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The Basics of Quadrifilar Helix Antennas

Authors:
  • Orban Microwave Products
www.orbanmicrowave.com
By Bill Slade
The Basics of Quadrifilar Helix Antennas
technical article
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2
introduction
From its almost accidental origins, the axial mode helix antenna has gone
from a young professor’s laboratory curiosity to one of the most widely
used antennas for UHF and microwave communications. With the explosive
growth of satellite-based services, the ability to receive or transmit a tight beam of
circularly polarized radiation while minimizing unwanted radiation is imperative to
maintaining good communication. The axial-mode helical antenna provides a high
performance and robust antenna platform both in space as well as on the ground.
The term “axial-mode” refers to the tendency of the antenna
to radiate in the direction of the ends (axially), instead of
laterally, if the helix circumference is of the order of one
wavelength. Moreover the axial mode helix also radiates a
predominantly circularly polarized wave. Circular polarization
is important in space communications as well as in terrestrial
mobile applications, because the favorable relative orientation
between linear polarized transmitting and receiving antennas
is not guaranteed. Moreover, for space applications, Faraday
rotation through the ionosphere is generally unpredictable.
(Magnetized plasma in the ionosphere rotates the direction of
linear polarization, but has no effect on circular polarization.)
For these reasons, it is likely that linear polarized antennas
would experience deep signal fades from these effects, making
communication unreliable. Hence the utility of helical antennas
in their many forms (for example: monofilar, quadrifilar, conical,
resonant, spiral, etc.).
The simplest incarnation of the axial mode helix is the monofilar
helical antenna. Consisting simply of a screw-wound single
conductor over a ground plane (Figure 1), this antenna
produces circular polarization that follows the winding sense of
the helix and maintains a fairly constant feedpoint impedance
over a wide bandwidth.
Using an antenna simulator, we explore several helical antenna
examples. We first look at the monofilar helix antenna to
establish a starting baseline for comparison with the quadrifilar
antennas and to show a useful impedance matching method.
We then study so-called long (i.e. more than a wavelength)
traveling wave quadrifilar helix antennas to demonstrate the
superior control one has over the antenna pattern by modifying
the phase progression of each helical radiator. We end our
brief story with the short resonant quadrifilar helix; the real
star of our show. This antenna finds much use in portable
applications, due to its compactness and ease of integration
with mobile systems. We show some examples of our compact
helix antenna designs for use in GPS, L-band satcom, as well as
VHF/UHF ELT, PLB and EPIRB applications.
Keep in mind that a “traveling wave” antenna is a structure that
is not a resonant antenna. A wave is “launched” from the feed
and “leaks out” into space as it moves toward the end. By the
time the launched wave has reached the end of the antenna,
it has died down to a low level and power reflected back into
the feed is very small, generally over a wide bandwidth. This
behavior is the opposite of that of a small “resonant” antenna
where a wave bounces back and forth from the feed end and
open end of the antenna with little decay, as is the case with
a dipole antenna or a short resonant helix. Power is efficiently
radiated in this case only over a small bandwidth.
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introduction
Three helix antenna types
The monofilar helix antenna was invented in 1946 by John
Kraus. Few antennas are as easy to construct as Kraus’ original
monofilar helix. Some form of support, a “pie-pan” ground
plane of any diameter between ½-1 wavelength, some simple
impedance matching and a single conductor wound according
to a few simple rules yields a circularly polarized antenna
capable of 10-17 dBi gain over 60% fractional bandwidth.
Feedpoint impedances, depending on the feed geometry,
will be of the order 150-300 ohms (depending on antenna
geometry), therefore some form of impedance matching will be
needed for efficient operation in 50 ohm systems.
Helix windings and circular polarization are always described
as “right-“ or “left-handed.” Keeping this straight is important,
but not difficult using the “right-hand” and “left-hand” rules.
If you point the thumb of your right hand along the helix axis
away from the feed and your fingers coil around in the direction
of the windings moving away from the feed, the helix is “right-
handed.” The helix is “left-handed” if it satisfies this rule with the
left hand. For polarization, your thumb points in the direction
of propagation away from the antenna (not necessarily along
the helix axis, though) and your fingers correspond to the
corresponding left- or right-hand circular movement of the
electric field vector. Another possible visualization model is
that of a screw. Most screw and bolt threads are “right-handed”
spirals that can be easily verified using the right-hand rule
pointing away from the screw head.
