An Overview of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles — and their Antennas
An unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, refer to a vehicle that is able to fly remotely, either with some sort of controller or autonomously. An unmanned aircraft system, or UAS, includes not only the UAV, itself but also the person on the ground controlling the flight, as well as the system in place that connects the two of them.
UAVs vary in weight and size, ranging from vehicles measurable by a few inches to aircraft with wingspans of up to 400 feet. Among numerous other factors, UAVs also vary in altitude and general operating characteristics. While there is no widely used classification system for UAVs, there are six major classifications for their functionality: target and decoy, reconnaissance, combat, logistics, research and development (R&D), civil, and commercial. Target and decoy UAVs are typically used for military training purposes. Reconnaissance and combat UAVs are used in the battlefield for intelligence attack capability in high-risk missions. As the name suggests, logistics UAVs are used for cargo and logistics operations. Likewise, R&D UAVs are used to further develop UAV technologies.
A Steadily Growing Industry
The UAV Manufacturing industry is in the growth stage of its life cycle. The defense sector currently is, and will likely continue to be, the primary market for UAVs. While most systems will be used for fighter combat, stealth missions, aircraft carrier operations, surveillance, and military communications, industry trends suggest that there will also be a steady expansion in the civil, as well as commercial uses for UAVs. Manufacturers are becoming increasingly focused on developing aircraft for the uses of border enforcement, humanitarian relief, search and rescue, scientific research, meteorology, firefighting, precision agriculture, infrastructure surveying, police surveillance, freight delivery and communication signals relaying.
Although the industry is heavily regulated, more business have been able to operate commercial drones since 2016, following the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) issuance of new and less restrictive regulations. Researches, such as those at IBIS World, suggest that the finalization of FAA regulations over the next few years will create more demand for UAV industry products.
The manufacturing of UAVs requires a significant amount of electronic components for data recording and transmission purposes, as well as for avionic functions. Antennas are among the most important electronic components of any UAV or UAS, for they allow the vehicle to transmit information to and receive information from other systems, as well as the people on the ground.
Over the past 15 years, JEM Engineering has developed a variety of UAV-qualified antennas. We offer a selection of aerodynamic antennas in various form factors and frequency ranges. Our versatile antennas can be used in ground‐to-ground, ground‐to‐air, and air‐to‐ground communications systems. Our product applications include signal intelligence (SIGINT); intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); and sensor systems.
To learn more about our UAV antennas, feel free to contact one of our experts.
RF testing is used to measure a variety of different antenna attributes. In this post, we discus a few ways in which antenna testing can help determine if your device is performing the way it should.
Measuring Radiation Patterns – An antenna’s radiation pattern measures the strength of its radio waves in relation to the direction at which the waves travel. 3-Dimensional and/or 2-Dimensional renderings of the radiation pattern make it possible to visualize which direction(s) the antenna is radiating the strongest, as well as where it loses strength. Finding this pattern is fundamental in determining the antenna’s functionality.
Measuring Antenna Efficiency – The radiation efficiency, or simply “efficiency” of an antenna is commonly defined as the ratio of the power radiated from the antenna, in relation to the power delivered to the antenna. This measurement is typically measured in decibels (dB). It is important to determine that an antenna is performing at a certain level of efficiency before it used for its intended purpose. Significant discrepancies in efficiency may be the result of a manufacturing defect or design flaw.
Measuring Antenna Gain – An antenna’s gain is a measurement that combines the antenna’s efficiency with its directivity, which is essentially the antenna’s ability to receive energy better from a particular direction. It is beneficial to have higher gain when there is a predetermined direction that the antenna will be receiving a signal from. In contrast, lower gains are preferable when receiving signals from multiple unspecified directions. Therefore, measuring gain is important in qualifying an antenna, particularly for its direction-finding and/or signal-receiving abilities.
Realizing any Effects on the Human Body – It is important to make sure that the use of certain antennas, especially those that are to be worn on one’s person, will not have adverse effects on the human body. Some testing chambers, such as the SNF chamber at JEM Engineering’s facility in Laurel, are able to accommodate human test subjects.
