DIY Loading Coil Shortens Antenna Lengths

A newly licensed amateur radio operator’s first foray into radios is likely to be a VHF or UHF radio with a manageable antenna designed for the high frequencies in these radio bands. But these radios aren’t meant for communicating more than a double-digit number of kilometers or miles. The radios meant for long-distance communication use antennas that are anything but manageable, as dipole antennas for the lowest commonly used frequencies can often be on the order of 50 meters in length. There are some tricks to getting antenna size down like folding the dipole in all manner of ways, but the real cheat code for reducing antenna size is to build a loading coil instead.

As [VA5MUD] demonstrates, a loading coil is simply an inductor that is placed somewhere along the length of the antenna which makes a shorter antenna behave as a longer antenna. In general, though, the inductor needs to be robust enough to handle the power outputs from the radio. There are plenty of commercial offerings but since an inductor is not much more than a coil of wire, it’s entirely within the realm of possibility to build them on your own. [VA5MUD]’s design uses a piece of PVC with some plastic spacers to wind some thick wire around, and then a customized end cap with screw terminals attached to affix the antenna and feedline to. Of course you’ll need to do a bit of math to figure out exactly how many turns of wire will be best for your specific situation, but beyond that it’s fairly straightforward.

It’s worth noting that the coil doesn’t have to be attached between the feedline and the antenna. It can be placed anywhere along the antenna, with the best performance typically being at the end of the antenna. Of course this is often impractical, so a center-loaded coil is generally used as a compromise. Coils like these are not too hard to wind by hand, but for smaller, lower-current projects it might be good to pick up a machine to help wind the coils instead.

Continue reading “DIY Loading Coil Shortens Antenna Lengths”

Loading Coils, The Heaviside Condition, And Pupin Coils

When we draw schematics, we have the luxury of pretending that wire is free. There are only a few cases where you have to account for the electrical characteristics of wire: when the wire is very long or the frequency on the wire is relatively high.

This became apparent after the first transatlantic cable went into service for telegraph communications. Even though the wire was linear, there was still distortion on the line so severe that dots and dashes would overlap each other. The temporary solution was to limit speeds so slow that operators had trouble sending and receiving at those speeds. How slow? An average character took two minutes to send! That’s not a typo. Two minutes per character. By custom, Morse code assumes a word is five characters, so you could send a word every 10 minutes.

The first transatlantic cable went into service in 1858 and was virtually the moon landing of its day. Frustrated with how slow the communications were, an electrician by the name of Whitehouse decided to crank up the voltage to over 1,000 volts which caused the cable to fail after only three weeks in service. Whoops. Later analysis showed the cable was probably going to fail quickly anyway, but Whitehouse took the public blame.

The wire back then wasn’t as good as what we have today, which led to some of the problems. The insulation was made from multiple coats of a natural latex, gutta percha, which is what dentists use to fill root canals. The jackets were made from tarred hemp and bound with iron wire. There was no way to build an underwater amplifier in 1858, so the cables were just tremendous wires laying on the ocean floor between Newfoundland and Ireland.

Continue reading “Loading Coils, The Heaviside Condition, And Pupin Coils”