The antenna in Figure 1 consists of a single loosely wound coil of
wire around a central axis. One can easily see that the sense of
the winding is right-handed, indicating that this antenna radiates
a right-handed circular polarized wave in the presence of the
ground plane. Notice the central support needed to prevent
drooping of the helical conductor. This can be metallic or non-
metallic without affecting the radiation properties significantly.
Figure 1: Monofilar axial-mode helical antenna.1
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The performance of the long helical antenna is improved by
using the quadrifilar configuration seen in Figure 2. By adding
the extra windings, the radiation pattern can be tightened up
and sidelobes reduced with respect to the monofilar helix.
Furthermore, the circular polarization characteristics can be
improved without increasing the antenna footprint. Usually, each
component helix is excited in a 90 degree progression going
clockwise or counter clockwise, depending on polarization/
lobe direction combination we want to radiate. For the quadrifilar
helix wound in the right-hand sense, a clockwise (left-hand)
phase progression of the feeds induces the “forward helix
mode”, so called because the wave phase appears to propagate
along the helix from the feed to the open end. The 0° phase
point moves progressively to helices that sit physically above
the others as time progresses. Likewise, a counter clockwise
(right-hand) excitation of the individual helices causes a helix
wave whose phase appears to move toward the feed in the
so-called “backward helix mode” configuration. The 0° phase
point now moves progressively to helices below the present
one. Note that the forward mode will radiate as an endfire beam
and the backward mode as a backfire beam and the circular
polarization will be opposed to the sense of the helix winding
sense, regardless of the feed phase progression.
When a ground plane is present however, backfire radiation
is then reflected forward and the circular polarization sense is
reversed. Helical antennas that use ground planes typically use
the backfire mode of operation, relying on the ground plane as a
reflector for converting backfire to endfire radiation. Under certain
circumstances we may desire to eliminate the ground plane and
permit the backward mode to radiate in the direction of the feed,
which we exploit for the compact resonant quadrifilar antennas.
To summarize the salient points of the quadrifilar antenna:
•If feed phasing sense is the same as quadrifilar helix
winding sense, the antenna will be backfire.
•If feed phasing sense is opposed to the helix winding
sense, the antenna will be endfire.
•The circular polarization sense of the radiation will be
opposed to the helix winding sense regardless of the
feed phasing sense.
•If a backfire helix antenna is used with a reflector or
ground plane at the feed, the sense of the circular
polarization is reversed and the antenna becomes
endfire. The polarization sense now corresponds to
the winding sense of the helices.
Counter clockwise phasing=
Backward helix mode
Backfire radiation
Clockwise phasing=
Forward helix mode
Endfire radiation
Figure 2: Long quadrifilar axial-mode helical antenna wound in the
right-hand sense. The disk at the bottom corresponds to the ground
plane if it is present. The feed points of the helices are located at the
bottom of the helices and the “clockwise” and “counterclockwise”
feed sense is defined looking down from the top of the antenna.
introduction
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The quadrifilar helix need not be a long traveling wave
antenna, but can be shortened to sizes commensurate with ½
a wavelength and operated as a resonant antenna, much like
the familiar resonant dipole or loop antenna. Whereas the wide-
bandwidth long helices operate well despite some deviation
from the ideal antenna dimensions, the operation of the
resonant, narrow-bandwidth backfire quadrifilar helix antenna
(Figure 3) requires a careful choice of antenna dimensions and
attention to construction detail.
The feeds of each helix in the long quadrifilar antennas require
some sort of quadrature feeding network to generate the 90°
phase progressions. This can take the form of quadrature
hybrids and power splitters. However, for the small resonant
helix, it is advantageous to use two co-wound ½ helices of
slightly different dimensions that induce quadrature excitation
of each helix pair. This property is very similar to the “nearly
square” method of generating circular polarization in a
microstrip patch antenna.2
Consistent with the quadrifilar helix behavior in the absence
of a ground plane, the helix winding sense is opposed to the
desired circular polarization sense. That is to say a left-hand
wound helix will generate right hand circular polarization. Keep
in mind that if the winding sense is not correct, the polarization
sense will be incorrect and communication will be severely
impeded (if not completely prevented). The cross polarization
suppression can be in excess of 20 to 30 dB!
This antenna produces a nearly hemispherical radiation pattern.
Careful adjustment of the “bent eggbeater” loop dimensions will
produce a 50 ohm feedpoint impedance as well as excellent
quadrature excitation without the need for external quadrature
generating circuits. Moreover, since no ground plane is needed,
making this one of the most useful helix antennas for handheld
and mobile UHF and microwave radios. Of course, for all this
small antenna goodness, one must sacrifice the bandwidth and
directivity of the large traveling wave helical antennas.