At JEM, we understand that accurate measurement of antenna electrical performance is critical. Therefore we offer a range of rapid antenna testing services from 80 MHz to 40 GHz. Our TATF and SNF test chambers are able to deliver the aforementioned measurements within hours, as opposed to days. Our experts also specialize in analyzing the data, helping our clients improve and perfect their custom product designs. For more information, feel free to contact us.
Antenna 101: Types and Applications
We are experts in custom antenna design and manufacturing for various applications. Some common applications include vehicular, airborne, communications, SIGINT (signal intelligence), and ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance). While certain types of antennas are more suitable for each of these specific applications, many of our products are versatile and multi-platform.
In this article, we take a look at some of the different types of antennas, and what applications they can be used for.
Broadband Antennas – These antennas operate over a wide band of frequencies, or “bandwidths.” Generally, the bandwidths over which they operate are higher than 1 octave. They come in a variety of forms, including spirals, log-periodic antennas, dipoles and Vivaldi notch elements.
An example of a broadband antenna, the HSA-056 is a 6″ spiral ideally suited for handheld and vehicular applications. With its wide bandwidth, broad beamwidth, and high RF efficiency, the antenna is also suitable for applications such as SIGINT, EW, and wideband communications.
Narrowband Antenna – In contrast to broadband antennas, narrowband antennas operate over relatively narrow bandwidths, generally much less than 1 octave. Patch and resonant cavity antennas are typical examples of narrowband antennas.
The RDF-8696 is a narrowband transducer for short range reading and writing of RFID tags including GEN2 tags. Some of the applications it can be used for include printers and various forms of automation equipment.
Antenna Arrays & Beamformers – Array antennas consist of multiple radiating elements. In some cases, these elements are fed by a corporate power divider or “beamformer.” The simplest beamformer is a power division network, which yields a fixed radiation beam. A beamformer that incorporates controllable phase or delay elements is called a steerable beam array or “phased array.”
Also nicknamed the “Hexband Array,” the MBA-0127 is compact, low-profile, single-port antenna covering multiple bands from 400MHz to 2.2GHz. This array is useful for multiband communications, airborne applications, ISR applications, and SIGINT.
Genetic Antenna – These antennas are designed entirely by an optimization algorithm, which can be a genetic algorithm or some other iterative method. While many antennas are pre-existent designs that are modified through optimizations, these antennas are entirely new designs generated solely via computer.
Genetic antennas are perhaps the most unique, mainly because they are almost completely custom, like the one pictured above.
Introducing the HSA-218 Compact Spiral Antenna
JEM Engineering is proud to announce the release of our newest addition to our vast product line: the HSA-218 Spiral Antenna (above).
Also, like many of our products, this compact spiral antenna is rugged and weather resistant.
JEM Engineering’s MBA product line consists of multi-band antennas that are suitable for airborne and ISR applications. These flight-qualified antennas are shock and vibration tested according to RTCA DO-160G standards.
One of our newest additions to the MBA product line, the MBA-0202 is an antenna array with two output ports. It has excellent low frequency performance and operates at frequencies between 650 to 1050 MHz, as well as 1500 to 2750 MHz. Additionally, with its 2-inch thickness, this array is mounted behind a pod, blister, or panel on an airborne platform.
Even with its comparatively simpler, box-like appearance, the MBA-0203 has all the functionality of the MBA-0202, plus a third output port and an additional frequency range of 3600 to 5900 MHz. The low-profile array is also 2 inches thick and mountable onto an aircraft.
If you would like to request additional information on these antennas, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit our Flight-Qualified Products Page to view our selection of broadband, conformal, high-power, and high-gain antennas.
“STEM” stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
In celebration of STEM Day (November 8) we asked our CEO, Nancy Lilly, and our Director of Antenna Development, Victor Sanchez, why they decided to pursue a career in STEM, and this is what they said…
JEM Engineering proudly supports students and professionals in pursuit of careers in STEM, for our company is built on the passions of such individuals.
