualified, measured and accredited, by which time the costs make the product not viable in the DIY market. I do not know any other way of doing this, other than doing it right. 

    I am going to stick my neck our here..I will try to design a few antenna applicable to the fixed wing UAV users, with some build instructions and info and build data for some basic test equipment to test the antenna before and after installation. I will confirm the radiation patterns and try to recommend installation methods and practices that may preserve these patterns leaving the user to use the mentioned test equipment to ensure the antenna remains matched after installation - I may fail hopelessly  in this, but maybe it will work!

    It will take a little while, and I will try to post each one as a blog for what its worth.


  • Hi Joe,

    I think your article (now wiki page) does a really great job of explaining the basic operating characteristics of an antenna as it relates to our several uses and of providing information for evaluating and even for designing appropriate antennas.

    How this is not a good thing I really cant imagine and I was born less than a hundred mile from Thomas so I'm pretty sure it isn't something in the water.

    Best Regards,


  • Oh dear Thomas,

    Doctorate done, just trying to spread the word...Do forgive my inability to explain more clearly; If I have the knowledge I will strive to do better.

    It was not intended as a treatise, Thomas. Not all articles posted have to be a do it yourself recipe. Sometimes further knowledge of information merely helps folk by letting them ask more of the right questions.



    I will post again with you this evening - just have my hands full here today!


  • @ Thomas Butler;

    Yes, you 100% correct - The way of Science may the the 'correct' way, but in most cases the real world rules - So one has to make do with what is to hand. I agree - does not mean we cannot strive to improve though..

    @mP1; I agree with you completely - the problem is that there is never gain for naught lost; and so you lose by adding some weight, servos, brackets, etc. Also, it is really only practical at the higher frequencies where the size of a flailing antenna is smaller..

  • @Joe

    On planes and copters it seems such a waste to radiate all that energy in all directions when some direction could result in a direct beam (high gain) towards home.

    I suppose on a plane it might be trickier but on copters which are relatively level most of the time, it seems much simpler. 

    One day i will try and control a servo from the apm back towards home. It already knows where home is on startup, so most of the code is done just time to get off my arse.

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