Whereas we focus on three basic versions of the helical
antenna, the reader needs to be aware that helical antennas
include a large class of spirals and conical helices that take
many forms and can be optimized for multi-octave bandwidths,
variable polarization, steerable beams, etc. The goal of this brief
article is to introduce three basic forms of the helical antenna
in a qualitative manner; progressing from the monofilar helix to
the compact quadrifilar helical antenna. The reader wishing a
more in-depth exposition of helical antennas is directed to the
list of references. The book by Kraus3 is especially accessible
and informative in this regard.
Figure 3: Backfire resonant quadrifilar helix antenna popular for
GNSS, communications and weather satellite receiving stations.
This antenna is configured for right-hand circular polarization. Note
left-hand winding sense and the feedpoint at the top of the antenna.
introduction
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discussion
The monofilar helix
as baseline
Before looking at the quadrifilar
examples, we should get an idea of the
expected performance of a typical helix
antenna. The main design criteria are the
helix diameter, the winding pitch angle
(determined by the antenna height and
number of turns) and the ground plane
diameter, all shown in Figure 4. The
electrical performance of the helix is not
strongly affected by the diameter of the
conductors and is generally dictated
by mechanical constraints. Values of
0.001-0.01 wavelength will give good
results. Increasing the spacing between
the turns and the circumference of the
helix and number of turns will increase the directivity of the
antenna. The feedpoint impedance is also sensitive to the turn
spacing and circumference, generally increasing as these
dimensions increase.
Satisfying the requirements presented in Table 1, we choose
a right-handed helix with seven turns and a winding pitch p of
0.25 wavelengths. Consequently, the helix height will be 1.75
wavelengths. If we choose the helix circumference to be one
wavelength (near optimum),the helix diameter will be 1/π or
0.318 wavelengths. The winding pitch angle is 14.8°, which
gives us the 0.25 wavelength turn separation. Let us start with
the assumption that the ground plane is of infinite extent. If we
assume a wavelength of 1 meter (frequency=300 MHz), we find
that this antenna radiates a well-defined circularly polarized wave
with a pattern found in Figure 5. As we move to lower elevations,
the radiation becomes elliptically polarized (a degraded form of
circular polarization). At the lowest elevations (near the ground
plane) the radiation is nearly vertically polarized. The directivity
of this antenna is about 8 dBi.
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Figure 4: Monofilar helix showing main
design criteria. These dimensions scale
to wavelengths.
Figure 5: Radiation pattern of 7 turn
right-hand polarized helix at 300MHz.
Radial scale in all plots is linear in power,
helix axis is at 0°.
Table 1: Set of parameters required for axial-mode operation.
Parameter Value
Helix circumference C 3λ/4<C<4λ/3 (we choose 1λ)
Winding separation p 0.19λ<p<0.25λ (we choose 0.25λ)
Winding pitch angle α 11λ<α<15λ (14.77° gives 0.25λ turn separation)
Number of windings N 3<N<15 (we use 7 turns)
Ground plane (GP) diameter D D>λ/2 (we use infinite ground plane, unless stated otherwise)
Conductor thickness tLow sensitivity to t, as long as mechanically feasible.
Feedpoint impedance Z Sensitive to feed configuration. Typically 140-250 ohm
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discussion
The 3 dB beamwidth in this case is about 70°. Notice the
appearance of two sidelobes near 60° off the vertical axis. As
a result of the feed geometry, we observe a slight asymmetry in
the pattern, especially visible in the sidelobes. This asymmetry
contributes to a slight “beam squint” in the main lobe (a slight
off-axis deviation of the main lobe).
The sidelobes become more apparent as the frequency
increases. This is because the helix antenna behaves exactly
as an array antenna would, i.e. as phase delay between each
array element increases (in this case, helix turns) sidelobes
become more evident. The main lobe becomes narrower as
well, as seen in Figure 6.
Additionally, the sidelobes become more linearly polarized at
low elevation angles (near 90°). For all practical purposes, at
low elevation angles around 70° off axis, the waves are nearly
linearly (vertically) polarized at 350 MHz. The sidelobes become
more pronounced and we now have a half-power beamwidth of
about 50°, and a maximum directivity of 8 (9 dBi).
Effect of finite ground plane
One may also ask how a finite ground plane affects helix
performance. To shed some light on this, we construct a model
with a circular finite ground plane of 0.8 wavelength diameter
instead of the infinite half-plane (Figure 7).