More About Nancy
Nancy Lilly has significant RF experience working in a variety of engineering capacities. Before launching JEM Engineering in 2001, Nancy was a manufacturing engineer for both Wang and Scope Laboratories of Northern VA. She has more than 10 years of experience in antenna and RF applications and system design. She also has experience in quality engineering. Previously, she was quality assurance manager for Racal Avionics of Silver Spring, MD and a quality engineer for Arbitron of Columbia, MD. Nancy was an examiner for the 2004 U.S. Senate Productivity & Maryland Quality Awards for The University of Maryland Center for Quality & Productivity. Nancy holds a BS in both chemistry and industrial engineering from the University of Puerto Rico and Polytechnic University, respectively. She also holds a master’s degree in Engineering Administration from George Washington University.
As Chief Executive Officer and President of JEM, Nancy has received numerous awards, including the National Association of Professional and Executive Women’s “Woman of the Year Award” for her contributions to antenna design and manufacturing. In 2006, Nancy was selected among Maryland’s “Top 100 Minority Business Enterprise Awardees.”
More About Victor
Victor Sanchez has over 25 years of experience working in the field of RF / Antenna Engineering. He has a proven record of successful antenna development, technical innovation and program management. His roles have ranged from Research & Development to Integration & Test for breadboard and production antennas ranging from single elements at UHF to Ka-band phased arrays. He has conducted this work in both small and large team environments at Atlantic Aerospace Electronics Corporation, L-3 Communications and Northrop Grumman Corporation. While at Northrop Grumman, he earned an “Innovation of the Year Award” for his Broadband Additively Manufactured Array Antenna. He is currently Director of Antenna Engineering at JEM Engineering, where his principal responsibilities involve acquisition and technical execution of both government funded R&D and commercial antenna projects.
Victor holds BSEE and MSEE degrees in Electrical Engineering from the University of Massachusetts. He is a senior member of the Institute of Electrical Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and has numerous technical publications and patents, including the Monolithic Phased Array Antenna System.
Every product, specialty or off-the-shelf, must be designed, tested, and perfected by a team of experts, so that the end-user can be assured of its reliability.
An antenna is no exception.
Our customers trust us to provide them with custom products, many of which have never been made in the past –or even conceptualized.
In this post, we share some of our antenna designing know-how…
1. Knowing where to start. Every single one of our antennas started out as a concept. Either a client or one of our own engineers wanted a device that could deliver a specific result, and our team worked to bring that concept to full-scale production. Our experts find out what the client is looking for, and quickly figure out how to make it happen. Our engineers have several decades of combined experience creating detailed drawings from 2-dimensional drafts to 3-dimensional CAD models.
2. Performing a structural analysis. Naturally, one would want to make sure that the design doesn’t just look good on paper, but it also holds together, at the very least. However, it would be preferable to detect design flaws before spending money on building materials. For instance, COSMOS Static Analysis is an cost-effective way to perform a structural analysis on a computer-generated model, such as a SolidModel. We use this method to assess the feasibility of custom design projects.
3. Developing a prototype. Before one builds the final product, they must create a prototype to not only further evaluate a design, but to also establish the most efficient assembly methods for it, and assess the cost effectiveness of its bill of materials. This also leads us to the next item on the list…
4. Using the right materials. The difference between selecting one material over another can not only mean cost savings, but also overall better performance and longevity. Our mechanical engineers excel at finding the best materials for a project, measurably increasing the practicality of a product.
5. Seeing the prototype in action. So now it’s time to test the prototype. Before the product can go out into the field, it has to perform well in the lab. In our case, the antenna has to be carefully tested in one of our two test chambers by a well-trained and highly-skilled technician, who will provide guidance and support during the test, as well as assist with data analysis and interpretation. In a previous post, we explore antenna qualification in more detail. Read it here.
In summary, designing a functional and structurally sound antenna has many crucial and complicated processes. Luckily, we can help you every step of the way! JEM Engineering staffs a Mechanical Engineering department capable of providing expertise to every product design. Send us an inquiry or call us at 301.317.1070 to let us know what you need!