For the finite ground plane example, we should expect
significant backfire radiation lobes as there will be some
diffraction around the ground plane edges. However, we see
that the main lobe beamwidth is perturbed only slightly from
the infinite ground plane ideal (slightly reduced gain in Figure
8: 7.1 dBi versus 9 dB for the infinite ground plane at 300 MHz).
There is a slightly increased beam squint over that of the infinite
ground plane backed helix. The backfire sidelobes in the finite
ground plane case are left-hand elliptically polarized, as a result
of diffraction around the finite reflector. The extent of this effect
will be strongly dependent on the antenna geometry. Therefore
these results should not be taken as representative for all helical
antennas with finite ground planes.
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Figure 6: Radiation pattern for 7 turn helix
at 350 MHz. Notice that sidelobes are
more evident and main lobe is narrower,
exhibiting higher gain than at 300 MHz.
Figure 7: Geometry of the wire mesh finite ground plane used in simulations.
Ground plane diameter is 0.8 wavelength at 300 MHz.
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8
Feedpoint impedance
and bandwidth
One of the remarkable things discovered by Kraus and
his colleagues was the relative invariance of the feedpoint
impedance of the helical antenna over a surprisingly wide
bandwidth. Although the feedpoint impedance is very
sensitive to the feed structure geometry, the impedance
remains relatively constant over 60% or so bandwidth and is
predominantly resistive. For our seven-turn example, Figure 9
shows the feedpoint impedance for the infinite ground plane
and 0.8 wavelength diameter finite ground plane.
The finite ground plane increases the feedpoint impedance
somewhat and introduces a bit more variation over the
operating band, but the variation is not so much as to degrade
an impedance match over a wide operating bandwidth.
Impedance matching
As we see in Figure 9, the feedpoint impedance of the helix is
clearly too high for the 50 ohm antenna impedance expected
by typical radio equipment. Narrowband matching can be
readily carried out using lumped capacitors and inductors, but
that would preclude the exploitation of the helical antenna’s
famously wide bandwidth. It turns out that the helix is easily
matched over a wide bandwidth by modifying the feed with a
wide strip that acts as a wideband impedance transformer, as
seen in Figure 10. A ¼ wavelength metal strip is attached to
the first ¼ turn of the helix. This forms a tapered transmission
line transformer that provides the necessary (nearly) frequency
independent match between the helix and the 50 ohm source.
The monofilar helix antenna with a 0.04λ wide strip attached to
the first ¼ turn of the helix (using a wire segment approximation
to a solid metal strip: Figure 11) yields a much more favorable
feedpoint impedance (and hence VSWR), as is clear from
Figure 12. In Figure 11, the currents on the wire segments are
indicated by the color density on the segments. We see that
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Impedance (Ohms)
Freq. (MHz)
Single helix above finite & infinite ground plane, p=0.25, 7 turn, C=1.0
inf GP Re(Z)
inf GP Im(Z)
finite GP Re(Z)
finite GP Im(Z)
Figure 9: Feedpoint impedance of 7 turn helix over infinite and finite
ground planes. Note slightly higher impedance for finite ground plane
case and the predominantly resistive nature of the impedance. The
designation “inf GP” refers to infinite ground plane and “finite GP”
refers to finite ground plane.
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Figure 8: Radiation pattern for 7 turn helix on 0.8 wavelength
diameter ground plane at 300MHz.
discussion
www.orbanmicrowave.com 9
the currents are large at the feed point and much lower at the
start of the helix, indicative of the strip’s transformer action.
The best frequency of operation is near the middle of the
operating band: 325 MHz, where the reactive component of the
feedpoint impedance vanishes and the resistive component of
the impedance lies near 45 ohms (a good match to a 50 ohm
source impedance, VSWR=1.1).
It is remarkable that such a simple impedance matching
structure can retain almost the entire bandwidth of the
unmatched antenna. From 300 MHz to 370 MHz, the VSWR
lies around 1.2 and over the band 240 MHz to 390 MHz, the
VSWR is less than 2 (when connected to a 50 ohm system).
Whereas an elaborate inductor-capacitor (LC) network may be
able to achieve this result, the losses incurred in a wideband LC
matching network would render such a network impractical. (A
narrowband LC matching network might still find practical use,
depending on the application.)
1/4
wavelength
Wide strip transformer
Helical radiator
Ground plane
Helical radiator
Wide strip transformer
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impedancereal [ohm] [ohm] imag
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SWR
Figure 10: Wideband matching feed for helical
antenna consisting of a 1/4 wavelength strip attached
to the start of the helix.
Figure 12: Impedance and VSWR plots for strip-matched helical antenna.
Note VSWR less than 2 over 50% fractional bandwidth.
Figure 11: Helix geometry showing wire segment approximation to
impedance matching strip at base of helix.
discussion
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10
The long quadrifilar helix
We now turn to a more complex manifestation of the helical
antenna: the long quadrifilar helix with a ground plane. This
antenna has the same dimensions (number of turns, diameter,
winding pitch) as the monofilar helix, but now we have four right-
handed co-wound helices whose starting points on the ground
plane are located at 90 degree intervals (Figure 13).
If each helix is driven in a 90 degree progression with the same
amplitude, as shown in Figure 14, we radiate a right-hand
circular polarized wave with a tighter radiation pattern than the
monofilar helical antenna described in Table 1.
If we compare the gain and axial ratio performance (higher axial
ratio=worse circular polarization) of the quadrifilar antenna with
the monofilar helix, we see that the quadrifilar antenna has 2.5
times higher gain (4dB) and superior on-axis axial ratio (Figure
16). The axial ratio performance of the quadrifilar helix at low
elevations degrades faster than that for the monofilar, but it
should be kept in mind that the gain rolloff is much sharper for
the quadrifilar (see Figure 17), so the degraded circularly (i.e.
elliptically) polarized radiated power at low elevations contributes
little to overall antenna performance. The circular polarization
performance of the quadrifilar antenna is actually superior over
its main lobe. The beam squint is also no longer present. The
main beam is perfectly on-axis.
The versatility of the quadrifilar helix can justify the extra
complexity, especially if we wish to operate the helix in a
different mode.
For example, by reversing the phase progression (rotation
sense of the feed), we excite the forward wave mode, which is
the true endfire mode of the quadrifilar helix. Since it comes out
of the open end of the antenna, it does not interact significantly
with the ground plane and exhibits the left-hand polarization of
a right-hand wound helix. The ground plane serves to reflect the
side lobes into the forward direction.
+
+
with right handed
helices
Helix feedpoints Field
rotation
sense
90
0
o
o
Figure 13: Long quadrifilar helical antenna geometry over an infinite
ground plane. Dimensions are equivalent to the monofilar helix, but
now we have 4 co-wound helices.
Figure 14: Depiction of the driving signals for right-hand circular
polarization applied to each co-wound helix in the quadrifilar
antenna with a ground plane. The axis of the helix is directed out
of the page and phase progression sense is always defined by
looking down on the antenna.
discussion
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Figure 15: Antenna pattern of long quadrifilar helix radiating in
forward mode at 300 MHz with ground plane. Note the lack of
substantial sidelobes and smaller beamwidth when compared to
Figure 5. Directivity of 15 corresponds to 11.7 dBi.
Figure 18: Right-handed quadrifilar helix with left-handed feedpoint
phase progression over an infinite ground plane
Figure 17: Directivity profiles for monofilar and quadrifilar antennas
at 300 MHz. Quad antenna has approximately 4 dB more gain along
the endfire direction and rolls of more quickly than the monofilar
case. Elevation angle is defined such that 0° lies along the axis of
the helix.
Figure 16: Comparison of the axial ratio performance of the
monofilar and quadrifilar helical antennas. Elevation angle is defined
such that 0° lies along the axis of the helix.
discussion
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12
The quadrifilar helix antenna
without a ground plane
Since we can operate the helices as balanced pairs (i.e. one
helix in a pair with current +1 and the other with -1), it turns
out that it is useful to eliminate the ground plane all together!
Doing this, however, causes some interesting changes to the
quadrifilar helix operation. Most strikingly, removing the ground
plane reverses the relationship between the winding sense of
the helices and the polarization sense of the radiated wave
for the backward helix mode. That is to say, the right-handed
helical antenna radiates a left-hand polarized wave and vice
versa. Another useful difference is the capability to radiate
backfire beams (lobes in the direction of the antenna feed).
Furthermore, the ratio of endfire to backfire radiated power can
be controlled by changing the phasing and amplitude of the
excitation of each individual helix.
Let us consider an example: a simulation of a 7 turn left-handed
quadrifilar helix with element excitation for the forward helix
mode produces the radiation pattern in Figure 19.
The gain of this antenna is considerably lower at 3 (5 dBi)
than the quadrifilar helix antenna with the ground plane (with
directivity 15 or 11.7 dBi).