Quality & Customer Service – Our Policy
JEM Engineering exceeds customer expectations by providing custom antenna design, manufacturing and testing solutions with a commitment to comply with customer requirements and continually improve the effectiveness of the quality management system by maintaining a motivated, highly skilled and innovative team, and becoming a leader in our industry. Our commitment to quality is evident as our Quality Management System (QMS) is ISO 9001 Certified.
Our products and services have been used in programs set forth by the United States Department of Defense, as well as by many of its contractors throughout the past fifteen years.
We will continue to do our part in helping the US Armed Forces ensure the safety of this Nation.
JEM Engineering, through the American Red Cross, will be providing financial assistance to households that were severely impacted by recent Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, as well as the impending Hurricane Jose.
As part of our efforts, we are also collecting monetary donations from the community. If you are interested in donating, you may contact us for additional information.
Why donate through JEM? Make your donations go twice as far!
Every gift you make is significant in our disaster relief efforts. We want to double your gifts so that our efforts will move twice as fast! JEM will match donations you make by 100%.
Like with most products, an antenna’s outstanding performance in the field must be preceded by outstanding performance in the lab.
It is JEM Engineering’s job to not only design and manufacture antenna products, but also to qualify them to meet RF specifications, as well as environmental standards such as military standard MIL-STD-810 and RTCA/DO-160. Because of this, not only do our products survive strenuous environmental conditions; they perform well. We extend the same guarantee to our customers by offering them the same qualification services.
Our rigorous qualification procedures combine our own internal testing capabilities with those of our external testing partners. In this post, we list some of our in-house qualification capabilities.
• Efficiency Measurements
The radiation efficiency, or simply “efficiency” of an antenna is commonly defined as the ratio of the power radiated from the antenna, in relation to the power delivered to the antenna. JEM’s Spherical Near-field Chamber (SNF) and Tapered Antenna Test Facility (TATF) chambers generate efficiency plots, in addition to as addition to radiation patterns, and ASCII Data Files.
• Directivity Measurements
Directivity is one on of an antenna’s key performance factors. One can define it as the ability of an antenna to focus energy in a particular direction when transmitting. Directivity also measures the antenna’s ability to receive energy better from a particular direction.
• Gain Measurements
Another useful performance measurement is the antenna’s gain. It combines the antenna’s efficiency with its directivity. The gain measurements we provide as part of our data package include peak, average, maximum linear, minimum linear, horizontal, and vertical, as applicable. Additionally, SNF and TATF chambers generate gain measurements for antennas within two different frequency ranges. The SNF measures from 400 MHz to 6 GHz , while the TATF measures 80 MHz to 40 GHz.
• VSWR and Return Loss
Voltage standing wave ratio, or “VSWR,” is a measure that describes how well the antenna impedance -or voltage to the current at the antenna’s input- “matches” to the radio or transmission line it is connected to. A good match allows a transmitter or receiver to deliver power to an antenna without excessive reflection back on the line (return loss). At JEM, a single VSWR measurment, including system calibration, takes less than 10 minutes. In fact, minus calibration, it only takes 1 minute or less to complete a test!
• Radiation Patterns
An antenna’s radiation pattern measures the strength of its radio waves in relation to the direction at which the waves travel. We can generate both 3-Dimensional, as well as 2-Dimensional renderings of radiation patterns.
Steered Array 3-D Pot
Steered Array 2-D Plot
• Human Body Interaction
Besides producing full-spherical radiation patterns, our SNF chamber can accommodate a human test subject. This allows us to take accurate measurements of body interaction effects on body worn and handheld devices.
JEM Engineering technicians testing a wearable antenna in our SNF chamber in Laurel, MD
• Temperature Effects
Temperature testing allows us to determine how a complete product, its parts, and its sub-assemblies are affected by extreme temperatures, as well as changes in temperatures. Consequently, this also allows us to assist customers in analyzing the cost effectiveness of manufacturing a product and using its components.
Our team of experts has access to advanced simulation software, therefore, allowing us to measure in-situ performance, and eliminating need to run a physical test.