Reversing the phase progression of the sources driving the
helices excites the backward helix mode, producing a backfire
main radiation lobe (Figure 20).
By carefully choosing the excitation, we can excite both modes
simultaneously, producing both endfire and backfire radiation
(Figure 21)!
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Figure 19: Endfire mode of left-handed quadrifilar with excitation
that produces an endfire main lobe. Here, left-handed helices now
produce right-handed circular polarization.
Figure 20: Reversing the phase progression of the excitation
produces backfire radiation. The polarization of the radiation is
still predominantly right-hand circular. Notice that the quality of the
backfire main lobe is better than the endfire lobe (i.e. sidelobes are
smaller, directivity higher).
discussion
www.orbanmicrowave.com 13
Reviewing the three previous patterns, we see that the forward
(endfire) radiation mode for our chosen antenna geometry
produces a somewhat “squashed” wide radiation lobe. The
backward (backfire) radiation mode gives us a pleasing-looking
cardioid pattern. Calculations indicate that current is very small
toward the end of the antenna, indicating that the final turns do
not affect the antenna performance much. The antenna could
be shortened without affecting performance much.
To summarize the differences between the ground-
plane backed quadrifilar helical antennas and the
antennas not backed with a ground plane, we have:
•Typically, the usual desired mode is when helix winding
sense and polarization sense correspond for ground
plane backed antennas (with some exceptions).
•For quadrifilars without ground plane, helix winding
sense is the opposite of the expected polarization sense.
•For quadrifilars without a ground plane, backfire
radiation is possible (and, as we will see with the
small quadrifilars, desirable).
•For quadrifilars without the ground plane, the backfire
mode usually yields a better radiation pattern than the
endfire mode, i.e. higher directivity, lower sidelobes.
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Figure 21: Quadrifilar helix operating in endfire and backfire mode
simultaneously. Radiation in the backfire lobe has a linearly
polarized component. However, we have predominantly circular
polarization and it is always right-handed.
discussion
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14
Small quadrifilars:
the backfire resonant
quadrifilar helical antenna
Up to now, we considered large helical antennas that exhibited
large bandwidths and directivities. These antennas are useful
for mounting on fixed stations or satellites, where highly
directional beams and/or wide bandwidth are demanded,
but compactness is not a design constraint. The monofilar
antenna requires a ground plane to function properly, which
adds to its bulk. The quadrifilar antenna, because it can be
fed with a pair of balanced sources, can be designed without
a ground plane. We can exploit this property of the quadrifilar
helix in compact helical designs as well. This is the starting
point for the discussion of the compact backfire resonant
quadrifilar antenna.
Mobile and hand-held applications put tight constraints on
antenna size. Maintaining circular polarization and giving nearly
hemispherical coverage (since antenna orientation during
operation is often unknown) are useful characteristics. The
small resonant quadrifilar helix is an ideal antenna for these
applications.
Usually, this antenna consists of four helices of ¼ or ½ turn and
phased in a 90 degree progression, as in the long quadrifilar
helix described above. The form is somewhat like a “twisted
eggbeater” as shown in Figure 22. The feedpoint is at the top of
the antenna and the sense of the twist is opposite to the desired
polarization (as in our “free space” long quadrifilars discussed
above). The feed phase progression is defined opposite to the
twist sense to excite the backward wave mode of the helix,
which gives rise to the backfire radiation. This phasing can be
generated in an external network, but it is possible to eliminate
external phasing networks by careful dimensioning of the loops.
It turns out by making one pair of helices slightly larger than
the other, and connecting the feed as in the lower depiction
in Figure 22, we can auto-generate the quadrature excitation.
Using a technique reminiscent of the “nearly square” method of
quadrature generation in circularly polarized patch antennas,
one loop is above resonance and the other below such that
the current phase difference is exactly 90°. Judicious choice
of dimensions will also place the feedpoint impedance near 50
ohms, and ensure equal power splitting between the large and
small loops.
After optimizing the dimensions a bit, we arrive at the
specifications shown in Table 2:
Parameter Value
Large loop height 39.3 cm
Small loop height 33.0 cm
Diameter 12.5 cm
Conductor diameter 1.0 mm
Operating frequency 300 MHz
z
y
(out of page)
x
x
y
feed method
Explicit quadrature
Radiation comes out here
Feed is here
L
S
L
S
Phase
feed method
rotation
sense
Self−quadrature + −
+
+
0 deg
90 deg
helix
diam
Small loop
Large loop
Left−hand
winding sense
Figure 22: Geometry of the small resonant quadrifilar helix
antenna. Top feeding method is that used in the discussion of
long quadrifilar antennas. The lower feeding method is the
“self-quadrature” method. L=long loop, S=short loop.
Table 2: Specifications of a small quadrifilar antenna.
discussion
www.orbanmicrowave.com 15
The resulting feedpoint impedance indicates essentially a
perfect match at 300 MHz in Figure 23. A VSWR of 2 or less
is achieved between 292 MHz and 308 MHz; approximately
5% fractional bandwidth (half that amount, if we want to keep
the VSWR below 1.5). The narrow bandwidth of this structure
indicates that the radiation properties depend very strongly
on small variations of the antenna geometry. Constructing this
antenna requires good attention to detail if one expects to get
good performance.
The radiation pattern in Figure 24 shows the good
hemispherical coverage achieved with this antenna. The
attentive reader will notice how the cardioid shape is similar to
the radiation pattern generated by the backfire long quadrifilar
helix in the previous section.
The circular polarization is of a reasonable quality. The axial
ratio over the main lobe is below 2 dB (i.e. from 0-110° from
the vertical).
Despite the lack of a physical ground plane, the front-to-back
ratio is surprisingly good in the (better than 10 dB).
250 260 270 280 290 300 310 320 330 340 350 MHz
7.5 -140
10 -120
12.5 -100
15 -80
17.5 -60
20 -40
22.5 -20
25 0
27.5 20
30 40
32.5 60
35 80
37.5 100
40 120
42.5 140
45 160
47.5 180
50 200
impedancereal [ohm] [ohm] imag
250 260 270 280 290 300 310 320 330 340 350 MHz
1
1.5
2
2.5
3
3.5
4
4.5
5
5.5
6
6.5
7
7.5
8
8.5
9
9.5
10
SWR
Figure 23: Feedpoint impedance versus frequency. This is clearly
a narrowband antenna in comparison to the long helices covered in
the previous sections. The match at the design frequency is good.
Figure 25: Axial ratio for compact resonant helix versus elevation angle.
0 0.5 1 1.5 2 2.5 3
170
160
150
140
130
120
110
100
90
80
70
60
50
40
30
20 10 0 10 20
30
40
50
60
70
80
90
100
110
120
130
140
150
160
170
180
Figure 24: Circularly polarized hemispherical pattern for resonant
quadrifilar helix based on self-quadrature. Note that we have turned
the antenna around so that the backfire direction is now at 0°.
discussion
www.orbanmicrowave.com
16
This concludes our brief survey of three important axial-mode
helical antennas. The discussion of the monofilar helix provides
a baseline for operation as well as a historical link to the early
work by Kraus in helical antennas. Important topics, such as
wideband impedance matching, are also briefly covered.
Moving on to quadrifilar helical antennas, we study some of the
versatile ways in which these antennas behave as we alter the
excitation of the individual helical elements.
Whereas the monofilar axial mode helix antenna is limited to a
single polarization defined by its winding geometry and must
use a ground plane, quadrifilar helices can be operated in a
combination of modes that provide control over the radiation
pattern and polarization mix. Ground planes are not needed
if the quadrifilar antenna is operated as a pair of balanced
helices. This turns out to be very useful for designing compact
resonant helical antennas for portable applications.
Designers need to be aware of how the presence or absence
of the ground plane changes the radiation behavior of the
antenna. Notably, the helix winding sense usually corresponds
to the polarization sense when a ground plane is present.
When the ground plane is absent, the winding sense and
polarization sense are usually opposed. Furthermore, care
must be taken to ensure that the feedpoint excitation yields the
desired radiation direction (endfire or backfire) depending on
the application.
We described the most basic form of the compact resonant
helix in this article. In recent years, many variations of this
antenna have been developed for use in commercial devices.
For example, the antenna can be further miniaturized by using
a dielectric core inside the helix. Other modifications include
integrating baluns and dielectric core versions of the compact
helix that improve the radiation and feedpoint impedance
characteristics.
From modest beginnings as a research curiosity, the helical
antenna has become one of the most important circularly
polarized antennas for high frequency communications. It is
indispensable in space applications, due to its simplicity, high
gain, wide bandwidth and low mass. Low power terrestrial radio
links and hand-held navigation and communication terminals
continue to provide a market for millions of small and large
helical antennas as well.
summary
References
1. Photo: Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hammer_Ace_
SATCOM_Antenna.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Hammer_Ace_SATCOM_Antenna.jpg.
2. D. Orban and G Moernaut, “Basics of patch antennas, updated” RF Globalnet, Sept. 2009.
3. J. D. Kraus and R. J. Marhefka, Antennas for all Applications, Third edition, McGraw-Hill, 2002.
www.orbanmicrowave.com 17
Some Design
Examples
Below are some descriptions of quadrifilar antennas we
have developed for GPS, L-Band satellite segment, VHF and
UHF emergency locator transponder (ELT) and personal
locator beacon (PLB) applications. All of these applications
require hemispherical or sectoral coverage and good circular
polarization all the way down to the horizon.
The electrical requirements for all these antennas are quite similar:
•Hemispherical radiation pattern
•Right hand circular polarization
•Gainfrom5dBiat5˚offaxiselevationto-3dBiin
broadside
•VSWR: 1.5:1 or better
•Gain variation versus azimuth less than 3 dB
(i.e. good azimuthal pattern symmetry)
•The L-Band and the ELT antennas are able to handle
10 watts of transmitter power.
•The PLB antenna is able to handle approximately
2 watts of transmitter power.
•The GPS antenna is receive only.
The mechanical requirements for GPS and the L-Band satellite
segment versions of this antenna are similar. The diameter of
this antenna is 18 mm and the height is 30 mm and uses an air
dielectric (Figure 26).
The plot in Figure 27 shows the performance of the antenna
that operates at GPS L1. The performance for versions of this
antenna operating at the 1.545 and 1.645 GHz satcom bands
is similar.
The size of this antenna can be further reduced by using a
dielectric core.
design examples
Figure 26: Air-core L-band helix antenna.
Figure 27:
Radiation characteristics of GPS L1 helix antenna
Figure 28: Radiation characteristics of air-core ELT antenna.
www.orbanmicrowave.com
18
By using a dielectric core, we have developed an electrically
small helical antenna for operation at the UHF ELT band. For
comparison, we first developed a version that uses an air
dielectric and has a diameter of 67 mm and a height of 120
mm. The resultant radiation patterns is seen in Figure 28.
The version with a dielectric measures 32 mm diameter and is
57 mm high, occupying approximately 1/8 the volume of the
air-core helix. The radiation pattern is seen in Figure 29.
Our portfolio also includes quadrifilars for VHF (121.5 and 162
MHz) and dual band VHF/UHF versions.
Please contact us if you need more information.
Figure 29: Radiation characteristics of dielectric core helix antenna.
design examples
www.orbanmicrowave.com 19
Orban Microwave
Orban Microwave was established in 1996 as an independent
RF and Microwave Design organization. In 1998, Antenna
Design was added to our capabilities further enhancing our
portfolio. Today, the company designs and manufactures
RF & Microwave Subsystems and Antennas in the 0.1 to 25
GHz frequency range. Our two product lines RF & Microwave
Subsystems and Antennas cover VHF through Ka-Band.
Unlike traditional companies, OMP has no standard products.
Our strategy is to develop application specific products when
no catalog products are available in the marketplace.
We maintain a large library of designs and use state of
the art design tools such as 3D electromagnetic and non-
linear simulation engines. Our strategic alliance with highly
experienced manufacturing partners allows us to convert
designs into production products quickly. Our agility in being
able to quickly and cost effectively develop products has
earned us a very favorable reputation in the industry.
Visit our site here.
A more in-depth version of this article will be presented at
the Del Mar Electronics & Design Show in May of 2015,
www.mfgshow.com
company
Contact:
Orban Microwave Inc.
1834 N. Alafaya Trl. Suite B
Orlando, FL 32826, 321-200-0080
International:
Orban Microwave Products NV,
Remy Lane 4c, Box 6
3018 Leuven, Belgium, +32-16-29.49.53
www.orbanmicrowave.com
Copyright © 2015 Orban Microwave Inc.
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Basics of patch antennas, updated" RF Globalnet
  • D Orban
  • G Moernaut
D. Orban and G Moernaut, "Basics of patch antennas, updated" RF Globalnet, Sept. 2009.
Suite B Orlando, FL 32826, 321-200-0080 International: Orban Microwave Products NV, Remy Lane 4c
  • Alafaya Trl
N. Alafaya Trl. Suite B Orlando, FL 32826, 321-200-0080 International: Orban Microwave Products NV, Remy Lane 4c, Box 6 3018 Leuven, Belgium, +32-16-29.49.53